Dennehy, William Francis (1853–1918), journalist and editor, was born in 1853, the eldest son of Alderman Cornelius Dennehy, JP, a Dublin rectifying distiller, wine merchant and supporter of Daniel O'Connell (qv), who purchased an estate in Co. Longford under the encumbered estates act. As a young man Dennehy, who had lifelong health problems, developed a strong interest in historical research on religious subjects.
He began his career in his father's business, but in 1886 and 1887 was secretary to the lord mayor of Dublin, T. D. Sullivan (qv). Dennehy bought the Nation group of newspapers from Sullivan in 1888, in association with the businessman J. J. Lalor, and became sole proprietor in 1913. For the rest of his life Dennehy edited the Irish Catholic, which Sullivan had founded in May 1888 as an Irish nationalist rival to the pro-conservative English catholic weekly, the Tablet. Dennehy promptly cut wages and tried to force his printers to leave their union; several were locked out, including the young Arthur Griffith (qv). After several years William Martin Murphy (qv) brokered a compromise to end this political embarrassment.
The new paper launched outspoken campaigns against protestant proselytism in Dublin slums and anti-catholic discrimination within the civil service. These were so vitriolic that in 1894 Archbishop William Walsh (qv) threatened to denounce it unless it stated it was not an official church paper. It was, however, widely read by catholic clergy and acted as a fundraising vehicle for catholic charities at home and abroad. Its weekly columns from Rome, Paris and Spain drew on international catholic networks. Dennehy wrote extensively for British and American catholic journals and in his later years of editorship, episcopal pastorals frequently praised the Irish Catholic, carrying words of commendation from Cardinal Logue (qv) on its editorial page.
Although Dennehy consistently supported home rule (his works included The story of the union told by its plotters), he fervently upheld the British empire, believing catholics should support legally constituted authority and nationalists were foolish in presenting unionists as the only loyal Irish subjects of the crown. He was a governor of the Dublin Orthopaedic Hospital and the Royal Hospital for Incurables and his world view combined paternalistic charity with hatred and fear of the Dublin ‘mob’. Parnellism and Larkinism provoked him to hysterical denunciations of mob rule as did talk of the French revolution ‘reign of terror’. Dennehy shared Murphy's worst characteristics, but lacked the tycoon's tactical and strategic awareness and his static world view had more in common with French royalism than Irish nationalism.
Dennehy was a vitriolic anti-Parnellite; an Irish Catholic editorial on the death of Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) suggesting in uncompromising tones that he was certainly damned gave widespread and lasting offence and when the Parnell monument was unveiled in 1910 the Irish Catholic denounced it as pagan. Dennehy was associated with T. M. Healy (qv) and William Martin Murphy in the foundation of the National Press as an anti-Parnellite rival to the Freeman's Journal and took a leading position on its commercial staff. After the merger of the National Press with the Freeman's Journal led to a Dillonite takeover, Murphy financed the Daily Nation as a politico-journalistic vehicle for Healyism; it appeared from 1897 to 1900, edited by Dennehy. From 1900 to 1904, Dennehy edited the merged Independent and Nation but his longwinded and moralistic editorials increased the paper's heavy losses. He did, however, foster public support for the negotiations that produced the Wyndham land act and constantly supported land purchase. He believed that the transfer of land from predominantly protestant landlords to catholic farmers would promote catholic interests and political conservatism. Murphy relaunched the Independent in 1904, retaining the Nation title and thereafter Dennehy concentrated on the Irish Catholic.
Dennehy used the Independent and Nation to promote the Irish Institute of Commerce and Industries, which he co-founded in 1903, and to assist Murphy in organising the 1907 Dublin international exhibition. Dennehy and Murphy also co-operated on Dublin reception committees for Edward VII (1907) and George V (1911) and in opposing Larkinism, which Dennehy saw as a ‘continental socialist’ conspiracy to seduce Irish catholic workmen away from their religion. Dennehy fully accepted the ‘mythology of the secret societies’ propagated by continental reactionaries, seeing masonic conspiracies in every revolutionary or radical movement. He was a lifelong anti-Dreyfusard, opposing the 1908 Turkish revolution because the Ottoman ancien régime at least believed in God, unlike the Young Turks, and he predicted the 1917 Russian revolution would end in bloodshed and chaos.
Dennehy was bedridden in the last years of his life, but edited and directed his paper almost to the end. He was a fervent supporter of the allied cause in the first world war, attributing the horrors of Prussianism to Martin Luther; he claimed freemasons had corrupted Austrian catholicism, suggesting the masons had murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The war's first months led him to relaunch his long-running campaign to increase the number of catholic chaplains in the British forces. He regarded success in this campaign (for which the bishops formally thanked him in 1915) as his greatest achievement; his obituarist proclaimed that many soldiers owed their eternal salvation to him. He denounced the Easter rising and opposed Sinn Féin. Some of his last editorials denounce ‘Senor de Valera, the patriot from Andalusia’ and regret that such uncatholic subversives did not receive the drastic but effective treatment the Spanish government meted out to rebels.
Dennehy died 2 March 1918 at his house in Leeson St., Dublin. He was unmarried, and was survived by two sisters. The Irish Catholic was left to a long-serving employee, Patrick J. Fogarty, whose family retained the paper for several decades. The unctuous catholic jingo, Alderman Boag in Aodh de Blacam's (qv) novel Holy Romans, may be based on Dennehy.