Sheehy, Eugene (1841–1917), priest and nationalist, was born 25 December 1841 in Broadford, Co. Limerick, first among three children of Richard Sheehy, mill owner, and Johanna Sheehy (née O'Shea). He and his brother David (qv) entered the priesthood, and were educated at St Munchin's Jesuit seminary in Limerick and later the Irish College in Paris. After his ordination (July 1868) Eugene was appointed a curate in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, home town of the radical politician W. H. O'Sullivan (qv) and a former hotbed of republican political activity. This helped identify Sheehy with popular political causes. Unlike most bishops and clergymen, together with O'Sullivan, he supported the formation of the Irish National Land League (21 October 1879). He became a member of its central committee in Dublin but did not become prominent in the agitation till the following winter when, as president of its Kilmallock branch, he spoke at a number of league rallies. In May 1881 he achieved notoriety and earned the nickname of ‘the Land League priest’ when, despite Dublin Castle's prohibition of the event, he spoke at a league rally in Limerick city and so was imprisoned in Kilmainham jail, as part of a campaign by Clifford Lloyd (qv), RM, to paralyse local league organisation by arresting branch committees en bloc. After many protests about his imprisonment, he was ultimately released that September. Thereafter C. S. Parnell (qv) organised a short lecture tour for him and spoke alongside him at all meetings. After the suppression of the Land League and imprisonment of its leaders without trial in mid October, Sheehy was not rearrested but left for New York with T. M. Healy (qv). At the third convention of the Land League of America in Chicago (30 November–2 December 1881), he expressed strong support for the radical no-rent manifesto, despite the fact that it was denounced by the church in Ireland. Unlike other priests, he also became a champion of the Ladies’ Land League, speaking alongside Anna Parnell (qv) at a few of its meetings on returning to Ireland in May 1882.
That autumn, thanks to his Land League reputation, he was automatically made a member of the Irish National League and the leader of its Kilmallock branch, but owing to the censure of his bishop he no longer took an active part in politics. He was relocated to Bruree, Co. Limerick, in 1884, becoming its parish priest two years later. He made a rare return into public life during the autumn of 1887 when, at the request of his bishop, he supported various Munster clergymen's efforts to negate republicans' influence over the GAA. He co-chaired the Thurles GAA convention of 4 January 1888 and subsequently established his own county board of the Limerick GAA in opposition to the republican-biased, official county board.
Sheehy was immensely popular in his own parish as both a priest and teacher; his fondness for Irish nationalist rhetoric exerted a very strong influence on a young Éamon de Valera (qv), who grew up in Bruree, but was not appreciated by his ecclesiastical superiors, who ultimately persuaded him to go abroad. He spent several years in New York (1894–1903), where he befriended Patrick Ford (qv), John Devoy (qv), and Tom Clarke (qv). On his return to Ireland he was suspended from his priestly functions by the bishop of Killaloe when it was discovered that he had spent most of his time in America collecting funds for radical land agitation in Ireland. During 1904 he visited Rome twice and appealed, successfully, for the pope to overrule the decision of his bishop. Not pleased by what he had seen of the Vatican, however, he now began giving sermons in his parish criticising the pomp and ceremony of Rome and questioning the need for the ‘Peter's pence’ collection. In 1907 he retired as a priest and settled in the Georgian home of his brother, David, at 2 Belvedere Place, Dublin. A strong supporter of the Gaelic League, he soon became interested in radical nationalist activities in Dublin. On 7 March 1910, at the request of Tom Clarke, he was made the principal speaker at a Robert Emmet (qv) commemoration in the Rotunda, Dublin, and thereafter offered to go to America to collect funds for the Wolfe Tone Memorial Committee, which was secretly controlled by the IRB. Considered trustworthy by Clarke, he was allowed to attend the 1910 Clan na Gael convention, where he forwarded a report on behalf of the IRB, but despite the claims of his niece Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (qv) that he became a member of the IRB, it is probable that his participation in this event was an isolated incident, performed purely because of his friendship with Clarke. One of only two priests who attended the inaugural convention of the Irish Volunteers (25 November 1913), he sympathised strongly with the Easter rebellion of 1916, entering the GPO to administer a blessing to the rebels and leaving the building only after it was set ablaze. His broad-minded outlook on most political questions endeared him to his niece, Hanna, whose radical feminism and republicanism was opposed by her father, but was always looked on sympathetically by Sheehy, who had taken a great interest in her and partly oversaw her education. He died in a Dublin city hospital on 15 July 1917 and had a small private funeral.