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Credited with considerable success in land and labour reforms and in social housing, as mid-Cork nationalist labour MP. 1901-1918.
Fenian tradition and the boyhood experience of eviction from the family homestead in 1880 at the height of the Irish Land League's Land War, formed his early years. He was educated at the local primary school. Aged sixteen he began his career as a schoolteacher, studying law when time allowed, turning to journalism in 1890, correspondent to the Kerry Sentinel , special correspondent to the Cork Daily Herald in Killarney; appointed correspondence secretary of the Kanturk Trade and Labour Council. Firm admirer of Charles Stewart Parnell.
After marriage in 1894 he joined the staff of the Glasgow Observer in pursuit of journalistic experience becoming editor of the Catholic News in Preston. In 1898 he returned to Ireland working on various papers in Munster including the Cork Constitution , and was editor (1899-1901) of the Cork County Southern Star.
'Land and Labour' leader
In August 1894 in alliance with the Clonmel solicitor J.J. O'Shee (West Waterford MP. from 1895), he formed the Irish Land and Labour Association (ILLA) to agitate on behalf of agricultural labourers and small tenant farmers as successor to Michael Davitt's Irish Democratic Land Federation.
- The ILLA platform included a demand for:
- - houses for the people
- - land for the people
- - work and wages for the people
- - education for the people
- - state pensions for old people
- - all local rents shall be paid by the ground landlords.
Under his leadership as president the ILLA spread rapidly across Munster campaigning vigorously for the plight of rural labourers, duely acknowledged by government. By 1900 there were over one hundred branches of the ILLA mostly
in Cork, Tipperary and Limerick.
Member of Parliament
Standing as labour candidate on a labour platform, D.D., as he was popularly known, was elected MP. for mid-Cork on the death of Dr. C.K.D. Tanner MP. in
the mid-Cork by-election (constituency extending from Macroom to Millstreet) of
17 May 1901, a tremendious triumph for the labour movement and at twenty-eight youngest Irish Nationalist Party member of parliament at the House of Commons.
In his capacity as honorary secretary of the Cork Advisory Committee he most successfully conducted negotiations for tenant land purchase under the great Wyndham Land Act (1903), ending centuries of oppressive landlord ownership. Associated with land agitation he settled many disputes between landlord and tenant. From 1904 allied himself with Mallow compatriot William O'Brien MP., the ILLA branches becoming the base for the O'Brienite organisation in rural Munster.
He differed from many Nationalist colleagues in his possession of an individual and constructive policy in Irish politics. After expulsion as "factionist" from the Irish Parliamentary Party, by IPP deputy leader John Dillon MP., depriving him of party stipends - parliamentary allowances only being introduced six years later, he resigned his seat challenging the party to stand against him. He was elected unopposed as Ireland's first independent labour MP. on the 31 December 1906.
His income depended on constituent's collections at church gates on Sundays.
At countrywide ILLA meetings and in leading articles in the Irish People (1905-09), he strove passionately to attain social betterment for the working Irish, winning provision with "the Macroom program" under the Labourers (Ireland) Act (1906) and follow-on Labourers (Ireland) Act (1911) for the erection of over 40,000 cottages on an acre of land, known locally as "Sheehan's cottages". These provided cosy homes for those thousands of small tenant farmers and labourers, previously living wretchedly in stone cabins and mud hovels. Within
a few years the resulting changes, first beginning after the attainment of national self-reliance under the Local Government Act (1898), resulted in a social and economic revolution in rural Ireland. A further important D.D. Sheehan landmark, his Model Irish Village scheme at Tower, near Blarney.
His considerable achievements laid a solid foundation for the later Irish Labour Party successes in the south.
While in parliament he was called to the Law Bar (1911) as exhibitioner and prizeman in law University College Cork (1908-09) and honoursman King's Inns Dublin (1910), practicing on the Munster circuit.
In March 1909, D.D. Sheehan together with William O'Brien MP., inaugurated the All-for-Ireland League (AfIL) in Kanturk. The League was a distinctive political group whose deep conviction was that the success of an All-Ireland Home Rule parliament must depend on it being won with the consent rather than by the compulsion of the Protestant minority. Its primary aim was
- "the union and active co-operation in every department of our national life
of all Irish men and women of all classes and creeds who believe in the principles of domestic self-government for Ireland.
- For the accomplishment of this object the surest means were to be a combination of all the elements of the Irish population in a spirit of mutual tolerance and patriotic goodwill, such as shall guarantee to the Protestant minority of our fellow-countrymen inviolable security for their rights and liberties, and win the friendship of the people of Great Britain without distinction of party".
- "the union and active co-operation in every department of our national life
D.D. contributed regularly as honorary secretary to the League's newspaper, O'Brien's Cork Free Press (1910-1916). The political slogan of the AfIL was " the three C's " - - for Conference, Conciliation and Consent as applied to Irish politics, particularly to Irish Home Rule. He renounced the Irish Party leader's, John Redmond MP.'s, unconciliatory "Ulster will have to follow" approach to Home Rule. The AfIL opposed the Irish Party in both 1910 general elections, returning eight MPs., D.D. campaigning for AfIL principles at large election meetings across Mayo, Limerick and Cork.
Dominion Home Rule
In 1911 the All-for Ireland Party specifically proposed Dominion Home Rule in a letter to Prime Minister Asquith as the wisest of all solutions for Ireland. Later in the Commons Sir Edward Carson, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, praised the AfIL ideas as worthy, adding that had they been earlier supported rather than twarted by the Irish Parliamentary Party, Ulster's objections might have been overcome. During 1913-14, D.D. was active in promoting an Imperial Fereration League having as its immediate object a Federal Settlement of the Irish question. In May 1914, the AfIL resolutely resisted with all the strength at their command the violation of Ireland's national unity and as a final protest before history, abstained in June from voting on the final Third Home Rule Act 1914, crippled by an ammending Partition of Northern Ireland Bill.
Great War engagement
At the outbreak of World War 1 in August 1914 when war with Germany was declared, temporarily averting looming civil war in Ireland, D.D. gave support to William O'Brien's call for Irish recruitment, regarding service to be both in the interest of an All-Ireland settlement (-- Ulster offering immediate support with its 36th (Ulster) Division), as well as the Allied cause of a Europe free from tyranny.
In November despite being aged forty-one and father of a large family, he offered himself for enlistment, as did the National Volunteers, and was gazetted as a lieutnant in the 9th (Service) Battalion, of the
Royal Munster Fusiliers, practically raising this battalion of the 48th Brigade, 16th (Irish) Division.
He was one of four nationalist MPs. who enlisted - Stephen Gwynn, Willie Redmond, J.L. Esmond were the others.
Three of his sons also joined, two were killed serving with the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force, his daughter, a V.A.D. front nurse, disabled in a bombing raid. A brother serving with the Irish Guards was severely disabled and a brother-in-law killed.
Service on the Somme
In the Spring and Summer of 1915 he undertook the organisation and leadership of special voluntary recruiting campaigns in Cork, Limerick and Clare. While opposing any question of conscription, he said that he was not asking the people to do anything or take any risks that he was not prepared to share himself. Receiving captaincy in July 1915, he served with his battalion on the Somme, contributing early 1916 a series of widely quoted articles from the trenches to the London Daily Express.
Deafness by shellfire and ill-health necessitates his transfer to the 3rd. reserve battalion, General Hickie commenting "he has done really well in the trenches". Applies to be decommissioned in Autumn 1916, General Maxwell deciding on his retention. Between periods of hospitalisation, limited recruiting to help those Irish at the front lacking rearguard support. Renewed application Autumn 1917 to be decommissioned is accepted, bulletin reading: "relinquished his commission on account of ill-health contracted on active service, and is granted the honorary rank of Captain, 13 January, 1918".
Continuing to persue Irish affairs in parliament, he vehemently condemns British mishandling of Irish affairs, threathening in two long dramatic speeches in April "to fight you if you enforce conscription on us". Later that year expressing disillusionment at Britain's and the Irish Party's failure to implement All-Ireland Home Rule, with William O'Brien he and the AfIL MPs. recognising the futility of contesting the December general elections upholding AfIL policies, withdraw and issue a manifesto stepping down in favour of Arthur Griffith's non-physical force Sinn Féin movement. Terence McSwiney follows unopposed as MP. in mid-Cork.
D.D. compelled under duress, possibly resulting from his army service and repute as a "Cork-Orangeman", to abandon his home, Rockhurst, Victoria Road, Cork, --
it pre-empts his and his endangered school-going family's emigration to England.
Final stand for labour
In December 1918 contests the English general election as adopted Labour Party candidate the Limehouse-Stepney division of London East-End, with a program of "Land for fighters" for returning ex-servicemen, polling well but unsuccessful, over a million demobilised ex-servicemen abroad unable to vote. His program was subsequently put into operation by the government at the end of January. He undoubtedly paved the way for his predominate labour successor in this constituency, the later Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Retiring from politics in 1920 he erks out a living in journalism after a calamitous financial engagement in an Achill Island (Mayo) mineral venture.
Publishes in 1921 his authoritative book Ireland since Parnell, covering the period from Parnell to Sinn Féin (this book may be read online or downloaded free under the Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.org or www.manybooks.net). Unable to practice at the bar due to impaired hearing (sustained in the war), he becomes publisher and editor of The Stadium, a daily newspaper for sportsmen.
The closing chapter
In 1926 discovering that the threats laid upon him in Cork were now lifted, he returned to Dublin with his ailing wife, who died soon afterwards. He became managing editor of the Irish Pres and Publicity Services, in 1928 publisher and editor of the South Dubin Cronicle. Legal practice remains hindered by hearing disabilities. In the 1930s renewed period of deteriorated ill-health due to the family losses and disruptions.
Committed to those he recruited, helps ex-servicemen where he can, supporting Old Comrade Associations North and South; edits from 1940 on their annual journal. In 1942 proposes himself to General Richard Mulcahy as candidate for Fine Gael in South Cork, which was declined. In 1946 spirited three page poetic verse A Tribute and a Claim, honouring the Irish National Volunteers.
Of working farmer origins; tall strong stature; a good oarsman; authentic, astute and singleminded; self-educated to a high literary and legal degree, alike his kinsman Cannon P.A. Sheehan, a gifted writer; reputedly a "silver-tongued" orator, always giving voice to his strongly held opinions; politically prophetically farsighted; unbounding energy for the ideals he championed; unflinchingly committed to his decisions; an excellent organiser. Life long distance swimmer, but especially keen on fly-fishing along the banks of his native Blackwater.
On 6 February 1894 he married Mary Pauline O'Connor, reigning Rose of Tralee, daughter of Martin, Bridge Street, Tralee; victualler, publican and farmer;
they had five sons:
Daniel J.(lieutenant RFC), Martin J. (lieutenant RAF), Martin J. (Brig. General, O.B.E., C.B.E., Indian Army, Burma Campaign, Patrick A. (later Padraig A. O Siochain S.C.) (senior legal council), John F. (lieutenant colonel surgeon),
and five daughters:
Eileen (private governess), Pauline (died 18 months), Maureen (Ms. Frank Emmerson, Christina (Ms. Dr. Patrick Cremin), Mona (Ms. Ruthland Barsby).
He died the 28 November 1948 visiting his daughter Mona's home at Queen Anne St., London and was buried with his wife at the National Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Who's Who & Thom's Directory (1918); Hansard Common's Parliamentary Debates (1901-1918); Irish People (1905-1909); Cork Free Press (1910-1916); Daily Express 27 Jan. 1914 & 1916(8); Irish Times 11 July 1916; London Gazette 12 Jan. 1918; Daily Sketch 3 Dec. 1918; Cork Examiner 29 Nov. 1948, London Times 29 Nov. 1948, Cork County Southern Star 4 Dec. 1948, Kerryman 11 Dec. 1948, Irish Independent 29 Dec. 1948; Irish Times 16 Feb. 2001;
William O'Brien, An Olive Branch in Ireland (1910); Friedrich K. Schilling, William O'Brien and the All-for-Ireland League (thesis DU 1956); Joseph O'Brien, William O'Brien and the course of Irish politics (1976); Martin Staunton, The Royal Munster Fusiliers (1914-19)(MA thesis UCD 1986); Dan Bradley, Farm Labourers: Irish struggle (1988); Cork County Southern Star Centenary issue 1889-1989;
P.A. O Siochain S.C., Ireland journey to freedom (1990); Terence Denmann, Ireland's unknown soldiers (1992); Patrick Maume, The long gestation (1999).
Compiled from personal documents, official records and publications.
Niall O'Siochain, grandson.
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