Mandeville, John (1849–88), National League activist, was born 24 June 1849 at Ballydine, near Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, third son of James Hackett Mandeville (1797–1858) and his wife Jane (d. 1893), sister of John O'Mahony (qv) founder of the Fenian Brotherhood. A drop of molten lead from a broken mould used by the O'Mahonys to manufacture bullets for an ineffectual rising in 1849 splashed on the infant's ear to become a proud lifelong scar. It is likely that he went to secondary school; in his twenties he read Horace in Latin and liked the serious uplifting works of J. H. Newman (qv) and Joseph Butler. Of fervent Fenian conviction from adolescence, he seems to have had fleeting involvement in the rising of 1867. It may have been through Fenian associates that he first met William O'Brien (qv) (1852–1928), whose investigative journalism into social conditions in the Galtee Mountains commenced in 1876–7. By the summer of 1886 Mandeville had become ex-officio chairman of the Mitchelstown (Co. Cork) board of guardians and was a confidant of O'Brien, who had drawn him into the National League and reform politics.
Mandeville farmed a 200-acre freehold property, a mile outside the town, which John O'Mahony had ceded to his mother in 1853 before emigrating to the USA. At a time when the local economy was suffering from a prolonged fall in butter prices, intense mass resistance to forcible distraint and eviction on the Kingston estate around Mitchelstown in 1881–2 had aroused tenant feeling (despite later reinstatements). The local National League branch, chaired by Mandeville, was eager to launch the Plan of Campaign (announced in October 1886) if appeals by tenants for 20 per cent rent reductions were denied. A meeting of the estate tenantry in the town on 11 December 1886 formally adopted the plan on this basis. Mandeville directed the course of the highly publicised campaign (sometimes with O'Brien) from O'Sullivan's pub near the town's RIC barracks, and was obliged to be ‘out in all weathers day or night, sometimes driving miles & the ground white with snow’ to amass and lodge the rent-money for League use (Geary, ‘Mary Mandeville’, 101). He set up a demonstration of solidarity by neighbouring farmers and labourers on 23 February 1887, when a large body ploughed and seeded the farms of tenants who had decided to sell equipment and stock when served with civil bill writs earlier that month. He was deeply involved in the establishment of a thorough boycott of Mitchelstown Castle in May 1887 and the fortification of estate cabins with ‘trunks of timber and immense ledges of limestone’ during June and July that year (Donnelly, 343).
Dreading that the dowager countess of Kingston planned to rush through evictions before current land legislation became law, Mandeville and O'Brien enjoined the crowds meeting in Mitchelstown on 9 and 11 August to defend their houses whenever outstanding warrants were executed. Having broken the draconian Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act of 19 July 1887, designed to attack League strategy by proscribing incitement against payment of rent, both were summonsed to Mitchelstown petty sessions on 9 September in the first case under the act. They deliberately ignored the summons, but conflict on the day of the hearing (in absentia) between a confused headstrong crowd and a rash police detachment led to the shooting dead of three farmers. The embarrassment of A. J. Balfour (qv), chief secretary, no doubt aggravated Mandeville's later treatment. Mandeville and O'Brien were given two- and three-month sentences respectively at petty sessions on 22 September 1887.
After the rejection of appeals to the Cork recorder's court on 31 October, they were conveyed to Cork city jail, where, claiming political status, they refused prison clothing and menial duties. Balfour was angrily concerned to preclude such propaganda victory. During the first night in Cork, warders snatched Mandeville's clothing while he slept, but it was returned when the two were taken by special train the next night to Tullamore jail, where Balfour was assured the doctor and governor were ‘to be relied on’ (Hallifax, 19). Penalties on Mandeville for infraction of the prison code commenced on 5 November 1887 after a consultation by the governor with the central prison board in Dublin, closely monitored by Balfour. Though O'Brien was swiftly transferred to the prison hospital after bread and water led to bouts of diarrhoea, the lesser-known Mandeville became the target of bullying punishment designed to break his insistence on political status. That he was of great size and muscular strength may have tempted the authorities to the reckless disregard of health displayed during his incarceration. Repeated periods of solitary confinement on coarse bread and cold water in foetid draughty cells brought about painful rheumatism, chronic sore throat, and continual diarrhoea. Stripped of his clothes by warders, he remained semi-naked for a day in extreme cold. The prison doctor, James Ridley, callously certified him fit for punishment whatever his state.
Sympathetic members of the visiting committee leaked information to the press, and the scandal broke around Ireland and England by late November 1887. Balfour defiantly held fast, though allowing separate exercise at prison discretion. By late December Mandeville had shed over three stones (19 kg) weight, trembled constantly, and had lost vision. His release on 24 December triggered mountainous bonfires and enormous welcoming crowds at Mitchelstown. After a short speech he went home. Intermittently involved in protest several months later against the levy of a local tax for police expenses, he did not recuperate and resembled by April 1888 ‘a broken man . . . bluish, extremely nervous . . . frequently trembling’ (Geary, ‘John Mandeville’, 369). On 8 July 1888, several days after his thirty-ninth birthday, an inflamed throat led to his death. He was buried in Kilbehenny cemetery.
National outrage led to a coroner's inquest held 17–28 July 1888 in the face of police prevarication. The verdict unequivocally linked his death to the brutal prison regime. Though Balfour shrugged off the decision as partial, the outcry led to the formation of a select committee on the matter of prison dress and other aspects of the penal code, which prescribed amendments to the General Prisons (Ireland) Act, 1877, providing clauses under which inmates could wear civilian clothes and remain isolated from others on health grounds. Though there were few cases of quite such notoriety in succeeding decades, political prisoners did not reliably secure considerate treatment. A bronze statue of Mandeville was erected in New Square, Mitchelstown, in April 1906.
He was survived by his wife Mary Mandeville (c.1860–1935), daughter of James O'Geran , a nationalist JP, of Broomhill in the parish of Kildorney, Mitchelstown, whom he had married on 3 February 1880; they had no children. She had known John Mandeville from childhood. After his arrest and imprisonment, she intermittently kept a journal between 27 November and 31 December 1887, detailing his time in prison, although she had to rely on second-hand accounts of his well-being. While he was imprisoned in Tullamore, she was not permitted to visit him and received few letters. Following her husband's death, she was a key witness at the inquest, during which the crown lawyers accused her of lying about the state of her husband's health. There had already been attempts to defame his character; rumours were spread that she had left Mandeville to return to her father's home because of his drinking, late hours, and general neglect of business. In 1888 she returned to live in her father's house until her death on 12 December 1935 at Granite Lodge Kliworth, Co. Cork. At her funeral there were not enough pallbearers to carry her coffin into the graveyard at Kilbehenny; a teenager was summoned from the local pub to make the sixth pallbearer. By contrast, 20,000 people had attended her husband's funeral in 1888. Her diary is held in the William O'Brien papers, UCC.