Sheares, Henry (1755?–1798), and his brother John Sheares (1766?–1798), barristers and United Irishmen, were born at Goldenbush, Co. Cork, the first and fourth sons respectively of a Cork banker, Henry Sheares (qv), and his wife, Jane Anne (née Bettesworth), a connection of Henry Boyle (qv) and Richard Boyle (qv), 1st and 2nd earls of Shannon respectively. Henry the elder was MP for Clonakilty (1761–8). Henry the younger entered TCD, aged eighteen (3 November 1773), but did not graduate, and held a commission in the army (51st foot) before being admitted to King's Inns (November 1785) intent on a legal career; he was called to the bar in 1790. In August 1782 he married Alicia Young Swete (b. 1768?), only daughter of John Swete (1715?–1805), a Cork merchant and alderman, and previously the intended bride of John Fitzgibbon (qv), later lord chancellor and earl of Clare. The failure soon afterwards of Swete's business deprived Sheares of a dowry. Alicia died on 11 December 1791, aged thirty-three, having borne him four children, who after her death were cared for by her parents. John Sheares attended a school at Cork conducted by a protestant clergyman named Lee, from which he entered TCD, aged sixteen (20 January 1783); he graduated BA (1787) and was called to the Irish bar (1789). The two brothers lived together in Dublin, on Ormond Quay until 1796, then at 128 Baggot Street, both having independent incomes as well as incomes from their practice as barristers.
The circumstances of John Swete obliging him to move with Henry's children to France, Henry and John visited them there in 1792 when the French revolution was in full spate. In Paris they became acquainted with Roland, Brissot, and other revolutionaries; they were at the banquet given at White's Hotel, 8 passage des Petits-Pères, by English-speaking admirers of the revolution on 18 November 1792. Among those at the banquet were William Duckett (qv), Lord Edward FitzGerald (qv), William Jackson (qv), Bernard MacSheehy (qv), and Nicholas Madgett (qv); it was John Sheares who suggested an address to the convention. The brothers witnessed the execution of Louis XVI (21 January 1793). A few days later they crossed over to England in the same packet as Daniel O'Connell (qv), to whom John boasted that they had donned the uniforms of two national guards in order to do duty for them at the bloody scene. It has been suggested by R. B. McDowell that John Sheares was the author of a pamphlet published at Cork, Authentic narrative of the most interesting events which preceded and accompanied the late revolution in France (1793).
On arriving back in Ireland the brothers lost little time in joining the Dublin Society of United Irishmen. On 3 May 1793, Henry (‘a fierce republican’, William Drennan (qv) wrote next day), was elected president, while John was appointed to a committee to draw up a plan of parliamentary reform. By November 1793, John, who was close to Oliver Bond (qv) and Simon Butler (qv) and who had acted as second to Leonard MacNally (qv) in a duel with Sir Jonah Barrington (qv) (29 April 1793), was acting as secretary. It was said in 1794 by Thomas Collins (qv), who reported to Dublin Castle on the activities of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen, that the brothers had ‘often declared that a revolution only can save Ireland and such a one as will do away with king, lords and bishops’. Collins reported (10 January 1794) that they were among those who, at a discussion of the society's plans for parliamentary reform, objected to a secret ballot at elections as it ‘would only corrupt the morals of the people by holding out a mode of deception’ (McDowell (ed.), ‘Proceedings’). After the suppression of the society in May 1794, the Sheares brothers were active in regenerating it, making some catholic members uneasy on account of their ‘Gallic expressions’ (Drennan). Despite their professional status, they attended the funeral of William Jackson (qv) in early May 1795, thereby incurring the wrath of the lord chancellor. Their ties with Cork were never broken; they formed a United Irish club there (1793); they defended Denis Driscol (qv) at Cork assizes for treasonable libel (April 1794); Henry Sheares was a candidate at a Cork city by-election (November 1795); they set up a United Irish committee there, whose members, however, were arrested and prosecuted (May 1797); and they took responsibility for Cork after the arrest of John Swiney (qv) (28 March 1798).
Henry, more moderate than his brother, was one of the seventy-three barristers who met on 17 May 1797 and signed a statement urging the government to ‘yield to the moderate wishes of the people and thereby defeat the designs of any party dangerous to the country’ (Fitzpatrick); among the others were R. Newton Bennett (qv), John Philpot Curran (qv), Joseph Huband (qv), Robert Johnson (qv), MacNally, George Ponsonby (qv), and William Sampson (qv). John Sheares was active in the radicalised United Irish movement (from c.1796), especially during the weeks following the arrests of the Leinster directory (12 March 1798) – both he and Henry became members of a new directory. John took the part of Lord Edward FitzGerald (who was in hiding) and became virtual leader and organiser of the planned insurrection. He wrote for publication in The Press a long letter signed ‘Dion’ and addressed to Lord Clare; the intended issue (and the newspaper itself) being suppressed (early March 1798), the letter was not published but was seized.
John Sheares was at Athy in mid-March 1798, and John and Henry were at Wexford in April. John's activity was unceasing until his arrest. This came about in consequence of John Warneford Armstrong (qv), a captain in the King's County militia, who was believed to be sympathetic to the United Irish cause, being introduced to John Sheares by Patrick Byrne (qv) at the latter's bookshop in Grafton Street, Dublin, on 10 May 1798. Sheares incriminated himself by informing Armstrong of his revolutionary intentions and asking him to win over soldiers for the cause. William Alexander (qv), an alderman and police magistrate, raided the Sheareses’ house in Baggot Street and, in John's absence, arrested Henry. John was arrested shortly afterwards at the house of William Lawless (qv) in French Street (21 May). A document found in a writing-box at the Sheareses’ house, a proclamation in John Sheares's handwriting, was incriminating. At their trial for high treason (4 and 12–13 July) Henry Sheares was defended by Curran and William Conyngham Plunket (qv), John by Curran and MacNally. Henry being found to have been in possession of John's proclamation, both were convicted. It has been fairly argued that ‘on the evidence Henry Sheares should have been acquitted’ (Brady). On 14 July 1798 – the ninth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille – they were together hanged before Newgate prison, Dublin, watched by a large crowd; lifted down they were beheaded and their remains buried in a vault at St Michan's church. They were the first United Irish leaders to be tried, found guilty, and executed for high treason. While Henry Sheares was ‘ill-adapted for the strife of political life’, he was led by John, ‘a firm republican in his principles’ (Madden, 236, 240). They are commemorated by a monument (1898) in Green St., Dublin.
Henry Sheares's second wife Sarah or Sally was the eldest daughter of Garrett Neville (1739?–1823) of Burnchurch and later Marymount, Co. Kilkenny, and a niece of Brent Neville, a Dublin merchant, who served as sheriff (1787–8); she bore him two children and, deeply pious, died in Dublin in the early 1850s. John Sheares was the author of some published verse. He did not marry, but had by a ‘Mrs White’ a daughter, Louisa (1791?–1829?), who married Robert Coughlan (a son of the Sheareses’ friend Charles Coughlan) and was an actress in England under the name ‘Miss White’.