Moran, Michael (‘Zozimus’) (c.1794–1846), balladeer, was born to poor parents in Faddle Alley, off Blackpitts in the Liberties of Dublin. At the age of two weeks an illness left him blind. This effectively limited his choice of career, and his parents sent him to rhyme on the streets while still a boy. By adulthood he was a well-known Dublin sight: ‘a long, coarse, dark description of a frieze-coat with a cape . . . an old, soft, greasy, brown beaver hat, corduroy trousers, and strong Francis Street brogues. He carried a long blackthorn stick with a heavy iron ferrule at the end’ (Memoir of Zozimus, 5). He had a different port of call for every day of the week and worked the city from Smithfield market to Grafton St. and to Patrick St. Lacking the poetic faculty and even an ear for music, he depended on his eccentricity to draw audiences and also on his idiosyncratic voice, which was described as ‘stentorian, deep, guttural [with] a peculiar squeak and lisp of great power’ (ibid., 7). His cry of ‘Gather round me, boys, will ye! Gather round me!’ brought the crowds, who would then demand one of a few favourites: ‘The finding of Moses’, a mocking, sentimental song which appears in Songs of Dublin (1978) and may have been his own composition, or ‘Life of St Mary of Egypt’. This was written by the eighteenth-century bishop of Raphoe Dr Anthony Coyle (qv), and deals with the conversion of the fifth-century Mary of Egypt by the ‘pious Zozimus’; hence Moran's nickname, by which he was always known.
A fervent O'Connellite, Zozimus ended his song on Moses with the lines ‘Old Ireland shall be free!’ and another favourite poem from his later years was the ‘T. B. C.’ about the attorney general, T. B. C. Smith (qv), and his feud with Daniel O'Connell (qv). The new metropolitan police charged Zozimus on a number of occasions with obstruction by drawing crowds. The press recorded his amusing, eccentric answers to magistrates; and a fellow balladeer, James Kearney, wrote a song entitled ‘184 B’ about an over-zealous officer who liked to arrest Zozimus.
He was married twice, the second time to the widow Mary Curran, with whom he had a son. They lived in rooms at the back of 14 Patrick St. This address was known as 14 1/2 Patrick St. At the end of 1845 he took to his bed and died there, four months later, on 3 April 1846. A collection among his friends provided enough money to bury him in the ‘poor ground’ in Glasnevin cemetery, where his unmarked grave was known as AG 30 South. His son became a sailor and eventually settled with his mother in New York.
Stories of Zozimus abounded in Dublin after his death and his legend grew; in the Nation Maurice Richard Leyne (qv) adopted ‘Zozimus’ as his pseudonym and in 1870 A. M. Sullivan (qv) gave his new comic magazine the same name. It ran for two years and showed a picture of Zozimus on the title page. Another comic paper, Zoz or the Irish Charivari, ran 1876–9. A memoir, introduced and probably written by Joseph Tully of 58 Middle Abbey St., appeared in 1871. It is the main source of stories on Zozimus but is unreliable; it states he was born before the union but died in 1846, aged 43. This memoir inspired W. B. Yeats (qv) to write a short account of Zozimus in The National Observer (6 May 1893), which appeared in The Celtic twilight (1893). He refers to him as ‘the last gleeman . . . being alike poet, jester, and newsman of the people’ (Celtic twilight, 69). Yeats later used Zozimus's diction for his demotic ‘Come gather round me Parnellites’. John Butler Yeats (qv) painted a large portrait of Zozimus, and there were at least two earlier portraits, by Henry MacManus (qv), RHA, and Horatio Nelson of Grafton St. In the twentieth century Zozimus was the subject of two plays: ‘Deuce of jacks’ by F. R. Higgins (qv), which opened September 1935 with Maureen Delany (qv) singing the ballads, and Joe O'Donnell's ‘Zoz’, featuring the Wolfe Tones ballad group, and shown at the Dublin theatre festival (October 1980).