Harrington, Timothy Richard (1866–1937), journalist, was born 14 September 1866 in Castletownbere, Co. Cork, son of John Harrington, farmer, and Honora Harrington (née Harrington). He was christened plain ‘Timothy’, but began adding ‘Richard’ to his name early in his career – perhaps to differentiate himself from the better-known Timothy C. Harrington (qv), journalist and MP, who was also a native of Castletownbere. They were not, however, related. Both were associated – albeit at different times – with Dublin's Independent newspapers, T. C. Harrington briefly in the early 1890s and T. R. Harrington for over thirty years from 1900. The latter first came to Dublin in 1897, to take up the post of chief reporter of the new Daily Nation. He had previously worked on the Cork Daily Herald, which he joined in the mid 1880s when Alderman John Hooper (qv) was editor.
The Daily Nation was the personal mouthpiece of T. M. Healy (qv), MP, and was spawned from the old weekly Nation which, from 1855 to 1890, had been the property successively of Healy's uncles, A. M. (qv) and T. D. Sullivan (qv). It was funded by Healy's close associate, William Martin Murphy (qv). Following reunification of the Irish parliamentary party in 1900, Murphy also acquired the Irish Daily Independent – organ of the pro-Parnell MPs since 1891, but now redundant in that role. Murphy merged the two papers, under the Daily Nation's editor, William F. Dennehy (qv), with Harrington as chief reporter. The Daily Nation had incurred heavy financial losses, and the merged paper did likewise. In 1904 Murphy resolved to address this problem by transforming his paper into the modern Irish Independent. Harrington was made editor in place of Dennehy, and the first edition appeared on 2 January 1905. Modelled on Northcliffe's revolutionary Daily Mail (launched in 1896), it cost half the price of its competitors – i.e., a halfpenny – and had a more popular format and a less partisan editorial policy. It was a resounding success, with profits of £15,000 by 1915 and circulation rising from an initial 25,000 to 100,000 in 1915. Profits and circulation continued to grow, checked only by the establishment of the Irish Press in 1931.
Harrington's contribution to the Independent's success was twofold. First, he determined its style of reporting, instructing reporters ‘to approach the work with a perfectly open mind . . . and confine themselves as a rule to reporting facts or speeches in a fair and impartial way, following our usual practice of not giving things fully’ (Harrington papers, NAI, 1052/3/4). Neither objectivity nor brevity was the norm in Irish journalism at that time. Secondly, he fought for and secured an unprecedented degree of editorial independence – especially rejecting attempted interference by Healy, who deeply resented no longer having a subservient newspaper at his disposal. Murphy himself tended to remain at a distance from day-to-day editorial matters, which was how he had agreed the paper should be run. However, even his spasmodic interventions were rebuffed – not always successfully – by Harrington. On one occasion, he told Murphy that ‘your unpopular political views would, if published in the paper in the form in which you want them, inflict untold injury on it’ (28 June 1915, Murphy papers; quoted in Frank Callanan, T. M. Healy (1996), 485–6). Instead, Harrington's approach was to follow public opinion (as he perceived it) and articulate positions broadly acceptable to his predominantly middle-class, Roman Catholic, nationalist readers – so as not to lose their custom.
That formula generally served the Independent well, though not in relation to the 1916 rising. Like the other mainstream Irish newspapers, it condemned the rising unreservedly. Then, when the number of executions started to mount and there were demands for clemency, it dissented from those demands and in two notorious editorials (10, 12 May 1916) called for the execution of those leaders ‘not yet dealt with’ (Ir. Independent, 10 May 1916). The leaders in question, James Connolly (qv) and Seán Mac Diarmada (qv), were shot early on the morning of 12 May, a few hours after the second editorial had gone to press: they were already dead when most people read it. Harrington wrote these pieces without the knowledge of Murphy, who was in London for discussions with the government on compensation for property damaged during the rising. Murphy repudiated them in private, but never in public (apparently out of loyalty to his editor). The charge of having sought the deaths of Connolly and Mac Diarmada haunted Murphy until his own death in 1919, and would haunt his newspaper for much longer. Why did Harrington write such bloodthirsty editorials? The probable explanation is that he simply misread the shifting public mood, for he was quoted soon afterwards as saying – somewhat ruefully – that ‘the people cried out for vengeance and when they got it they howled for clemency’ (29 June 1916, Harrington papers, NAI, 1052/5/2).
Despite its response to the 1916 rising, the Irish Independent under Harrington's editorship had long been critical of the Irish parliamentary party – persistently accusing it of jobbery (particularly in local government) and differing with it on, for example, Lloyd George's 1909 budget and the financial provisions of the third home rule bill. William O'Brien (qv), MP, characterised the editorial stance adopted by Harrington as ‘giving voice to the suppressed wrath of the country’ against the party (William O'Brien, ‘The party’: who they are and what they have done (1917), 31). The Irish Independent thus played a significant role in undermining the party's authority – even before the 1916 rising. After 1916, it gave support to Sinn Féin once it was clear that public opinion was moving in that direction. Strongly in favour of the Anglo–Irish treaty of 1921, it eventually became the semi-official organ of the Cumann na nGaedheal government of the Irish Free State. Harrington remained editor until 1931, but his health broke down in 1924 and his influence was much reduced thereafter. Significantly, he retired in August 1931 – just as the Independent prepared to meet the imminent challenge of de Valera's Irish Press (launched 5 September 1931). He was a director of the Independent company from 1929 until his death (24 September 1937).
Harrington married (1898) Catherine Collins (c.1865–1952), shop assistant and daughter of John Collins, farmer; she too had been born in Co. Cork. They had four sons and three daughters: three sons became doctors, the other a dentist. A collection of Harrington's papers is held in the NAI.