Smith, Patrick (‘Paddy’) (1901–82), IRA volunteer and politician, was born 17 July 1901 in Tunnyduff, Bailieborough, Co. Cavan, eighth and youngest child of Terence Smith, farmer, and Ellen Smith (née MacManus). Educated at the local national school to the age of 14, he left school to work on his father's twenty-acre farm. Keen to better himself, he continued to receive tuition from home when his duties on the farm allowed. In 1917, at the age of 16, he joined a flying column attached to the Carrickfallen brigade of the IRA and quickly established himself in the movement, becoming a commanding officer at 19 – the youngest serving IRA commandant – and later brigade OC.
He was captured and court-martialled in July 1921; he was sentenced to death on a charge of high treason, but released from prison in January 1922 under the general amnesty following the treaty. He returned to farming, but was soon on active service once more, fighting on the anti-treaty side in the civil war, and was interned by the Free State forces in Dundalk, Newbridge, and Harepark. While in prison, he was unanimously chosen as a candidate for election to the fourth dáil. He had not sought election nor was he involved in the political side of the republican cause, but it was as a public representative that he spent the rest of his working life. A founding member of Fianna Fáil, he won a seat for the party in his home constituency of Cavan in the general election of June 1927. Always loyal to local interests, he was a member of Cavan county council from 1934 to 1941 (serving as chairman from 1936), the Co. Cavan committee of agriculture, the Cavan board of health (1934–42) and the Bailieborough public utility service. This loyalty was rewarded at the polls, which he topped for the first time in 1933 and on every occasion thereafter up to 1965. His most enduring political friendships were formed with those of a similar rural background within Fianna Fáil: men such as Seán Moylan (qv) and Tom McEllistrim (1894–1973).
His attempt to relinquish the chairmanship of Cavan county council when appointed parliamentary secretary to the taoiseach (1938) was refused by the council, and he continued to fill both posts for three years. In 1943 he moved to the Department of Finance as parliamentary secretary with responsibility for the office of public works. While there, he oversaw the passage of the arterial drainage bill through both houses of the oireachtas. Succeeding James Ryan (qv) as minister for agriculture in 1947, he initiated a scheme to compensate farmers for heavy losses incurred due to the freakishly harsh weather of that year. James Dillon (qv), described his appointment as ‘disastrous’. When Dillon succeeded him as minister in 1948, Smith in turn became a severe and often truculent critic; he has been described as ‘frank to the point of bluntness’ (Hoctor, 202). On Fianna Fáil's return to office he became minister for local government (1951–4). During his time as minister he attempted to amend the County Management Act, 1940, in order to put greater control in the hands of elected representatives. The second inter-party government, which succeeded Fianna Fáil in 1954, enacted the changes initiated by the bill. On his party's return to government (March 1957) he was minister for local government and social welfare, but before the year was out he was back ‘home’ in Agriculture.
During this stint in Agriculture he steered the establishment of An Foras Talúntais (the Agricultural Research Institute) through its final stages and made the eradication of bovine TB a priority. Although sympathetic to the farming community, he was wary of farmer organisations; he would have preferred to see county committees of agriculture become the primary vehicle of communicating farming opinion to government. When the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association organised a milk strike in December 1952–January 1953 he had called them ‘Blueshirts’ (Smith & Healy, 33). Nonetheless, he became the first minister for agriculture to meet farmer organisations on a regular basis. He remained sceptical of the value of these meetings, resenting what he regarded as the tendency of the National Farmers’ Association to attempt to dictate to government; he reminded a delegation that he was ‘a representative of the government, not of farmers’ (Daly, First department, 548).
Under Seán Lemass (qv) he became increasingly uneasy at what he saw as a shift away from Fianna Fáil's traditional rural constituency in the interests of a more urban-conscious policy. This uneasiness manifested itself in his opposition to the government's proposed rural water scheme in January 1962. He also opposed the government when it intervened in a building strike in October 1964. He accused the construction workers of placing the national wage agreement in jeopardy, but was a lone voice in the cabinet and tendered his resignation. In his letter of resignation (7 October 1964) he described the unions and the building strike as ‘not legitimate trade unionism – it is a tyranny and I refuse to prepare myself to live with it and accept it’ (Ir. Times, 9 Oct. 1964). It was not the first time Smith had threatened to resign; and although Lemass was sorry to see his long-time colleague go, it was thought that he was due to retire to the backbenches along with other senior members of the government before the end of the year. His resignation had the effect of removing a frequent dissenter from the cabinet and provided Lemass with an opportunity to elevate C. J. Haughey (1925–2006) to a senior government position. Smith remained on the backbenches until 1977, by which time he was ‘father of the house’. As a TD he played a strong role in the affairs of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and supported George Colley (qv) for the leadership after Lemass's resignation in 1966. A large man physically, he was widely respected in political circles and was described by the Irish Times on his resignation as ‘a man of real warmth and charm’ (Ir. Times, 9 Oct. 1964). He died 18 March 1982 after a short illness.
He married (1936) Mary Teresa Ward; they had four sons and two daughters, and lived at Marianville, Station Road, Cootehill, Co. Cavan.