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Timothy Michael Healy

Timothy Michael Healy, KC (17 May 1855-26 March 1931) was one of the most brilliant and most controversial of Irish politicians, with a career that spanned the period from Charles Stewart Parnell's leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party[?] in the 1880s to the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922.

Born in Bantry, County Cork, Healy worked as a parliamentary correspondent for The Nation[?] newspaper before becoming Member of Parliament for Wexford in 1880. Initially a passionate supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell, he became disenchanted with his leader. During the O'Shea divorce controversy, when it was revealed that the party leader had been having a lengthy relationship with the wife of a fellow MP and was the father of some of her children, Healy became his sternest and most sharp-spoken critic. When Parnell asked his colleagues at one party meeting 'who is the master of the party?', Healy famously retorted with another question 'aye, but who is the mistress of the party?' a comment which almost led him to come to blows with Parnell.

Healy became an outspoken member of the anti-parnellite majority in the party. In following decades, he became estranged from the movement, setting up his own personal organisation. By the 1910s, it looked as though Healy was a maverick on the fringes of Irish nationalism. However he came back to prominence when, on the urging of the 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 Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921) and introduced by a combination of the Irish Free State Constitution and Letters Patent from the King.

Initially the Irish government under W. T. Cosgrave wished for Healy to reside in a new small residence, but when facing death threats from the IRA, as a temporary measure he was moved into the Viceregal Lodge, the former 'out of season' residence of the Lord Lieutenant, the former representative of the Crown before 1922.

Healy proved an able Governor-General, possessing a degree of political skill and contacts in Britain that the new Irish government, through made up of brilliant men, initially lacked. He joked once that the government didn't advice 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 calls for his resignation.

Unlike his successors, Healy possessed a three-fold 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 government's representative, and acting on its advice, was abandoned throughout the 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.

Though 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 December 1927. He died in March 1931, aged 76.

Govnr-Generalship created in 1922. Before 1922, King's representative was called Lord Lieutenant
King of Ireland: George V Governors-General of the Irish Free State Succeeded by
James McNeill

Additional Reading

Frank Callanan, T. M Healy (Cork University Press, 1996) (ISBN 1859181724)

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