O'Connor, Thomas Power (1848–1929), journalist and politician, was born 5 October 1848 in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, eldest son of Thomas O'Connor, shopkeeper and billiard-saloon keeper, and Teresa O'Connor (née Power), daughter of a non-commissioned officer in the British army. His family were supporters of the Liberal party. After attending a local national school and the College of the Immaculate Conception in Athlone, he enrolled in QCG, where he distinguished himself as a student of history and modern languages (BA, 1866; MA, 1873). During the late 1860s he tried, without success, to secure a post in the civil service, worked for the RIC as a reporting assistant on nationalist political demonstrations, and wrote for Saunders' Newsletter. Moving to London in 1870 to advance his career in journalism, he worked for several years as a freelance journalist. In 1878 he wrote a very unsympathetic biography of Benjamin Disraeli, which went through at least eight editions. This encouraged the Liberal party to invite him to stand for parliament. Charles Stewart Parnell (qv), however, persuaded him instead to stand, reluctantly, as an Irish party candidate for Galway city. A reputed agnostic, despite much clerical opposition he won the seat (reputedly with some IRB support) partly because of his expressed identification with the ideals of the Land League. A permanent resident of London, he did not generally speak at land rallies but was appointed to the league executive by Parnell. He protested at the arrest of Michael Davitt (qv) in February 1881 and, following the league's suppression, he endorsed the ‘no-rent manifesto’ at the Chicago convention of the Land League of America (30 November–2 December 1881). Notwithstanding his London accent, his bonhomie and rhetorical ability meant that he could sometimes serve as a successful fund-raiser for the party in Irish-America (particularly among its small business community), and he would carry out four such missions during his career.
Appointed president of the Irish National League of Great Britain in 1883, his identification with popular causes in northern England enhanced the radical reputation the Irish party acquired during the early 1880s, while his much-praised reports on parliamentary proceedings in the Pall Mall Gazette and the Freeman's Journal enhanced his political standing generally. Returned for both Liverpool and Galway in 1885, he opted to take the seat for the Scotland Yard division in Liverpool. The wisdom of Parnell's subsequent decision to nominate Capt. William O'Shea (qv), an opponent of radical land agitation, for the Galway seat was questioned by many within the Irish party, including O'Connor himself, but to prevent a split in the party he chose to accept Parnell's decision. During the 1885 and 1886 elections he played a key role in persuading a large section of the Irish community in Britain to vote en bloc, first against the Liberal government and then against the Conservative government, thereby assisting the Irish party to hold briefly the balance of power in the house of commons by one seat. Owing to his considerable influence in both parties, after 1886 O'Connor was always an important figure in maintaining the Irish party–Liberal alliance and, consequently, was trusted by both Parnell and Gladstone. Meanwhile, during the late 1880s he achieved great fame in Britain as a pioneer of what was described as the ‘new journalism’, founding the Star, a radical evening newspaper, in 1887 (he served as its editor until 1890) and thereafter the Sun, originally a Sunday newspaper; both of these championed the concerns of the working classes in northern England. Initially considered shocking by the English political establishment, the ‘new journalism’ was an accepted feature of national political life by the early 1900s, and ‘T. P.’, as he became popularly known, established several other papers of a more literary style, including T. P.'s Weekly (1902–14, 1923–7), T. P.'s Monthly (1910–14), and T. P.'s Journal (1915–16).
O'Connor continued to serve as the Irish party's chief support in Britain for many more years. He served as president of both the Irish National Federation and the United Irish League in Britain, although in later years he was often criticised for distancing himself from the Irish community. By the 1900s, he was no longer influential in the ranks of the Irish party itself but his counsel was nevertheless very important to John Dillon (qv) and the Irish party leadership because he was on excellent terms with each successive government, and with Lloyd George in particular. A supporter of the devolution scheme of 1904, by the 1910s he was comfortable with the idea of partition. As he was admired by the Ulster unionist leader Sir Edward Carson (qv), he played a leading part in the negotiations that led to the joint ‘Irish convention’ of the Irish party and Ulster Unionist party, held in 1917 to resolve the partition dispute and stall the rise of Sinn Féin. In the same year, he was appointed by Lloyd George's coalition government as the first British film censor, a position he held until his death. A highly popular figure in the house of commons, he was considered by many to be ‘above party’ and became ‘the father of the house’ in 1918, having represented his Liverpool constituency since 1885; he continued to do so until his death.
Unaffected by the demise of the Irish party in 1918, he approved of the Anglo–Irish treaty of 1921, though he later appealed (in vain) to the British government to moderate its demand for a substantial Free State contribution to the imperial exchequer. During the late 1910s and early 1920s he rallied the Irish community in Britain behind the Labour party and, in recognition of his services, the first Labour government of 1924 appointed him a privy councillor. He politely declined the offer of a peerage in the house of lords, however, owing to his dislike for its elitist ethos. On his eightieth birthday, he was invited to dine with King George V and, despite being confined to a wheelchair, he continued to attend commons debates until his death. When he fell seriously ill during 1929, a substantial collection was made for him in the house of commons, but he died at his Westminster flat on 18 November 1929, not long after his recollections, Memoirs of an old parliamentarian (2 vols), were published. Little notice of his death was taken in Ireland; a fact that was much lamented by his old parliamentary colleague, Joseph Devlin (qv), who recognised his past importance in keeping the Irish party's concerns before the government's attention. O'Connor's real achievement, however, lay in his role of advancing the cause of English radicalism.
O'Connor married (1885) Elizabeth Howard (née Paschal), daughter of an Arkansas supreme court judge. They had no children, rarely lived together, and were completely separated by the time of the first world war. He published several books, including some works of fiction and two very successful books relating to Ireland, The Parnell movement (1886) and Charles Stewart Parnell (1891). His portrait by Sir John Lavery (qv) is in the NGI. Another portrait, by J. F. Bacon, is in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.