Horgan, John Joseph (1881–1967), solicitor, author, and election agent, was born 26 April 1881 in Cork city, eldest among six sons of Michael Joseph Horgan, solicitor and Cork city coroner, and his wife Mary, daughter of George Philip Bowring. His mother was a Jerseywoman, so he grew up bilingual in French and English; his father was a nationalist who was election agent for C. S. Parnell (qv) in the Cork city constituency, and informal, unpaid lawyer to the party. Parnell was a close friend, best man at his wedding, and a frequent guest at the house, so that John was politicised early. In 1888, when the nationalist MPs James Gilhooly (qv) and William O'Brien (qv) were in Cork city gaol, his father allowed a brass band to serenade them from his garden. Another frequent visitor was Tim Healy (qv), but after the Parnell split, his father did not speak to him until 1902. John was educated at the Presentation College, Cork, and Clongowes Wood College, where he was a friend of Tom Kettle (qv) and Oliver St John Gogarty (qv). After leaving school (1897) he entered his father's firm and, at the same time, began a law degree in QCC. As part of the Incorporated Law Society's programme, he spent a year in Dublin attending lectures and there met W. B. Yeats (qv) at Gogarty's house. After graduating and being articled as a solicitor in 1902, he returned to Cork and joined his father's firm, where he worked for the rest of his life. Law was, however, only one facet of his career. He was a man of myriad interests and a gregarious character who soon had friends in every area of Irish (or at any rate, Cork) life. After joining the Gaelic League (he became vice-president of the Cork branch) he began a correspondence with Douglas Hyde (qv) and was soon close friends with Eoin MacNeill (qv), Edward Martyn (qv), and D. P. Moran (qv). His literary proclivities led him to write a play, ‘The nation builders’, which was performed in March 1905. He later dismissed it as pure propaganda, and his next literary outing was better suited to his talents: Great catholic laymen (1908), introduced by his friend Canon Sheehan (qv), was a collection of short biographies of key lay figures such as Louis Pasteur and Frederick Oznan, founder of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. It included only one Irishman, Daniel O'Connell (qv), who had been a friend of Horgan's grandfather. The sketch dwelt on O'Connell's private life and his religious, charitable disposition. It strongly repudiated any charges of libertinism. Horgan was an intellectual catholic, of tolerant, progressive opinions.
After befriending the new president of QCC, Sir Bertram Windle (qv), he married (16 September 1908) his daughter, Mary Catherine (d. 1920), and moved into a house, named Lacaduv, near the riverside in Cork city. By this time he had become involved in the Irish party, and in 1909 John Redmond (qv) asked him to stand for Cork city. His father's health, however, prevented him leaving the firm, so he contented himself with playing much the same role for Redmond as his father had for Parnell. He was election agent and behind-the-scenes man in Cork and did much to further the party's standing. As well as canvassing and electioneering, he put the party's case in two useful pamphlets, Home rule: a critical consideration (1911) and The complete grammar of anarchy (1918). The second of these was an ingenious pamphlet, consisting only of the more inflammatory sayings of Edward Carson (qv), William Moore (qv), and other loyalists, making the point that they, not the nationalists, were disloyal to the crown. The title came from a 1912 phrase of the then prime minister, Asquith. The first edition was banned by the British government.
On the death of his father (1915), Horgan succeeded him as Cork city coroner (2 December 1915) and within five months had shot into the limelight over his judgement on the torpedoing of the Lusitania. His verdict at the inquest of ‘wilful and wholesale murder’ made headlines across the world, with a British magazine creating a cartoon showing the Kaiser crushed under its weight.
The 1916 rising surprised and angered Horgan. He knew some of its perpetrators, had planned to send his children to school under P. H. Pearse (qv), and in 1913 had recommended Éamon de Valera (qv) for the post of mathematics lecturer to QCC; however, he was on closer terms with Eoin MacNeill and Roger Casement (qv), with whom he had corresponded in his capacity as a Cork harbour commissioner when the Cunard line had claimed that Cork harbour could not support its ships. Through Casement, Horgan hoped to attract the Hamburg–Amerika line to Cork. Judging the rising, he thought that Casement was right in wishing to prevent it, and that the IRB's deluding of Eoin MacNeill was cynical and undemocratic. From a catholic viewpoint he thought bloodshed unjustified as the people were not suffering under intolerable conditions, and had not demanded regime change en masse. However, he deplored the executions and was part of a Cork deputation demanding their cessation. In 1918 he played no part in the election, as he foresaw Sinn Féin's inevitable victory. The outcome left him, however, embittered. He apportioned blame all round, from the duplicity of Lloyd George, to the aggression of the Ulster unionists, to Kitchener's (qv) war policies, but reserved special bitterness for those nationalists who had accepted partition. In his later commentary on the events, From Parnell to Pearse (1946), he ended with: ‘They sacrified Irish unity to Irish sovereignty and attained neither.’ The book, a cogent defence of the Irish parliamentary party, is part autobiography, part history, and benefits from Horgan's proximity to people and events from an early age.
After 1918 he was never so prominent in politics again, and his career in general was less glittering. He remained, however, closely engaged in Cork public life. A lasting legacy was his influence on municipal management. In 1920 and 1923 he contributed articles to Studies on a new city management system; on the dissolution of the Cork corporation by court order in 1925, he was invited to draft a new system for municipal government. This formed the basis of the 1929 Cork city management act, which Fianna Fáil applied, a number of years later, to the entire country. His other high-profile intervention was his protest in 1935 over the forced teaching of Irish to children, which he felt dulled the language. As he had been an early supporter of the Gaelic League, his arguments could not be dismissed.
In 1934 he acted as mediator in a dispute between employers and the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, and was so successful that it was agreed that all future disputes should first be referred to him. As chairman of the Cork harbour commissioners (1924–5, 1949–61) he represented the body at the Irish port authorities association, and had a wharf named in his honour. Other activities and positions include chairman of the Cork chamber of commerce (1936–8); Barrington lecturer on economics (1943–4); chairman of Carrigaline Pottery Co.; and president of the Cork Literary and Scientific Association (1928–31) and of the Cork Arts Society (1963). After his retirement (1961) he took up painting.
He died at Bon Secours nursing home, Cork, on 21 July 1967, survived by his second wife (m. 1923), Mary, daughter of Walter Brand of Madras. He had two sons and a daughter from his first marriage, and a son and daughter from his second.