Maguire, Thomas (1831–89), classicist and unionist, was born 24 January 1831 in Dublin, son of Thomas Maguire, a catholic businessman. He had two sisters, Eliza and Mary. Their father became a colonial magistrate in Mauritius, where Thomas junior, after education in Dublin, lived with his family from 1846 until his return in 1851 to study classics and metaphysics at TCD. Residual discrimination against awarding college scholarships to catholics meant he received a sizarship, a lesser TCD maintenance grant. He excelled in both subjects and won the Wray prize in metaphysics (1853). He graduated BA in classics and philosophy and became a scholar in 1855. In 1857 he received the Berkeley medal in Greek literature and composition. As TCD had sufficiently eased its restrictions in 1855 to grant scholarships to catholics and others with comparable ‘disabilities’, Maguire's academic distinctions helped him to win a coveted placement at Lincoln's Inn, London, in 1861. In June 1862 he was called to the English bar but did not practise for long and returned to Dublin about 1866.
TCD's religious test still barred him from a fellowship. Convinced, however, that it was his true spiritual home, he took up private teaching there and in the same year published his first philosophical work, An essay on the Platonic idea. Other publications followed, on Aeschylus and the works of earlier classical scholars. In 1868 Maguire was conferred LLD by TCD and in 1869 he was appointed professor of Latin at QCG, remaining until 1880. He published Essays on the Platonic ethics in 1870 and contributed to the journals Hermathena and Kottabos. With his legal background he was appointed locum professor of jurisprudence in 1875–6 during the illness of incumbent William Lupton. His critical pamphlet The Maynooth resolutions considered: on the ecclesiastical control of university education in Ireland (1869) had not endeared him to the catholic authorities from the outset of his tenure and he found little reason to reconsider his view of their involvement.
Lack of advancement and the provinciality of Galway in the 1870s frustrated him to the point of melancholy. At length, he saw a chance of relocating to Dublin: ‘Fawcett's act’ of 1873 (Maguire had himself written a contemporary pamphlet entitled Professor Fawcett's bill considered) had abolished the religious test for fellowships at TCD. Maguire competed for and won the first TCD fellowship awarded to a catholic (24 May 1880). His achievement was a landmark of the liberal Zeitgeist and received widespread approval, particularly within TCD. The college created for him a chair of classical composition, leading to a professorship of moral philosophy in 1882. He held it for life, and edited and published The Parmenides of Plato (1882), his first and only series of Lectures on philosophy (1885), and other papers on theology, metaphysics, and finally (fatally) politics. Unionism was at least as dear to him as catholicism, and he proved ready to uphold it at any cost. Indeed, he spent the late 1880s mired in the home rule conflict, whose dirtier aspects may have damaged his arch-enemy Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) but destroyed weaker players like himself.
Maguire proved his unionist mettle in 1886 by a series of pamphlets castigating home rule and Parnellism. Circumstances seemed to endorse his Cassandra-like warnings on the nationalist threat: articles in The Times of March 1887, entitled ‘Parnellism and crime’, accused the Irish leader of complicity in the Phoenix Park murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish (qv) and Thomas Henry Burke (qv) in 1882, backing the claims in April with ‘evidence’ in the form of incriminating letters allegedly from Parnell. Maguire's apparent role in the affair was unsuspected until the special (or Times) commission of 1888–9 examined the veracity of the letters following Parnell's tardy challenge to the newspaper, and the reiteration of the charges by the attorney general, Sir Robert Webster. The hearings, however, revealed in late February 1889 the forgery of the Parnell letters by journalist Richard Pigott (qv), trapped under cross-examination by a spelling error in his own hand which proved the letters were false.
Maguire was named as having a small but damning part in this Victorian melodrama: Edward Houston, a former Times reporter who had been the newspaper's source of the Pigott forgeries, but was also secretary of the short-lived Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, claimed Maguire had both accompanied him to Paris and supplied £850 for bogus letters which the professor seemed certain were genuine. It was unlikely that Maguire could have afforded such largesse (or a lower estimate of £500), yet no organisation admitted providing it. Summoned by telegram in late February 1889 to testify at the commission, he travelled to London with a respiratory condition which daily worsened. As Pigott absconded to Paris and eventual suicide in a Madrid hotel, Maguire received emergency medical attention on 26 February 1889 at his lodgings in Eaton Square, Pimlico, but died in extremis after vomiting blood. He thus escaped the public embarrassment of legal questioning which had driven Pigott to ignominy and death. Maguire was buried at Deansgrange cemetery in Dublin. In May 1889 his unmarried dependent sisters received civil list pensions.