Richard Lalor Sheil, Irish politician, writer and orator, is born at Drumdowney, Slieverue, County Kilkenny on August 17, 1791. The family is temporarily domiciled at Drumdowney while their new mansion at Bellevue, near Waterford, is under construction.
Shiel’s father is Edward Sheil, who acquires considerable wealth in Cadiz in southern Spain and owns an estate in County Tipperary. His mother is Catherine McCarthy of Springhouse, near Bansha, County Tipperary, a member of the old aristocratic family of Mac Cárthaigh Riabhach of Springhouse, who in their time were Princes of Carbery and Counts of Toulouse in France. He is taught French and Latin by the Abbé de Grimeau, a French refugee. He is then sent to a Catholic school in Kensington, London, presided over by a French nobleman, M. de Broglie. For a time he attends the lay college in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. In October 1804, he is removed to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, and in November 1807 enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he specially distinguishes himself in the debates of the Historical Society.
After taking his degree in 1811 Sheil is admitted a student of Lincoln’s Inn, and is called to the Irish bar in 1814. He is one of the founders of the Catholic Association in 1823 and draws up the petition for inquiry into the mode of administering the laws in Ireland, which is presented in that year to both Houses of Parliament.
In 1825, Sheil accompanies Daniel O’Connell to London to protest against the suppression of the Catholic Association. The protest is unsuccessful, but, although nominally dissolved, the association continues its propaganda after the defeat of the Catholic Relief Bill in 1825. He is one of O’Connell’s leading supporters in the agitation persistently carried on until Catholic emancipation was granted in 1829.
In the same year Shiel is returned to Parliament for Milborne Port, and in 1831 for County Louth, holding that seat until 1832. He takes a prominent part in all the debates relating to Ireland, and although he is greater as a platform orator than as a debater, he gradually wins the somewhat reluctant admiration of the House. In August 1839, he becomes Vice-President of the Board of Trade in Lord Melbourne‘s ministry.
After the accession of Lord John Russell to power in 1846, Shiel is appointed Master of the Mint, and in 1850 he is appointed minister at the court of Tuscany. He dies in Florence on May 23, 1851. His remains are conveyed back to Ireland by a British ship-of-war, and interred at Long Orchard, near Templetuohy, County Tipperary.
George W. E. Russell says of Shiel, “Sheil was very small, and of mean presence; with a singularly fidgety manner, a shrill voice, and a delivery unintelligibly rapid. But in sheer beauty of elaborated diction not O’Connell nor any one else could surpass him.”
Shiel’s play, Adelaide, or the Emigrants, is performed at the Crow Street Theatre in Dublin, on February 19, 1814, with success, and, on May 23, 1816, it is performed at Covent Garden in London. The Apostate, produced at the latter theatre on May 3, 1817, establishes his reputation as a dramatist. His other principal plays are Bellamira (written in 1818), Evadne (1819), Huguenot (produced in 1822) and Montini (1820).
In 1822, Sheil begins, with William Henry Curran, to contribute to The New Monthly Magazine a series of papers entitled “Sketches of the Irish Bar.” Curran, in fact, does most of the writing. These pieces are edited by Marmion Wilme Savage in 1855 in two volumes, under the title of Sketches Legal and Political. Sheil’s Speeches are edited in 1845 by Thomas MacNevin.
In 1816, Shiel marries a Miss O’Halloran, niece of Sir William MacMahon, Master of the Rolls in Ireland. They have one son, who predeceases Sheil. His wife dies in January 1822. In July 1830, he marries Anastasia Lalor Power, a widow. He then adds the middle name Lalor.