O'Hegarty, Patrick Sarsfield (‘P. S.’) (1879–1955), revolutionary, writer, and civil servant, was born 29 December 1879 at Carrignavar, Co. Cork, son of John Hegarty, plaster and stucco worker, and Katherine Hegarty (née Hallanan), who came of west Cork farming stock, as did Michael Collins (qv). Two of her uncles had died in the great famine. He had one brother, John (‘Jack’, Séan O'Hegarty (qv)). His father, who left Cork in the 1860s and later had his own business in Massachusetts, was a member of the Fenian Brotherhood, the American equivalent of the IRB, which P. S. and Jack joined in their turn. The Hegartys returned to Ireland, where they set up in business, and prospered in a modest way until John's premature death forced the mother out to work.
P. S. was educated by the Christian Brothers at the ‘North Mon’ in Cork city, was a law clerk for a while, and then entered the post office, again like Collins a decade later. From his youth he was an avid reader, and his knowledge of English literature was impressive; his understanding of Irish literature was advanced and liberal, and arguably far ahead of his time. Subsequently he transferred to London, where he, like many young Irishmen who became prominent afterwards, worked in Mount Pleasant post office. He became one of a group of young civil servants living in London between 1900 and 1914 who were, collectively and individually, to become of major political significance. Many of them, like P. S., became members of the IRB, the Gaelic League, and the GAA. O'Hegarty knew Collins particularly well, despite being ten years older, and signed him into Sinn Féin. Padraig Ó Conaire (qv), Robert Lynd (qv), and Bulmer Hobson (qv) were also members of the circle as well, and P. S. retained lifelong friendships with Lynd and Hobson in particular.
He also knew Terence (‘Terry’) MacSwiney (qv) well, as they had been schoolfellows in Cork. He corresponded with Terry intensively while in London. The two young men argued passionately by letter about their attitudes to church and state relationships, P. S. espousing a ‘strict separation’ position in the classic Fenian republican tradition, whereas MacSwiney apparently adhered to a position more akin to the traditional sagart a rúin (‘beloved priest’) line. MacSwiney, for example, like Éamon de Valera (qv), refused on essentially religious grounds to join the IRB. P. S., in letters to him in 1904, denounced clerical authoritarian meddling in nationalist politics and ascribed Irish republican anti-clericalism to the behaviour of catholic priests. In particular he objected to priests augmenting their secular political clout by reference to their sacred roles and personae.
P. S. was particularly active in the London Gaelic League and quickly became a member of the supreme council of the IRB, even though it was dedicated to a ‘physical force’ solution to the Irish problem. He was himself a moderate and humane man, and was later to disagree with Collins as to the necessity of a military struggle after the Easter 1916 episode and the conscription crisis of 1918, which resulted in Sinn Féin's sweeping the country at the 1918 general election.
In 1913 he was transferred back to Cork, but returned to England when the Great War broke out. He married (1915) Wilhelmina Rebecca Smyth, daughter of a presbyterian clergyman; they had one son and two daughters, and lived most of their lives at Highfield House, Highfield Road, Dublin. In 1918 he refused to take an oath of loyalty to the British crown, a new requirement imposed on Irish civil servants by the British government. Having lost his job, he opened the Irish Bookshop in Dawson St., Dublin.
After December 1921 P. S. took the pro-treaty side and wrote a brilliant polemic about the events of the period, The victory of Sinn Féin, published in 1924 and republished in 1998. He was a prolific writer, and was an early contributor to the IRB journal Irish Freedom (1910–14), a very liberal republican nationalist paper by the standards of the time. He tried valiantly to heal the treaty division in 1922 by editing a short-lived paper, The Separatist. O'Hegarty vehemently opposed any attempt to force Northern Ireland into a union with the Free State, enunciating a doctrine of northern consent long before it became profitable or popular.
Besides Victory, P. S. wrote A history of Ireland under the union (1951). The latter book became a standard semi-popular history of the 1800–1922 period for about fifteen years and was, despite (or possibly because of) its argumentatively nationalist thrust, well regarded. Interestingly, its treatment of the split of 1921–2 rows back from that in Victory, and is somewhat gentler on the republicans, while retaining his central charge against de Valera: that he changed a difference of opinion into a split and sowed the seed of civil war. Other works of O'Hegarty include assessments of John Mitchel (qv) and Young Ireland (1917) and of his old friend Terence MacSwiney (1922).
He was very much in favour of the revival of the Irish language. His family was reared Irish-speaking, and his son, Séan Sairseal Ó hEigeartaigh (qv), founded the well-known Irish-language publishing house Sairséil agus Dill. The names are derived from P. S. O'Hegarty's own middle name, Sarsfield (after Patrick Sarsfield (qv)), and his wife's ancestry, and apparently also symbolise alliances between North and South and catholic and protestant. He was no literary bigot: in the 1920s he denounced Daniel Corkery's (qv) narrow and provincial definition of Irish literature, immediately recognised Ulysses by James Joyce (qv) as a masterpiece, and saluted the controversial ‘The plough and the stars’ by Sean O'Casey (qv) in the face of howls of nationalist and clerical denunciation.
P. S. O'Hegarty was appointed secretary of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1922. As secretary he chaired in 1925 a selection board for the appointment of the first director of the new radio service 2RN. He and three members of a board, which included John Reith of the BBC, wished to appoint the actor and producer W. G. Fay (qv) but found themselves outvoted. Both O'Hegarty and his minister, J. J. Walsh (qv), considered the post was not one for a civil servant and unsuccessfully dissented from the civil service commissioners' decision that civil servants be encouraged to apply; a civil servant, Séamus Clandillon (qv), was duly appointed. While O'Hegarty shared the Department of Finance's high regard for the British civil service, commenting in 1927, ‘we could not do better than take the British experience and tradition and adapt them to our own special circumstances. They have, after all, the best civil service that exists’ (quoted in Fanning, Finance, 591–2), he made clear his resentment at what he saw as Finance's ambition to control not just staffing levels in other departments but to have an unrestricted power over promotions. O'Hegary retired as department secretary in 1944. He died 17 December 1955.