Sheehan, Daniel Desmond (‘D. D.’) (1873–1948), journalist, labour leader, MP, barrister, and soldier, was born 28 May 1873 at Dromtariffe, Kanturk, Co. Cork, the eldest of the three sons and one daughter of Daniel Sheehan, tenant farmer, and his wife, Ellen (née Fitzgerald). He was educated at the local primary school; in his book Ireland since Parnell (1921) he stated that witnessing the ragged poverty of labourers’ and smallholders’ children who attended the school made him determined to do something for the poor. The family's Fenian tradition – he wrote that his father was a Fenian and so were all his relatives, even the women – and his parents’ eviction from their holding in 1880 formed his early years. At the age of sixteen he became a schoolteacher.
In 1890 Sheehan took up journalism, as correspondent of the Kerry Sentinel and special correspondent of the Cork Daily Herald in Killarney; he also became correspondence secretary to the Kanturk trade and labour council, which campaigned on behalf of agricultural labourers. (The north Cork area had a tradition of such organisations going back to the 1870s and associated with such figures as P. F. Johnson (qv)). Sheehan managed to get reports of meetings into the Cork papers, and this helped the rapid spread of the association, which in 1890 became the Irish Democratic Trade and Labour Federation, under the leadership of Michael Davitt (qv). It was, however, fatally disrupted by the Parnell split; while Sheehan continued to admire Davitt, and despite the pre-split Irish party leadership having opposed the federation as a threat to Parnell's leadership, he became a Parnellite, and always remembered his only meeting with Parnell at Tralee, when the chief was presented with a loyal address (drafted by Sheehan) from his Killarney supporters. After Parnell's death and the defeat of the second home rule bill, Sheehan temporarily dropped out of Irish politics.
Following his marriage on 6 February 1894 to Mary O'Connor, of Tralee (with whom he had five sons and five daughters), Sheehan joined the staff of the Glasgow Observer in pursuit of journalistic experience, then became editor of the Catholic News in Preston, Lancashire. In 1898 he returned to Ireland and worked on various papers, including the Cork Constitution, before serving as editor of the Skibbereen-based Cork County Southern Star (1899–1901), where his Parnellism brought him into conflict with Bishop Denis Kelly (qv) of Ross. Sheehan expressed sympathy for the newly founded United Irish League (UIL), established by William O'Brien (qv) in Connacht with the dual aim of representing western smallholders and using a new land agitation as a vehicle for Irish Party reunion. Sheehan did not, however, join the UIL himself.
In August 1894 the Clonmel solicitor J. J. O'Shee (qv), anti-Parnellite MP for West Waterford from 1895, had formed the Irish Land and Labour Association (ILLA) to agitate on behalf of agricultural labourers and small tenant farmers. Its appearance reflected the breakdown of the centralised party discipline which had existed before the Parnell split, and recognition that the land war's prime beneficiaries had been large and middle-sized tenant farmers rather than the nation as a whole. On returning from Britain in 1898 Sheehan threw himself into organising the ILLA and became its president; in 1900 there were 100 branches, mostly in Cork, Tipperary, and Limerick. The Irish Party leadership (including O'Brien) looked on this organisation with some suspicion.
At the 1900 general election Sheehan sought the Irish Party nomination for South Cork but was defeated by Edward Barry. After the death of Dr Charles Tanner, however, Sheehan succeeded in obtaining the Irish Party nomination for the constituency of Mid-Cork, despite the party leadership's attempts to deny recognition to ILLA branches in order to hand the nomination to its favoured candidate. Sheehan was elected unopposed on 17 May 1901. He was aged twenty-eight – the youngest Irish member of parliament. Although he had been admitted to the party, his position as a labour representative and his perceived independent base made him something of an outsider.
From October 1904 Sheehan allied himself with O'Brien, writing regularly for the latter's weekly the Irish People. Redmondites accused him of opportunism, but he always maintained that his personal inclination as an old Parnellite had been towards Redmond and that his support for O'Brien derived from the older man's willingness from 1904 to identify himself with the labourers’ campaign. Although their alliance may have originally contained elements of expediency, Sheehan and O'Brien developed a deep personal friendship.
Sheehan's support for O'Brien led to a split in the ILLA in 1906, with Tipperary and Waterford branches following O'Shee and Redmond, and Sheehan retaining the support of his Cork base and of some branches in Limerick and Kerry. Sheehan served on the Cork advisory committee which represented tenant interests in land purchase negotiations under the Wyndham Land Act; its policy of ‘conference plus business’ combined an offer to negotiate with willing landlords and a threat of agitation against those unwilling to give satisfactory terms. (O'Brien believed that speedy purchase was in the tenants’ best interests; his opponents preferred delay – partly in the hope of getting better terms under new legislation, partly fearing that once farmers purchased their land they would lose interest in home rule.) Sheehan's faction of the ILLA became the basis for the grassroots organisation of O'Brien's followers, and sporadic attempts, financed by O'Brien, were made to spread it outside its Munster base. Both factions of the ILLA claimed credit for the passage of the 1906 and 1911 Labourers’ (Ireland) Acts which provided for the allocation of cottages and smallholdings to labourers. In Cork and some other parts of Munster these buildings became popularly known as ‘Sheehan's cottages’, a term which long outlived Sheehan's political career. Sheehan also helped to bring about the creation of a ‘model village’ at Tower, near Blarney, the result of cooperation between the local ILLA branch and the rural district council.
At the 1906 general election the Redmond leadership attempted to avoid an open split by allowing O'Brien's supporters to return unopposed; however, the continuing conflict between the two factions rapidly led to a formal break. Shortly after the election Sheehan was excluded from the Irish Parliamentary Party, and thereby deprived of the parliamentary stipend paid to MPs with insufficient resources to maintain themselves. Sheehan, with the support of O'Brien and the small group of O'Brienite MPs, maintained that the party had no right to exclude an elected MP willing to take the party pledge. (The O'Brienites adopted an interpretation of the pledge which allowed much more latitude for dissent than permitted by the Redmond–Dillon leadership.) After resigning his seat – he was re-elected without opposition on 31 December 1906 – Sheehan demanded readmission to the party and mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit demanding payment of the stipend. He was subsequently supported from the proceeds of collections outside church gates on Sundays.
Sheehan and the other O'Brienite MPs were readmitted to the party in 1908 as part of an attempt at general reconciliation after the disruptions following the rejection of the Irish Council bill. Dissensions rapidly reappeared over Augustine Birrell's (qv) 1909 land act, which the O'Brienites saw as wriggling out of the financial responsibilities accepted by the British government in the Wyndham land act and as sabotaging land purchase, since landlords would not accept the terms offered. Sheehan's section of the ILLA was denied official recognition and thereby prevented from sending delegates to a party convention called to consider the bill; at the convention, groups of ‘heavies’ recruited from Joseph Devlin's (qv) Ancient Order of Hibernians excluded delegates with Cork accents, while O'Brienite speakers (and other critics of the leadership) were howled down. This led to the formation in March 1909 of the All-for-Ireland League (AFIL), a body based on the existing O'Brienite organisation and advocating O'Brien's policy of gradually implementing home rule through step-by-step cooperation with moderate unionist supporters of devolution. Although O'Brien's temporary retirement for health reasons in April 1909 led to the suspension of the AFIL, it was revived in response to an attempted purge of the O'Brienite MPs by the leadership and by O'Brien's reappearance in response to the January 1910 general election. Sheehan wrote regularly for its paper, the Cork Free Press (1910–16).
In the general election the O'Brienites held their seats while two Cork Redmondites were displaced. Sheehan was re-elected for Mid-Cork, defeating the Redmondite W. G. Fallon in a campaign marked by widespread rioting and impassioned clerical denunciations of Sheehan; Fallon subsequently attempted to get up a ‘red scare’ against the ILLA. The Cork ILLA later split over Sheehan's slightly erratic leadership. (His intense periods of organisation and public speaking sometimes led to stress-induced collapse and brief drinking bouts.) While the split was initially personality-driven, the breakaway faction, led by Patrick Bradley and centred in east Cork, moved back towards alignment with Redmond. At the December 1910 election the AFIL consolidated its position in Cork, but was defeated everywhere else; Sheehan retained his Mid-Cork seat against a local candidate but was defeated in a simultaneous contest in East Limerick. He was also defeated when he stood for Cork county council in June 1911, though the AFIL won control of that body.
Sheehan studied law at UCC (1908–9), where he was an exhibitioner and prizeman, and at King's Inns, where he graduated with honours; he was called to the bar in 1911 and practised on the Munster circuit. In 1913–14 he was active in the AFIL's attempts to avert partition by trying to recruit sections of British political opinion (notably conservative imperial federationists and liberal imperialists) in favour of a conference between the parties; he became vice-chairman of the Imperial Federation League. This received considerable attention among the British political classes but contributed to the decline of the AFIL's electoral base. The policy of conciliation had been driven to a considerable extent by the belief that it was the only way of achieving home rule; the abolition of the house of lords’ veto and the introduction of the third home rule bill by the Asquith government undercut this argument and increased Redmond's prestige, while AFIL denunciations of Redmondism were seen as driven by personal resentment and playing into the hands of unionists. The decision of the AFIL MPs to abstain from supporting the bill on its final passage through the Commons in 1914 as a protest against the prospect of a partition-based compromise was represented by Redmondites as a vote against home rule itself and contributed to AFIL loss of Cork county council in June 1914.
On the outbreak of the first world war, Sheehan supported O'Brien in calling for Irish enlistment for foreign service. In November 1914, at the age of forty-two, he enlisted himself and was gazetted as a lieutenant in the Munster fusiliers; it is claimed that he was almost single-handedly responsible for raising the 9th (service) battalion of this regiment. Three of his sons also joined up; two were killed in action with the Royal Flying Corps, and a daughter was disabled by injuries received in an air raid while serving as a nurse. (Sheehan's brother-in-law also died on active service and one of his brothers was severely wounded while serving with the Irish Guards). In the spring and summer of 1915 he organised and led recruiting campaigns in Cork, Limerick, and Clare; this was part of a nationwide drive for recruits (aimed in particular at the farming community) which reflected the realisation that the war was going to last much longer than expected.
In 1915 Sheehan was promoted to the rank of captain and served with his battalion on the Loos salient and at the Somme, contributing a series of articles from the trenches to the London Daily Express (two in February 1916, two in March, and one each in July and August). Various ailments, including deafness caused by shellfire, and hospitalisation necessitated his transfer to the 3rd (reserve) battalion, and he resigned his commission on 13 January 1918 due to ill health. In April 1918 he spoke at Westminster against the bill extending conscription to Ireland, threatening to resist it by force. One of his last parliamentary speeches (in October 1918) was in support of a bill providing land grants for Irish ex-servicemen. With the growth of Sinn Féin and the virtual demise of the AFIL (whose MPs stood down in favour of Sinn Féin in the 1918 election) Sheehan's position in Cork grew increasingly untenable. The Sheehan family faced intimidation and were obliged to leave their home on the Victoria Road for London, where Sheehan had secured the Labour Party nomination for the Limehouse–Stepney division of the East End, later represented by Clement Attlee.
Sheehan was unsuccessful in the 1918 election, and was obliged to leave politics after a financially disastrous involvement in an Achill Island mining company led to his bankruptcy. (He subsequently claimed assistance from a compensation fund for Irish loyalist refugees.) Unable to practise at the bar because of the hearing loss caused by his war service, he returned to journalism and became editor and publisher of the Stadium, a daily newspaper for sportsmen. In 1921, shortly before the Anglo-Irish truce, he published Ireland since Parnell, a history of recent events heavily dependent on the writings of O'Brien but incorporating some personal reminiscences; it concludes by blaming the outbreak of the IRA guerrilla campaign on provocation by crown forces, denouncing reprisals, and pleading for British recognition of Dáil Éireann and dominion home rule for an undivided Ireland.
Sheehan moved to Dublin in 1926 after hearing that the threats against him had been lifted; his wife, who had never fully recovered from the stresses and bereavements she had experienced since 1914, died soon afterwards. (All their children, with the exception of the journalist, lawyer, and Irish-language activist P. A. Ó Siocháin (qv), settled in Britain; two sons made careers in the Indian army and served in the second world war.) Sheehan himself became managing editor of Irish Press and Publicity Services and, in 1928, publisher and editor of the South Dublin Chronicle (founded 1925; renamed the Dublin Chronicle 1929; ceased publication 1 August 1931). The paper gave critical support to the Irish Labour Party, published campaigning articles on slum conditions, and advocated housing reform (in line with Sheehan's prewar preoccupations). In September 1930 he was an unsuccessful labour candidate for Dublin city council. In the 1930s, as his health deteriorated further, he worked as coordinator for the ex-servicemen's group the Old Comrades’ Association, editing both northern and southern editions of its annual journal. In 1942 he offered himself to Richard Mulcahy (qv) as a Fine Gael candidate for South Cork (which had a large ex-service population), but was turned down. He died 28 November 1948 while visiting his daughter at Queen Anne Street, London; both he and his wife were buried in Glasnevin cemetery.
Sheehan attracted both enthusiastic support and bitter hostility. The form of rural ‘labour-nationalist’ politics affiliated to Irish Party factions of which he was a representative tends to be downplayed by labour historians in favour of urban trade unions and independent labour or socialist parties, and he unquestionably damaged the ILLA by splitting it in pursuit of his alliance with William O'Brien; yet he advocated and to some extent achieved genuine social reforms. The expansion of the Irish trade union movement after the first world war owed much to the absorption into urban-based unions of farm labourers already influenced by the ILLA factions, and for much of the twentieth century the Irish Labour Party drew most of its dáil strength from relatively unideological and independent-minded TDs supported by agricultural labourers, in a manner resembling Sheehan's experience. His political opponents saw him as an adventurer, yet he appears to have been broadly consistent in his views, and his numerous changes of career may be seen as the efforts of a talented man to develop the potential which he never fully achieved.
Some material relating to Sheehan may be found in the William O'Brien papers in UCC and the NUI; the latter also has (as a separate item) an MS tribute to Sheehan written on his death by Sophie O'Brien (qv).