Doheny, Michael (1805–62), Young Ireland nationalist and author, was born 22 May 1805 at Brookhill, parish of Fethard, Co. Tipperary, the second son of Michael Doheny of Brookhill, a small farmer, and Ellen Doheny (née Keley). He received a rudimentary education from an itinerant scholar while labouring on his father's holding, and in 1826 attended Maher's classical academy near Emly for nine months. Educating himself in the late 1820s and early 1830s while teaching the children of local farmers, he determined on a career in law to help secure political redress for the disenfranchised poor. He entered the King's Inns, Dublin (1835), and was called to the Irish bar in 1838. Settling later that year in Cashel, Co. Tipperary, he first practised in the local courts and then on the southern circuit. Appointed legal assessor to the borough of Cashel under the municipal corporations act of 1840, he successfully prosecuted former borough officers for misappropriation of funds and fraudulent transfer of property, winning wider attention. He had supported the campaign for repeal in the early 1830s, and in 1841 joined Daniel O'Connell's (qv) Loyal National Repeal Association, becoming active in forming temperance bands and setting up town meetings. By May that year he was on the association's general committee. O'Connell found him less tractable than most and was ruffled by his queries into the association's financial management.
During 1842 Doheny became associated with the young militant repealers gathering around Thomas Davis (qv). There was a marked gap in age and class between Doheny and most of this group and some looked down on his lack of refinement. Others, however, admired his zeal and sincerity, and an anonymous colleague described him as ‘rough, generous, bold, a son of the soil, slovenly in dress, red-haired and red-featured, but a true personification of the hopes, passions, and traditions of the people’ (Duffy, Four years, 335). Assisting in the launch of The Nation (October 1842), Doheny was chagrined to find most of his articles rejected as unfit for publication, although fifteen were published between January 1843 and September 1844. He also published a competent History of the American revolution (1846) for The Nation's ‘Library of Ireland’ series. More impressive as a speaker than a writer, Doheny contributed regularly to repeal meetings at Conciliation Hall, Burgh Quay, Dublin. He enthused at the apparent martial potential of the immense, ordered crowds attending the ‘monster’ repeal meetings of 1843, and was one of the main organisers of the Cashel meeting of 31 May 1843, at which he was loudly cheered. However, his later claim to have deliberately set up these meetings, with Davis and John Blake Dillon (qv), on quasi-military lines in order to prepare the peasantry for a future war with Britain, was far-fetched. His opposition to O'Connell's decision to submit to proclamation of the proposed meeting of 8 October 1843 at Clontarf again greatly irritated O'Connell.
An active member of the Repeal Association parliamentary committee from February 1844, in February and March 1845 he chaired a sub-committee of five senior barristers investigating the legality of withdrawal from the house of commons by the body of repeal MPs, coming ‘reluctantly’ to the verdict that such an action was open to criminal prosecution. O'Connell's gruff dismissal of his report testified to their awkward relationship. He further vexed O'Connell by his advocacy of non-denominational university education during debates on the Irish university bill (July 1845). Irrevocable divisions between the Young Irelanders and O'Connell opened up between April and July 1846 when Doheny led calls for endorsement of the conduct of William Smith O'Brien (qv) – imprisoned for a month for refusal to serve on a parliamentary committee – and voiced Young Ireland's martial convictions in a speech at Liverpool. After the secession of the Young Irelanders from the Repeal Association in July 1846, he opposed attempts at reconciliation, and was one of the founders of the Irish Confederation (13 January 1847).
During the summer of 1847 Doheny began setting up confederate clubs in east Tipperary and aided James Fintan Lalor (qv) in organising a failed tenant league meeting at Holycross, Co. Tipperary, on 19 September. He was one of the few Young Irelanders attracted to Lalor's revolutionary agrarian philosophy, but supported Smith O'Brien against John Mitchel (qv) in January 1848, deploring irresponsible demands for insurrection. However after Mitchel's conviction for treason felony in May, he supported armed action. Arrested for seditious speechmaking at Cashel (12 July), he was bailed on 20 July. During the confused period of ‘rebellion’ in late July Doheny attempted to organise the peasantry in Tipperary but was frustrated by O'Brien's vacillation.
After the collapse of the armed adventure at Ballingarry on 31 July he took refuge near Slievenamon and, with James Stephens (qv), eluded pursuit for nearly two months, until he finally escaped, disguised as a clergyman, on a cattle-ship from Cork to Bristol. Some days later he reached Paris, where he stayed for two months with Stephens and John O'Mahony (qv) before leaving for New York. Practising law in New York, he dedicated himself to the development of an Irish-American republican movement. Tensions between conservative and radical Young Ireland exiles (perhaps aggravated by social snobbery) surfaced by late 1849, when Doheny was arrested for attempting to push Thomas D'Arcy McGee (qv) into an open cellar on a New York street, angered by accusations of boasting, drunkenness, and incompetence. Similar criticisms were made by John Blake Dillon, and appear to have had some foundation.
Doheny found time to write The felon's track (1849), a polemical account of the repeal agitation and the 1848 insurrection that was highly critical of O'Connell. Despite a rambling narrative, it became a popular work and was reprinted several times. He also gave several lectures on historical and literary subjects to Irish-American societies and contributed a memoir on Geoffrey Keating (qv) to O'Mahony's translation (1857) of Foras Feasa ar Éirinn. Involved with the New York Irish militia from his arrival, he was elected lieutenant colonel of the 69th regiment in November 1851, and in September 1852 became colonel of a new regiment, the Irish Republican Rifles. These formations were often wracked by dissension over strategy and leadership, and in February 1856 Doheny and O'Mahony founded the Emmet Monument Association, planning to mobilise an Irish-American force to invade Ireland. Efforts to acquire Russian backing failed on the close of the Crimean war in March 1857.
In autumn 1857 the two made overtures to James Stephens to reorganise the republican movement in Ireland, and in March 1858 they accepted Stephens's demands for undisputed authority there, though by the winter of 1858–9 Doheny showed increasing distrust of Stephens's ambitions. Adopting the organisational structure set out by Stephens in establishing the IRB in 1858, he and O'Mahony founded the American equivalent, the Fenian Brotherhood, in early 1859, although Doheny played a subordinate part. In July 1859 he founded and edited a short-lived newspaper in New York, The Phoenix, to promote Fenian ideals. Active in opposing the national petition for self-government of 1860–61, he argued that Britain would only yield to force. He assisted in making preparations for the funeral of Terence Bellew McManus (qv) in Ireland and acted as one of the pallbearers in New York. Travelling to Ireland in October 1861 he appears to have argued for using the excitement engendered by the funeral to spark an insurrection in Dublin, but was thwarted by Stephens. He died 1 April 1862 in New York and was buried in Calvary cemetery.
He married (c. June 1838) Ellen O'Dwyer of Tipperary; they had two sons.