Anthony Joseph "Joe" Graham (born 30 January 1944), is a Belfast-based Irish writer and historian. He founded Rushlight: The Belfast Magazine in 1972. (Photo by Bobby Hanvey)
Joe Graham was born in Belfast, the eighth of twelve children born to Jim and Kitty Graham. He was raised in what was then the newly built Ballymurphy housing estate in the west of the city. He attended St. John's Public Elementary School and later St. Thomas's Secondary Intermediate School. One of his teachers was Michael MacLaverty, who himself wrote stories (Call My Brother Back) about the political troubles in Belfast. MacLaverty encouraged Graham to express himself in the written word, prompting Graham to write a number of short plays which were staged and performed locally in his own community. Graham's interest in writing and politics deepened.
Graham's father, Jim, would take his son on bike rides and excursions across the length and breadth of County Antrim to ensure that Joe developed a clear knowledge of many of the historical events that occurred there - particularly the 1798 rebellion in which the Graham family played a prominent role: Watty Graham, an ancestor, was executed by the British in 1798.
On one excursion when Joe was only 12 years old, he and his father visited a graveyard situated in Mallusk, close to Templepatrick. At the back of the graveyard Joe looked at a tall monument erected to the memory of the famed James Hope. Right beside his grave was that of his son, Luke. Inscribed on Luke Hope's grave was a word that caught the 12 year old Joe's eye - the word was "Rushlight". Luke Hope published his "Rushlight" on 3 December 1825, from Clark & Hope's General Printing Office in High Street, in Belfast. It received the name Rushlight after a form of candle. However, the paper went out of print after 41 editions and Luke Hope died a young man.
In 1967, at the age of 23, Joe Graham became the editor of The Pike, an Irish republican news sheet.
His involvement in The Pike gave Graham the opportunity to publish his views on such issues as the Special Powers Act and share his opinion with the local community. His interest in civil rights motivated his presence in Duke Street, Derry, on 5 October 1968 and on 4 January 1969 at the Burntollet Ambush, where marchers, many of whom were members of a student body named "The People's Democracy", were physically assaulted by loyalists. In 1969, he became a founding member of the Belfast & District Civil Rights Group, The Ardoyne Citizen's Action Committee and The Belfast Housing Action Committee. These groups were established to address the need for the provision and improvement of housing in Catholic areas.
Graham later established news sheets aimed at Irish republican activists in Ardoyne (The Ardoyne Freedom Fighter), Ballymurphy (The Sceal), and in the Falls Road area of Clonard (The Vindicator).
Rushlight Gets Printed
In 1972, Graham,the man published Rushlight - The Belfast Magazine for the first time. He shared the stories his father had originally shared with him as a boy as well as his own historical research and study. The magazine included articles of local interest, folklore, and tales of old Belfast. The Rushlight proved to be a staple part of Belfast literature with copies being forwarded by locals to relatives around the world, as well as copies being held in the Linen Hall Library Catalog, as well as at the Queen's University Library Catalogue, both in Belfast.
In May 2002, Joe Graham was awarded the "Irish Hand" for his "continued and appreciated contribution of Rushlight Magazine to the Irish communities in Belfast, Brompton, Canada, and around the world". In 2008, he wrote Show Me The Man - The Official Biography of Martin Meehan.