David Sheehy

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David Sheehy in 1906

David Sheehy (1844 – 17 December 1932)[1] was an Irish nationalist politician. He was a member of parliament (MP) from 1885 to 1900 and from 1903 to 1918, taking his seat as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Political career[edit]

Born in Limerick, he had been a student for the Catholic priesthood at the Irish College in Paris but had left it and made a runaway match with a convent schoolgirl, Bessie McCoy, who eloped with him.[2] He had also been a member of the IRB and was active in the Land League. He was imprisoned on six occasions[3] for his part in the Land War.[4]

At the 1885 general election he was elected unopposed as MP for South Galway and held that seat until the 1900 general election.[5] His re-election in Galway was unopposed in 1886 and 1895.[5] However, at the 1892 general election, when the Irish Party split over the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell and Sheehy joined the anti-Parnellite majority, he was opposed by a Parnellite candidate, who he defeated with a majority of nearly two-to-one. In the same election he also stood in Waterford City, but failed to unseat the Parnellite John Redmond.[6]

The two factions of the Irish Parliamentary Party reunited for the general election in 1900, but Sheehy did not stand again and was out of Parliament for the next three years. However, after the death in August 1903 of James Laurence Carew, the Independent Nationalist MP for South Meath, Sheehy was selected as the Irish Parliamentary Party MP candidate in the resulting by-election in October 1903. Carew had apparently been elected in 1900 as a result of a series of errors in nominations, and his predecessor John Howard Parnell stood again, this time as an Independent Nationalist. Sheehy won the contest with a majority of more than two-to-one, and held the seat until he stood down at the 1918 general election.[7]

Personal and family life[edit]

David was the son of Richard Sheehy and Johanna Shea, brother of Mary Sheehy and Eugene Sheehy.

He and his wife Bessie had seven children, of whom six survived to adulthood. One of his daughters, Mary (born 1884) married the MP Thomas Kettle. Hanna (born 1877), became a teacher and married the writer Francis Skeffington; they had one son, Owen, who was seven years old when his father was murdered by the Royal Irish Regiment during the 1916 Rising. Kathleen married Freeman's Journal and Irish Independent journalist Frank O'Brien; the contrarian politician Conor Cruise O'Brien was their son. Margaret (born 1879), an elocutionist, actress and playwright, married solicitor Frank Culhane; they had four children; after his death she married her godson, the poet Michael Casey. Sheehy's two sons, Richard and Eugene, were barristers.[8]

The writer James Joyce often visited the family home in 2 Belvedere Place, where musical evenings and theatricals took place every Sunday evening. Joyce entertained the family with Italian songs. In 1900 Margaret wrote a play in which the Sheehys and their friends, including Joyce, took part. Joyce took a particular liking to Eugene and had a long-lasting but unrequited crush on Mary.[9] Joyce's novel 'Ulysses' wittily describes an encounter between Bessie Sheehy and Father John Conmee, SJ, rector of Clongowes, and Mary is the spéirbhean longingly pursued by the protagonist in the story Araby in Joyce's collection Dubliners.

When David Sheehy died in Dublin aged 88 it was reported that he had been the oldest surviving member of the Irish Parliamentary Party.[10]


  1. ^ "Historical list of MPs: constituencies beginning with "M", part 2". Leigh Rayment's House of Comnmons pages. Retrieved 19 December 2009. 
  2. ^ Conor Cruise O'Brien, States of Ireland, London, Hutchison, 1972, pp.19, 31, 334.
  3. ^ Online biography of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington
  4. ^ Letter quoted by Conor Cruise O'Brien
  5. ^ a b Brian M. Walker, ed. (1978). Parliamentary election results in Ireland 1801–1922. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. pp. 352–353. ISBN 0-901714-12-7. 
  6. ^ Walker, op. cit., page 378
  7. ^ Walker, op. cit., page 368
  8. ^ Ellmann, Richard (1982). James Joyce, 1st Revised Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 51–53 et passim. ISBN 0-19-503381-7. 
  9. ^ James Fairhall, James Joyce and the Question of History, (Cambridge University Press, 1995) page 85.
  10. ^ Obituaries: Mr David Sheehy, The Times, 19 December 1932.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for South Galway
Succeeded by
William Duffy
Preceded by
James Laurence Carew
Member of Parliament for South Meath
Succeeded by
Eamonn Duggan