Synnott, Nicholas Joseph (1856–1920), barrister and banker, was born 10 April 1856, second and eldest surviving son among six sons and two daughters of Thomas Synnott, corn merchant, of Glenageary, Co. Dublin, and his first wife, Catherine Maria (d. 1862), daughter of Timothy Dunne of Mountmellick. He was educated at Stonyhurst and graduated BA from the University of London in 1877. Called to the English bar (Middle Temple) in 1879, he practised (1879–99) on the northern circuit for the next twenty years. In 1895 he attempted to enter politics when he unsuccessfully contested a seat on London county council.
He returned to Ireland in 1899, where he became a director of the Great Southern & Western Railway and chairman (1899–1905) of the Naas (Co. Kildare) board of guardians. He also became involved in the issue of university education for catholics. As the main progenitor and campaigner behind the idea of a catholic college within Dublin University, he gave a number of papers on the subject to the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland. He also gave evidence to the Robertson commission (1901–3), which was established to investigate all matters concerning university education in Ireland, excluding TCD. However, the catholic bishops were vociferously opposed to catholics attending Dublin University, and his plan for a catholic college within Dublin University failed.
In 1903 he became a founder member and secretary of the Committee of Catholic Laymen, with John Sweetman (qv), a former home rule MP for Wicklow East (1892–5), at its head. The committee was originally established to continue the campaign for a catholic college within Dublin University. The establishment of the Fry commission in 1906 offered the committee a new opportunity to reopen the question of provision for catholics at Dublin University. When a number of TCD fellows proposed to both the governing and academic bodies of the college that TCD should have a large catholic element, the Committee of Catholic Laymen abandoned the campaign for a separate catholic college and Synnott presented a memo to the commission in support of the proposals. However, the catholic bishops’ standing committee opposed the proposals, on the grounds that catholics could not accept a mixed system of education. Synnott spoke out against the bishops’ attempt to dictate matters and said that it was up to lay catholics to express their own opinions. Despite his stand the proposals came to nothing when the governing board of Trinity repudiated them.
In 1906 he was elected high sheriff of Kildare and appointed a director of the Bank of Ireland. In 1918 he became the bank's governor, at a time of great instability and upheaval in both the Irish banking sector and politics. Issues affecting gold during the first world war had meant that Irish banknotes became legal tender in 1914, but after the war the British treasury wanted restoration of the gold standard. Synnott and his directors feared that this would result in a run on the Irish gold reserves, and on 16 September 1919 he chaired a meeting of the Irish banks at which they opted for permanent retention of legal-tender status for Irish banknotes. However, in London the committee of Lord Cunliffe on currency and foreign exchanges rejected Synnott's request on behalf of the Irish banks, and on 1 January 1920 legal-tender status was withdrawn from the Irish currency. Later that year the British treasury also insisted that the Bank of Ireland transfer its gold reserves to London due to the deteriorating political situation.
In addition to his career in banking Synnott was a member of the royal commission on income tax (1919–20) and a director of Norwich Union Insurance Co. Apart from his papers on the university question he wrote on various topics such as the over-taxation of Ireland (1897), financial relations between Britain and Ireland (1899), and the Irish land bill (1895). He was elected MRIA in 1917, and died 13 August 1920 at Greystones, Co. Wicklow.
He married (1891) Barbara, daughter of Joshua James MacEvoy Netterville, of Biarritz, France, and the Hon. Mary Reddis Bridget Ellen Netterville. He had two sons and four daughters and lived at Furness, Naas, Co. Kildare.