DEVLIN, BERNARD, lawyer and politician; b. 15 Dec. 1824 at Roscommon, in Ireland, son of Owen Devlin, a rich landowner, and of Catherine Mellany; d. 8 Feb. 1880 at Denver, Colorado.
Bernard Devlin began his medical studies under the direction of his uncle, Dr Charles Devlin, a famous practitioner of Ballina, County Mayo, and he went to Dublin to complete them. In 1844 he arrived at Quebec with his father, who was emigrating as a result of financial misfortunes. Since he was still a minor, the medical board at Quebec refused to allow him to practise medicine, and he founded a weekly paper with a liberal bias, the Freeman’s Journal and Commercial Advertiser, which survived from 1844 to 1847, and which he directed until he left for Montreal, where he continued his activity as a journalist and studied law with Edward Carter. He was called to the bar of Lower Canada in October 1847. He rapidly acquired a large clientele, particularly as a criminal jurist. For some years he was also one of the lawyers of the municipal corporation of Montreal, and, from 1863 to 1870, councillor and alderman; it was partly through him that Mount Royal Park was created. In 1868 he was called to the bar of Ontario.
In 1864 the United States government engaged his services in the legal action taken at Montreal against the Confederates who had been involved in the St Albans raid. Bernard Devlin was an officer of the militia for 15 years, and in June 1866 commanded the 1st regiment of the Prince of Wales Rifles against the Fenians. He was active in Irish circles, taking part in a meeting advocating the repeal of the union of England and Ireland in 1848, and being on several occasions president of the St Patrick’s Society of Montreal, the patriotic centre of a group which had become powerful.
In 1867 Bernard Devlin stood in the federal election as Liberal candidate against Thomas D’Arcy McGee* in the riding of Montreal West. He was unsuccessful. The struggle was a violent one among Irishmen. McGee and his supporters represented the moderates, who were afraid of the Fenians, whereas Devlin was accused of being secretly well disposed towards them. Devlin managed to reduce his adversary’s majority to a handful of votes. He was defeated in Montreal Centre in 1874 by Michael Patrick Ryan*, but the latter’s election was annulled and Devlin was elected in 1875 by acclamation. He sat in the House of Commons until the 1878 election, when he was defeated by his former opponent, Ryan. An excellent speaker, popular with crowds, he addressed the house on a number of occasions. His first speech was delivered on 12 Feb. 1875 in support of the amnesty for Louis Riel* and Ambroise-Dydime Lépine*. On 8 March 1875 he took an important part in the debate on a motion by John Costigan* in favour of the separate schools of New Brunswick, and he was specially thanked by the Catholic bishop of Saint John, John Sweeney*. One of his most famous speeches was given on 19 March 1877; in it he proposed that a study be made of the feasibility of giving better representation to minorities through a transformation of the electoral system. He died on 8 Feb. 1880 at Denver in Colorado, where he was staying because of his failing health.
In 1848 Bernard Devlin had married Anna Eliza Hickey, of Brooklyn, New York. At his death he left two daughters and one son. His funeral, which was held at Montreal, attracted thousands of people, and the burial took place on 16 Feb. 1880 at the cemetery of Côte-des-Neiges.
[Bruce and Grey], Elgin-Grey papers (Doughty), I, 163–64. Canada, House of Commons, Debates, 1875, 108–11; 1877, 814–34. Canada, Sessional papers, I (1867–68), pt.8, no.41; VI (1873), pt.6, no.60; VII (1874), pt.6, no.59; XII (1879), pt.9, no.88. True Witness and Catholic Chronicle (Montreal), 11, 18 Feb. 1880. Can. parl. comp., 1875, 207–8. Dom. ann. reg., 1880–81, 405–6. T. P. Slattery, The assassination of D’Arcy McGee (Toronto and New York, 1968).