Jeremiah Daniel (JD) Sheehan was a national politician of some significance and holds an important place in the political record books. Born in Ards, Fossa near Killarney in the midst of the Famine in 1847, JD Sheehan joined the Kerry Company of the Irish Battalion of the Papal Army, answering the call of Pope Pius IX, like many Catholics, to protect the church and defend Vatican City from the armies of King Victor Emmanuel and Garabaldi. He was shot and bayoneted in the thigh during a siege in 1860 and was jailed in Genoa in appalling conditions before a circuitous return to Ireland and a hero’s welcome for many of his fellow soldiers. Sheehan was honoured for his valour with the medal Medaglia Di propetri Sede.
A nationalist outlook drew him to the Fenians and he travelled to Liverpool and the United States to help organise their activities. He participated in the Fenian rebellion of 1867, after which he was jailed: on 14 February 1867, Sheehan and other Fenians were arrested and held in custody in Tralee gaol.
In 1879, Jeremiah Sheehan married Mary Sullivan, a native of Cork and they operated the Inisfallen Hotel at 31 Main Street, Killarney, which Mary had owned with her first husband, James Egan.
At the general election of 1885, JD Sheehan won a seat for the Irish Parliamentary Party in East Kerry, securing an enormous ninety-nine percent of the votes cast, the largest percentage of the vote ever received by any candidate in a British general election. Sheehan received 3,169 votes to the thirty obtained by his Tory party opponent, Charles Henry de Grey Robertson.
Sheehan was arrested and imprisoned on several occasions, and spent a month in jail, for example, for abusing police during a series of evictions in Glenbeigh. The people of Killarney came out in large numbers to block the railway line and the train taking him to jail but he spoke to them in chains and appealed to them to desist. He was also involved in the Plan of Campaign of 1886-7, whereby tenants paid what was considered a fair rent to a political leader, who held it until the landlord decided to accept it.
Sheehan remained in parliament until 1895. When the Irish Parliamentary Party split in 1891, he sided with the Anti-Parnellite majority. He was succeeded in the East Kerry seat by the Home Rule and land reform campaigner, Michael Davitt of Mayo.
Jeremiah Sheehan later owned the International Hotel at Kenmare Place and died at his home there on New Street in 1929. He was chairman of the Killarney Board of Guardians and Killarney Town Commissioners. He spent much of his later years at Glen Ellen in Milltown, which was the home of his son, Dr Daniel Sheehan, Medical Officer of the Kerry No. 1 Brigade of the IRA during the War of Independence and a medical doctor in the locality for many years.
The author is grateful to the Sheehan family for some additional information. Dr Daniel Sheehan’s involvement in the War of Independence and the Ballymacandy Ambush of 1921 features in my forthcoming book: Anatomy of an Ambush: Ballymacandy 1921 (Publishing April 2021) – Owen O’Shea