Tim Healy (politician)

Timothy Michael Healy, KC (17 May 1855 – 26 March 1931) 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.

Timothy Michael Healy
1st Governor-General of the Irish Free State
In office
6 December 1922  31 January 1928
MonarchGeorge V
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byJames McNeill
Member of Parliament
In office
Personal details
Born(1855-05-17)17 May 1855
Bantry, County Cork, Ireland
Died26 March 1931(1931-03-26) (aged 75)
Chapelizod, County Dublin, Ireland

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 and his younger brother Maurice Healy (1859–1923), with whom he held a lifelong close relationship, was a solicitor and MP for Cork City.[1]

His father was descended from a family line which in holding to their Catholic faith, lost their lands,[2] 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.[3]

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 when elected MP for Wexford Borough 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 that he had survived an agrarian court case which alleging 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.[4]

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 chose 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 strategy 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.

In his novel The Man Who Was Thursday G.K. Chesterton describes one of his characters as a "... little man, with a black beard and glasses — a man somewhat of the type of Mr. Tim Healy ...".

Invective rift

Initially a passionate supporter of Parnell, he became disenchanted with his leader after Healy opposed Parnell's nomination of Captain William O’Shea to stand for a by-election in Galway city. At the time O’Shea was separated from his wife, Katharine O'Shea, with whom Parnell was secretly living. Healy objected to this, as the party had not been consulted and he believed Parnell was putting his personal relationship before the national interest. When Parnell travelled to Galway to support O’Shea, Healy was forced to back down.

In 1890 in a sensational divorce case O'Shea sued his wife for divorce, citing Parnell as co-respondent. Healy and most of Parnell's associates rejected Parnell's continuing leadership of the party, believing it was recklessly endangering the party's alliance with Gladstonian Liberalism. Healy became Parnell's most outspoken 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 that almost led to the men coming to blows. His savage onslaught in public reflected his conservative Catholic origin. A substantial minority of the Irish people never forgave him for his role during the divorce crisis, permanently damaging his own standing in public life. The rift prompted nine-year-old Dublin schoolboy James Joyce to write a poem called Et Tu, Healy?, which Joyce's father had printed and circulated.[5] Only three lines remain:[6]

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more.


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 was 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's, 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.[7]

In the following decades, largely due to his expanding legal practice, 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", based on his position as MP for North Louth (the 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 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 Dr. Michael Cardinal Logue, Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh.[8] 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 return, 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 Sir Arthur Vicars, former Ulster King of Arms, in connection with the 1908 investigation of the previous year's theft of the Irish Crown Jewels.

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. Healy's reputation was not enhanced when he represented as counsel his associate William Martin Murphy, the industrialist who sparked the 1913 Dublin Lockout.[9] Healy assiduously cultivated relationships with power brokers in Westminster such as Lord Beaverbrook, and once they were introduced at Cherkley, was great friends with Janet Aitken for the remainder of his life.[10]


Redmond's and the IPP's powerful position of holding the balance of power at Westminsterand with the Third Home Rule Act assuredleft 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.[11] 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 provide 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. During this time, Healy also represented Georgina Frost, in her attempts to be appointed a Petty Sessions clerk in her native County Clare.[12] In 1920 the Bar Council of Ireland passed an initial resolution that any barrister appearing before the Dáil 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 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 Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for Justice in the new Free State.

Initially the Government of the Irish Free State under Cosgrave wished for Healy to reside in a new small residence, but, 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.

Healy officially entered office as Governor-General on 6 December 1922. He never wore, certainly not in public in Ireland, the official ceremonial uniform of a Governor-General in the British Empire. At that time, in the 1920s, Healy was unique amongst viceregal representatives in the British Empire in this regard. Healy was also unique (along with his successor, James McNeill) amongst all the Governors-General in the British Empire in the 1920s in that he was never sworn in as a member of the Imperial Privy Council. Nor was he ever sworn into the Privy Council of Ireland, a body that ceased to exist in early December 1922. Thus, unusually for a Governor-General within the Empire, he never gained the prefix 'The Right Honourable' nor the post-nominals 'PC'.

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 (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.[13]

Much of the contact between His Majesty's governments in London and Dublin went through Healy. 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. For instance, Healy was instructed to reject any bill that abolished the Oath of Allegiance. However, neither this nor any other bill that he was secretly instructed to block were introduced during his time as Governor-General. That role of being the UK government's representative, and acting on its advice, was abandoned throughout the British Commonwealth in the mid-1920s as a result of an Imperial Conference decision, leaving him and his successors exclusively as the King's representative and nominal head of the Irish executive.

Healy seemed to believe that he had been awarded the Governor-Generalship for life. However, 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 had 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 mellowed and became 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.


  1. Frank Callanan, T. M Healy (Cork University Press, 1996)
  2. Bew, Paul, Timothy Michael Healy, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004–05) Vl.27 p.142: quote:
    His daughter wrote: One branch of the Healy’s, who turned protestant, [claimed] the land of a Catholic cousin . . . From the Catholic cousin who kept his faith and lost his lands was descended the family of whom Timothy Michael Healy was the second son. (Source: M. Sullivan No man’s man p.3 (1943)
  3. Callanan, T. M Healy (1996)
  4. Callanan, T. M Healy (1996)
  5. F.S.L. Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell (1977).
  6. irishtimes.com: "A Ghost Story"
  7. Callanan, T. M Healy (1996)
  8. Miller, David W.: Church, State and Nation in Ireland 1898–1921 Gill & Macmillan (1973), pps. 17, 50, 124, 143–4 ISBN 0-7171-0645-4
  9. Callanan, T. M Healy (1996)
  10. Kidd 1988
  11. Healy speech in the Commons §919, endorses war efforts
  12. Georgina Frost. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/74933.
  13. John Horgan (1999). Seán Lemass – The Enigmatic Patriot. p. 408.


  • Bew, Paul: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
  • Cadogan, Tim & Falvey, Jeremiah: A Biographical Dictionary of Cork (2006)
  • Jackson, Alwin: Home Rule 1800–2000 pp. 100–103 (2003)
  • Janet Aitken Kidd (1988). The Beaverbrook Girl : An Autobiography. London.
  • Maume, Patrick: The long Gestation, Irish Nationalist life 1881–1918 (1999)

Further reading

  • Frank Callanan, T. M Healy (Cork University Press, 1996) (ISBN 1-85918-172-4)
  • George Abbott Colburn, "T.M. Healy and the Irish Home Rule Movement, 1877–1886" (Ph.D. Dissertation, 2 vols., Michigan State University, 1971).
  • Foster, R. F. Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890–1923 (2015) excerpt
  • David Foxton, Revolutionary Lawyers, Sinn Féin and Crown Courts, (4 Courts Press, 2008), (ISBN 978-1-84682-068-7)
  • Sir Dunbar Plunket Barton, P.C., Timothy Healy: Memories and Anecdotes. (Dublin: Talbot Press Limited, and London: Faber & Faber, Limited, 1933).


  • Why is there an Irish Question and an Irish Land League? (1881)
  • Why Ireland is not Free, a study of twenty years in Politics (1898)
  • The Great Fraud of Ulster (1917)
  • Stolen Waters (1923)
  • The Planter's Progress (1923)
  • Letters and Leaders of My Day memoirs, 2 vols. (1928)

Political career

Political offices
New office Governor-General of the Irish Free State
Succeeded by
James McNeill
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Redmond
Member of Parliament for Wexford Borough
Succeeded by
Willie Redmond
New constituency Member of Parliament for Monaghan
New constituency Member of Parliament for North Monaghan
Succeeded by
Pat O'Brien
New constituency Member of Parliament for South Londonderry
Succeeded by
Thomas Lea
Preceded by
Justin McCarthy
Member of Parliament for North Longford
Succeeded by
Justin McCarthy
Preceded by
Joseph Nolan
Member of Parliament for North Louth
1892December 1910
Succeeded by
Richard Hazleton
Preceded by
Moreton Frewen
Member of Parliament for North East Cork
1911 – 1918
Succeeded by
Thomas Hunter
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