Redington, Sir Thomas Nicholas (1815–62), landlord, MP, and under-secretary for Ireland, was born 2 October 1815 at Kilcornan, Oranmore, Co. Galway, the only son of Capt. Christopher Redington (1780–1825), a catholic landowner, and his wife Frances, daughter of Henry Dowell of Cadiz (originally of Co. Roscommon). Educated at Oscott College, Thomas entered Christ's College, Cambridge, in March 1832 and kept ten terms there but, as a catholic, was not allowed to take a degree. Having succeeded to his father's estate in Co. Galway, he entered parliament as liberal MP for Dundalk (1837–46). He supported the abolition of tithes and the introduction of the secret ballot, but as a landlord opposed the repeal of the corn laws. Interested in agricultural improvement, he was appointed (1843) to the Devon commission to investigate the Irish land system, and distinguished himself as one of its more informed and active members. Given his detailed knowledge of Irish social conditions, in July 1846 he was appointed under-secretary for Ireland, the first catholic to hold the post.
During the famine he criticised the government's policy of trying to collect rates from distressed landlords and farmers, suggesting that a moratorium on payments would provide capital for private improvement schemes. In September 1846 he tried to persuade Whitehall that it should fund productive relief schemes such as land reclamation, drainage, and railway construction rather than concentrating on non-productive projects such as road improvements. He worked closely on relief matters with the lord lieutenant, Clarendon (qv), and the chief secretary, Sir William Somerville (qv) – the latter in particular shared many of his views on political and agrarian reform. Their efforts met with some success, and a change of policy on relief schemes was announced in October 1847.
In 1847 Redington served on the relief commission of Sir John Fox Burgoyne (qv), and that August he was appointed to the newly established Irish poor law commission. Somerville, Redington, and the chief commissioner, Edward Twisleton (qv), had effective responsibility for Ireland's entire poor law administration. Redington argued that major public works were failing to relieve distress and were keeping the peasantry away from agricultural work and destabilising rural society. He proposed instead that farmers should be assisted with small loans for the provision of farm implements and seed, and that destitute smallholders and cottiers should be assisted to emigrate. Although he disliked the idea of extensive outdoor relief, fearing it would encourage dependency and inhibit emigration, in November 1848 he and his fellow commissioners accepted that it would have to be reintroduced, given the magnitude of the disaster.
The landlord and tenant bill drafted by the Irish administration in 1847–8 was largely shaped by Redington's outlook as an improving liberal landlord. Recognising that Irish agriculture was in a state of upheaval, he advocated consolidating holdings into farms of at least twenty acres with twenty-one-year leases to replace the current system of myriad tiny plots held on short leases. He argued that rent should be determined by arbitration and should rise or fall in line with agricultural prices, and that compensation to tenants for improvements to their farms was an essential step in the transition to capitalist agriculture. The cabinet, however, did not share his ambitious vision and diluted the arbitration and compensation clauses, effectively shifting the bill's benefits from tenant to landlord. When introduced by Somerville in February 1848 the legislation was attacked as inadequate by agrarian reformers and as an interference with private property by conservatives, and was voted down.
In November 1847 Redington was appointed a commissioner of national education, and in December 1852 introduced a resolution conciliating catholic opinion by stating that the commissioners did not insist on Archbishop Richard Whately's (qv) Scripture lessons and Lessons on the truth of Christianity being used in national schools. After the failed Young Ireland rebellion of 1848, he was engaged in collecting evidence against William Smith O'Brien (qv) and Charles Gavan Duffy (qv). When O'Brien's portmanteau was sent to Dublin castle, Redington had its lock broken and discovered an incriminating letter from Duffy. O'Brien was furious with him for rifling through his personal belongings and questioned his status as an Irish gentleman. Redington was criticised in the nationalist press and mocked as the ‘knight of the carpet bag’ in a popular ballad. His religion and liberal politics also made him unpopular with Irish tories, who denounced him as ‘a quasi-repealer’.
Redington maintained his belief that a radical reform of the Irish land system was needed and in March 1849 advised the cabinet to endorse the proposals made by Sir Robert Peel (qv) to facilitate the sale of land for a new ‘plantation of Connaught’ which would introduce English capitalist farming practices and relieve the Irish peasantry from its fatal dependence on the potato. In August 1849, during Queen Victoria's visit to Ireland, he was made a KCB for his services during the famine. In March 1852 he resigned as under-secretary after the fall of the liberal government and served as secretary of the board of control (1852–6) and commissioner of inquiry respecting lunatic asylums in Ireland. He was also a JP and DL for Co. Galway. In March 1856 he was defeated by the conservative Charles Tottenham (1807–86) in a by-election for New Ross. He died 11 October 1862 in London.
He married (August 1842) Anne Eliza Mary, eldest daughter and heiress of John Hyacinth Talbot (1803–68) of Talbot Hall, Co. Wexford, repeal MP for New Ross (1832–41, 1847–52). Their eldest son, Christopher Thomas Talbot Redington (1847–99), a landowner in Galway and Wexford, was a member of commissions on piers and roads (1885), poor relief (1886), and evicted tenants (1892–3); he was also a commissioner of national education (1886–99) (resident commissioner 1894–9) and vice-chancellor of the RUI.