Tim Healy


(Buried; Glasnevin Cemetery).

Timothy Michael Healy, KC (17 May 1855 – 26 March 1931), also known as Tim Healy, was an Irish nationalist politician, journalist, author, barrister and one of the most controversial Irish Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. His political career began in the 1880s under Charles Stewart Parnell’s leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), and continued into the 1920s, when he was the first Governor-General of the Irish Free State.

He was born in Bantry, County Cork as the second son of Maurice Healy, clerk of the Bantry Poor Law Union, and Eliza Healy (née Sullivan). His elder brother Thomas Healy (1854–1924) was a solicitor and Member of Parliament (MP) for North Wexford, his younger brother Maurice Healy (1859–1923) a solicitor and MP for Cork City, with whom he held a life long close relationship.

His father was descended from a family line which in holding to their Catholic faith, lost their lands, which he compensated by being a scholarly gentleman. His father was transferred in 1862 to a similar position in Lismore, County Waterford, holding the post until his death in 1906. Timothy was educated at the Christian Brothers school in Fermoy, and was otherwise largely self-educated, in 1869 at the age of fourteen going to live with his uncle Timothy Daniel Sullivan MP in Dublin.

Having done much to damage the popular image and authority of constitutional nationalism, Healy after the Easter Rising was convinced that the IPP and Redmond were doomed and slowly withdrew from the forefront of politics, making it clear in 1917 that he was in general sympathy with Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin movement, but not with physical force methods. In September that year he acted as counsel for the family of the dead Sinn Féin hunger striker Thomas Ashe. He was one of the few King’s Counsel to provided legal services to members of Sinn Féin in various legal proceedings in both Ireland and England post the 1916 Rising. This included acting for those interned in 1916 illegally in Frongoch in North Wales. In 1920 the Bar Council of Ireland passed an initial resolution that any barrister appearing before the Dail Courts would be guilty of professional misconduct. This was challenged by Tim Healy and no final decision was made on the matter. Before the December 1918 general election he was the first of the AFIL members to resign his seat in favour of the Sinn Féin party’s candidate and spoke in support of P. J. Little, the Sinn Féin candidate for Rathmines in Dublin.

He returned to considerable prominence in 1922 when, on the urging of the soon-to-be Irish Free State’s Provisional Government of W. T. Cosgrave, the British government recommended to King George V that Healy be appointed the first ‘Governor-General of the Irish Free State’, a new office of representative of the Crown created in the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and introduced by a combination of the Irish Free State Constitution and Letters Patent from the King. The Constitution was enacted in December 1922. Healy luckily happened to be the uncle of Kevin O’Higgins, the Minister for Justice in the new Free State.

Initially the Irish government under Cosgrave wished for Healy to reside in a new small residence, but when facing death threats from the IRA, he was moved as a temporary measure into the Viceregal Lodge, the former ‘out of season’ residence of the Lord Lieutenant, the former representative of the Crown until 1922.

Statement on Irish Free State passport (1927): “We Timothy Healy, Esquire, one of His Majesty’s Counsel, Governor General of the Irish Free State, Request and require, in the Name of His Britannic Majesty, all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely”…etc.

Healy proved an able Governor-General, possessing a degree of political skill, deep political insight and contacts in Britain that the new Irish government initially lacked, and had long recommended himself to the Catholic hierarchy, all-round good credentials for this key symbolic and reconciling position at the centre of public life. He joked once that the government didn’t advise him, he advised the government: a comment at a dinner for the Duke of York, Prince Albert (the future King George VI) that led to public criticism. However, the waspish Healy still could not help courting further controversy, most notably in a public attack on the new Fianna Fáil and its leader, Eamon de Valera, which led to republican calls for his resignation. Unlike his successors, Healy possessed a threefold role as Governor-General. He was simultaneously

Representative of the King;

Representative of the British Government;

Native head of the Irish executive.

As a result, much of the contact between His Majesty’s governments in London and Dublin went through him. He had access to all sensitive state papers, and received instructions from the British Government on the use of his powers to grant, withhold or refuse the Royal Assent to legislation enacted by the Oireachtas. However no Bills that he would have been required by these secret instructions to block, were introduced during his time as governor-general. That role of being the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’s government’s representative, and acting on its advice, was abandoned throughout the British Commonwealth in the mid-1920s as a result of a Commonwealth Conference decision, leaving him and his successors exclusively as the King’s representative and nominal head of the Irish executive.

Healy seemed to believe that he had been awarded the governor-generalship for life, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decided in 1927 that the term of office of governors-general would be five years. As a result he retired from the office and public life in January 1928. His wife died the previous year. He published his extensive two volume memoirs in 1928. Throughout his life he was formidable because he was ferociously quick-witted, because he was unworried by social or political convention, and because he knew no party discipline. Towards the end of his life he became more mellowed and otherwise more diplomatic.

He died on 26 March 1931, aged 75, in Chapelizod, County Dublin where he lived at his home ‘Glenaulin’,