Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sheehan, John

SHEEHAN, JOHN (1812–1882), miscellaneous writer, was the son of an hotel-keeper at Celbridge, co. Kildare, where he was born in 1812 (he states that he was eighteen years old in 1830). He was sent to the jesuit college at Clongoweswood, where Francis Sylvester Mahony [q. v.], better known as ‘Father Prout,’ was his tutor for a time. About 1829 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, but did not graduate. In 1830 he joined the Comet Club, which was formed by a party of young Irishmen, including Samuel Lover [q. v.], Joseph Stirling Coyne [q. v.], Robert Knox, subsequently editor of the ‘Morning Post,’ and Maurice O'Connell, son of ‘The Liberator.’ The club had literary aims. At first its members prepared and issued pamphlets attacking the tithe system; the first, ‘The Parson's Horn Book,’ which appeared in two parts, with etchings by Lover, met with extraordinary success. According to Sheehan (Gent. Mag. 1874), it had a greater circulation and caused more sensation than any book issued in Ireland since the days of Swift. The club then issued the ‘Comet,’ a satirical weekly paper directed against the established church in Ireland, the first number appearing on 1 May 1831. Sheehan was appointed sub-editor. In a few weeks it had reached a circulation of many thousand copies, and until its cessation at the end of 1833 exercised considerable influence. The government in the autumn of 1833 ordered the arrest of Thomas Browne, the editor, and Sheehan for libel. They were defended by Daniel O'Connell and Robert Holmes, but were each sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment and to pay a fine of 100l. The fine was, however, remitted, and the term of incarceration was only partly served (cf. Sheehan's articles on the ‘Comet’ in Gent. Mag. 1874–5).

Sheehan, on his release, studied for the Irish bar, to which he was called in 1835. He shortly afterwards came to London, where he was admitted a member of the English bar, and for a time went the home circuit. But he quickly abandoned his profession, took to journalism, and in 1836 and the following year was in Paris and Madrid as representative of the ‘Constitutional’ newspaper. He next became parliamentary reporter of the ‘Morning Herald,’ contributing poems and sketches meanwhile to ‘Bentley's Miscellany’ and other magazines. In 1852 he was proprietor and editor of the ‘Independent’ of London and Cambridge. Subsequently in ‘Temple Bar’ and elsewhere he often wrote under the signatures of ‘The Irish Whiskey-Drinker’ and ‘The Knight of Innishowen.’ Thackeray knew Sheehan well, and he is believed to be the original of Captain Shandon in ‘Pendennis,’ while two other Irish friends, William John O'Connell and Andrew Archdeckne, suggested Costigan and Foker respectively.

Shortly after 1868 Sheehan married the widow of Colonel Shubrick, a wealthy Anglo-Indian officer, and spent some years in travelling about the continent. He eventually retired to the Charterhouse, where he died on 29 May 1882. Sheehan's chief literary work is included in Doran's edition of the ‘Bentley Ballads’ (1858), and in his own enlarged edition of the same work (1869).

[Jerrold's Final Reliques of Father Prout; O'Donoghue's Life of William Carleton; O'Callaghan's Green Book; Gent. Mag. 1874–5; O'Donoghue's Poets of Ireland.]

D. J. O'D.