Smyth, Patrick James (1823–85), Young Irelander, journalist, and MP, was born at Mount Brown, Kilmainham, Dublin, the son of James Smyth originally of Co. Cavan, proprietor of a tanning business, and his wife Ann (née Bruton) of Portaine, Co. Meath. In 1839 he entered Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare, where he became a close friend of Thomas Francis Meagher (qv). Both men were active in the college debating society, and in 1844 Smyth joined the Repeal Association and was also a member of the ’82 club (an élite nationalist society). He quit the Repeal Association when the Young Irelanders seceded in July 1846 and was appointed to the council of the Irish Confederation on its foundation in January 1847. In July 1848 he was assigned by William Smith O'Brien (qv) to organise insurrection in counties Dublin, Meath, and Louth, but his efforts had no success. After the failure of the rebellion he fled to New York with John Blake Dillon (qv), disguised as a drover, and worked there as a journalist, becoming political editor of the Irish Advocate in 1850.
On the death of his father, he inherited a considerable fortune. He chartered a ship and sailed to Tasmania to rescue Young Ireland prisoners who had been transported there after 1848. He assisted the escape of John Mitchel (qv) in June 1853, and joined him in America later that year. His role in Mitchel's escape became his principal claim to fame and he was a prominent participant in the many banquets held in celebration by Irish-Americans. He returned to Dublin in 1856, studied for the bar, and qualified as a barrister (1858), but he seems to have abandoned his legal career after one brief. In 1860 he became the proprietor of the Irishman (1860–65), and remained associated with the paper until the early 1870s. He encouraged it to adopt a pro-union line during the American civil war (1861–65) and criticised British support for the confederate states. He appears to have fled Ireland briefly after the arrests of those associated with the Fenian Irish People newspaper in September 1865. By the late 1860s he had renounced rebellion, but rallied to support the ‘Manchester martyrs’ in 1867, even offering to conduct their defence himself – an offer that was declined. He remained sympathetic to convicted Fenians, and chaired the amnesty meeting in the Phoenix Park that was broken up by police in July 1871. In the late 1860s he lived for a time in Normandy, France. He returned to Ireland and stood as an independent nationalist candidate for Waterford in 1870 but was narrowly defeated by eight votes. After the outbreak of the Franco–Prussian war in 1870, he helped organise an Irish ambulance unit for the French army and suggested to the French government that they should raise an Irish brigade. For his efforts on behalf of France he was made a chevalier of the légion d'honneur in August 1871.
Smyth was a founding member of Isaac Butt's (qv) Home Government Association in May 1870 and in June 1871 was elected home rule MP for Co. Westmeath (1871–80). He retained his seat in the general election of 1874 and in parliament earned a reputation as an entertaining, if not always effective, orator. Smyth became disenchanted with Butt's limited conception of home rule, advocating instead outright repeal of the union. In early 1874 he formed the ’82 clubs, a breakaway movement from the Home Rule League (established in November 1873), to agitate for repeal. The ’82 clubs received support from the Irishman and the IRB and enjoyed some popularity in Dublin and Meath, but failed to make a significant political impact. In June 1876 Smyth denounced home rule as a ‘vile conspiracy against the life of the Irish nation’ (O'Sullivan, 269). He was elected nationalist MP for Co. Tipperary in the general election of April 1880, but became uneasy in the Irish parliamentary party after C. S. Parnell (qv) was elected its chairman in May 1880. He criticised Parnell's autocratic style and, as the land war intensified, denounced the Land League as the ‘League of Hell’. In January 1881 he formally seceded from the party, which mounted a vigorous campaign to force him to resign his seat. In late 1881 Michael Davitt (qv) described him as ‘Our Irish National Don Quixote; eccentric, rhetorical and most thoroughly impracticable’ (Jottings, 158). In December 1884 Smyth accepted the position of secretary to the board of the Irish loan fund and resigned as an MP. This was the last occasion when an Irish MP who had been elected as a nationalist accepted a government place, and it further eroded Smyth's popularity. He died some weeks afterwards, on 12 January 1885, at his home, 15 Belgrave Square East, Rathmines, Dublin, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery.
He published several pamphlets, mostly on political subjects. These include Australasia (1861), France and European neutrality (1870), The part taken by the Irish boy in the fight at Dame Europa's school (1871), A plea for peasant proprietary in Ireland (1871), and Materialism (1876). The priest in politics was published in 1885, a posthumous attack on the role of the catholic clergy in Irish politics. He was also interested in Irish history and antiquities, and in 1872 approached the antiquities committee of the RIA with the draft of an ancient monuments preservation bill that he wished to introduce into the commons. In the event the academy supported another bill, but Smyth was elected MRIA in January 1873.
He married (1855) Jeanie Regan of Hobart, Tasmania. Her father, John Regan, was originally from Cork. After Smyth's death a fund was raised to help his widow and children. There is a large collection of his papers in the NLI.