History Lessons - Stories from Donegal
Cahir Healy, MP 1877-1970

Helen Meehan

Reporter:

Helen Meehan

Cahir Healy, who died in 1970, played a pivotal role in the history of Northern Ireland for over 70 years. Although he was elected MP for Fermanagh, he was born in Drimcoe, Mountcharles, on December 2nd, 1877. His parents were Patrick Healy, a small farmer, and his wife Mary (née Dorrian).

Cahir Healy, who died in 1970, played a pivotal role in the history of Northern Ireland for over 70 years. Although he was elected MP for Fermanagh, he was born in Drimcoe, Mountcharles, on December 2nd, 1877. His parents were Patrick Healy, a small farmer, and his wife Mary (née Dorrian).

Drimcoe, in the centre of the Doorin promontory jutting out into Donegal Bay, was the planted part of Inver parish. There was no Catholic school in Doorin in Cahir Healy’s youth, so he attended the inter-denominational school in Drimcoe. The early interaction with members of the Protestant and Unionist tradition inculcated a broad-minded tolerance in the young Healy, which was to pervade his long involvement in Northern life.

At Drimcoe school, he was enrolled as Charles Hilly, the local form of the surname but his teacher, Mr Lyons, advised him to adopt ‘Healy’, the more widely known form of the surname.

On leaving Drimcoe school, he went to work in a drapery establishment in Derry. There, he attended nght classes and began contributing articles to local papers.

Fermanagh

In 1896, Cahir Healy joined the staff of the Fermanagh News. The paper’s owner, P.A. Mooney from Ballyshannon, introduced him to politics. A year later he married Catherine Cresswell, daughter of a retired British army general, in the Church of Ireland Cathedral in Enniskillen.

In 1899, Healy joined the Refuge Assurance Company as a clerk. From his arrival in Enniskillen, Healy was active in local affairs and was one of the founders of the National Foresters, the GAA and the then non-sectarian Gaelic League in Fermanagh. He was present at the formation of Sinn Féin in 1905.

Because of his involvement with the national movement, Cahir Healy was interned in 1922 on the prison ship Argenta in Belfast Lough. While there, he used his pen with good effect to highlight the atrocious conditions on the ship and secure the eventual release of the prisoners.

During this time, Healy was elected as Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and Tyrone at the Westminster General Election and, in the General Election of 1923, he was re-elected.

In 1928, he founded the National League of the North. The aims were Irish unity, justice for Nationalists and reconciliation between all. When Devlin died in 1934, Healy became leader of the Northern Nationalists.

He was interned again in 1940 as a person “recently concerned in acts prejudicial to the public safety and defence of the realm”. He was held in Brixton Prison for almost two years.

Post World War II

After the war, Healy, was involved in launching the broad-based Anti-Partition League (APL). Its aims and objectives were broadly similar to those of the earlier National League of the North. At its inaugural meeting, he launched his pamphlet ‘The Mutilation of the Nation’ (1945) , which sold some 20,000 copies. In this pamphlet, Healy often used statistics to record discrimination in Northern Ireland.

A lifelong opponent of physical force, Healy believed its use would “only further consolidate Unionist opinion against us and result in injury to Catholics as a whole”.

Cahir Healy was a frequent visitor to the Orange celebrations in Rossnowlagh, held on the last Saturday of June, where he was always welcomed by the Grand Master.

He was first elected to Westminster in 1922. He served two further spells as Westminster MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, 1931 -35 and 1950-55. He didn’t contest the 1955 election but continued to represent Fermanagh South in Stormont until 1965.

On his last day at Stormont, tributes were paid to him by all sides of the House, led by Captain Terence O’Neill. Like Lord Brookborough, he didn’t agree with Cahir Healy politically, but he respected him for his sincerity and scholarship. At the time of his death, Lord Brookeborough said that Mr Healy and he were always opponents, but were never enemies. “There is a great difference in the two. I respected his views, although I did not agree with them.”

Retirement

Retirement from the political arena did not mean retirement from the literary field or his many other interests and committees. He was a member of the Donegal Historical Society from its early days and in 1966 he was proposed as President. He declined the honour due to age and travel difficulties. He did, however, continue as an active member until his death.

In the early twentieth century, Healy and Cathal O’Byrne published a collection of poems called ‘The Lane of the Thrushes’. All during his political life, he contributed articles to the Fermanagh Herald, The Irish Weekly, The Irish Press, The Irish Statesmen, The Capuchin Annual, The Irish News and The Countryman.

Brenda O’Hanrahan’s Donegal Authors lists his further works as: a novel, ‘A Sower of the Wind’ (Dublin,1903), ‘Confessions of a Journalis’t, (London, 1904) and ‘A Hired Boy on the Border’, (Dublin, 1944).

He also left a two volume unpublished novel, ‘A Northern Peninsula’, set in the author’s native Doorin peninsula. Also unpublished is his ‘Two Years on an Ulster Prison Ship’ (Argenta). He broadcast frequently on both Radio Éireann and BBC, on folklore as well as historical topics.

Cahir Healy died on February 8th, 1970 and was buried in Enniskillen.