Sheehy, David (1844–1932), parliamentarian and agrarian radical, was born 14 October 1844 in Broadford, Co. Limerick, second of three children of Richard Sheehy, mill owner, and Johanna Sheehy (née O'Shea). He was educated at St Munchin's Jesuit seminary in Limerick city and subsequently at the Irish College in Paris, where he studied with his older brother, Eugene (qv). During the early 1860s the outbreak of a cholera epidemic in the French capital prompted his early return to Ireland, thereby frustrating his father's desire to see him enter the priesthood. He settled in Mallow, Co. Cork, where his family had established a mill. According to his descendants, he joined the IRB sometime during the late 1860s and, after taking part in a raid on the RIC barracks at Mallow (17 June 1871), fled to the USA for some time. As Dublin Castle did not suspect his involvement, however, he had little reason to flee the country. After his return to Ireland, he married (1876) Elizabeth, daughter of Richard McCoy, a farmer from Curraghmore, Co. Limerick. In 1880, after running a mill in Kanturk, Co. Cork, for a couple of years, the couple moved to Loughmore, Co. Tipperary, where they set up another mill. During the early 1880s David's longstanding friendship with William O'Brien (qv), together with the fame of his brother Fr Eugene Sheehy as a Land League activist, enhanced his political profile. In 1885 he was selected and duly elected as the Parnellite candidate for Galway South (1885–1900) and later became a very influential figure within the Irish National League. During 1886–7 the family closed down its mill in Loughmore and moved to 126 Hollybank Road, Drumcondra, Dublin, supported only by David's allowance as a member of the Irish party. Next only to John Dillon (qv) and William O'Brien, he was the most active organiser of the Plan of Campaign (1886–90), promoting it on thirty-five different estates, championing the use of boycotting tactics, and playing a significant role in establishing the ‘New Tipperary’ scheme. Consequently, he was arrested twice (December 1886, September 1890) and sentenced to imprisonment twice (one month in September 1887; three months in February 1889) during the campaign. He spent much of the latter sentence wearing only underclothes in his cell, as he refused to accept prison clothing. During the Parnell split (December 1890) he took the anti-Parnellite side, arguing that, for the sake of the rural tenantry, it was important that the liberal alliance be maintained at all costs. In January 1892, primarily for propaganda purposes, he instigated libel charges against the Parnellite party for abusive personal remarks allegedly made against him by C. S. Parnell (qv) the previous June, but the case was soon dropped. That July, although MP for Galway South, he also ran for election in Waterford city in an unsuccessful attempt to deprive the Parnellite leader, John Redmond (qv), of a seat in parliament. In the same general election, while campaigning for the anti-Parnellite candidate in Limerick city, he was badly wounded by a Parnellite supporter with a blackthorn stick and had to receive six stitches in his head. During the 1890s he was a member of the executive of the Irish National Federation, and in 1898 he became one of the first members of parliament to openly support William O'Brien's United Irish League. In 1899 he was appointed organising secretary of the League, a position he held until 1920, and played a leading role in organising the campaigns of most Irish party candidates in subsequent general elections. In 1903 he was elected to parliament for Meath South, a seat that was not contested again until 1918. By supporting the Irish party in criticising the Wyndham land act (1903), he alienated himself from his long-term political associate William O'Brien and became an increasingly close confidant of John Dillon. He initially gave strong support to the ranch war (1906–9) but, had second thoughts about its justice and later worked to bring it to an end. Although always sympathetic to the rural poor, he condemned the 1913 Dublin workers’ strike as an exhibition of godless socialism.
A strong supporter of Irish involvement in the first world war, he nevertheless interceded with the government to secure the release of his son-in-law, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (qv), who was imprisoned for anti-war protests. Increasingly beset by financial difficulties, he was formally declared bankrupt in March 1915, which forced him to sell his Georgian home at 2 Belvedere Place, Dublin. This had been the family home since the late 1890s and was formerly a social venue for many university students, including James Joyce (qv), who later cited Sheehy and his wife by name in Ulysses, gently satirising their ambition and social snobbery. The house was sold to TCD, which used the premises as a hostel for wounded Belgian soldiers and refugees. He then lived for a time in Bath, England, before moving into the Dublin home of Margaret Sheehy, his recently widowed daughter. His financial difficulties meant that he could not run for reelection to parliament in 1918. Embittered by the defeat of the Irish parliamentary party, he was hostile both to the politics of Sinn Féin and the ethos of the Irish Free State until his death. He was a devout catholic and the death of his wife Bessie (January 1918) prompted him to attend several masses a day in his later years. In 1921, with the remarriage and emigration to Canada of his daughter Margaret, he moved in with another widowed daughter, Mary, a Dublin city councillor who had been married to Thomas Kettle (qv). After a long period of poor health, he died 17 December 1932 in a nursing home. He was survived by five of his six children: Margaret, Mary, Hanna (Sheehy Skeffington (qv)), whose feminist politics he opposed, Kathleen, a teacher, and Eugene Sheehy (qv) (1883–1958), a circuit court judge. His eldest son, Richard, a professor of English common law at UCG, had died suddenly in October 1923 at the age of 42.