John Denvir, The Life Story of an Old Rebel

  • Liam Harte


Born in Bushmills, County Antrim, where his father was working at the time, John Denvir (1834–1916) spent most of his life in Liverpool, a city he describes in his autobiography as ‘a “stony hearted stepmother” to its Irish colony [‖] which it held for so long unregarded or despised in its midst’. It was here that he established a successful building firm and worked for the Irish nationalist cause as journalist, publisher, cultural activist and political organiser. In addition to editing the Catholic Times, the United Irishman and the Nationalist newspapers, Denvir published the popular Illustrated Irish Penny Library, consisting of cheap volumes of history, biography, fiction and poetry. He also wrote The Irish in Britain (1892), the first book-length survey of the subject, and the novels The Brandons: A Story of Irish Life in England (1903) and Olaf the Dane (1908). His first experience of political activism was as a Fenian at the time of the 1867 rising, after which he gravitated towards constitutional nationalism, seeing it as a more pragmatic route to Irish self-government. In 1873 he became a founder member and first secretary of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain and later served as its national agent and organiser. Through this work he gained an intimate knowledge of Irish nationalist networks and personalities in late Victorian Britain, which he chronicles at length in his autobiography. As the record of a life devoted to the promotion and propagation of the cause of Irish nationalism in Britain, The Life Story of an Old Rebel reads as a paradigm of diasporic patriotism in which selfless devotion to the aspirations of the motherland not only betokens the emigrant’s rightful membership of the ‘imagined political community’,1 but also serves as a compensatory substitute for effective revolutionary action on behalf of the emergent nation.


Emergent Nation Irish Home Irish Evening Constitutional Nationalism Compensatory Substitute 
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Copyright information

© Liam Harte 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liam Harte
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ManchesterUK

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