O'Shea, William Henry (DNB12)

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O'SHEA, WILLIAM HENRY (1840–1905), Irish politician, born in 1840, was only son of Henry O'Shea of Dublin by his wife Catharine, daughter of Edward Craneach Quinlan of Rosana, co. Tipperary. His parents were Roman catholics. Educated at St. Mary's College, Oscott, and at Trinity College, Dublin, he entered the 18th hussars as cornet in 1858, retiring as captain in 1862. On 24 Jan. 1867 he married Katharine, sixth and youngest daughter of the Rev. Sir John Page Wood, second baronet, of Rivenhall Place, Essex, and sister of Sir Evelyn Wood. In 1880 O'Shea was introduced by The O'Gorman Mahon [q. v.] to Parnell, who shortly afterwards made the acquaintance of Mrs. O'Shea. Suspicions of an undesirable intimacy between them caused O'Shea in 1881 to challenge Parnell to a duel. His fears however were allayed by his wife. Meanwhile in April 1880 O'Shea had been elected M.P. for county Clare, professedly as a home ruler. But his friendly relations with prominent English liberals caused him to be distrusted as a 'whig' by more thorough-going nationalists. In Oct. 1881 the Irish Land League agitation reached a climax in the imprisonment of Parnell and others as 'suspects' in Kilmainham gaol, and in April 1882 O'Shea, at Parnell's request, interviewed, on his behalf, Gladstone, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, and other leading members of the government, arranging what has since been called the 'Kilmainham Treaty.' The basis of the 'treaty' was an undertaking on Parnell's part, if and when released, to discourage lawlessness in Ireland in return for the promise of a government bill which would stop the eviction of Irish peasants for arrears of rent. This arrangement was opposed by William Edward Forster, the Irish secretary, who resigned in consequence, and it ultimately broke down. In 1884 O'Shea tried without success to arrange with Mr. Chamberlain a more workable compromise between the government and Parnell, with whom O'Shea's social relations remained close.

At the general election in Nov. 1885 O'Shea stood as a liberal without success for the Exchange division of Liverpool. Almost immediately afterwards, in Feb. 1886, he was nominated by Parnell for Galway, where a vacancy occurred through the retirement of Mr. T. P. O'Connor, who, having been elected for both Galway and the Scotland division of Liverpool, had decided to represent the latter constituency. O'Shea had not gained in popularity with advanced nationalists, and his nomination was strongly opposed by both J. G. Biggar and Mr. T. M. Healy, who hurried to Galway and nominated M. A. Lynch, a local man, in opposition. Biggar telegraphed to Parnell 'The O'Sheas will be your ruin,' and in speeches to the people did not conceal his belief that Mrs. O'Shea was Parnell's mistress. Parnell also went to Galway and he quickly re-established his authority. O'Shea's rejection, he declared, would be a blow at his own power, which would imperil the chances of home rule. O'Shea was elected by an overwhelming majority (942 to 54), but he gave no pledges on the home rule question. He did not vote on the second reading of Gladstone's first home rule bill on 7 June 1886, and next day announced his retirement from the representation of Galway. In 1889 he filed a petition for divorce on the ground of his wife's adultery with Parnell. The case was tried on 15 Nov. 1890. There was no defence, and a 'decree nisi' was granted on 17 Nov. On 25 June 1891 Parnell married Mrs. O'Shea. O'Shea lived during his latter years at Brighton, where he died on 22 April 1905. He had issue one son and two daughters.

[The Times, and the Irish Times, 25 April 1905; O'Brien's Life of Parnell, 1898; Annual Register 1882; Paul's Modern England, vol. v. 1904; Lucy, Diary of the Gladstone Parliament, 1880-5, 1886.]

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