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Sheil was the son of an Catholic merchant from co. Tipperary, Ireland. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and during the 1810s and early 1820s pursued parallel careers as a barrister in Ireland and a successful playwright.
Sheil was a leading figure in the agitation in favour of Catholic emancipation in the 1810s, but disagreed with Daniel O'Connell over offering concessions to Protestants in order to persuade them to accept the proposals. He changed his mind when in 1823 he and O'Connell founded a new Catholic Association, and campaigned vigorously to get the support of the numerous lower classes in Ireland. He acted as O'Connell's agent in the 1828 co. Clare election.
Following the granting of Catholic emancipation in 1829, Sheil was elected to parliament. He sat for Milborne Port in 1830 and Louth County from 1831 to 1832 before being elected as the Repeal candidate for co. Tipperary in 1833, and for Dungarvon from 1841. He increasingly distanced himself from O'Connell and the calls for repeal of the Act of Union, and took office in 1838 as Vice-President of the Board of Trade. Between 1846 and 1850 he was Master of the Mint.
Sheil died in 1851, soon after arriving in Italy to take up the post of Minister at Florence.
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