Maguire, John Francis (1815–72), politician and newspaper proprietor, was born 20 February 1815 in Cork city, eldest son of John Maguire, a prosperous Cork merchant, and his wife Ellen Jackson. Because of his father's wealth, Maguire received a first-class education, and from a young age displayed remarkable literary skills; while preparing for the bar (admitted to Middle Temple 1838 and to King’s Inns 1840) he contributed to the newspapers and periodicals of the day. Maguire was a keen proponent of Daniel O'Connell (qv) and in August 1841 he established the Cork Examiner as a temperance and repeal organ; it soon became a recognised authority on Irish affairs and went on to become one of the most important and respected newspapers in Ireland. Although Maguire was called to the Irish bar in January 1843, he never actually practised his profession, preferring instead to devote his time to journalism and politics.
While working as editor-proprietor of the Cork Examiner, Maguire unsuccessfully contested two parliamentary elections in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, presenting himself first as a repeal candidate in July 1847 (losing by only fifteen votes), and then again as a liberal candidate in May 1851. He succeeded the following year and sat as Dungarvan's MP (1852–65) until he stepped down to represent Cork city (1865–72). In the house of commons Maguire sided with the ‘independent opposition’, an Irish party that pledged itself to resist any government that refused to concede tenant right, disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and several other nationalist demands. He was especially concerned with tenant right and pushed for the granting of the ‘three Fs’ – fixity of tenure, fair rent, and freedom of sale. Accordingly, he took part in all debates on the Irish land question, introduced a tenants’ compensation bill (1858), a version of which was ratified in 1860, proposed a select committee on the topic (1863), and was appointed its chairman (1865). The culmination of his efforts was the land act of 1870, which, although falling short of the ‘three Fs', nevertheless increased tenants’ rights. A powerful speaker and brilliant orator, Maguire did much to improve the condition of the Irish in Britain and Ireland: he pushed for an improved Irish national education system and led a campaign that resulted in the reduction of the period of settlement in England from five years to six months, ensuring Irish immigrants' eligibility for English poor relief. Perhaps his most important speech was on 10 March 1868, when he dramatically stressed the injustice of maintaining an official church that only represented a small fraction of Ireland's population; his compelling words elicited the first declaration by Gladstone against the Church of Ireland, ultimately resulting in disestablishment (1869). Although nationalist, his views were moderate enough to make him popular among the two main political parties; both repeatedly offered him office, but he steadfastly refused. Maguire, like O'Connell before him, detested violence, but though he condemned Fenian actions, he respected their beliefs and attempted to negotiate the terms of their prison sentences (1865–7). A practical man, he believed that the proximity of Britain and Ireland made complete separation impossible, but he was attracted by the moderate nationalism of Isaac Butt (qv), and near the end of his life joined the home rule party (1870).
Especially devoted to his native city of Cork, where he served as lord mayor (1853, 1862–4), Maguire sat on the harbour board, and was an occasional poor law guardian. He took a keen interest in Cork's industry and supported its development by organising Ireland's first industrial exhibition (June–September 1852), publishing The industrial movement in Ireland (1853), and promoting the growth of the flax industry in southern Ireland. He even attempted to start his own flax company, but it had only a few good years before collapsing altogether. More successful was his attempt to establish a Cork linen industry, for which he constructed a spinning mill built for 12,000 spindles. He contributed to the local economy by arranging for Cork steamships to replace English ones in transporting coal from Wales, thus saving on shipping costs and increasing employment. He also used his parliamentary connections to secure the construction of a naval dock in Cove (Cobh). As lord mayor, he worked towards reducing the number of street beggars, made sure workhouse conditions were not too harsh, and spearheaded sanitary reform by ordering the daily cleansing and lime-washing of the city streets.
Maguire had many other interests outside politics. He was a devoted catholic and ardent supporter of Pope Pius IX, visited Rome on three occasions, and wrote Rome and its rulers (1857; 2nd ed. 1859; enlarged ed. 1870). In recognition of his support the pope made him a knight commander of the order of St Gregory (1856). Maguire was a brilliant raconteur and an able writer, who wrote on many topics: after a six-month tour of the USA and Canada (1866), his The Irish in America (1868) and America and its relation to Irish immigration (1869) both gained him popularity with the Irish abroad. Unusual for the period, he was also an advocate of female suffrage, and in 1871 he wrote the three-volume novel The next generation, which postulated what would happen if women were given basic rights.
Maguire and his wife were lifelong teetotallers; he was a close friend of Fr Theobald Mathew (qv), and in 1863 wrote The life of Father Mathew, which, although containing several inaccuracies, effectively captured the personality of the leader of the temperance movement. In honour of his friend, Maguire played a key role in the erection of his statue in Cork (October 1864). By the autumn of 1872, the magnitude and quantity of Maguire's commitments were beginning to take their toll, and he fell ill. In hopes of finding a cure for his ailments, he travelled to Dublin, but adequate treatment was not forthcoming, and after a short while, he died (1 November 1872) while staying at St Stephen's Green. It was reported that when news of his death reached the citizens of Dublin, thousands of people arrived to pay their respects. After a procession through the streets of Dublin, Maguire's body was taken back to Cork, where he was buried in St Joseph's cemetery. On the day of his funeral, every shop in the city was closed, blinds were drawn, flags flew at half mast, and thousands of Corkonians gathered in the streets to pay their final respects to a man who had been so devoted to their wellbeing. A national tribute in his honour was collected for his wife and children, and many prominent Irish and British public figures contributed to it, including Queen Victoria.
Maguire married (1843) Margaret, second daughter of Robert Bailey of Cork. They had seven children and lived in Ardmanagh, Passage West, Co. Cork.