Galbraith, Joseph Allen (1818–90), professor of experimental philosophy and proponent of home rule, was born November 1818 in Dublin, the son of Richard Galbraith, a merchant and Scottish presbyterian, and his wife Rebecca. His father died in the 1820s, after which he largely supported himself. Having received an intermediate education under the Rev. John Sargent of Donnybrook and later North George's St., he entered TCD as a pensioner student on 3 November 1834, was awarded a moderatorship in mathematics (1839), and graduated BA (1840). Toiling as a college grinder in TCD for three years in order to pay for one year's unbroken preparation for a fellowship, he was made junior fellow of TCD 3 June 1844, passing the formidable exam (taken in Latin) at his first attempt, though he was notably deficient in classical training before the summer of 1843. Made honours examiner in mathematics in November 1844, he was elected to the RIA in April 1845. He was ordained deacon in the Church of Ireland in 1846 and served as junior dean 1847–8. Though of tory views, he relished listening to the speeches of Daniel O'Connell (qv) and others at the meetings of the Repeal Association in Conciliation Hall on Burgh Quay. Taken to task as junior dean for neglecting to base the sermons required by the office on the customary themes commemorating the major events in the post-restoration British calendar, he pointedly twitted the provost in his next sermon for fawning attachment to the entourage of the lord lieutenant.
Scientific researches into barometric pressure, geology, and the mathematics of pendulum-motion with respect of the rotation of the earth, published in the RIA Proceedings, succeeded his appointment as Erasmus Smith's professor of natural and experimental philosophy in May 1854. Together with his great friend, Samuel Haughton (qv), he had previously initiated a hugely popular series of manuals on aspects of mathematics and physics to intermediate and undergraduate level. These were so concise and well structured as to be recommended as textbooks for English schools and colleges by the privy council. They did not go out of print until the 1900s and helped to end Galbraith's financial insecurity. During the Crimean war (1853–6) both friends also made a great reputation tutoring numerous students for the difficult army artillery and engineering exams. He became grand chaplain of the grand lodge of freemasons in the 1850s and worked as treasurer on the management committee of the masonic girls school in Donnybrook.
His first excursion into politics came in the early 1860s when he and Haughton staunchly opposed the Vartry reservoir scheme in favour of the opinion that the canal system would be the best source for the city water supply, and they engaged in several land surveys to prove the point. Roused to indignation again by the Liberal decision to carry through legislation to disestablish the Church of Ireland in 1869, he took part in the meeting at the Bilton Hotel, Dublin, on 19 May 1870, called by his friend Isaac Butt (qv) to evaluate the possibilities of federalism as a remedy for Irish discontents. He is supposed to have come up with the phrase ‘home rule’ as a pithy statement of intent for the emerging movement, then strongly protestant in complexion. He was a founding member of the Home Government Association (HGA) on 1 September 1870, and as one of three secretaries helped draw up an appeal for broader support in December that year. To protestants more and more uneasy with the potential development of the federal scheme, he announced in November 1870 that ‘he would willingly confide the interests of the Irish protestants to a College Green parliament even though wholly composed of catholics’ (quoted in Larkin (1978), 88). Swept up into electoral politics, he abruptly changed his mind on the justice of disestablishment as a measure. Calm and quick-witted, he took well to platform oratory and the cut-and-thrust of the electoral hustings, though prohibited by his clerical profession from parliamentary candidacy. In later 1871 and early 1872 he regularly spoke at by-elections for HGA candidates. Bishop David Moriarty (qv) of Kerry feared in January 1872 that Butt and Galbraith would raise opposition against the liberal nominee. As long as Butt held his own in the movement, Galbraith was diligent in back-room assistance and public oratory. He was one of the main speakers to tour Ulster counties in August and September 1874 in an unsuccessful effort to capture the protestant mind. In 1875 and 1876 he vainly attempted to get a Butt testimonial fund going but was critically handicapped by catholic clerical mistrust of the movement.
While Galbraith approved of parliamentary obstruction to undermine measures obnoxious to the Irish national interest, as practised by the home rule party in 1876, he was troubled by the militant extension of obstruction in 1877 to any item of British legislation. As parliamentary agitation merged with agrarian protest in 1878–9, he temporarily drifted away from the party. One of a handful of eccentric nationalists in the Representative Church Body (RCB) in the 1870s, he was largely responsible for setting the disestablished church on a sound financial footing, producing the array of actuarial calculations crucial to future financial management of church funds while treasurer of the RCB executive committee (1870–88). In the late 1880s he was, however, squeezed out of the RCB and the Dublin diocesan synod on account of his increasingly radical views. For much the same reason he was harassed within the masonic order until he resigned in 1883. It was also an ‘open secret’ that he was victimised with regard to appointment in TCD for his conspicuous nationalism (Ir. Times, 21 Oct. 1890). Always a proponent of evolving political opinions, he came to advocate tenant militancy by 1882, on becoming active in the National League, presiding often at committee. He moved so far as to become a political confidant to Timothy Harrington (qv), a leading figure in the Plan of Campaign. C. S. Parnell (qv) wanted him to contest the Stephen's Green ward in Dublin in 1888, forgetting his unfortunate clerical disqualification. The striking workers in the Great Southern & Western railway dispute of early 1890 sought and secured his representation at negotiations. Galbraith's political activism was perhaps outshone in Dublin by the force of a radiant personality approachable to men of every political colour, immersed in boulevard life, famous for coffee-shop sociability and for comic defence of agrarian organisation at the Turkish baths and elsewhere. He died 20 October 1890 of heart failure at his home in 46 Lansdowne Road. On 16 July 1850 he married Hannah Maria Bredin in Galway; they had three sons and four daughters.