Timothy Michael Healy

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Timothy Michael Healy

Birthdate: (75)
Birthplace: Bantry, Cork, Cork, Ireland
Death: March 26, 1931 (75)
Chapelizod, County Dublin
Place of Burial: Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin
Immediate Family:

Son of Maurice Healy and Eliza Ann Sullivan
Brother of Thomas Joseph Healy; John Healy; Mary Healy and Maurice Healy

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Immediate Family

About Timothy Michael Healy

Timothy Michael Healy

Timothy Michael Healy, KC (17 May 1855 – 26 March 1931), also known as Tim Healy, was an Irish nationalist politician, journalist, author, barrister and one of the most controversial Irish Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. His political career began in the 1880s under Charles Stewart Parnell's leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), and continued into the 1920s, when he was the first Governor-General of the Irish Free State.

Family background

He was born in Bantry, County Cork, the second son of Maurice Healy, clerk of the Bantry Poor Law Union, and Eliza Healy (née Sullivan). His elder brother Thomas Healy (1854–1924) was a solicitor and Member of Parliament (MP) for North Wexford, his younger brother Maurice Healy (1859–1923) a solicitor and MP for Cork City, with whom he held a lifelong close relationship.

His father was descended from a family line which in holding to their Catholic faith, lost their lands, which he compensated by being a scholarly gentleman. His father was transferred in 1862 to a similar position in Lismore, County Waterford, holding the post until his death in 1906. Timothy was educated at the Christian Brothers school in Fermoy, and was otherwise largely self-educated, in 1869 at the age of fourteen going to live with his uncle Timothy Daniel Sullivan MP in Dublin.

Early life

He then moved to England finding employment in 1871 with the North Eastern Railway Company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There he became deeply involved in the Irish Home Rule politics of the local Irish community. After leaving for London in 1878 Healy worked as a confidential clerk in a factory owned by his relative, then worked as a parliamentary correspondent for The Nation newspaper owned by his uncle, writing numerous articles in support of Parnell, the newly emergent and more militant home rule leader, and his policy of parliamentary obstructionism .

Parnell admired Healy's intelligence and energy after Healy had established himself as part of Parnell's broader political circle. He became Parnell's secretary, but was denied contact to Parnell's small inner circle of political colleagues. Parnell however brought Healy into the Irish Party (IPP) and supported him as a nationalist candidate for Wexford in 1880–83 against the aspiring John Redmond whose father, William Archer Redmond, was its recently deceased MP. Healy was returned unopposed to parliament, aided by the fact that Redmond stood aside.and surviving an agrarian court case which alleged that he had been guilty of intimidation.

Political career

In parliament Healy did not optically cut an imposing figure, but impressed by the application of sheer intelligence, diligence and volatile use of speech when he achieved the Healy Clause in the 1881 Land Act which provided that no further rent should in future be charged on tenant's improvements. By the mid-1880s Healy had already acquired a reputation for a scurrilousness of tone. He married his cousin Eliza Sullivan in 1882, they had three daughters and three sons and he enjoyed a happy and intense family life, closely interlinked both by friendship and intermarriage with the Sullivans of west Cork.

Through his reputation as a friend of the farmers, after having been imprisoned for four months following an agrarian case, and backed by Parnell, he was elected in a Monaghan by-election in June 1883-5, deemed to be the climax in the Healy-Parnell relationship. In 1884 he was called to the Irish bar as barrister (in 1889 to the inner bar as K.C., in London in 1910) . His reputation allowed him to build an extensive legal practice particularly in land cases. Parnell choose him unwisely for South Londonderry in 1885, which Ulster seat he only held for a year. He was then elected in 1886–92 for North Longford .

Prompted by the depression in the prices of dairy produce and cattle in the mid-1880 as well as bad weather for a number of years, many tenant farmers unable to pay their rents were left under the threat of eviction. Healy devised a stategy to secure a reduction in rent from the landlords which became known as the Plan of Campaign, organised in 1886 amongst others by Timothy Harrington.

Invective rift

Initially a passionate supporter of Parnell, he became disenchanted with his leader after the first clash occurred in 1886 when Healy opposed Parnell's party nomination of Captain William O’Shea to stand for Galway City. At the time O’Shea was separated from his wife, Katharine O'Shea, with whom Parnell was living in relationship. Only when Parnell unexpectedly turned up in Galway to back O’Shea, did Healy on this occasion give way for O’Shea to be elected.

Following the ensuing O'Shea divorce controversy which revealed that the party leader had had a lengthy family relationship with the wife of a fellow MP, whom he later married and was the father of three of her children, Healy felt unable to again give way to Parnell. His hostility had in one respect a rational basis, Parnell was recklessly endangering the Irish party's all-important alliance with Gladstonian Liberalism.

Healy became his sternest and most sharp-spoken critic. When Parnell asked his colleagues at one party meeting "Who is the master of the party?", Healy famously retorted with another question "Aye, but who is the mistress of the party?" – a comment which almost led him to come to blows with Parnell. His savage onslaught in public reflected his conservative Catholic origins and the relative immaturity of his mid-thirties[who?], as he revengefully destroyed a wealthy Protestant squire. He was additionally vulgar and abusive towards Mrs. O’Shea. A substantial minority of the Irish people never forgave him for this role during the divorce crisis, permanently damaging his own standing in Irish public life. The rift prompted a nine-year old Dublin schoolboy, James Joyce, to pen a poem called Et Tu, Healy?. Plaque on Bantry's Wolfe Tone Square commemorating Tim Healy's birth.


Following Parnell's death in 1891, the IPP's anti-Parnellite majority group broke away forming the Irish National Federation (INF) under John Dillon . Healy at first its most outspoken member, when in 1892 he captured North Louth for the anti-Parnellites, who in all won seventy-one seats. But finding it impossible to work with or under any post-Parnell leadership especially Dillon, he was expelled in 1895 from the INF executive committee, having previously been expelled from the Irish party's minor nine member pro-Parnellite Irish National League (INL) under John Redmond.

In the following decades, largely due to his expanding legal practise, he became a part-time politician and estranged from the national movement, setting up his own personal Healyite organisation, called the "People's Rights Association", with base as MP for north Louth (which seat he held until the December 1910 election when defeated by Richard Hazleton). He waged war during the 1890s with Dillon and his National Federation (INF) and then intrigued with Redmond's smaller Parnellite group to play a substantial role behind the scenes in helping the rival party factions to re-unite under Redmond in 1900.

Healy was extremely embittered by the fact that both his brothers and his followers were purged from the IPP list in the 1900 general election, and that his support for Redmond in the re-united party went unrewarded, on the contrary Redmond soon found it wiser to conciliate with Dillon. But Healy's talent for disruption was soon recognised when two years later he was again expelled. He remained "the enemy within", recruiting malcontent MPs. to harass the party and survived politically by dint of his assiduous constituency work, as well as through the influence of his clerical ally Cardinal Michael Logue.[2] Healy remained rooted in the extended Bantry Gang a highly influential political and commercial nexus based originally in West Cork, which included his key patron, the Catholic business magnate and owner of the Irish Independent, William Martin Murphy, who provided a platform for Healy and other critics of the IPP..

Coalition of a kind

However, at least after 1903 Healy was joined in his estrangement from the party leadership by William O'Brien. O’Brien had been for years one of Healy's strongest critics, but now he too felt annoyed both by his own alienation from the party and by Redmond's subservience to Dillon. Involved with the Irish Reform Association 1904-5, they entered a loose coalition, which lasted throughout the life of the IPP.. They were in agreement that agrarian radicalism brought little returns, and with Healy practically becoming a Parnellite, they preferred to pursue a policy of conciliation with the Protestant class in order to further the acceptance of Home Rule. Redmond was sympathetic to this policy, but was inhibited by Dillon. Redmond in an act of rapprochement, briefly re-united them with the party in 1908. Fiercely independent both split off again in 1909, responding to real changes in the social basis of Irish politics. In 1908 Healy acted as counsel for Arthur Vicars in connection with the 1908 investigation of the previous year's theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. All-for-Ireland League group portrait of five of its Independent Members of Parliament, 1910. These are: Patrick Guiney (North Cork), James Gilhooly (West Cork), Maurice Healy (North-east Cork), D. D. Sheehan (Mid Cork), and Eugene Crean (South-east Cork). The other MPs elected in January 1910 were: William O'Brien (Cork city), John O'Donnell (South Mayo) and Timothy Michael Healy (North Louth). Maurice and Timothy Healy were brothers.

By the 1910s, it looked as though Healy was to remain a maverick on the fringes of Irish nationalism. However, he came into notoriety once more when returned in the January 1910 general election in alliance with William O'Brien's newly founded All-for-Ireland Party (AFIL), their alliance based largely on common opposition to the Irish party. He lost his seat in the following December 1910 election, but soon afterwards rejoined the O'Brienites, O’Brien providing the 1911 north-east Cork by-election vacancy created by the retirement of Moreton Frewen. His reputation was not enhanced when he represented as counsel his associate William Martin Murphy, the industrialist who sparked the 1913 Dublin Lockout.

Redmond's and the IPP.'s powerful position of holding the balance of power at Westminster and with the Third Home Rule Act assured, left Healy and the AFIL critics in a weakened position. They condemned the bill as a 'partition deal', abstaining from its final vote in the Commons. With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 the Healy brothers supported the Allied and British war effort, two had a son enlist in one of the Irish divisions, Timothy's eldest son, Joe, fought with distinction at Gallipoli.

Having done much to damage the popular image and authority of constitutional nationalism, Healy after the Easter Rising was convinced that the IPP and Redmond were doomed and slowly withdrew from the forefront of politics, making it clear in 1917 that he was in general sympathy with Arthur Griffith's Sinn Féin movement, but not with physical force methods. In September that year he acted as counsel for the family of the dead Sinn Féin hunger striker Thomas Ashe. He was one of the few King's Counsel to provided legal services to members of Sinn Féin in various legal proceedings in both Ireland and England post the 1916 Rising. This included acting for those interned in 1916 illegally in Frongoch in North Wales. In 1920 the Bar Council of Ireland passed an initial resolution that any barrister appearing before the Dail Courts would be guilty of professional misconduct. This was challenged by Tim Healy and no final decision was made on the matter. Before the December 1918 general election he was the first of the AFIL members to resign his seat in favour of the Sinn Féin party's candidate and spoke in support of P. J. Little, the Sinn Féin candidate for Rathmines in Dublin.


He returned to considerable prominence in 1922 when, on the urging of the soon-to-be Irish Free State's Provisional Government of W. T. Cosgrave, the British government recommended to King George V that Healy be appointed the first 'Governor-General of the Irish Free State', a new office of representative of the Crown created in the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and introduced by a combination of the Irish Free State Constitution and Letters Patent from the King. The Constitution was enacted in December 1922. Healy was the uncle of Kevin O'Higgins, the Minister for Justice in the new Free State.

Initially the Irish government under Cosgrave wished for Healy to reside in a new small residence, but when facing death threats from the IRA, he was moved as a temporary measure into the Viceregal Lodge, the former 'out of season' residence of the Lord Lieutenant, the former representative of the Crown until 1922. Statement on Irish Free State passport (1927): We Timothy Healy, Esquire, one of His Majesty's Counsel, Governor General of the Irish Free State, Request and require, in the Name of His Britannic Majesty, all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely...etc.

Healy proved an able Governor-General, possessing a degree of political skill, deep political insight and contacts in Britain that the new Irish government initially lacked, and had long recommended himself to the Catholic hierarchy, all-round good credentials for this key symbolic and reconciling position at the centre of public life. He joked once that the government didn't advise him, he advised the government: a comment at a dinner for the Duke of York, Prince Albert (the future King George VI) that led to public criticism. However, the waspish Healy still could not help courting further controversy, most notably in a public attack on the new Fianna Fáil and its leader, Éamon de Valera, which led to republican calls for his resignation. Unlike his successors, Healy possessed a threefold role as Governor-General. He was simultaneously

  • representative of the King;
  • representative of the British Government;[unreliable source?]
  • native head of the Irish executive.

As a result, much of the contact between His Majesty's governments in London and Dublin went through him. He had access to all sensitive state papers, and received instructions from the British Government on the use of his powers to grant, withhold or refuse the Royal Assent to legislation enacted by the Oireachtas. However no Bills that he would have been required by these secret instructions to block, were introduced during his time as governor-general. That role of being the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland's government's representative, and acting on its advice, was abandoned throughout the British Commonwealth in the mid-1920s as a result of a Commonwealth Conference decision, leaving him and his successors exclusively as the King's representative and nominal head of the Irish executive.[unreliable source?]

Healy seemed to believe that he had been awarded the governor-generalship for life, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decided in 1927 that the term of office of governors-general would be five years. As a result he retired from the office and public life in January 1928. His wife died the previous year. He published his extensive two volume memoirs in 1928. Throughout his life he was formidable because he was ferociously quick-witted, because he was unworried by social or political convention, and because he knew no party discipline. Towards the end of his life he became more mellowed and otherwise more diplomatic.

He died on 26 March 1931, aged 75, in Chapelizod, County Dublin where he lived at his home Glenaulin, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. Notes


  • Maume, Patrick: The long Gestation, Irish Nationalist life 1881–1918 (1999)
  • Jackson, Alwin: Home Rule 1800–2000 pp. 100–103 (2003)
  • Bew, Paul: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
  • Cadogan, Tim & Falvey, Jeremiah: A Biographical Dictionary of Cork (2006)
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Timothy Michael Healy's Timeline

May 17, 1855
Bantry, Cork, Cork, Ireland
May 20, 1855
CORK & ROSS (RC) , Parish/Church/Congregation - BANTRY
March 26, 1931
Age 75
Chapelizod, County Dublin
Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin