D D Sheehan MP – why he left Cork in 1918
There was a correspondence in The Corkman newspaper in 2002 on why the longstanding MP for the Mid-Cork constituency, D D Sheehan, left with his wife and family from Cork city to live in London in 1918. There was also a longstanding rumour, repeated and accepted as fact by many that he was driven out by the IRA. When I looked into it I could find no evidence for this.
His grandson, Niall O’Siochain, reasserted the allegation and hence the correspondence.
This was a concluding letter:
Seeing another side to the life and times of DD Sheehan
The correspondence on D Sheehan has been very informative and, I think, much appreciated by readers far and wide as is evident from the contributors so far.
I am pleased that Niall O’Siochain has now acknowledged (14/11/02) that neither the IRA nor Sinn Féin had anything to do with his grandfather leaving Cork in 1918. However, he insists on creating another bogey that he simply asserts but of whose existence he again gives no proof. He says it was “militant extremists (later to perpetrate our civil war)”. How does he know this? I would love to know who in Cork perpetrated the civil war – in a county where civil war was resisted more, and was less extreme, than anywhere else in Ireland. The people of Cork led the war against the British and therefore found it impossible to turn on each other as easily as was done elsewhere.
Despite the fact that the alleged incident against D and the perpetrators becomes more and more intangible and nebulous Niall gives it more and more significance in now claiming that it also led to the death of D D’s wife, eight years later.
Mrs Sheehan did indeed have a horrible 12 years before she died in 1926. Among many horrors – none of which was of her making – she saw her oldest sons killed in the war, had to leave her home, had a husband that was badly affected physically by the war, had seen him become most unpopular, lose his seat in Parliament, have his pension reduced (nice thanks, eh?) and as a result made bankrupt in London in 1923. (The Times, 29/11/1948 and 31/10/1923).
All these are just some of the open, public, indisputable, incontrovertible, proven facts – any one of which would have been awful enough for any wife, mother, or normal human being to endure. It is therefore, simply outrageous, for Niall to suggest instead that an alleged, unproven incident by people unknown and unknowable at some unknown time in Cork was solely responsible for Mrs. Sheehan’s death.
Niall’s own father, and D D’s son, Padraig, got it ‘spot on’ when he said, as Niall quotes him, that it was the “unfortunate involvement of his father in the army that led to a series of family tragedies.”
Niall says that after his recruiting D D was in and out of the Cork infirmary a lot, painting a rather sorry picture, and that he left the army in early 1918. Niall is being rather selective because that is not all he did in 1918.
For one thing, he attended Westminster very conscientiously to lecture the government on how to conduct the war more viciously (as if they needed such advice) and, for example, advised them as follows:
“I am glad to observe that lately the government have been taking their courage with regard to reprisals in both hands, because war is war, and if the Germans assail our women and children here we should not hesitate for one moment about carrying the war wholly and fully into the enemy country, and hitting them back as hard as we can.” (Hansard, 21/2/1918)
Niall says that “to understand is to forgive”. If this is a plea for forgiveness then there is a more basic, more simple requirement needed in order to forgive and that is some indication of genuine regret by the wrongdoer. There was never a hint of that by D D, nor indeed by Niall on his (or his own) behalf. All we hear about is the alleged wrongs done to
D D but not a word about the wrongs he inflicted on others and also in the creating of thousands of fatherless families, widows and orphans by his recruiting. Let’s try to get things into some perspective and at least obey the simple laws of cause and effect.
Out of respect for his early life and achievements, I had developed an affection for
D D and always deliberately averted my eyes from his post-1914 behaviour and never referred to it anywhere.
But being forced now to look at it closely by Niall and John Dillon it got worse as I looked and worse than I ever thought it could be.
We all live and learn.
22 November 2002
The Dictionary of Irish Biography returned to the theme of him being driven out of Cork:
Aubane, Millstreet, Co. Cork.
24 February 2010
To: Mr. James McGuire
The Dictionary of Irish Biography Project
Royal Irish Academy
19 Dawson Street Dublin 2
Dear Mr McGuire,
THE ENTRY ON D D SHEEHAN IN THE DICTIONARY OF IRISH BIOGRAPHY
I have just had an opportunity to consult the DIB which you edited.
The first entry I read was that of D D Sheehan, the first Irish Labour MP, who represented the Irish Land and Labour Association and the All for Ireland League for Mid-Cork for 17 years. I have a personal and political interest in him as he represented this area and both my grandfathers supported him.
In contrast with all his Irish peers, in late 1918 he decided contest the General Election of that year for a London constituency in the Labour interest. Logically enough he left Cork to facilitate his future as a London MP. As he failed to get elected and as he remained absent from Ireland during the most crucial years in its modern history his decision to leave proved to be a political and personal disaster for him. His decision to quit Ireland was therefore a central fact in his life and deserves a full explanation in any account of his life.
In later years a myth was created to the effect that he left because of some threats to him in Cork for his political position on WW1 and that he returned when these threats were withdrawn.
The entry by Patrick Maume perpetuates this myth when it says that:
“Sheehan’s position in Cork grew increasingly untenable. The Sheehan family faced intimidation and were obliged to leave their home on the Victoria Road for London…..Sheehan moved to Dublin in 1926 after learning that the threats against him had been lifted.” (Vol. 8, 877).
No actual evidence is provided for these assertions. There is none.
When Sheehan left he was a well-known MP, a journalist and a barrister. He had every opportunity to refer to any threats but nowhere did he do so. Neither did anybody else. Hitherto he had never been backward in coming forward to deal with his political opponents. I am sure the press would have been more than eager to report on threats to a sitting MP if there were any. There is not a contemporary hint of such threats. None of his fellow Irish MP peers who also supported the war felt the need to leave the country and his closest colleague, William O’Brien, was later asked to stand for Fianna Fail.
In London after losing the election he went bankrupt and to cope with this he engaged in nefarious activities and became effectively a conman trying to obtain money from a variety of sources by fraudulent means. This got so notorious that in October 1924 it was reported to the Irish Grants Committee in London that the Commissioner of the Police in London had said ‘the whole matter was under the consideration of the Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to criminal proceedings being taken. Captain Sheehan at that time disappeared.” (National Archives, Kew, CO 762/24/14). This Committee dismissed the claim he made to it as yet another attempted fraud.
He returned to Ireland to escape the consequences of his behaviour in London. Therefore the only indisputable, documented, threat ever made to him was by the London police and he sought refuge in Ireland to escape it. There were no recorded threats that drove him in the opposite direction.
I must also draw your attention to Mr Maume’s bibliography.
He appears to ignore the only biography ever published on the subject, “The Life and Times of D.D. Sheehan B.L.” (3 Bridges Publishing, 2008) by John Dillon which makes no reference to threats that drove him out of the country. He also gives no publisher for any book listed.
Mr Maume gives Wikipedia as a source for claims that Sheehan left because he was threatened. Wikipedia is notoriously unreliable because of its polemical “do it yourself” nature. It is not subject to editorial checking for accuracy. The D D Sheehan “threat” was fully discussed and refuted in its ‘Discussion pages’ when it first appeared but those pages have been removed. The entry that remains reflects the tenacity of certain polemicists with an axe to grind.
Surely your Dictionary contributors and particularly “a member of the project staff” like Mr Maume should not give credence to such an ephermal, censored and discredited source and at the same time ignore properly published, verifiable and uncensorable sources.
This Society has comprehensively refuted the allegations of threats against D D Sheehan in Cork and Mr Maume must be aware of this. Yet he has been allowed to use the Dictionary to perpetuate a myth that misleads and distorts the biographical facts on D D Sheehan.
I hope this entry will be suitably amended in future issues and an addendum issued as soon as practically possible.
Jack Lane (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The original allegation was again resurrected by Turtle Bunbury in the Evening Echo in 2014 and I had the following letter published there in response:
3 January 2015
WHY D. D. SHEEHAN MP LEFT CORK
In his piece “The plight of Captain Sheehan and family” (Echo, 30 December 2014) Turtle Bunbury perpetuates the story that the MP and his family were forced to leave Cork in 1918. He writes: “Shortly after the 1918 election gunshots were fired into the family home on the Victoria Road in Cork, most likely by radical militant Republican elements forcing them to abandon it.”
The expulsion of an MP and his family from Cork and Ireland in this manner would have been a very noteworthy event. A unique event as far as I am aware. He was one of the best known MPs of his time in Ireland and Britain; he represented Mid Cork for 17 years. He was also a barrister and a journalist and was therefore well able to account for himself. Yet he left no account of this extraordinary event. Neither did any of his contemporaries leave an account or protest or mention it. Neither did any newspaper report it. Dublin Castle did not use it even though it would have been propaganda gold to discredit Republicans. And a rumour would have been sufficient for that purpose but it does not seem that there was even a rumour about it. His very sympathetic biographer, John Dillon, does not mention it in “The Life and Times of D.D. Sheehan B.L.” (3 Bridges Publishing, 2008). So where is the credible evidence for this expulsion? Turtle does not provide any.
None of his MP colleagues had to leave the country though they had supported and recruited for the war. So why did he? The reason is simple and obvious. He did not envisage an independent Ireland. Home Rule, maybe, with real power staying with Westminster and he decided to contest the 1918 Election for a Labour seat in Westminster representing Limehouse. Logically enough he moved to London for that election to better represent his new constituency. But he did not win the seat and was left high and dry politically. He had burned his boats in Irish politics. He had made a disastrous life-changing decision.
The story continues (but Turtle does not continue it) that Sheehan decided to return in the mid-1920s when the alleged expulsion threat was lifted. The truth is somewhat unpalatable. Because of his decision to leave and his failure to win a seat he was a broken man financially and politically. His pension was reduced and he went bankrupt. To survive he engaged in various nefarious activities and became effectively a conman trying to obtain money by fraudulent means.
He applied for money on 1st November 1926 to the Irish Grants Committee in London which compensated Southern Loyalists. But he had got so notorious that in October 1924 it was reported to the Committee that the Commissioner of the Police in London had explained about another case involving him where:
“Complaints had been received from several persons who stated that they were induced by Captain Sheehan and another to advance an amount in all to over £1,000 to the (Imperial Settlement) League as a condition to their being appointed County Organisers. It was alleged that the money was obtained from these people by fraud and the whole matter was under the consideration of the Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to criminal proceedings being taken. Captain Sheehan at that time disappeared.” (British National Archives, Kew, CO 762/24/14).
The Irish Grants Committee did not accept his case for compensation and dismissed the claim he made to it as yet another attempted fraud. His war record counted for nothing.
He returned to Ireland to escape the consequences of his behaviour in London. Therefore the only indisputable, documented and credible threat that was an ever made to force him to leave a country was made by the London police and he sought refuge in Ireland to escape the consequences.