26 March 1931: Timothy Healy, ex Governor General of the Irish Free State died on this day. Healy had been active in Irish politics for over 40 years when he was appointed to this controversial position. Born in Bantry, Co Cork he moved at an early age to Waterford and was a Nationalist MP for various constituencies from 1880 until 1918. He started his political career in England, pressing for Irish Home Rule. Parnell admired Healy's intelligence and energy after Healy had established himself as part of Parnell's broader political circle. He became Parnell's secretary, but was denied contact to Parnell's small inner circle of political colleagues. He famously fell out with Parnell following the exposure of his affair with Kitty O’Shea. Parnell felt that Healy had politically stabbed him in the back and indeed there were many who thought the same.
In the years following the Split he drifted in and out of Irish Politics but was considered something of a loose cannon and never really regained his place at the centre of Irish political life and remained on the fringes. He spent many years building up his legal practise to compensate for this. When the Great War broke out he supported the Allied War aims and had a son at Gallipoli. But the events of Easter 1916 shook him and he slowly drifted towards supporting the idea of full Independence if it could be achieved without bloodshed. He acted for Thomas Ashe at his trail and represented Republican prisoners held by the British but confined his activities within the legal sphere. He resigned his seat in Cork North east in advance of the 1918 General Election to allow SF a clear run and did not seek re election elsewhere.
However he came to prominence once again when in October 1922 when he was proposed as the Governor General of the Irish Free State. Healy accepted the post after some consideration. His name was suggested to the British by the head of the newly emerging State W.T. Cosgrave. Healy thus took up occupancy of the old Vice-regal Lodge as the official representative of King George V and his Government to the Irish Free State. There is no doubt that he enjoyed the role tremendously and did his best to make the role a viable part of public life in the State. Technically he had the power to dissolve the Free State Parliament and call elections but this scenario never arose during his tenure. He acted as a liaison between the British Government and the Free State and gave advice whether wanted or not as to how matters should proceed between the two.
Cosgrave had a difficult time with him and had to remind the Governor of the limits of his powers until Healy got the message. Though to be fair his notions as to what exactly his role should be was an open question. Basically his misconceptions were due more to feeling his way than to any deliberate intent to supersede his authority. Overall he was adept enough to steer his way through any difficulties that arose and avoided outright political controversy – an unusual state of affairs for him!
However in the latter part of his time in Office his influence was diminished as his role was redefined to one of the King’s Representative only and not that of the British Government per se. Though he appeared to think that being Governor General was his for life this was not the view of the Free State Executive and James McNeill took up this role on his retirement in January 1928. His wife had died the year before and he retired to the family home at Chapelizod, Co. Dublin. He the published his extensive two volume memoirs called Letters and Leaders of my Day.
He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.