Joseph Devlin

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"I know beforehand what is going to be done with us, and therefore it is well that we should make our preparations for that long fight which, I suppose, we will have to wage in order to be allowed even to live." Referring to the Government of Ireland Act, he accused the government of "...not inserting a single safeguard the interests of our people. This is not a scattered is the story of weeping women, hungry children, hunted men, homeless in England, houseless in Ireland. If this is what we get when they have not their Parliament, what may we expect when they have that weapon, with wealth and power strongly entrenched? What will we get when they are armed with Britain's rifles, when they are clothed with the authority of government, when they have cast round them the Imperial garb, what mercy, what pity, much less justice or liberty, will be conceded to us then? That is what I have to say about the Ulster Parliament." [17]

In order not to prevent a Ulster Unionists "walk-over" win in the first election for the Northern Ireland House of Commons (1921), Devlin agreed to a pact with de Valera - Nationalists would not stand for election against Sinn Féiners; both parties co-operated during the election and won 6 seats each, the Unionists 40. Devlin, who represented a more moderate nationalist view, was elected for both Antrim and Belfast West. He chose to sit for Belfast West although his seat in the seven member Antrim constituency was left vacant for the rest of the Parliament. He continued to sit at Westminster as leader of the Nationalist Party of Northern Ireland, as both small parties did not recognise the Stormont parliament. His Belfast Falls seat was abolished in 1922, when Devlin unsuccessfully fought Liverpool Exchange; he returned to Westminster in 1929.

Devlin was re-elected in Belfast West in 1925 when he decided to lead his small party out of abstentionism and sat for the first time in the Parliament of Northern Ireland as head of a powerless opposition, but so as to highlight Catholic grievances, especially in relation to education. He was returned for the four member constituency until Proportional Representation by the Single Transferable Vote was abolished for territorial constituencies and single member seats were introduced for the 1929 election.

In 1927, Devlin was urged by Alfie Byrne to stand in the Irish general election (for a seat in the Dublin parliament) but he refused saying "If I do that, the poor people of Belfast, who have stood by me loyally for the past thirty years and who are undergoing the tortures of the damned will, I fear, think I am taking this opportunity of slipping out of a difficult position." [2] :205

From 1929 until his death, Joe Devlin was the Northern Ireland MP for Belfast Central. He won amendment to the Northern Ireland Education Act of 1930 which improved the funding of Catholic schools. Otherwise they were years of demoralisation for northern Catholics, and the party abstained after 1932 due to the abolishment of proportional representation, when frustration finally drove him and his followers out of the Belfast parliament again, when his party abstained. [13]

After his death, James Craig, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, said, "He and I were in opposite political camps for over thirty years, and fought for our respective parties, necessarily at times with keen enmity, but throughout I have never entertained anything but admiration for his personal character.". [18]

Personal background

"Wee Joe", as he was popularly known, [13] was held in high affection by his constituents for his charming and effervescent personality. He was a fluent and powerful orator. In later years he was comfortably off as director of the Distillery Company and chairman of the Irish News, and enjoyed organising summer fêtes – "days of delight" – for Belfast children. His approach in life was 'getting things done'. He lived most of his life in Belfast, though he spent some earlier years in London. An acknowledged spokesman and leader of Catholic nationalists in Ulster for decades, Devlin died in Belfast on 18 January 1934. He was buried at Milltown Cemetery. His funeral at St. Peter's, Belfast, was attended by leading members of both[ clarification needed ] governments. The AOH hall in Ardboe, County Tyrone, is named after him. [13]

He never married.


  1. "historic-hansard". UK Parliament. Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 McMahon, Seán (2011). 'Wee Joe' : the life of Joseph Devlin. Belfast: Brehon Press. ISBN   978-1-905474-35-6.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hepburn, Anthony C.: in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Vol. 15, Oxford University Press, (2004), p.983
  4. The Constitutional Year Book, 1904, published by Conservative Central Office, page 190 (214 in web page)
  5. "No. 27411". The London Gazette . 28 February 1902. p. 1281.
  6. Garvin, Tom (2005). The Evolution of Irish Nationalist Politics. pp. 107–110. ISBN   0-7171-3967-0.
  7. Lyons, F. S. L. (1968). John Dillon. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN   0-7100-2887-3.
  8. Lyons, F. S. L.: p.324
  9. Maume, Patrick: The long Gestation, Irish Nationalist Life 1891–1918, p.45, Gill & Macmillan (1999) ISBN   0-7171-2744-3
  10. Miller, David W.: Church, State and Nation in Ireland 1898–1921 pp.208–15, Gill & Macmillan (1973) ISBN   0-7171-0645-4
  11. Garvin, T.: p.108
  12. O'Brien, Joseph V.: William O'Brien and the course of Irish Politics, 1881–1918, The All-for-Ireland League p. 187, University of California Press (1976) ISBN   0-520-02886-4
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hepburn, Oxford Dictionary, p.984
  14. Bowman, Timothy: Irish Regiments in the Great War "Raising the Service battalions" p.62 (Note 2: Dooley, T. P. The Irish Sword XVIII, 72, (1991) p. 209) Manchester University Press (2003) ISBN   0-7190-6285-3
  15. Maume, Patrick: Who's Who p.225
  16. Phoenix, Eamon Northern Nationalism, Ulster Historical Foundation, Belfast 1994 ISBN   0-901905-64-X pg76
  17. Devlin, Joseph (11 November 1920). Government of Ireland Bill (Speech). debate. UK House of Parliament: Hansard. Retrieved 27 September 2022.
  18. "Joseph Devlin, Irish Nationalist Leader, Succumbs to Illness". The Calgary Daily Herald. Calgary. 18 January 1934.


Joe Devlin
Joseph Devlin, 1902 (cropped).jpg
Devlin, c. 1902
Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament
for Belfast Central
In office
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Kilkenny North
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Belfast West
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Belfast Falls
Constituency abolished
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and Tyrone
With: Thomas Harbison to 1931
Cahir Healy from 1931
Succeeded by
Parliament of Northern Ireland
New constituency Member of Parliament for Belfast West
With: Robert Lynn
Thomas Henry Burn to 1925
William J. Twaddell to 1923
Philip James Woods from 1923
William McMullen from 1925
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Belfast Central
Succeeded by
Party political offices
New title Leader of the Nationalist Party at Stormont
Succeeded by

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