McCartan, Patrick (1878–1963), medical doctor, revolutionary, and politician, was born 13 May 1878 in Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone, third among two sons and three daughters of Bernard McCartan, farmer and engineer, originally from Rostrevor, Co. Down, and Bridget McCartan (née Rafferty), of Carrickmore. Educated at Tandragee national school, a Latin school in Termonmagurk, St Patrick's College, Armagh, St Macartan's seminary, Monaghan, and St Malachy's College, Belfast, he first became interested in Irish nationalism in 1898 during the centenary of the United Irish rebellion, when he was influenced by the Life of Wolfe Tone by Alice Milligan (qv). Leaving school, he went to the USA and worked as a barman in Philadelphia, where fellow Carrickmore native Joseph McGarrity (qv) initiated him into camp 428 of Clan na Gael.
Returning to Ireland (1905) to study medicine in UCD with financial assistance from McGarrity, he transferred from Clan na Gael to the IRB and became a member of the Teeling circle and its close counterpart the Keating branch of the Gaelic League. He remained in close contact with McGarrity, informing him of developments in Ireland, and was Irish correspondent of the Gaelic American for John Devoy (qv). Having established Dungannon clubs in Carrickmore and among students in Dublin, he joined Sinn Féin when it was formed and in 1908–9 was elected a member of Dublin corporation. He continued his studies at the RCSI, graduating in 1910 and becoming a fellow of the college in 1912. He then worked in the Mater and Cork St. hospitals in Dublin before being appointed as practitioner to the Gortin district dispensary in Tyrone in 1913. Editor of the IRB journal Irish Freedom for a time, in 1911 he caused a disagreement within the IRB by openly opposing the visit to Ireland of King George V, which resulted in the resignation of many of the old IRB leaders and their replacement by younger, more radical men. Having organised the IRB and Irish Volunteers in Tyrone, in 1914 he went to the USA to explain the Volunteer split, raise funds for the IRB and Patrick Pearse's (qv) St Enda's school, and discuss plans with Roger Casement (qv) for the formation of an Irish brigade among prisoners of war in Germany. He was coopted to the IRB supreme council in July 1915, but during the 1916 Easter rising his plans to link up with Denis McCullough (qv) and join Liam Mellows (qv) in rebellion in Connacht failed because of confusion over the countermanding order from Eoin MacNeill (qv). On the run until February 1917, when he was arrested and deported to England, he returned to Ireland in May to campaign in the Longford South by-election.
Intending to go to Russia in July 1917 as an IRB representative to seek recognition for Irish independence, he was diverted to the USA to deliver a memorandum from the released Irish rebellion leaders to President Woodrow Wilson. Arrested (October 1917) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, while trying to travel to Germany with Liam Mellows to buy munitions, in May 1919 he was fined $250 for impersonating an American seaman. In the meantime he had been defeated as Sinn Féin candidate in the Armagh South by-election (February 1918), during which he was criticised for allegedly having assisted the Larne gun-runners in 1914, but was elected unopposed in the King's Co. (Tullamore) by-election (April 1918) and was reelected unopposed for King's Co. in the 1918 general election. Active in campaigning against the conscription of Irishmen living in the USA in 1917 and 1918, in March 1918 he was appointed editor of McGarrity's newly established Irish Press in Philadelphia. In 1919 he became embroiled in the acrimonious Clan na Gael split, supporting the McGarrity faction against that of John Devoy and Daniel Cohalan (qv), which was exacerbated by the US tour by Éamon de Valera (qv) in 1919–20, during which McCartan accompanied him on a number of speaking trips. He returned briefly to Ireland in February 1920 to explain de Valera's controversial ‘Cuban analogy’ speech to the dáil cabinet, although he did not agree with de Valera's position. From December 1920 to July 1921 he undertook an unsuccessful mission to Moscow, seeking Russian support for Irish independence. Although deeply dissatisfied with the provisions of the Anglo–Irish treaty, which he saw as a betrayal of the north and of the republic, he voted for it reluctantly, feeling that rejection would lead to war. Having been reelected to Dáil Éireann for Leix–Offaly in the 1921 general election, he was defeated in 1922 when he stood as a pro-treaty candidate, after which, disillusioned, he left politics to concentrate on a private medical practice in New York, where he lived at East 68th St. In 1937 he returned to live in Ireland.
Returning to politics in 1945 as an independent candidate in the presidential election, supported by Labour, Clann na Talmhan, Farmers, and independents, he campaigned on his non-party affiliation and promised to do ‘the utmost to hasten the reunion of our partitioned country’ (Ir. Independent, 9 June 1945). Although beaten into third place behind the victor Seán T. O'Kelly (qv) (Fianna Fáil), and Seán Mac Eoin (qv) (Fine Gael), his 19.6 per cent of the vote, and the distribution of his transfers overwhelmingly in favour of Mac Eoin, signified voter dissatisfaction with Fianna Fáil. Left-wing and republican in his political views, he was a founder member of Clann na Poblachta in 1946, and an unsuccessful party candidate in three general elections for Cork borough (1948), Dublin South-East (1951), and Dublin North-East (1957). He was a member of Seanad Éireann (1948–51), nominated by Clann na Poblachta. In 1959 his presidential election nomination was declared invalid because of an insufficient number of nominations.
During the interregnum of his political career he became a close friend of W. B. Yeats (qv), helping him raise funds in the USA for the Irish Academy of Letters, endowing the academy's O'Growney award for Gaelic literature, seeking American plays for the Abbey theatre, organising a testimonial committee to provide financial security for the remainder of Yeats's life, and raising funds to return Yeats's body for burial in Ireland in 1948. A speech and two poems by W. B. Yeats (December 1937) included a poem of dedication to McCartan, and he was awarded the Irish Academy of Letters Gregory medal. He was among a group of people who presented the Sam Maguire (qv) memorial trophy to the GAA in 1928. In 1932 he published With de Valera in America, an account of his time in America in 1917–20. Interested in native Irish industry, he owned the Kilquaid Sand Co. and St Patrick's mines in Glendalough, and established Donegal Carpets with his close friend Joe McGrath (qv). He died 28 March 1963, leaving an estate valued at £1,502.
He married (30 June 1937) Elizabeth Kearney, actress, daughter of Thomas Kearney and Margaret Kearney (née Reidy), Ballydesmond, Co. Kerry, whom he had met at Irish-language classes in New York. The McCartans lived at ‘Karnack’, Greystones, Co. Wicklow, with their son and daughter. His daughter Deirdre (d. 2007) married the ballad singer Ronnie Drew. His papers are in the NLI and in the possession of his son, Pádraig McCartan, SC. His statement to the Bureau of Military History is in the military archives.