James Clarence Mangan was born in Dublin, the son of a former schoolmaster and grocer who ended up going bankrupt after he took over his wife’s family grocery business. Clarence attended several schools in Dublin during his childhood, leaving at the age of fifteen to support his family. He worked initially as a clerk in a lawyer’s office, which he found mind-numbingly boring, then for the Ordnance Survey and later at various times in the library of Trinity College.
He started to write poems at an early age, several of which were published in journals, magazines, and The Nation, Ireland’s leading nationalist newspaper. Many of his poems were based on Irish history and legend but he also wrote poems from translations from other languages, particularly German, which he had taught himself, Irish and several Middle Eastern languages. His later poetry became increasingly nationalistic and in the dark famine in the year of 1846 he wrote two powerful poems, Siberia and Dark Rosaleen.
Mangan’s later years were dogged with loneliness, depression, drink and opium addiction and, after living in poverty and squalour, he died aged 46 of cholera in the outbreak that raged in Dublin in 1849. Apparently, only two people attended his funeral.
His best known poems include Woman of Three Cows, The Funerals, The Ruins of Donegal Castle, and A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century. A volume of his poetry was published in New York by John Mitchel in 1859. Mangan’s lyric style was greatly admired by James Joyce and a memorial bust of Mangan, sculpted by Oliver Sheppard in 1909, stands in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.