Joe Devlin - Famous Rights Campaigner Of N. Ireland
Embraced in politics as ‘Wee Joe’, Joseph Devlin was a Belfast man who left a great legacy of social work for northern communities. His demands for better working conditions for the thousands who worked in northern linen industries, made him renowned in political fields.
Joseph took the hard road to self education when he left school at just eleven years old and became a grocers counter assistant. Despite his tender age, the Belfast teenager blossomed rapidly into manhood and at barely sixteen years old, Joseph played a key role for the Nationalist party.
In the 1886 election General Election he was pivotal in the election of Thomas Sexton as Nationalist Member of Parliament for Belfast and a marker had been laid down by the young Belfast boy.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians was close to his heart and his lifelong affiliation was a source of great pride to him. He also supported Parnell’s ideals for land reform. His rise to political prominence took him on many journies and whilst in America for his party, he was nominated for election for North Kilkenny in 1902.
He made his maiden voyage to the House of Commons as the Kilkenny Member of Parliament but his greatest triumph was his 1906 election as the West Belfast MP.
Despite his lack of upper class education, Joseph was always afforded great respect at Westminster and his voice was very prominent and purposeful.
Joseph also admired John Redmond of Wexfords fame and at the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, Joseph, like Redmond, encouraged Northern Catholics to join the British Army. Sadly both mens aspiration for unity of North and South soldiers rebounded. Devlin and Redmond believed both factions might join forces later to achieve a united Ireland.
The failure of Asquith’s Home Rule movement and the historic 1916 Dublin Easter Rising, practically eliminated Devlins Nationalist Party. His re-election in 1918 was a testament to his esteem amongst voters as Sinn Fein, with De Valera and Michaels Collins in their ranks, now became the dominant Irish political party.
With the introduction of the Black and Tans into Ireland, Devlin took grave exception to the brutality of these alleged criminals masquerading as British soldiers.
In the House of Commons he criticised the government for the murder and destruction carried out under their command. He was often suspended for lack of respect to the house.
When the first Northern Ireland Parliament was set up, Joseph Devlin was again elected and many times denounced their anti Catholic policies.
His Nationalist Party initially favoured abstention but later engaged in debates.
Joseph Devlin died in 1934, aged sixty four years and he is buried in Belfast.