The Gombeen Man is a reviled figure from Irish history. During
An Gorta Mór (The Great Famine), he was the one who sold the starving people food and other essentials at exorbitant prices, or gave credit at extortionate rates. Desperate people gave all they had for the items needed to keep their families alive. The Gombeen Man didn’t care about their suffering, he cared only for his own profits regardless of the harm he did. He was the quintessential Capitalist.
Today, the term is employed to describe any political or business opportunist who would exploit an opening for his or her own ends regardless of the harm they do -still the quintessential Capitalist.
The Gombeen Man
Behind a web of bottles, bales,
Tobacco, sugar, coffin nails,
The gombeen like a spider sits,
Surfeited; and, for all his wits,
As meagre as the tally board,
On which his usuries are scored.
This poet was born, 15th July, 1879 and died, 6th June, 1944. He more commonly wrote under the Gaelic form of his name which was Seosamh MacCathmhaoil. He was a Republican and early member of Sinn Féin.