Byrne, Richard (1862–1942), politician and publican, was the third son of John Byrne (1830–86), a farmer of Taughlumny, near Lurgan, Co. Armagh, and Isabella Byrne (1826–1919). While little is known of Byrne's education, he served his apprenticeship to the licensed trade with Messrs A. Donnelly & Co., Lurgan, and subsequently started a business on his own account at Magheralin, close to Redhills. During the course of his life he purchased three further pubs, one at Redhills, and two in the docks area of Belfast.
Byrne came to Belfast in 1890 and spent the greater part of his life there. On the death of Alderman John Rooney (1910), he was elected without opposition as an alderman for the Smithfield ward. He held this position until his death in 1942; only one week prior to his death, members of the corporation had considered the question of conferring the freedom of the city on him in view of his long civic career. For many years he fought strenuously for the introduction of a superannuation scheme for civic workers and for better housing conditions for the working classes. As a member of the improvement committee he also constantly agitated for better and cleaner streets for Belfast. He gave his allegiance to the Irish parliamentary party and took a prominent role in securing the return of Joe Devlin (qv) for Belfast West in the election of 1906. In the first election to the NI parliament in May 1921 Byrne contested the Belfast West division as Devlin's running mate but lost his deposit.
He was strongly in favour of the nationalists taking their seats in 1925, and in 1929 he stood as a National League candidate for the Falls constituency in Belfast. He succeeded in defeating the NILP candidate, William McMullan (qv), by over 1,400 votes. In 1938 he again defeated an NILP candidate, John Glass, and held the Falls seat until his death. Throughout this period, Byrne remained strongly opposed to abstentionism and between 1934 and 1942 he and T. J. Campbell (qv) were the only two nationalist MPs who attended Stormont regularly. In 1937 Campbell and Byrne were strongly criticised by fellow nationalist MPs for sending a congratulatory telegram to the new monarch, George VI. Both Campbell and Byrne were also opposed to excessive reliance on Fianna Fáil and expressed a sense of vindication when Eamon de Valera (qv) failed to secure any concessions on partition during the negotiations to end the economic war in 1938.
In a tribute to Byrne at the time of his death, T. J. Campbell stated that he was still reeling from shock at the death of his comrade. He claimed that Byrne had never wavered in his ideal of a united Irish nation and that, for over a generation, he had been the spokesman for Belfast catholics and nationalists.
For over forty years Byrne was an esteemed member of the Belfast and Ulster Licensed Vintners’ Association, serving for a time as its chairman. A devout catholic and a member of the AOH, he was married to Rosie Quinn from Moy, Co. Tyrone. He died suddenly on 28 August 1942 at home in Magheralin, near Lurgan.