O'Shea, John Augustus (1840–1905), journalist and writer, was born in June 1840 in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, eldest of five children of John O'Shea of Summerhill, Nenagh, journalist with the Nenagh Guardian, and his wife Mary Anne, daughter of Peter Gill, engineer; she was a sister of Peter E. Gill (qv), editor-proprietor of the Tipperary Advocate; and aunt of Thomas P. Gill (qv) (1859–1931), first secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. O'Shea's father – described at his death as ‘doyen of the profession’ (Nenagh Guardian, 9 Sept. 1896) – compiled, revised, and published ‘by subscription’ Nenagh minstrelsy (1839), comprising two prose ‘legends’ by himself and about 100 poems, most also by himself but including translations from the Spanish.
O'Shea received his early education in Nenagh. When his father joined the Leinster Express the family moved to Maryborough (Portlaoise), where O'Shea completed his education before attending (1856–9) St Mary's, Harcourt St., Dublin, an academy of the Catholic University of Ireland, presided over at the time by Dr John Henry Newman (qv). He recruited men in the Nenagh area to serve in the papal forces.
Moving to London in 1859, he began his career as a journalist with the London Advertiser, then worked on the Irishman, the Universe (London), of which he was editor and, finally, the London Standard from which he retired in 1894 after twenty-five years. As that paper's correspondent he experienced at first hand the five-month siege of Paris during the Franco–German war of 1870–71. He was accompanied by William O'Donovan (qv) of the Daily News, brother of Edmund (qv), the explorer and journalist, both sons of the Celtic scholar John O'Donovan (qv).
O'Shea was primarily a newspaper special correspondent. His other assignments for the Standard included coverage of the Carlist war in Spain (1872–3), the famine in Bengal (1873-4), the coronations and exiles of kings, the installation of governors in places as far apart as Cyprus and Canada, and the Irish tour by the American civil war hero and former president, Gen. Ulysses Grant, in 1879. Given the transient nature of journalism it is fortunate that O'Shea's writings are preserved in book form. For his autobiographical reminiscences, he drew on the incidents he had experienced and the personalities he had encountered, interspersed with his own opinions and observations, to create Leaves from the life of a special correspondent (2 vols, 1885); An iron-bound city (2 vols, 1886), describing the siege of Paris; Romantic Spain (2 vols, 1887); Military mosaics (1888); Mated from the morgue (1889), a novel; Brave men in action (1890); and Roundabout recollections (1892). The latter includes his impressions of John Henry Newman and of Gen. Grant. He also wrote articles, stories, and sketches on diverse topics in the leading magazines of the period – signing himself ‘Irish Bohemian’ in the Shamrock. He is described (by ‘Ebag Dubh’) as having a ‘sparkling wit’ which made him a popular guest speaker. He was a regular contributor to the Southwark Irish Literary Club (founded 1880), of which he was elected president in 1885.
John A. O'Shea had a daughter, Augusta, by his first marriage (his first wife's name is not known). He married secondly (1896) Jennie Whamond, whose late father was a collector of excise, in Westport, Co. Mayo. He died at Jeffreys Road, Clapham, London, on 12 March 1905, after increasing incapacity stemming from an accident in 1897. Some months after his death, friends and admirers erected a Celtic cross over his grave in Kensal Green cemetery. Mrs Jennie O'Shea died at Herne Bay in 1926.
In view of the O'Shea–Gill lineage it is no surprise to find that the siblings of John Augustus also pursued careers in journalism and literature. Elizabeth O'Shea (Mrs Dillon), born in Nenagh in 1842, wrote The bride of Raltard, The last of the leprechauns, and ‘Sal o' the Wig’, which was serialised in the Shamrock in 1869. Her major work, Dark Rosaleen, a roman à clef (1884), had been serialised in United Ireland, the newspaper of William O'Brien (qv), in 1882–3. The central character, Rev. John Kennedy, is based on John Kenyon (qv), parish priest of Templederry near Nenagh, orator, writer, Young Irelander, and a close friend of the O'Sheas and Gills. Elizabeth went to live in Nagpur, India, some time after her marriage (1883) to Frederick William Dillon, BL, son of Luke Dillon, official at the high court of Allahabad, India. Marion O'Shea (1850–1902) emigrated to the USA. She was twice married, first to Robert Fortescue and secondly to Robert B. Roosevelt, uncle of Theodore, president of the United States 1901–8. She contributed articles and poetry to American journals. Of her three Fortescue children, Kenyon, Maude, and Roland Glanville, the last was a war correspondent in the first world war. Margaret O'Shea (Mrs Kelly) (1854–1927) was born in Maryborough, remained in Ireland with her parents, and married David Kelly, Drominagh, Terryglass, after her father's death in 1896. Her obituary refers to fluency in languages, stating that ‘many translations of famous French authors stand to her credit’. Robert Gabriel O'Shea (1854?–1882) also born in Maryborough, was the London-based political correspondent for the Freeman's Journal at the time of his death, aged 28 years, in 1882. He was buried in Forest Hill cemetery.