Lane, Denny (1818–95), Young Irelander and businessman, was born 7 December 1818 in Cork, the only son of Maurice Lane (d. 1845), proprietor of the Riverstown distillery and member of Cork corporation, and Ellen Lane (née Madden). Educated at Hamblin and Porter's school in Queen St., Cork, he entered TCD in 1836 and graduated BA (1839). He became a student at King's Inns (1837), was admitted to the Inner Temple (1839), and called to the Irish bar (1840). He did not practise law but instead indulged his passions for literature, art, and politics. At Trinity he was a member of the new College Historical Society, founded in 1839 to allow for discussion of controversial political topics, and became a friend of Thomas Davis (qv). Lane was a cousin of David Owen Madden (qv), a political confidant of Davis. Lane became one of Davis's most regular correspondents and acted as his guide during a visit to Cork city and the south-west in the summer of 1843. He enjoyed chaffing the rather intense and earnest Davis about his incessant activity and dogmatic and dictatorial tendencies. In the mid 1840s Lane regularly attended the weekly gatherings of the Young Irelanders in Dublin; Charles Gavan Duffy (qv) noted that he ‘had a singularly prolific mind, which threw out showers of speculation, covering a wide field of art, philosophy and practical politics ... but could not be got to apply himself to any special task. He spoke seldom, and wrote still more rarely. One of his friends remonstrated with him as “dear lazy Lane” ’ (Duffy, Young Ireland, 293).
By late 1843 he had returned to Cork to help run the family business, and on his father's death in 1845 took over the distillery at Glyntown and inherited land in Glanmire. He also took a strong interest in politics, and with his close friend Michael Joseph Barry (qv) was largely responsible for introducing Young Ireland nationalism to Cork. Under the pseudonym ‘Donall na Glanna’, he contributed poetry to the Nation, his best known pieces being ‘Kate of Araglen’ (12 October 1844) and ‘Lament of the Irish maiden’ (15 February 1845). His poetry was included in the second edition of The spirit of the Nation (1843). He was a member of the Repeal Association and the '82 Club (founded in July 1844 by Davis to provide the repeal movement with an officer corps), but disapproved of the club's elitism and its insistence on an ornate and costly uniform: writing to Davis, Lane observed that the club would make little progress in Cork because its people ‘have a great hatred of uniforms ... This I think principally arises from the morbidly keen sense of the ludicrous which Corkmen generally possess’ (Duffy, Young Ireland, 661).
A devout catholic, Lane had always advised Davis to avoid a split with Daniel O'Connell (qv), whom he saw as the acknowledged leader of Irish nationalism. Nevertheless, he resigned from the Repeal Association after the secession of the Young Irelanders in July 1846, and was a founding member of the Young Ireland Irish Confederation in January 1847, being appointed to its election, trade, and public instruction committees. As the famine worsened he spent less time in Dublin and concentrated more on local issues, helping to found the Desmond Confederate Club in Cork in September 1847 and regularly chairing its meetings. Like other Young Irelanders, he was heartened by the overthrow of the French monarchy in February 1848; and when the original Desmond Club was dissolved in March 1848 to be replaced by a new Citizens’ Club dedicated to the achievement of Irish independence, he became president and organised similar clubs throughout the city and county. However, he never lost his basic political moderation and was uneasy with the growing support in Cork for the militant republican and revolutionary policies of John Mitchel (qv).
After the collapse of the attempted Young Ireland rebellion in July 1848 Lane was arrested on 2 August and held without charge until mid November 1848 in Cork city gaol. On his release he concentrated primarily on developing industrial and commercial interests in Cork. Identifying the industrial potential of gas and electricity, he was appointed resident engineer and company secretary to the Cork Gas Consumers’ Co. in 1856 (holding the post until his death nearly forty year later), and founded the Cork Gas Co. in 1868. He was elected president of the London Institute of Gas Engineers (1887, 1893), and in October 1891 contributed an article, ‘Distribution by energy of gas’, to the Electrician. He was also a member of the Cork harbour board (1881–95), a director of the Cork, Blackrock & Passage Railway Co., deputy chairman of the Macroom Railway Co., an investor in the Belvelly Brick and Tile Works (early 1860s), and a founder of the Cork Distillers Co. (late 1860s) and the Silverspring Starch Works (1883). However, he does not appear to have been a particularly successful businessman; the family distillery did not prosper and by the late 1850s Lane had lost most of his money. His business efforts were influenced by his Young Ireland ideals of national self-sufficiency, and profit was not always his prime motive. As a railway director he pushed for the purchase of Irish-made equipment, and took a prominent part in the industrial revival movements and exhibitions of the 1880s and 1890s. His vision was of small-scale, rural-based industry, producing high-quality goods (both his brick works and starch company won prizes for the quality of their products).
Thomas Carlyle met him on his Irish tour in 1849 and described him as ‘a fine, brown Irish figure ... [with a] frank, hearty, honest air; like Alfred Tennyson a little’ (Cronin, 154). After 1848 Lane did not entirely eschew politics but served as a town councillor in the 1850s and maintained his friendships with former Cork Confederates such as George Barry (1825–67), MP for Co. Cork 1865–7, and Joseph Ronayne (qv) (his funeral oration for Ronayne was much admired and was later published). He supported Ronayne as MP for Cork city in 1872 and again in 1874, when he stood against the separatist John Mitchel (brought in by Cork Fenians). After Ronayne's death in 1876 Lane agreed to stand as a nationalist in the ensuing by-election, but was opposed by John Daly (1834–88), mayor of Cork (1871–3), and later MP for Cork city (1880–84). In political terms, little separated Lane and Daly – they both supported home rule, land reform, and the establishment of a catholic university – but Lane was regarded as more sympathetic to Fenianism because of his imprisonment in 1848 (the two candidates also represented different factions within the Cork mercantile elite). The contest was a bitter one, and the split in the nationalist vote gave the seat to the conservative candidate, William Goulding (qv). This bruising experience seems to have permanently soured politics for Lane.
A generous and tolerant man, with many protestant friends, Lane was a patron of educational, charitable, and cultural bodies in Cork. He assisted in the reopening of the Mechanics Institute in Cork (1868), and was chairman of the School of Science. He frequently gave lectures on art, and supported local artists. An active member and president (1885) of the Cork Literary and Scientific Society and a foundation vice-president of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society (1891), he wrote an introduction to the first number of its journal on the importance of history to the Irish people. He also gathered Irish airs from singers in Glanmire and Riverstown, passing them on to music collectors. Although sympathetic to the Irish language, he saw it primarily as ‘a historical monument of a great race’ (‘Irish accent’, 153) and disagreed with Davis on the feasibility of preserving it as a living tongue. He argued that a knowledge of English facilitated easier contact with Irish communities overseas, and gave educational advantages in literature and science. Lane gave the inaugural address to the 52nd session of the Cork Literary and Scientific Society in 1885, which was published as Then and now (1885), in which he fondly recalled the enthusiasm for literature in Cork evident in his youth, and gave a published address to the National Literary Society when it came to Cork in 1893, in which he paid a final tribute to the memory of Davis and the idealism of the Young Irelanders.
Lane died 29 November 1895 at his home in 72 South Mall, Cork, and was buried in Matehy cemetery, near Blarney, Co. Cork. His portrait was painted by the Cork artist H. Jones Thaddeus (qv) and a bust funded by a public memorial fund was unveiled at the School of Art in 1897.