Gray, Edmund William Dwyer (1845–88), newspaper proprietor and politician, was born 29 December 1845 in Dublin, second son of Sir John Gray (qv) and Mary Anna Gray (née Dwyer; c.1821–87). He had three brothers and two sisters. Brought up in the Church of Ireland, he converted to catholicism in 1877 – presumably through the influence of his wife Caroline (née Chisholm), a devout, English-born Roman catholic. They had married in 1869, having met in extraordinary circumstances: in September 1868, a schooner was wrecked during a storm in Killiney Bay and Gray swam out with a rope to the doomed craft, saving five lives (for which he received the Tayleur Fund gold medal and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's silver medal); his future wife, by chance, witnessed this exploit and was afterwards introduced to the hero.
Gray's career began as a stockbroker but, when his father died (1875), he succeeded him as proprietor of the Freeman's Journal and followed him into politics, becoming a Dublin city councillor (1875–83) and home rule MP for Co. Tipperary (1877–80), Co. Carlow (1880–85) and the St Stephen's Green division of Dublin (1885–8). A moderate, he initially opposed Parnell (qv). He threw the weight of the Freeman (unsuccessfully) against Parnell's candidate in the decisive Ennis by-election of 1879 and then publicly (and probably wrongly) accused Parnell of having called certain colleagues in the Irish parliamentary party ‘papist rats’. When, after the 1880 general election, Parnell was elected chairman of the party, Gray (who presided at the election meeting) was one of eighteen MPs who voted against him. Thereafter, however, he largely supported Parnell's leadership – partly because he accepted that Parnell was now invincible, but also because Parnell established in 1881 his own weekly newspaper, United Ireland, with the Freeman's star reporter (and later MP), William O'Brien (qv), as editor. The threat that United Ireland might, if necessary, be turned into a daily organ to rival the Freeman copperfastened Gray's loyalty.
O'Brien wrote of Gray that he was ‘the most enterprising newspaperman Ireland ever produced’ (Recollections (1905)). Under his management, the Freeman's production capacity was greatly expanded, its circulation increased threefold, and it became highly profitable. So successful was it that Gray eventually converted it into a public company (with capital of £125,000, which was subscribed six times over), though retaining control for himself (1887). In addition, he acquired the Belfast Morning News (1882). The pursuit of his business interests – which also included the nascent Telephone Company of Ireland – was at least as important as politics in Gray's life. This is reflected in a harsh assessment of Gray by the then lord lieutenant, Earl Spencer (qv), in a letter to Gladstone dated 25 August 1882 (BL, Add. MS 44309, ff 115–18): ‘Gray is a man who plays a game & that a false game for he does not at heart believe in the policy of the Extreme men in Irish politics, & yet he is always pandering and Flattering their policy & themselves. His sole object is to make his paper pay. I confess that I have the lowest possible opinion of him.’ A similar judgment is suggested in Joyce's (qv) Dubliners: in the story ‘Grace’, when one of the characters recalls Gray ‘blathering away’ at the unveiling of his father's statue in O'Connell St., Dublin, another comments that ‘none of the Grays was any good’.
Gray, by all accounts, was not an effective parliamentarian – William O'Brien attributed this to ‘a thin, piping voice’ (Recollections (1905)) – but he gave sterling service on Dublin's city council, where he was particularly concerned with public health issues. His expertise in municipal affairs was later recognised when he was appointed, with inter alios the prince of Wales and Cardinal Manning, to the royal commission on the housing of the working classes (1884). He was lord mayor of Dublin (1880) and high sheriff of Dublin (1882). His term as lord mayor was marked by an acrimonious dispute with the lord lieutenant, the duke of Marlborough (qv), over resolutions passed at a public meeting in Dublin's City Hall about famine conditions in the west of Ireland. The Freeman had reported the famine in a series of articles commissioned – according to their author, William O'Brien – in order to restore Gray's reputation after his unsubstantiated ‘papist rats’ charge against Parnell. Gray, as lord mayor, chaired the City Hall meeting and also organised the Mansion House Fund (which raised £180,000) for relief of the famine. While holding the office of high sheriff, Gray was sentenced (August 1882) to three months’ imprisonment and a fine of £500 for having published in the Freeman adverse comments on the composition and conduct of the jury in the trial of one Francis Hynes for murder. Since the high sheriff could not arrest himself, it fell to the city coroner to do so. Because of widespread outcry over his imprisonment, Gray was set free after six weeks in Richmond jail, Dublin. His fine was paid by public subscription.
Gray's relationship with Parnell was never close. Quite simply, Parnell did not trust him. Consequently, when Gray sought to exchange his Carlow constituency for a more prestigious Dublin seat in the 1885 general election, Parnell at first vetoed the move; the archbishop of Dublin intervened on Gray's behalf, and Parnell relented. Gray, nevertheless, was one of nine MPs who assisted Parnell in selecting candidates for the 1885 election. Moreover, in the months before that election, he acted as an intermediary between Parnell and Lord Carnarvon (qv), the conservative lord lieutenant. Likewise, because of his friendship with Dilke and Chamberlain, Gray was a conduit between Parnell and the radicals in the British liberal party. This led to his involvement in the infamous 1886 by-election in which Parnell foisted Capt. O'Shea (qv), an associate of Chamberlain (and husband of Parnell's mistress), on the Galway constituency. Gray was prepared to back Parnell on this, but he declined to take the initiative in proposing O'Shea's candidature and expressed scepticism about Parnell's rationale that O'Shea's election would soften Chamberlain's opposition to home rule. The Freeman's support was a vital factor in Parnell's success on that occasion.
Often in delicate health due to chronic asthma and heavy drinking, Gray died suddenly on 27 March 1888 at his home, Pembroke House, Upper Mount St., Dublin. He was only 42. He had four children: Edmund John Chisholm Dwyer Gray (qv); another son, Archibald, who died aged two months (1875); and two daughters. Both daughters, after their father's death, were placed in convents by their mother when they left school – reputedly because, as an eligible widow, she feared that bringing out the girls in Dublin society would prejudice her chances of securing a second husband. The elder, Mary (1871–1913), entered the novitiate of the Irish Sisters of Charity at Milltown, Dublin, in August 1889, but left shortly before her profession (February 1892); she married (1896) Commander Gerald Edward Holland (1860–1917), DSO, of the Royal Indian Marine (later marine superintendent at Holyhead, Wales, 1905–14; he joined the Royal Engineers on the outbreak of war in 1914, served in France, rose to the rank of brigadier-general, and died on 26 June 1917 while on sick leave in England). Gray's younger daughter, Sylvia (1873–1951), became Mother Philomena of the Ursuline Convent, Waterford (which she entered in July 1890).
Gray's wife, Caroline (‘Carrie’) Agnes Gray (1848–1927), was born 13 May 1848 in London, second daughter – the first, also named Caroline, had died in infancy – and sixth of eight children of Archibald Chisholm (1798–1877), captain (later major) in the East India Company army, and Caroline Chisholm (née Jones) (1808–77), the philanthropist celebrated for her work for female emigrants to Australia but caricatured as Mrs Jellyby in Dickens's Bleak House. Throughout her husband's political career, and notably when he was lord mayor of Dublin, Mrs Gray was an accomplished hostess. After his death, she controlled more than 40 per cent of the shares in the Freeman company. So, though playing no role in its day-to-day operations, she was able to exert considerable influence over the newspaper. When, at the outset of the Parnell split, the Freeman came out in favour of Parnell, it was with her full agreement. In the first months of the split, she was one of a group of prominent Dublin catholic women who rallied in support of Parnell. She even appeared in public with him in Dublin in early 1891, dressed – according to the archbishop of Dublin – in a scarlet cloak. The archbishop subsequently described Mrs Gray as ‘a rock of scandal’ (22 Feb. 1891, Kirby papers).
Her stance was consistent with her late husband's reluctance in his latter years to oppose Parnell. However, once the anti-Parnellites launched their own daily newspaper, the National Press, in March 1891 and the Freeman began as a result to lose circulation and revenue, Mrs Gray wavered. Under the influence of her son (just returned from an extended visit to Australia, aged 21 and fearful for his inheritance), she resolved that the Freeman should abandon Parnell. This required a special general meeting of the Freeman company, held 21 September 1891, at which the pro-Parnell board was replaced with one that included both Mrs Gray's son and the man soon to become her second husband, Capt. Maurice O'Conor. The Freeman and the National Press later merged (March 1892); the merger agreement provided that the National Press company should buy Mrs Gray's Freeman shares for £36,000 and that the Freeman company should purchase the National Press newspaper, also for £36,000. Gray fils and his stepfather ceased to be directors of the merged company in 1893, ending the Gray family's association with the Freeman which had lasted over fifty years.
Maurice O'Conor (c.1860–1941), captain (later major) in the Connaught Rangers and a scion of the catholic gentry of Connacht, married Mrs Gray in November 1891. Third son of Arthur O'Conor, of Elphin, Co. Roscommon, he was related to the O'Conor Don (qv) and – through his mother, a Blake of Ballinafad – was first cousin to the novelist George Moore (qv). Mrs Gray was at least twelve years his senior. Their marriage was childless. They made their home on Inisfale Island (also known as O'Reilly's Island) in Lough Allen, near Drumshambo, Co. Leitrim, in the late 1890s. Mrs Gray passed the last thirty years of her life there in melancholy obscurity, afflicted by failing eyesight and eventually by blindness. She died 15 April 1927 on Inisfale. O'Conor died 3 January 1941 in a hotel in Dún Laoghaire, apparently in straitened circumstances.