Healy, John Edward (1872–1934), journalist and newspaper editor, was born 17 March 1872 in Drogheda, Co. Louth, the only son and eldest child of James Stanislaus Healy, a solicitor, and Kate Mary Healy (née Appleyard), daughter of John Edward Appleyard, Church of Ireland clergyman, also from Drogheda. Educated at the local grammar school, he entered TCD in 1892 with a sizarship in classics. Healy's initial academic preoccupations seem to have been religious: he considered clerical life and covered most of the requisite divinity course before discarding the idea. In 1895 he obtained a scholarship in classics, and the following year became first senior moderator in modern literature and junior moderator, with the bronze prize, in classics. His exceptional scholarly abilities were also reflected in his winning the vice-chancellor's prize for English literature three years in succession (1894–6) for both poetry and prose. In 1893, while still an undergraduate, he began teaching at Benson's school in Rathmines, Dublin, and the following year lectured part-time at Alexandra College, Dublin.
Having edited the TCD student magazine, after graduating he joined the staff of the Daily Express in Dublin in 1898. When the paper was purchased by Arthur Edward Guinness (qv), Healy was appointed editor. He relinquished this post shortly afterwards in favour of pursuing a legal career, but while reading for the bar continued his journalistic work, becoming Dublin correspondent for The Times (London) in 1899, an occasional leader writer for the Irish Times, and editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette. In 1906 he qualified as a barrister, but the following year abandoned the law and was appointed editor of the Irish Times, succeeding William Algernon Locker. He was to remain editor until 1934, presiding over the paper at a time of unprecedented change, involving civil, political, and military unrest.
Politically Healy was a staunch unionist in the all-Ireland tradition; having a strong sense of Irish imperial (as opposed to Ulster) identity, he was deeply committed politically and economically to the idea of a unified Ireland attached to the British empire. The rise of militant nationalism threatened the survival of his political philosophy and he unreservedly supported John Redmond (qv) when the Irish Volunteers split over support for the allies’ war effort: he was among the first group of journalists to visit the western front. After the 1916 rising he called for an immediate suppression of the Sinn Féin movement. He believed that unless Ireland were united no form of self-government would be feasible and he became a strong proponent of the doomed Unionist Anti-Partition League. He was friendly with Horace Plunkett (qv), supporting the cooperative movement, and frequently took advice from Sir J. P. Mahaffy (qv), who had been his tutor at TCD.
During the war of independence and civil war (1919–23) Healy consistently refused an armed guard, though his life may have been in danger as he walked to and fro between the Irish Times offices and his home in Pembroke Road, Dublin. In addition, he resisted what must have been tempting offers of employment in England. Having accepted the reality of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and a new political order, he was especially helpful to the provisional government during the civil war, supported the Free State's position within the British commonwealth, and vehemently opposed the rise of Fianna Fáil. His editorial approach continued to represent the paper as the voice of the Irish protestant gentry, but he was a more sophisticated editor than his predecessor.
Healy's journalistic style, which was marked by perfection of phrase and a penchant for classical allusion, was indebted to his classical education at TCD; the university conferred on him an honorary MA in 1923. Outside journalism, his main interests were literary, particularly the work of Horace and eighteenth-century Irish and English literature. These academic leanings decorated all his work, particularly his leading articles. He insisted that the paper's ‘leaders’ conform to rigid rules as to length and structure, and although some contemporaries regarded them as models of pure English others felt they revealed ‘a man of remarkable inflexibility of mind’ (Fleming, 160). As an editor, he insisted on unyielding standards of professional honour and despised vulgarity, though he was not averse to occasional sharp and acerbic exchanges. He seems to have remained aloof from the rest of the Irish Times staff and his austerity was said to strike terror into the more junior members.
Socially Healy was very close to Sir John Arnott (1853–1940), at whose instigation he had taken the post of editor of the Irish Times, but in the last years of his life he became an increasingly reclusive figure: ‘always alone, always with the neatly rolled umbrella, the neat bowler-hat, and the neat iron-grey moustache’ (Fleming, 129). He did, however, attend the Imperial Press Conference as an Irish representative in 1931. His death in Dublin on 30 May 1934 was a significant turning point for the Irish Times, inaugurating the era of R. M. Smyllie (qv), who recognised that Healy's editorial line had become increasingly bankrupt and was determined to bring the paper more into line with the political realities of the day.
In 1899 Healy had married Adeline Poë Alton of Limerick, a sister of Dr E. H. Alton (qv), classical scholar and future provost of TCD. They had two sons, both of whom became Royal Air Force flight lieutenants.