McHugh, Charles (1855/6–1926), catholic bishop of Derry, was born in the townland of Dreenan near Castlederg, Co. Tyrone, in the parish of Termonamongan, second youngest among two sons and seven daughters of Francis McHugh, farmer, and Catherine McHugh (née Browne), both of Termonamongan. Charles received his primary education at the local national school in Maghernageeragh under the principalship of a Mr Robinson, and at the age of 12 attended the well known classical school conducted in Castlederg by William McElhinney. Later McHugh studied for the priesthood at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, and was ordained for the diocese of Derry in St Eugene's cathedral, Derry (February 1881). Following his ordination McHugh ministered temporarily as a second curate in his native parish of Termonamongan, and in September 1881 was assigned to the teaching staff of St Columb's College, Derry, where, except for a brief five-year interlude in the latter half of the 1880s, he was to remain until his appointment to Strabane, Co. Tyrone, as parish priest in 1905. Early in 1885 he was reassigned as curate to Termonamongan for health reasons, where he became an office bearer with the local Killeter branch of the Irish National League, an organisation based on the catholic parochial framework, which sought national self-government through constitutional tactics and enjoyed phenomenal growth from its foundation in October 1882. On his return to St Columb's in October 1890 McHugh was appointed college president and five years later was awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity by the Pontifical University in Rome in recognition of his services to catholic education. His two-year tenure as pastor of Strabane coincided with the January 1906 general election and the consequent Tyrone North by-election of April 1907, where he nominated and canvassed on behalf of the successful home-rule liberal candidates, Serjeant William Dodd, a presbyterian KC, and Redmond Barry (qv), a catholic KC.
McHugh was consecrated bishop of Derry on 29 September 1907 and his episcopate spanned one of the most turbulent and momentous periods in modern Irish history. His earlier pastoral and educational experience convinced him of the powerful and influential role of the catholic clergy in constitutional nationalism, and the complementary role of catholic education in sustaining a separatist ideology of faith and fatherland. His political contribution to the partition crisis, beginning with the third home rule bill (1912), was particularly significant. The parliament act of the previous year broke the lords’ veto over legislation passed in the commons and guaranteed the implementation of home rule in 1914. In the midst of determined unionist opposition, McHugh became an important catalyst of northern episcopal opinion which initially conceded the principle of temporary partition, in the hope that nationalist west Ulster would be ruled by a Dublin parliament. As an austere tactician the bishop realised the importance of a nationalist military organisation to counter Carson's Ulster Volunteers and was instrumental in persuading John Redmond (qv), the Irish party leader, to endorse the Irish National Volunteers in April 1914. For McHugh both of these organisations were an indispensable guarantee in the partition struggle. The outbreak of the first world war, however, shelved the partition issue since the government was now preoccupied with winning the war rather than resolving the Ulster issue. Nonetheless, despite the reluctance of northern nationalists to support Redmond's commitment to the British war programme, McHugh continued to urge them to remain loyal to Redmond in the hope that Ulster would be favourably treated in an eventual partition scheme.
The 1916 Easter rising re-ignited the partition issue. McHugh, however, became disillusioned with the Irish party over Redmond's approval of the Lloyd George partition scheme of May–June 1916, and then founded the anti-partition Irish National League, which was committed to the achievement of home rule by constitutional means alone. The latter movement, however, was short-lived as it became quickly subsumed in the recently organised and more aggressive Sinn Féin movement. At the December 1918 general election the bishop, convinced of the importance of nationalist representation at Westminster, helped to broker an election pact in Ulster between Sinn Féin and the Irish party. Thereafter, however, the republican abstentionist policy, which led to the establishment of the first Dáil Éireann at the Mansion House, Dublin (21 January 1919), immobilised McHugh who watched helplessly as the Ulster unionists were given a free rein to work out their own constitutional arrangements at Westminister in 1920. The boundary clause of the Anglo–Irish treaty initially led McHugh to believe that nationalists’ interests west of the Bann would be safeguarded, but the fiasco of 1925 ended all hope for border revision and merely confirmed the 1920 boundary. McHugh died aged 70 on 12 February 1926 after a lengthy illness without ever realising his hope of a united Ireland.