Sears, William (1868–1929), newspaper proprietor and politician, was born in the Neale, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, eldest son of Mark Frederick Sears. He had at least two younger brothers: Mark became a peace commissioner in Ballinrobe and Richard (d. 1914) was a journalist on the Irish Independent. William Sears showed an aptitude for journalism at an early age and worked on at least two newspapers before moving to Wexford as a reporter on the Wexford Free Press (1891–6); during this period he was the youngest member of Wexford district council and displayed administrative ability. He was chief reporter on the Kilkenny Journal from 1896 until 1902, when he founded the Enniscorthy Echo in co-operation with Sir Thomas Esmonde (qv), MP for North Wexford. (Enniscorthy was chosen because of its central location within the county and the absence of an established local paper.) For the rest of his life Sears was the paper's editor and proprietor.
Sears initially supported the Irish Parliamentary Party and sat on the national directory of the United Irish League, but he resigned after the Irish Council Bill fiasco of 1907 and transferred his allegiance to Sinn Féin. The Echo was the first established local paper to support Sinn Féin, and experienced some opposition as a result. Sears became a friend of Arthur Griffith (qv), the party's founder, and served on the Sinn Féin executive from 1908. In association with other Wexford Sinn Féiners, he led a passive resistance campaign against vaccination; in later life, he opposed compulsory vaccination legislation in the dáil. This was not a mere personal eccentricity; compulsory vaccination was opposed by many British radicals as part of a general distrust of state power, and this found an echo among some Irish separatists, who saw it as a colonial imposition. The anti-microbial campaigns run by Lady Aberdeen (qv) were a favourite subject for Sinn Féin satirists, and Griffith's papers regularly published letters from British anti-vaccinationists.
Sears's Echo was one of the best-produced Irish local newspapers; well-known figures who served an apprenticeship on it included Sean Etchingham (qv), Aodh de Blacam (qv), Robert Brennan (qv), and Laurence de Lacy (qv). Sears served on Enniscorthy district council, campaigned for the use of direct labour on the local roads, was active in the Gaelic League, and participated in the campaign to make Irish compulsory for matriculation at the NUI. His son, David (qv), was educated at St Enda's and fought in the Easter rising. A strong supporter of women's suffrage, Sears wrote many articles and lectures on the subject and worked closely with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (qv) and her husband Francis (qv); the feminist paper the Irish Citizen was printed on the Echo press. The weekly Irish Volunteer was briefly printed by The Echo in 1914, and during the early stages of the war the office was used to produce clandestine separatist propaganda. Sears may have participated in the Easter rising at Enniscorthy. After the rising virtually the whole staff of The Echo was arrested, and the paper did not reappear for a year.
Sears was imprisoned at Frongoch in Wales, where he served on the prisoners' council. After his release in mid-1917 he toured Ireland as a Sinn Féin speaker; he was arrested again in 1918 and sentenced to six months' imprisonment in January 1919 for incitement to shoot government officials and members of the security forces. In the 1918 general election he was elected unopposed as MP for South Mayo. From this period Sears established his principal residence in Rathmines; he received more votes than any other Sinn Féin candidate in the January 1920 local elections, served on the council for the rest of his life, and was vice-chairman at the time of his death. He was jailed again in 1920 for making a seditious speech; after six months in Mountjoy (from where he was occasionally carried round Dublin as a hostage on Black-and-Tan lorries) he was taken to Ballykinlar internment camp; he was released after the truce (11 July 1921). During his imprisonment in Mountjoy, Sears briefly went on hunger strike, and he experienced solitary confinement in an iron cage after helping to hold back warders while other prisoners escaped; his treatment in solitary confinement was denounced by a visiting American delegation and his prison experiences permanently impaired his health.
Sears was returned as a TD for Mayo South–Roscommon South in 1921. He voted for the Anglo–Irish treaty and was re-elected in 1922 as pro-treaty TD and at the August 1923 general election as Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Mayo South. On 12 September 1922 he moved the formal motion seeking dáil approval for the civil war. Sears was a strong advocate of the division of grazing ranches among smallholders and labourers. He served as chairman of the Cumann na nGaedheal parliamentary party; he was one of the party's most prominent advocates of protectionism, and influenced the establishment of the tariff commission in 1926. He lost his dáil seat in June 1927 and unsuccessfully sought a Cumann na nGaedheal nomination for Wexford in the September 1927 general election. He was elected to the Free State senate in December 1928, but died in a Dublin nursing home on 23 March 1929 after four months' illness; he was buried at Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin.
Sears married Gretta Morris of Wexford on 22 June 1896; they had a son, David (qv) (playwright and theatre critic), and two daughters, Rita and Rosaleen. According to his obituarists, William Sears was popular even among opponents for his genial and kindly disposition. He was one of the most significant second-rank figures in Sinn Féin and Cumann na nGaedheal in the first decades of the twentieth century; his career might repay deeper exploration.