Healy, Timothy Michael (1855–1931), parliamentarian, barrister, and first governor general of the Irish Free State, was born 17 May 1855 in Bantry, west Co. Cork, second son of Maurice Healy, clerk of the Bantry poor law union, and Eliza Healy (née Sullivan).
Family background and early career
The Healy family had been dispossessed, after the battle of the Boyne, of tracts of land in Donoughmore. The family subsequently witnessed the devastation of the famine in west Cork, where both Healy's father and his kinsman A. M. Sullivan (qv) were administrators of the poor law. A fused sense of despoliation and of famine was to inform Healy's implacable agrarian nationalism.
Healy had what he characterised as a Spartan upbringing. He maintained a relationship of affection constrained by somewhat formal deference towards his father, whose catholicism was tinged by a Jansenistic severity, and who died in 1906. Healy's mother died giving birth to twins when he was four. One twin survived, Maurice (qv), who was to be Healy's closest political and professional confidant and collaborator until his death in November 1923.
While Healy was reared in conditions of frugality, the family was not without influential nationalist connections, chiefly to the Sullivans. T. D. Sullivan (qv), balladic nationalist and editor of the Nation, was Healy's uncle by marriage. Intermarriage in successive generations heightened the cohesiveness of the Healy–Sullivan clan. Tim Healy married Sullivan's daughter Erina in 1882. Maurice Healy married Annie, daughter of A. M. Sullivan. This did not preclude deep strains in Healy's relations with A. M. Sullivan and his son and namesake in the course of his political and professional life. While in its pristine usage, the term ‘Bantry band’ encompassed the profusion of nationalist members of parliament who hailed from Bantry and its environs (ten in the decade 1882–91, two of whom, T. C. Harrington (qv) and Edward Harrington (qv) were ardent Parnellites in the split), the term ‘Bantry band’ or ‘Bantry gang’ became in the split a pejorative Parnellite designation of the sundry parliamentary Healys and Sullivans, together with William Martin Murphy (qv).
In 1862 Healy's father, left inconsolable by the death of his wife, took up the clerkship of the poor law union in Lismore, Co. Waterford. Tim Healy's abbreviated formal education with the Christian Brothers in Fermoy came to a close in 1869. A preternaturally alert boy of fifteen, he underwent a curious apprentissage under familial auspices. He went first to his aunt and T. D. Sullivan, a stay which marked his informal induction into nationalist politics. From Dublin he was sent to Manchester to stay with his distant kinsman John Barry (qv), an émigré nationalist of considerable substance who was still at that time a member of the supreme council of the IRB. Thence he went to Newcastle upon Tyne, where he was employed as a shorthand clerk in the office of the North-Eastern Railway. Through Isaac Pitman's shorthand he acquired a speed of notation that kept pace with his rapidity of mind: his correspondence with his brother, which makes up the substance of his memoirs, was written in shorthand. He attended night classes in physics and learned French, with a little German, at the Mechanics Institute. He educated himself on the wing: G. K. Chesterton later observed that Healy quoted Shakespeare as part of his ordinary table talk. Most of all he immersed himself in Newcastle in Irish cultural and political activities.
In the split Parnell was to taunt that Healy was a Fenian renegade, a thesis taken up much later with conspiratorial gusto, by Sean MacBride (qv). But Healy's recorded political interests at the time were chiefly to do with the mobilisation of the Irish vote in Newcastle. There was little of the Fenian in him, then or thereafter.
Healy was already conscious of the political presence of Charles Stewart Parnell (qv), nine years his senior, whom he observed just after Parnell's election for Meath at a home rule conference in Leeds. He got Parnell, among others, to attend a meeting in Newcastle in September 1877. Parnell's ascendancy was not assured, and Healy was at this time beguiled by the figure of Joe Biggar (qv), and on more familiar terms with Parnell's rival John O'Connor Power (qv).
Healy moved to London at the invitation of T. D. Sullivan to contribute a weekly letter to the Nation, the first of which appeared in March 1878. He thereby became the first major journalistic propagandist of the newly assertive Irish parliamentary nationalism. In vivid despatches of precocious if uneven brilliance, he chronicled the fall of Isaac Butt (qv) and the rise of Parnell.
Healy's own political skills, yet to emerge, lay in the domain of propaganda rather than high statecraft. From the outset he persistently underestimated the conceptual ambitiousness of Parnell's refiguring of Irish nationalist politics, and the resolve and resource which Parnell brought to bear to that end. This invested with a certain subjective consistency Healy's astonishing belittling of Parnell's role in an interview with the Liberal Pall Mall Gazette in December 1890 immediately after the break-up of the Irish party: ‘We seized very early in the movement the idea of the man, with his superb silences, his self-control, his aloofness – we seized upon that as the canvas of a great national hero’ (Callanan, Healy, 269).
Parnell with John Dillon (qv) embarked on an American tour in December 1879. It fell to Healy, who arrived in New York in late February 1880, to redress the organisational chaos that ensued. He met members of Parnell's family, and appears to have been smitten by an infatuation with Parnell's sister Fanny (qv). Parnell and Healy were in Montreal when they learned by telegram of the dissolution of parliament. They hastened back, only reaching Ireland in mid-campaign. Healy fought vigorously for candidates allied to Parnell. Though the idea of Healy running for parliament was mooted, he did not stand in the 1880 election. Thereafter he fought to contest Meath when Parnell chose to sit for Cork. This pitted him against his kinsman A. M. Sullivan in seeking the nomination of the clergy of the county. The day Healy's ambitions were thwarted in Navan, Parnell was elected chairman of the Irish party in Dublin.
Arising out of his actions in support of an evicted tenant near Bantry, Healy was arrested at Glengarriff, Co. Cork, under the Whiteboy acts, for intimidation. This coincided with a vacant seat for Wexford, for which Healy was returned. Speaking against convention on his first day in the house of commons, 11 January 1881, Healy railed against the marquess of Hartington (qv), secretary of state for India.
The following month, menaced with repression, the Land League executive met in Paris. Parnell failed to arrive and the executive ordered Healy to hand over one of several letters he held, addressed to Parnell in a woman's hand – not, it seems, that of Katherine O'Shea. Parnell turned up just as Healy and Joseph Biggar were leaving to seek him out at the London address disclosed in the letter.
Healy attained parliamentary prominence with extreme rapidity in the debates on the 1881 land act. Advised by his brother Maurice, then a solicitor's apprentice in Ireland, Healy won the credit for what became known as the ‘Healy clause’, which, while subsequently judicially emasculated, was intended to ensure that no increase in judicial rent could be allowed in respect of improvements effected by the tenant. This handsome prize, won by a 27-year-old politician of sparse formal education about to embark on his second year of reading for the bar, just over six months after he had taken his seat, transformed Healy's political standing. From the debates on the land act date the commencement of Healy's relations with Gladstone, to whose compliments he was inordinately susceptible, and the hostility towards him of the Land League radicals.
In London on 14 October Healy heard the newsboys on the Strand crying the news of Parnell's arrest, and set out for Ireland. On the ship's gangway at Holyhead he was given a letter from the Land League executive urging him to remain in England. The home secretary, Sir William Harcourt, with his usual obtuseness where Irish politics were concerned, lamented that W. E. Forster (qv), chief secretary for Ireland, had failed to catch Healy ‘who is the most dangerous . . . of them all’ (Healy, 108). Despatched to the US with T. P. O'Connor (qv) and the firebrand cleric Fr Eugene Sheehy (qv), Healy stayed for four months, attending the notorious Chicago convention which was to loom large at the special commission. On his return to England Healy was uneasy and unsure, left unapprised of the thinking of Parnell and the senior Land League figures in Kilmainham. He was not privy to the dealings that led to the Kilmainham ‘treaty’, and unwisely agreed to meet Joseph Chamberlain in the commons on 14 April 1882 at the instigation of W. H. O'Shea (qv). Following the Phoenix Park murders (6 May 1882), Healy furiously denounced the government's coercion bill, while latterly negotiating through the radical Henry Labouchere with Chamberlain to mitigate its severity. Under Parnell's supervision, Healy drew up a constitution for the Irish National League, established at the conference in Dublin on 17 October 1882.
Healy was prosecuted along with Michael Davitt (qv) for a speech at Mullins, Co. Carlow. Declining to enter recognisances to be of good behaviour, he was imprisoned on 8 February 1883. He did not take imprisonment well, fretfully following politics on the outside and learning Irish from Davitt. Released after four months and before he had recovered from the effects of his incarceration, Healy was put up by Parnell in the pending Monaghan by-election as the champion of the tenants. Healy attributed his narrow victory to ‘the power and terror of the magic name of Parnell’ and looked forward to the success of what he called ‘the Parnellite razzia in the north’ (Healy, 87, 111). The result precipitated the beginning of concerted unionist resistance to the Parnellite ‘invasion’ of Ulster.
Healy collaborated with William O'Brien (qv) on United Ireland from its first appearance on 13 August 1881. His unguarded attacks on the moral character of senior Castle figures, specifically James Ellis French, Gustavus C. Cornwall, and George Bolton, prompted a series of libel actions against United Ireland and O'Brien as its editor. This was part of Healy's unsparing assault on the Irish administration of Earl Spencer (qv). Cornwall, secretary of the General Post Office, was implicated in a homosexual scandal, and Healy notoriously suggested that Spencer should be raised a step in the peerage, with the title of ‘the duke of Sodom and Gomorrah’ (Healy, 92).
The most accomplished publicist of Parnellism, Healy also was the most aggressive champion of a disciplined Parnellite organisation and of the imposition on the constituencies of candidates endorsed by Parnell. Tensions developed within the leadership of the party in relation to the selection of candidates in the run-up to the 1885 general election. Healy embarked on a sustained series of covert intrigues with the entertaining cynic Henry du Pre Labouchere, the radical member for Northampton, and publisher of Truth. Labouchere, characterising Healy as ‘by far the most honest and ablest of the Irishmen’ (Healy, 127), was in active communication with Gladstone's son Herbert. The basis of their intrigue was that Healy would ensure that the Irish party came to an accommodation with the Liberals in return for the promise of home rule, whether or not Parnell wanted this (and the premise was that he did not). This attempted usurpation reflected, as well as astonishing disloyalty, an almost frivolous underestimation on Healy's part of Parnell's consummate mastery of political tactics.
The first phase of the Healy–Labouchere plot ended in humiliation with Parnell's manifesto throwing the Irish vote in England against the Liberals. Unchastened, they resumed their intrigue immediately after the general election. This again failed when Parnell led the Irish party to vote with the Liberals against the Conservative government without preconditions. If any whisper reached Parnell of Healy's activities it is likely to have led him to conclude that Healy was parleying with Chamberlain, the fellow-radical with whom Labouchere had been closely associated.
The mistrust between Healy and Parnell antedated the Galway election of February 1886, when Parnell imposed W. H. O'Shea on the constituency. Healy accompanied Biggar to Galway to oppose O'Shea's candidacy, believing that they could secure the constituency against O'Shea and thus preempt any intervention by Parnell. After a tense stand-off Parnell descended on Galway to put down the ‘mutiny’.
At the general election of 1886 that followed the defeat of Gladstone's home rule bill, Healy lost the Derry South seat he had narrowly won in 1885. In the debate on the address Parnell pointedly invoked Healy's attacks on Chamberlain, when Chamberlain and Dilke had proposed visiting Ireland in mid 1885. Parnell's dilatoriness in procuring Healy's reelection was likewise deliberate and conspicuous. It was not until February 1887 that Healy was returned for Longford North.
In parliament Healy was at his most brilliantly scathing on the establishment of the special commission that following the publication of the Times forgeries. The general expectation, fully shared by Healy himself, that he would be retained as part of the representation of the nationalists at the commission, was fulfilled when he was briefed by Sir George Lewis. Four weeks later, however, Lewis at Parnell's direction withdrew the brief with the insulting proposal that he should be briefed to appear only on his own behalf. Whether conceived as a reprisal or a preemptive strike, it was a ruthless and extremely wounding gesture on Parnell's part. Healy wrote with ominous composure to his brother that Parnell's refusal to disclose the reasons for the withdrawal of the brief ‘creates a change in my obligations towards him’ (Healy, Letters and leaders, i, 2931).
To Parnell's alarm, Healy rose just as Capt. O'Shea was leaving the witness box at the special commission on 31 October 1888. He confined himself, however, to a short series of questions to establish that he and Biggar had opposed and attacked O'Shea at the Galway election. Later, when Parnell elected not to withdraw from the special commission immediately after the exposure of Richard Pigott (qv) in February 1889, Healy denounced ‘as one of the most lamentable incidents in the history of the present government’ what he characterised as the submission of the Irish party to the jurisdiction of the special commission (Healy, 209).
Healy initially held aloof from the Plan of Campaign, but eventually extended it rhetorical support. His agrarian idiom in the Ireland of the late 1880s was aggressively populistic and exploited the revolution in the expectations of the tenants wrought by the land acts of 1881 and 1885. His overt championship of an immediate proprietorial solution pitted him against the agrarianism of Davitt and of Dillon. Healy was also implacably opposed to the strategy Parnell pursued of seeking to have land purchase applied to smaller tenancies in the first instance, whereby Parnell hoped to be able to retain a residual class of residential landlords in Ireland.
Healy's relations with, and panegyrics to, Gladstone grew ever warmer. The Liberal leader invited Healy to Hawarden in the late summer of 1888, a project that Healy wisely discouraged. Healy's and William Martin Murphy's short-lived and – within the Irish party – dissentient opposition to Balfour's Railways (Ireland) Bill in August 1890 presaged further rifts in the future. The death on 19 February 1890 of Healy's friend and political mentor Joe Biggar removed a potentially stabilising influence.
The Parnell split
When Capt. O'Shea obtained his decree nisi of divorce against his wife on 17 November 1890, Healy lay ill in Dublin. His immediate reaction was of impetuous loyalty to Parnell. He left his sickbed three days later – carried off, according to A .M. Sullivan, by his ardently Parnellite doctor, Joseph Kenny (Old Ireland, 50) – to appear at the meeting in the Leinster Hall. Indignantly repudiating the charge of servility to Parnell (‘I am no man's man but Ireland's’), he resoundingly endorsed Parnell, concluding to tumultuous applause with the injunction ‘not to speak to the man at the wheel’ (Callanan, Parnell split, 11).
Healy was absent from the meeting of the Irish party at Westminster on 25 November at which Parnell was reelected as sessional chairman. By the time he reached London, still ill, on 27 November the stage was almost set for confrontation. Two days later Parnell published his manifesto in response to Gladstone's intervention. If the issue now resolved itself for Healy at a national level into a stark choice between Parnell's leadership and the winning of home rule under Liberal auspices, he remained, in the long week to come, prey to surges of contradictory emotions.
In the debates in Committee Room 15, where the Irish party met through the week of 1–6 December, Healy marshalled the opposition to Parnell, whom he attacked from the outset. He sought to break Parnell's poise, as if to liberate nationalist Ireland if not himself from the spell of a once unassailable leader. He nonetheless supported the Clancy amendment, which sought to procure assurances from the Liberal leadership on the matters of policy Parnell had raised in his manifesto. On the last day the party was tensed for schism. When John Redmond (qv) sarcastically characterised Gladstone as ‘the master of the party’, Healy interjected: ‘Who is to be the mistress of the party?’. Parnell flung away the Freeman's Journal which he had been tensely scanning and stood poised to strike Healy, ‘that cowardly little scoundrel there who dares in an assembly of Irishmen to insult a woman’. Healy impassively awaited the blow that did not fall. Writing to his wife, Healy pronounced himself ‘content with the thrust, which will stick as long as his cry about Gladstone's “dictation” ’. The anti-Parnellites withdrew a little later. As Healy observed, ‘unless we had deposed Mr Parnell in the way we did he would have kept us there proposing resolutions like repeating decimals until doomsday’ (Letters and leaders, i, 336; Parnell split, 46, 52–3).
While the architect of the anti-Parnellite victory in Kilkenny North (December 1890) was Michael Davitt, Healy rapidly came to the fore in the opposition to Parnell in Ireland. He crossed with the diehard John Barry to Paris on 5–6 January to seek to dissuade William O'Brien from persevering in his negotiations with Parnell. He continued to campaign in Ireland, as did Parnell. With the breakdown of the negotiations at Boulogne, after which O'Brien and Dillon submitted to rearrest, Healy's ascendancy among the anti-Parnellites was unchallenged for the duration of their imprisonment in Galway jail.
Healy was primarily responsible for the establishment of the National Press to counter the Parnellite Freeman's Journal. Preceded by a benedictory visit to the presses by the archbishop of Dublin the previous evening, the first issue appeared on 7 March 1891. Healy there wrote of Parnell: ‘while he remained, he must not complain if home truths are told which go to the very roots of the controversy’. F. J. Higginbottom, the London correspondent of the paper, recalled: ‘The National Press was dominated by him and used to a point of typographical exhaustion in pursuing the deposed leader with every sort of deprecatory virulence’ (Vivid life, 42). It was chiefly through the medium of the National Press that Healy, in dictating the themes and idiom, the imagery and catchcries of popular anti-Parnellite sentiment throughout the country, achieved a feat of propaganda that remains unequalled in modern Irish politics. Three days after the National Press appeared, the inaugural meeting of the National Federation to rival the Parnellite National League took place in Dublin.
Healy never lacked courage, and was unperturbed by the abuse that greeted him on the streets of Dublin. He was the victim of a vicious assault in Tipperary on 23 March that left him hors de combat for the second by-election of the split. With Parnell's defeat in Sligo North, Healy's attacks on Parnell did not abate but grew provokingly exultant. When Archbishop Thomas Croke (qv) of Cashel called for an audit of national funds held by Parnell, Healy wrote at the start of June a series of seven conservative daily editorials on the subject. The first was entitled ‘Stop thief’. Of its charge against Parnell, the National Press declared: ‘we will force him to face it, or, amidst the contempt of his own supporters, “lash the rascal naked through the world” ’ (Parnell split, 122). Just before the third election of the split in July 1891 Parnell married Katharine O'Shea, and rashly expressed a wish to bring his wife to Ireland. The moralising vituperation of the National Press broke all bounds and rendered the contest in Carlow the ugliest of the split.
Dillon and O'Brien were constrained, on their emergence from Carlow jail on 30 July, to align themselves with Healy. Dillon in particular was determined to wrest control of the National Federation from Healy, at the price of the ratification of all that Healy had said and done. On the morning of 6 October Healy declared in Thurles: ‘We were engaged in this battle before ever Parnell was heard of, and we will fight this battle when there is an end put to him’ (Parnell split, 178). That evening Parnell died in Brighton.
Borne along on the trajectory of the split's bitterness, Healy veered out of control. When the Parnellites and Katharine Parnell asserted claims on nationalist funds lodged in Paris, Healy informed his constituents that ‘no more shocking incident has been heard of than this alliance between the so-called Irish patriots and a proved British prostitute’. Tudor McDermott, the son of Parnell's sister Sophia, called Healy out of the law library and proceeded to horsewhip him. Healy repeated the attack on Katherine Parnell the next night at the National Federation. It is an apt coda to Healy's conduct in the split that he was only restrained by Labouchere's eliciting from Gladstone a suitably portentous epistle (‘it is difficult to rein in a gallant horse at the exact moment when the work is done . . . But the Almighty has already smitten the woman heavily’) which Labouchere read to Healy, who ‘promises not again to allude to Mrs O'Shea’ (Parnell split, 187, 189).
Healy surveyed politics after Parnell with the restiveness of a demobilised combatant. He was constrained to acquiesce in the merger of the National Press and the Freeman's Journal in March 1892. The ferocious contest for control of the amalgamated paper ran thereafter in parallel with that for hegemony within the anti-Parnellite party.
At the general election of July 1892 Healy was returned for Louth North. His post-split rancour and loss of poise is reflected in the fact that he immediately fell out with John Morley (qv), the new chief secretary and Gladstone's closest adjutant. Healy demanded the immediate use of executive action to oust unionist resident magistrates. He shunned the chief secretary's lodge and held aloof from consultations with Morley on the provisions of the second home rule bill, which was ultimately lost in the house of lords.
The battle lines within the anti-Parnellite majority between Healy and Dillon were now sharply drawn. In the general election of July 1895, Healy provoked a major confrontation when he denounced an accommodation with the Liberals in relation to seats in the north of Ireland. He was returned for Louth North but saw the defeat of a number of parliamentary supporters. He thereafter overreached himself in supporting William Martin Murphy's forlorn candidacy for Kerry South in opposition to the party nominee. In November 1895 he was expelled from the National Federation and the committee of the anti-Parnellite party. As he wrote in his memoirs, ‘I was now made an outlaw’ (Letters and leaders, ii, 423).
The exclusion of Healy followed closely on the return of a unionist government. Having been in the split the most vociferous partisan of the Liberal–Nationalist alliance, Healy embarked on a rapprochement with the Conservatives. He was far better disposed to the Conservative chief secretary Gerald Balfour (qv) than he had been to Morley, and ardently supported his land act of 1896 and local government act of 1898. While he continued to support home rule, Healy was thereafter more closely aligned with the Conservatives than with the Liberals.
Healy's loathing of Dillon, elected to the chair of the anti-Parnellite party in February 1896, was now openly expressed. The following month the Irish Catholic commenced publication of a polemical account of Dillon's career, the authorship of which was undeclared but obvious. Healy published a slightly reworked text under his own name in 1898 with the title Why Ireland is not free: a study of twenty years of Irish politics.
Having lost the high ground, Healy was driven back on the support of his kinsmen and close allies such as William Martin Murphy, and of the catholic clergy. The priesthood was the bulwark of the so called ‘People's Rights Fund’, from which evolved the People's Rights Association. This was a Healyite vehicle dedicated to ‘constituency rights’ in the nomination of candidates in opposition to the centralised system of nomination by the party. That the championship of constituency rights was in diametrical opposition to the position Healy had adopted against Davitt in the early 1880s reflected the intervening rightward drift of nationalist politics rather than inconsistency on Healy's part. Healy's need for a newspaper was met by William Martin Murphy's takeover of the Nation. Of the Daily Nation, which appeared from 1 October 1897, William O'Brien observed with uncharacteristic succinctness: ‘Mr Murphy bought the knives and Mr Healy did the stabbing’. Unctuously catholic, the Daily Nation explicitly repudiated the axioms of pre-split Parnellism and survived until 29 August 1900, when it was merged with the formerly Parnellite Irish Independent which Murphy had acquired.
In the war of manoeuvre that preceded the reunification of the Irish party on 30 January 1900, Healy favoured the leadership of John Redmond. He rapidly forfeited whatever advantage this gave him. William O'Brien's United Irish League was constituted the national organisation of the reunited party. Healy and his cohort contested the election of October 1900. Healy held Louth North, but the election marked the end of Healyism in institutional form. Distraught at the defeat of his brother Maurice in Cork, Healy regarded his own expulsion from the Irish party, proposed by O'Brien at a convention in Dublin in December, with amused equanimity.
Healy had thus squandered in the decade since the divorce crisis the ascendancy he had attained in the split. When the new chief secretary, George Wyndham (qv), informed the commons in 1901 that the League had created a united Irish party, Healy cheerfully interjected: ‘as a matter of fact it has deposited two parties, of which I am one’ (Healy, 450).
The role of parliamentary frondeur which Healy had increasingly come to assume was in any case more compatible with the demands of his legal practice in ‘the dusty, but not unprofitable, Four Courts’ in Dublin (Healy, 237). Healy had been called to the Irish bar on 10 November 1884, and enjoyed immediate professional success. From as early as the late 1880s his increasing absences from Westminster to attend to his practice were the subject of comment, and the split of 1890–91 was the last period in which Healy devoted his time to politics in a continuously sustained way. He was made a silk in April 1899. He was called to the English bar in 1903, and given silk in England in November 1910, but never developed a significant practice in London.
Reconciliation with William O'Brien
A fervent apostle of ‘conciliation’, O'Brien broke with Dillon and Redmond over Dillon's opposition to the Wyndham land act of 1903. Healy had followed the twists of O'Brien's later career, and the extravagance of rhetoric that attended them, with an amusement that was unfeigned. Healy's allies, William Martin Murphy and the cardinal archbishop of Armagh in particular, took a less indulgent view of O'Brien. United chiefly by their loathing for Dillon, Healy and O'Brien drifted slowly towards a rapprochement that astonished contemporary observers.
At the election of January 1906 Healy was spared a contest in Louth North through the intervention of Cardinal Logue (qv). He savaged the Liberal government's ill-conceived Irish councils bill, outflanking the temporising leadership of the Irish party. Following tortuous negotiations, O'Brien and Healy rejoined the Irish party in January 1908. The tenuous unity did not survive the ‘baton’ convention of the League of February 1909. O'Brien abruptly resigned his seat without consulting Healy, whose irritation was assuaged by the return of Maurice Healy at the ensuing by-election for O'Brien's Cork city seat.
The opposition of Healy and O'Brien, along with that of William Martin Murphy, to Lloyd George's ‘people's budget’ of 1909 (condemned by O'Brien's Cork Accent with typical extravagance as ‘the blackest treason perpetrated against Ireland since the act of union’), inflicted significant damage on the Irish party. Healy and O'Brien were thereafter relentlessly opportunistic on the question of the budget, a subject matter of exceptional delicacy in relation to home rule by reason of its linkage to the removal of the veto of the house of lords.
At the general election of January 1910 Healy very narrowly held Louth North. In March O'Brien established the All-for-Ireland League, which fleetingly pursued an alliance with Arthur Griffith's (qv) Sinn Féin. Healy initially held aloof from the League, chiefly in deference to the susceptibilities of Cardinal Logue who like many ecclesiastics considered O'Brien an unregenerate anti-clerical. The general election of December 1910 was a major reversal for the O'Brienites. Healy, bereft of active clerical support, lost Louth North. Driven to accepting the patronage that O'Brien had at his disposal in his Munster fiefdom, Healy was elected unopposed for Cork North East in July 1911, a seat he was to hold until his resignation in October 1918.
Loathing of Dillon and Lloyd George and a delusional belief in ‘conciliation’ brought O'Brien close to opposition to the third home rule bill, a course that Healy coaxed him from. Healy had also to struggle to contain the mutual antagonism of O'Brien and William Martin Murphy, for whom he appeared at the inquiry into the Dublin lock-out. In the home rule crisis, Healy's assessment of the situation did not fundamentally differ from that of the Irish party leadership. He was, however, not constrained by the Liberal–Nationalist alliance. When Asquith in March 1914 unveiled his government's proposals to resolve the Ulster crisis by permitting the northern unionist counties and county boroughs to opt out for a period of six years, Healy declared: ‘if this proposal is accepted, finis Hiberniae’, and scathingly condemned Redmond's acquiescence. On the outbreak of war in August, Healy supported the government's position, as did O'Brien.
The rise of Sinn Féin
The rising of Easter 1916 caught Healy unawares, but he was quick to adjust to the shift in sentiment in Ireland that followed the executions, and to discern the implications for the Irish party. Ironically the first victim of the new dispensation was his ally William O'Brien. Unable to make himself heard over barracking Sinn Féin sympathisers in Cork city hall in June 1916, O'Brien's active role in Irish politics was at an end.
His political resilience undiminished in his early sixties, Healy was rapidly overcoming his early disdain for Sinn Féin. He embarked on a remarkable though unavailing correspondence to bring his brother to the same view. It was in the capacity of an advocate that Healy initiated his accommodation with Sinn Féin. Retained by the family to appear at the inquest on Thomas Ashe (qv) in late 1917, Healy's advocacy was aptly inflammatory. He came to know some of the Sinn Féin figures, aided by his kinsman Kevin O'Higgins (qv), who had been apprenticed to Maurice. In the commons in April 1918 he furiously opposed the application of conscription to Ireland, and attended the Mansion House conference in Dublin as part of the united nationalist resistance to conscription. A request to Bonar Law in August 1918 to visit the imprisoned Éamon de Valera (qv) went unanswered.
Healy did not renounce (as had O'Brien) the idea of contesting the next election. He never ceased to dissent from Sinn Féin's espousal of abstentionism, and harboured the forlorn hope that Sinn Féin could be brought to acquiesce in the return of a number of non-Irish-party parliamentarians. He made a rhetorical offer to resign to enable an actor imprisoned for singing Irish songs to contest the seat. To his immense chagrin this was met by a letter signed by the secretaries of Sinn Féin, accepting his offer. Furious to be hustled off the parliamentary stage by those he considered political amateurs, he had no alternative but to make good his offer at the end of October 1918. He was thus constrained, with the utmost reluctance and ill grace, to take the step that would ensure his survival, alone of the major parliamentarians of the ancien régime, into the new political order.
On 4 November, a Sunday, Healy was visited at his home, Glenaulin in Chapelizod, by two men whom he recognised as Michael Collins (qv) and Harry Boland (qv). Collins, at his most alarmingly playful, wanted to see how far Healy could be drawn politically. Still sore at relinquishing his seat, Healy was unamused but restrained himself sufficiently to pass the audition. With the rout of the Irish party at the December general election, Healy sent O'Brien Christmas greetings: ‘politically we shall never again enjoy such a festive season’ (Healy, 549).
In the revolutionary interregnum which began with the meeting of the first dáil in Dublin on 21 January 1919, Healy sought to use his diverse contacts to exercise a restraining influence on British policy towards Ireland. He tried thereby in a minor way to compensate for the hiatus created by Sinn Féin's abstentionism. As he later wrote to O'Brien, ‘the Shins [sic] were mostly ignorant of conditions at Westminster – tho’ they had the precedent of John Martin to go by – and their absence gave Carson his chance’ (Healy, 552).
Healy played a minor and important role on the periphery of the treaty negotiations in 1921: the Irish plenipotentiaries wisely did not disclose to him their inner thinking. He begged O'Brien to cross to London, and when O'Brien arrived en route to France, Healy told him of assurances that Winston Churchill had given him in relation to the boundary commission, which Healy had with Churchill's sanction relayed to the Irish emissaries. The result predictably was to swell O'Brien's repertoire of obsessional convictions by the belief that Healy had been the medium for a calculated act of deception on the part of the government that had procured Griffith's and Collins's signature on the treaty. When the treaty was signed on 6 December 1921, Healy wrote over-sanguinely to his brother: ‘. . . it is a great victory for the Sinns; and their extremists won't I think give trouble’ (Healy, 582). As the country moved towards civil war, Healy's formerly favourable impression of de Valera, whom he met for the last time in March 1922, yielded to contempt.
After the death in August 1922 of Griffith (who had abiding reservations concerning Healy's role in the split) and Collins, Healy on the initiative of Kevin O'Higgins was proposed as governor general by the Irish government. The British prime minister Bonar Law, whom Healy knew through his friend and parliamentary protégé Lord Beaverbrook, was less than enthusiastic, on the grounds that Healy was impulsive and drank too much whisky at night (Jones, Whitehall diary, 218). The British government agreed to appoint Healy, but extracted a highly dubious written undertaking to alert the British government and to defer to instructions in relation to proposed legislation ‘which may in any way conflict with the treaty’. On 6 December Healy was sworn in as governor general of the Irish Free State at his home in Chapelizod.
In the new dispensation the Irish government tended to play down the role of governor general, which had none of the conspicuous ceremony that had attended the lord lieutenancy. His appointment, symbolising a measure of continuity with an older Ireland, was adjudged a success and contributed modestly to the consolidation of the new state. ‘To the general surprise and satisfaction’, The Times pronounced on his death, ‘the dignity of his office was enhanced by Healy.’ He did not always act as a sagely restraining influence. He aligned himself with the hard-line policies of Kevin O'Higgins, by whose assassination in 1927 he was devastated. He made a number of indiscreet attacks on de Valera as his term drew to a close and immediately thereafter. He was held by the Irish government to a five-year term and left office on 31 January 1928.
He remained ineluctably associated with the fall of Parnell. Thirty-six years old when Parnell died, the memory of Parnell clung to his political persona for the remaining four decades of his life. The writer Mervyn Wall (qv) recalled as a student helping Healy into Earlsfort Terrace for his first public appearance as governor general, at the Literary and Historical Society: ‘I was thinking furiously about Parnell all the time and wondering what the old man leaning so heavily on my arm would say if I were to make some remark about the part he had played in bringing about the great man's downfall’ (Meenan, Centenary history, 227). There was hardly a person in Ireland who on meeting Healy would not have entertained the same thought. Nor were all so forbearing. Lennox Robinson (qv) described to Leon Ó Broin (qv) Healy's leaving the Abbey after a performance of Lady Gregory's (qv) rendering of ‘Le bourgeois gentilhomme’ in 1926: ‘a small crowd had gathered in the street to see him leave. Across Marlboro’ Street stood an old woman from the slums in a shawl, and when Healy appeared she shouted “who betrayed Parnell?”. Lennox said he would never forget Healy, who was old and stooped, becoming more and more stooped still, and getting into the car as quickly as possible’ (Ó Broin, Just like yesterday, 110).
Healy served as treasurer of Gray's Inn for 1929. His two volumes of memoirs, which relied chiefly on his correspondence with Maurice, somewhat expurgated, were published in November 1928. Healy died on 26 March 1931 at the age of 75. He was buried in Glasnevin, where Parnell was laid forty years before. The reconstructed road once known as the Kerry pass, which cut across the Glengariff peninsula to connect the counties of Cork and Kerry, was on his death renamed the Healy pass.
The most arresting early image of Healy is the caricature by ‘Spy’ that appeared in Vanity Fair for 3 April 1886. There are also brilliant caricatures by Harry Furniss (qv) and Edward Tennyson Reed. In the split, he was the subject of much Parnellite caricature, frequently in wig and gown, and there are some later republican cartoons of Healy as governor general. A cartoon ‘His excellency the dove’ by Bernard Partridge appeared in Punch of 13 December 1922. He was the subject of a magnificent portrait in oils by William Orpen (qv) in 1908. There are also portraits by John Lavery (qv) (in Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane) and by Philip de Laszlo (in Gray's Inn). A bronze bust of Healy by Jo Davidson stands outside the benchers’ room of the King's Inns.
He had three sons, one of whom fought at Gallipoli; and three daughters, one of whom married Timothy Sullivan (qv), her mother's brother, who was also her father's double first cousin. Maurice F. Healy (qv) was T. M. Healy's nephew.
Healy was, his friend Harold Frederic wrote in the New York Times in 1887, ‘of an almost painfully acute and alert temperament. He notes everything, comprehends everything.’ He was possessed of an extraordinary rhetorical imagination. Shot through with a plangent lyricism that was touched by the Celtic twilight, his oratory was marked by a quickness of wit that was variously disarming, comedic, and violent.
Public life exposed his inconstancy of temper. C. P. Curran (qv) wrote that ‘the gentlest of men in his private relationship, his mildness could give way in public controversy to blasts of unique vituperation (one of his former colleagues, now perhaps censorious, said that in this respect he leaves Joyce standing)’. Many contemporaries were driven to the conclusion that Healy was an extravagance nationalist Ireland could not afford: T. M. Kettle (qv) (whose first two initials Healy wittily inverted) characterised him as ‘a brilliant calamity’.
Much derided on his arrival in the house of commons, Healy came to enjoy an extraordinary réclame as a parliamentary speaker. The commons filled as he rose. T. W. Russell (qv) wrote: ‘on his feet the Irish question is a reality’. Yet his rhetoric could also serve to affirm the tendency in England to perceive Irish nationalist sentiment as volatile and impermanent. Thus a Daily Telegraph sketch writer wrote of a speech of Healy's in February 1900: ‘the sheer cleverness of the member for Louth left the house with a headache, and with that sense of utter futility and hopeless rancour of Irish politics which is never so depressingly conveyed as by the only intellect among the nationalists that is touched with genius’ (Healy, 444).
In his impact on Irish politics, Healy has been credited with too much and too little. The role ascribed to Healy, chiefly by Dillon, in the fall of the Irish party is considerably exaggerated. He certainly severely sapped support and funding of the anti-Parnellite party in the late 1890s by propertied nationalists and the clergy, but the reunited party appeared to emerge unscathed. Conor Cruise O'Brien has persuasively argued that Healy's fractiousness did much to discredit the idea of parliamentary politics in Ireland, but it is difficult to see this as a principal cause of the party's downfall.
What Healy achieved was something more radical, the refiguration of the ideological landscape of Irish politics. His according of absolute priority to peasant proprietorship from the outset of his career, articulated through an idiom of revanchiste catholic nationalism, and his unleashing against Parnell in the split of a refractory populistic chauvinism, contributed to shift nationalist Ireland sensibly to the right. Of the three contending agrarian Irelands of the early 1880s – those of Davitt, Dillon, and Healy – it was Healy's that was to prevail. Even if this is deemed to reflect a necessary corrective adjustment to the radicalism of the Land League, or the waning over time of the romanticism of an austerely disinterested Fenianesque nationalism, Healy's rhetoric, and his determination to subordinate the governance and political direction of Irish nationalism to an agrarianism of the right, meant that it was not in any sense the ‘neutral’ working through of an outcome that was foreordained.
C. P. Curran (qv) wrote: ‘Unique an individual as Mr Healy is, he is so only by the possession in an abnormal degree of the Irish peasant's – that is to say our own – qualities and defects. He is a realist as only the peasant can be, but his realism, like the peasant's, has rifts of imaginative splendour.’ Cast as the scapegoat for what had been the decisive repudiation of Parnell in 1890–91, Healy bore the role with equanimity, contemptuous of sentimental arrière-pensées.