Nulty, Thomas (1818–98), catholic bishop of Meath and agrarian reformer, was born on 7 or 9 July 1818 at Fennor, near Oldcastle, Co. Meath, son of a tenant farmer, Francis Nulty, and his wife, Bridget (née Tuite). He studied at the diocesan seminary at Navan and at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, where he was ordained on 6 June 1846. According to Cogan, he then stayed on as a student at the Dunboyne establishment, taught for a time at the Navan seminary, and served as a priest in some capacity at Athboy. He was a curate at Trim (1847–52) and then at Mullingar, Co. Westmeath (1852–7). At Mullingar, Nulty joined the staff of the newly established St Mary's College (October 1856) and became its first president. In August 1863 he was appointed parish priest of Trim and vicar forane. A year later, the parish priests of the diocese having voted him dignissimus to be co-adjutor with right of succession to the ageing bishop of Meath, John Cantwell (qv), he was nominated bishop of Centuria in partibus infidelium (24 August 1864) and consecrated at Navan on 23 October 1864. On Cantwell's death he succeeded as bishop (11 December 1866).
Nulty's chief temporal concern in his episcopal career was reform of the Irish land tenure system for the benefit of the tenant farmer class to which he belonged. His first Lenten pastoral referred to agrarian questions. Before long he led the withdrawal of the clergy of the diocese of Meath (which comprised the counties of Meath and Westmeath and part of King's County) from the National Association of Ireland, formed in December 1864 by the archbishop of Dublin, Paul Cullen (qv), which he seems to have regarded as ineffective on the land issue; at the same time (November 1865) he organised his clergy and some of the laity into the Meath Tenant Right Association. It was in Nulty's diocese that agrarian disturbances (known as ‘Ribbonism’), in which landowners, tenant farmers, and labourers were all aggrieved parties, occurred in the late 1860s and early 1870s. A parliamentary committee was set up in 1871 to investigate, and the Protection of Life and Property Act was passed to combat it. Nulty sided with the tenant farmers (‘occupiers’, he called them) with little regard for the landowners’ interests and none for the labourers’. Nulty read John Stuart Mill, J. E. Cairnes (qv), David Ricardo, and especially Henry George; he came to perceive the land question as ‘the great social question of our times’ and to accept uncritically the stated grievances of the tenant farmers and to advocate ‘peasant proprietorship’. He wrote pamphlets on land and other social issues, most famously Back to the land, first published in serial form in the Freeman's Journal (May 1881), which came to the attention of George, who later visited Nulty in Ireland.
Nulty guarded jealously his control of local politics in the Meath diocese. In the mid-1880s he had a dispute over a waterworks scheme for Mullingar with John P. Hayden (qv), since 1882 editor of the Westmeath Examiner, and Michael Kerrigan, a local physician. This developed into a struggle for control of the Mullingar branch of the Irish National League and the town commission, and divided the town into two factions whose rivalry persisted into the 1890s.
Nulty was active too in national politics and came to be counted among the half dozen most powerful catholic bishops of his day. Unlike Cullen, he supported Isaac Butt (qv) and his home rule party. Priests in the Meath diocese were encouraged in 1875 to collect for a testimonial fund for Butt, whose financial problems were having an adverse effect on his leadership of the party in parliament. Nulty was the first bishop to support Charles Stewart Parnell (qv), assisting his nomination as a candidate at a parliamentary by-election in Co. Meath, in which he was elected with an overwhelming majority (April 1875). When a general election was called in 1880 Nulty directed that a collection be taken at chapel doors to defray Parnell's expenses in the Meath constituency (where he was standing for re-election); he also ensured that candidates friendly to Parnell were nominated in Co. Westmeath. Always an enthusiastic supporter of the agrarian agitation that began in 1879, Nulty stood by Parnell and other Land Leaguers during their imprisonment (October 1881 to May 1882) and was alone among the catholic bishops in giving approval to their ‘no-rent manifesto’.
After the split in Parnell's party, a result of the O'Shea divorce case (December 1890), Nulty gave every support to the anti-Parnellites. For this and particularly for his part in the parliamentary elections of 1892 he lost some of his popularity. It was at the bishop's house at Navan on 23 May 1892 that plans were made for the anti-Parnellite election campaign in the two Co. Meath constituencies. Nulty issued a pastoral letter, which he ordered to be read out at all masses on the following Sunday, denouncing Parnellism in the most frenzied terms (29 June), and in a sermon at Navan urged anti-Parnellites to arm themselves with blackthorn sticks (3 July). When the two anti-Parnellite candidates were declared elected, the two defeated Parnellites petitioned, successfully, for their unseating on the grounds of intimidation by Nulty and his clergy. Thomas Nulty died on 24 December 1898 and was buried at Mullingar cathedral.