Horsewhipped: An Irishman’s Diary on Tim Healy and an enraged Parnellite

Tim Healy as caricatured by Spy in ‘Vanity Fair’ in 1886

Tim Healy as caricatured by Spy in ‘Vanity Fair’ in 1886

 

When the Irish Parliamentary Party split over the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell on December 6th, 1890, he and another MP, Justin McCarthy, were the trustees of a bank account in Paris that contained £40,000 donated by exiles for the relief of evicted tenants.

McCarthy became the leader of the majority and the question of who could access the money wasn’t resolved when Parnell died on October 6th, 1891. His widow Katherine, urged on by some Parnellite MPs, then sent a message to the bank’s owner, John Munroe, requesting him not to release the money to the Anti-Parnellites.

News of her action incensed Tim Healy, a lawyer and the MP for Longford North. He had been Parnell’s protégé and had called him the “Uncrowned King of Ireland” but had rejected him following his marriage and had famously replied to John Redmond’s comment that Gladstone was the master of the Irish Party with the question, “And who is to be its mistress?”

On Sunday November 1st, he gave vent to his feelings at a meeting in Longford town.

The Parnellites, he told the crowd, had used an abandoned woman to prevent evicted families getting meat for their dinner. “Abandoned” in this context meant devoid of morals, which was shocking enough, but Healy went on to use words so “ruffianly” that some newspapers refused to print them.

However, the Anti-Parnellite National Press didn’t flinch and next morning its readers discovered that Healy hadn’t just described “Mrs O’Shea” as he called her, as “abandoned”, or even “a miserable English woman”. No, she was also “a proved ... British... prostitute”.

On Tuesday afternoon, Healy, now back in the Library of the Four Courts, received a message that a Mr Alfred MacDermott wanted to see him in the coffee room.

Accounts of what happened next vary but, essentially, as Healy walked along a dark corridor, a tall young man who bore a close resemblance to the late Irish leader waylaid him and proceeded to lash him with a short horsewhip.

As the assault continued, a crowd gathered and soon a policeman arrived. The youth then explained that he was Alfred Tudor MacDermott, and that he had thrashed the lawyer for insulting his “aunt”.

Healy, realising that his assailant was the son of the Parnell family’s solicitor, and Parnell’s late sister, Sophia, declared that the boy was drunk and refused to press charges. Instead, he picked up his spectacles and returned to the library while Tudor went to Trinity College where he was an engineering student.

His action won praise from Healy’s enemies.

A telegram from two MPs congratulated him for lashing a “cowardly cur” and a group in Tipperary, advised by a “patriotic Suir priest” sent him a new whip.

After graduating in 1893, Tudor was employed on a waterworks scheme in Carlow and in October 1894 he obtained a position as an assistant engineer in the Drains Department of Dublin Corporation.

His experience there wasn’t congenial, however, and within a few months he was suffering from rheumatism which he blamed on his work. But he recovered and was put in charge of the Waste Water Department.

In 1896, he joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and served in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War.

After leaving the army in 1903 with the rank of major, he was hired by the Public Works Department of the Federated Malay States as an engineer and during his career in the Far East he acquired property including interests in rubber plantations in the state of Selangor that enabled him to retire to Ireland in 1932.

He then lived in Greystones, but in 1939 he made the unfortunate decision to move to Jersey in the Channel Islands, hardly expecting to live under Nazi rule from July 1940.

He was acquainted with Eamon de Valera and, early in 1941, the Taoiseach somehow ascertained that he was safe and well.

Tudor died in Jersey 75 years ago on February 19th, 1944 and, in his will, he left most of his assets to his widowed sisters Delia and Sophie in Canada and to relatives of his late wife, Ellen Fay. Intriguingly, he also gave an annuity to a Kilkenny lady he had known as a young man.

Redmond’s papers in the National Library include two letters from the MacDermotts. The first, from Alfred senior in 1893, is a shameless request to the MP to use his influence with the Corporation on behalf of Tudor. In the second, sent from Malaya in 1903, Tudor who is obviously a homesick young man appeals to Redmond to help find him a “billet” in Ireland. Then, charmingly, he offers to send the leader of the reunited party two pounds to pay a debt to a car driver whose name he can’t remember but who lives at the bridge near Redmond’s home at Aughavanagh, Co Wicklow. Redmond’s replies, if any, aren’t recorded.

The Anti-Parnellites obtained control of the bank account in October 1894.

Timothy Michael Healy’s eventful career culminated in his appointment as the first governor-general of the Irish Free State in 1922.

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