The city of Dublin is supposed to be full of ‘characters’ – people you would go out of your way to meet and who will hold forth and entertain you at the drop of a wallet.
Whether the city deserves such a reputation is a moot point, but most will concede that one Michael Moran, probably born in 1794, was indeed a ‘character’. Better known to us as Zozimus, he was a street balladeer who earned his living from writing and reciting his own poetry and ballads. He did so at a time when the street balladeer was a familiar sight in the city.
Moran, who became blind shortly after birth, had a phenomenal memory and took his stage or ‘street’ name from a 5th century holy man Zozimus of Palestine. He was born in the wonderfully named Faddle Alley near Blackpitts in the Liberties. He travelled the city in ‘a long frieze coat, a greasy brown beaver hat, corduroy trousers’ and a good pair of brogues. He was also rarely seen without a large blackthorn stick. While he ranged wide over the city his favourite haunt, where he would deliver his rhymes and recitations near was what was then Carlisle Bridge, now O’Connell St. bridge.
One of his most celebrated verses is his song of praise for poteen ..
O long life to the man who invented potheen –
Sure the Pope ought to make him a martyr –
If myself was this moment Victoria, the Queen,
I’d drink nothing but whiskey and wather.
Even in the first half of the 18th century street performers were constantly being ‘moved on’ or hassled by the constabulary. One Dublin Metropolitan policeman in particular, we only know his number – 184B, had a particular set against Zozimus. The guardian of the law however went too far when he also began harrassing a journalist named Dunphy. To this day sane citizens know that you don’t mess with journalists by the name of Dunphy. The Freeman’s Journal writer and the street poet conspired to make the policeman’s life a misery. Zozimus wrote and regularly recited a verse which went …
How proud Robert Peel must be of such a chap
He stands about five feet nothing in his cap
And his name’s immortalised by me friend Mr.D
A statue must be riz to 184B
Constable 184B subsequently became such an object of scorn on the streets of Dublin that he was forced to resign and, legend has it, his number was retired by the DMP as no one else would take it on.
Zozimus was obsessed with grave robbers and before his death at around the age of 55 asked that he be buried in the well-protected Glasnevin cemetery. He wrote this verse to his friend Stoney Pockets.
Oh Stony, Stony
Don’t let the Sack-’em-Ups get me
Send round the hat
And buy me a grave.
He got his wish, albeit unmarked in a pauper’s plot not far from Daniel O’Connell’s rather more elaborate resting place in the shadow of a round tower. Since the 1960s a memorial marks his final resting place.
Michael Moran, better known as Zozimus, died 169 years ago, on this day.
 Frank Hopkins – Hidden Dublin: Deadbeats, dossers and decent skins.