McCan was born at Prospect Lodge, Ballyanne Desmesne, County Wexford, the son of Francis McCan, a land agent, and Jane Power. He was nephew of Patrick Joseph Power, MP for East Waterford from 1885 to 1913. He attended Clongowes Wood College. He resided at Ballyowen House, Dualla, Cashel, County Tipperary, was an "extensive farmer" and was a member of the Tipperary Hunt.
After more than 2,000 German and Austrian prisoners were imprisoned at Richmond Barracks, Templemore following the first battles of World War I in 1914, he plotted to engineer a mass escape but was thwarted when the prisoners were removed to Leigh, Lancashire in 1915. He was interned in 1916 after the Easter Rising for several months in Richmond Barracks, Dublin, and Knutsford, England. In May 1918, he was arrested under the German Plot and detained in Gloucester Jail.
In January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs refused to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled in the Mansion House, Dublin as a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann. McCan never sat in Dáil Éireann, dying in prison in 1919 during the 1918 flu pandemic. On 9 March 1919, McCan was buried in Dualla, Cashel, County Tipperary.
No by-election was called to replace him in the UK constituency. After 1 April 1922, the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922 prohibited any by-election, and the constituency was abolished when parliament was dissolved on 26 October 1922 for the general election on 15 November.
The First Dáil also considered how to fill the vacancy; a select committee in April recommended that the local Sinn Féin organisation which nominated him should nominate his replacement; a June proposal to postpone action, either for six months or until a Westminster by-election was held, was referred to another committee, which recommended that "in view of the circumstances which occasioned the vacancy, it was due to the memory of the late Pierce McCann that his place should not be filled at present".
Tribute on death
On 10 April 1919, Cathal Brugha told the First Dáil: "Before I formally move the motion, as I have mentioned the name of Pierce McCan, I would ask the Members of the Dáil to stand up as a mark of our respect to the first man of our body to die for Ireland, and of our sympathy with his relatives. We are sure that their sorrow is lightened by the fact that his death was for the cause for which he would have lived, and that his memory will ever be cherished in the hearts of the comrades who knew him, and will be honoured by succeeding generations of his countrymen with that of the other martyrs of our holy cause." The McCan Barracks in Templemore, County Tipperary, is named after him.
In the general election of January 1933, McCan's brother, Joseph, a member of the National Farmers' and Ratepayers' Association, stood unsuccessfully for the National Centre Party in the Tipperary constituency.
- "Mr. Pierce McCan". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 29 March 2008.
- Anthony McCan, "The McCan family", accessed 22 August 2010.
- Irish Times, 10 March 1919, p. 7
- Walsh, John P. Walsh, A History Of Templemore And Its Environs, JF Walsh (Roscrea) Ltd., 1991, p 106.
- Notes from Adam's "Independence" auction catalogue, accessed 22 August 2010.
- "Pierce McCan". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 1 February 2008.
- "Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922", sec.1(4) "No writ shall be issued after the passing of this Act for the election of a member to serve in the Commons House of Parliament for a constituency in Ireland other than a constituency in Northern Ireland."
- "East Tipperary Vacancy". First Dáil Éireann debates. 17 June 1919. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
- "Report of Select Committee on East Tipperary Vacancy". First Dáil Éireann debates. 18 June 1919. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
- "Dáil Éireann – Volume 1". Oireachtas Historical Debates. 10 April 1919. Retrieved 1 February 2008.
- Joseph McCann, Elections Ireland, accessed 22 August 2008.
- Allegiance, Robert Brennan, (1950)
- Memoirs of Senator Joseph Connolly: A Founder of Modern Ireland, J. Anthony Gaughan (ed), (1996)