Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smyth, Patrick James

SMYTH, PATRICK JAMES (1826–1885), Irish politician, was born in 1826, in Dublin, where his father, James Smyth, a native of Cavan, was a prosperous tanner. His mother, Anne, was daughter of Maurice Bruton of Portane, co. Meath. Patrick received his education at Clongoweswood College, where he made the acquaintance of Thomas Francis Meagher [q. v.] The two became fast friends, and in 1844 both joined the Repeal Association. In the cleavage between ‘Old Ireland’ and ‘Young Ireland,’ Smyth, like Meagher, sided with the latter, and became one of the active members of that body. After the failure of the abortive insurrection of 1848 he managed to escape to America disguised as a drover. He supported himself by journalism for some years, becoming prominently identified with the Irish national movement in America. In 1854 he visited Tasmania, and planned and carried out the escape of John Mitchel [q. v.] from his Tasmanian prison (cf. Mitchel, Jail Journal). In 1855 he married Miss Jeanie Myers of Hobart Town, Tasmania, and in 1856 returned to Ireland and began to study for the bar. He was called in 1858, but never practised. For a short time, about 1860, he was proprietor of the ‘Irishman,’ an advanced nationalist newspaper.

Smyth was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour on 29 Aug. 1871 in recognition of his services to France in organising the Irish ambulance aid to that country during the Franco-German war.

In 1870 Smyth made an unsuccessful attempt to enter parliament as a member of Isaac Butt's home-rule party. In June of the following year he was returned as M.P. for Westmeath, and sat for the constituency uninterruptedly till 1880, when he became M.P. for Tipperary. In parliament Smyth's oratorical gifts were highly appreciated. A speech delivered by him on home rule on 30 June 1876 was published; but he disapproved of the extreme policy of Charles Stewart Parnell [q. v.], and became an unsparing and bitter enemy of the land league, which he described as a ‘League of Hell.’ His popularity in Ireland consequently waned, and he retired from parliament in 1882. At the close of 1884 he was appointed secretary of the Irish Loan Reproductive Fund, but survived his appointment only a few weeks. He died at Belgrave Square, Rathmines, Dublin, on 12 Jan. 1885, leaving his widow and family in straitened circumstances. A fund was raised for their support. Smyth published:

  1. ‘Australasia,’ a lecture; 2nd edit. Dublin, 8vo, 1861.
  2. ‘France and European Neutrality,’ a lecture, Dublin, 1870.
  3. ‘The Part taken by the Irish Boy in the Fight at Dame Europa's School;’ 3rd edit. Dublin, 1871.
  4. ‘A Plea for a Peasant Proprietary in Ireland,’ Dublin, 1871.
  5. ‘Materialism,’ a lecture, Dublin, 1876.
  6. ‘The Priest in Politics, by the late P. J. Smyth,’ 4to edit. Dublin, 1885.

[Mitchel's Jail Journal; Pigott's Reminiscences of an Irish National Journalist; Duffy's Four Years of Irish History; Freeman's Journal, 13 Jan. 1885; Evening Mail (Dublin), 14 Jan. 1885; information from Mr. John O'Leary, Dublin.]

D. J. O'D.