Sullivan, Timothy Daniel (1827–1914), politician, journalist, and songwriter, was born 29 May 1827 in Bantry, Co. Cork, eldest among seven children of Daniel Sullivan, house painter, and his wife Catherine (née Baylor), a schoolmistress. He was educated in Bantry before moving to Dublin, and married (1856) Catherine Healy (d. 1899) of Bantry. Sullivan came from a politically active family who reputedly participated in local radical activities in 1798, and who during the 1830s and 1840s were involved in the temperance movement, the anti-tithe agitation, and the movement led by Daniel O'Connell (qv) for repeal of the act of union. He became involved, along with his brothers, in the short-lived Confederate Club movement of 1847–8, buying a pike in preparation for the expected rebellion. From the late 1840s onwards, however, he associated with purely constitutional politics, and was closely linked with the home rule movement from its inception in 1870, actually helping Isaac Butt (qv) to avoid arrest for debt before his victory in the Limerick by-election of 1871.
Sullivan was part of the close-knit ‘Bantry band’ who, from the early 1850s onwards, converged on the capital to become intimately associated with the Irish parliamentary party and politics of constitutional nationalism. This group included the three Sullivan brothers (Timothy Daniel, Alexander Martin (qv), and Donal Baylor (1838–1907)); Timothy (qv) and Maurice Healy (qv); William Martin Murphy (qv); James Gilhooly (qv); and Timothy (qv) and Edward Harrington (qv). Political and family alignments were interwoven, T. D. Sullivan marrying Tim Healy's aunt, and their daughter, Erina (1857–1927), in turn, marrying Tim Healy in 1882.
Sullivan's interest in nationalist affairs involved him in a wide variety of activities, including agrarian agitation, municipal and parliamentary politics, journalism, and the writing of popular verse. He was a member of Dublin corporation during the 1880s, being elected lord mayor in 1886–7. During this time he was prominent as a spokesman for home rule: pushing for the granting of the city's freedom to individuals favourable to nationalism; leading the opposition to the issuing of an address of welcome to the prince of Wales in 1885; advocating the renaming of streets in honour of nationalist heroes; and cooperating with the lord lieutenant, the earl of Aberdeen (qv), in organising the Mansion House committee for the relief of poverty. At parliamentary level, he represented Westmeath (1880–85), Dublin city (1885–92), and Donegal West (1892–1900). He was also closely involved in the Plan of Campaign in the later 1880s, and took an active part in publicising home rule outside Ireland, participating in propaganda tours in Britain and fundraising campaigns in the US.
His involvement in journalism gave him ample outlet for his political opinions. He founded the short-lived Irish Catholic in 1888, and contributed to the Weekly News, but his most important link was with the Nation, owned and edited from 1855 onwards by his younger brother, Alexander Martin Sullivan. He contributed regularly to its columns over the following forty years, giving comprehensive coverage to the early home rule movement, the amnesty campaign, the parliamentary obstructionist campaign of the 1880s, the activities of the National League, and the Plan of Campaign in the later 1880s. He took over the proprietorship of the paper in 1876 when A. M. Sullivan moved to England to practise law. Faced, in 1890, with increasing competition from the Freeman's Journal and United Ireland, T. D. Sullivan sold the Nation, but continued to contribute to its columns into the opening years of the twentieth century.
Despite his unquestionable support for C. S. Parnell (qv) and the home rule movement, Sullivan had never been fond of Parnell himself, and as soon as the news broke regarding the Captain O'Shea (qv) divorce case, he almost immediately took the anti-Parnellite side and became active in the National Federation. While the anti-Parnellism of Sullivan and other ‘Bantry band’ members was derided by many as the grasping and self-seeking of provincial parvenus, his main objection to Parnell seems to have centred on the Chief's centralisation of the party and his coolness towards clerical political involvement. Like his brother A. M. Sullivan, whose driving force he summarised as ‘nationality and catholicity’ (T. D. Sullivan, A. M. Sullivan: a memoir (1885), 7), T. D. Sullivan's politics were essentially those of constitutional catholic nationalism. He believed in the capacity of reform to heal relationships within the context of the empire, and was intensely sensitive to any perceived attacks on the clergy, particularly by separatists. He used the Nation to launch scathing attacks on the ‘advanced’ party's opposition to home rule and on the dynamiting campaign of the 1880s, and presented the Parnellites after 1890 as enemies of reform, faith, and fatherland.
Despite his hostility to subversive, oath-bound separatism, some aspects of T. D. Sullivan's activities formed a bridge between militant and constitutional nationalism at popular level. He was active on the central committee of the Amnesty Association in the early 1870s and strongly supported popular commemoration of the ‘Manchester martyrs’ from 1867 onwards. His falling foul of the law on a number of occasions also gave him some place in the nationalist martyrology. His close involvement in the Land League led to his trial with Parnell and others in 1881 for conspiracy; and in 1888 he earned himself a two-month prison sentence in Tullamore jail for publishing the proceedings of banned League meetings in the Nation the previous year. He made maximum political capital from the latter incident, being accompanied to court by forty town councillors dressed in their official robes, and accepting the freedom of Dublin city while in prison.
Nowhere was his complex nationalism more obvious than in his song-writing, which was possibly his most lasting contribution to subsequent generations. Appearing regularly in the Nation and Weekly News, and republished on several occasions in pamphlet or book form (for instance, Lays of the Land League (1887) and A selection from the songs and poems of T. D. Sullivan (1899)), his verses ranged from those on land war incidents (‘Murty Hynes’, ‘The brave blacksmiths’, and ‘Gallagher's pig’), to those based on mythological or historical incidents (‘Death of Conor McNessa’, ‘O'Rourke's request’, ‘The priest's leap’), the nostalgia of exile (‘In the new country’), and current events (‘Brogue’, regarding Salisbury's denigration of the Irish accent in 1887, and ‘A royal report’, on the duke of York's Irish visit of 1897). Combining the sentimental, the comic, and the ironic, these verses were, unlike some of his journalistic pieces, refreshingly devoid of bitterness. Two songs were particularly influential in his own and in later days. One was ‘Ireland boys, hurrah’, which combined the loneliness of exile with an intense affection for both the homeland and the ‘new country’, and which was sung by Irishmen on both sides at the battle of Fredericksburg. The other was ‘God save Ireland’ which Sullivan wrote a few days after the execution of the ‘Manchester martyrs’ in November 1867, and which quickly became the unofficial national anthem of nationalist Ireland.
His other writings include the highly influential Speeches from the dock (1867), reprinted many times during the following half-century; A. M. Sullivan, a memoir (1885); A letter to the Right Honourable John Bright M.P. (1887); A record of traitorism; or the political life and adventures of Mr Justice Keogh (1888); The story of England (1888), which attempted to present an ‘unprejudiced account’ for Irish readers; Recollections of troubled times in Irish politics (1905), which unfortunately devoted more attention to general developments and the actions of others than to Sullivan's own recollections; and Bantry, Berehaven and the O'Sullivan sept (1908).
He died 31 March 1914 in Dublin and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. He and his wife Catherine had thirteen children (five boys and eight girls) who survived beyond infancy, including the lawyer and judge, Timothy Sullivan (qv) (1874–1949).