Joy, Robert (1722–85), printer, manufacturer, and philanthropist, was born probably in Belfast, second son of Francis Joy (qv), attorney, paper manufacturer, and printer, and Margaret Joy (née Martin). He was named for his maternal grandfather, Robert Martin, a member of a prominent Belfast merchant family. In 1737 Francis Joy, who was noted for his liberal views and his business acumen, started publishing Belfast's first newspaper, the Belfast News Letter. Robert's elder brother was Henry Joy; their only sister married John McCracken. Henry Joy McCracken (qv) and Mary Anne McCracken (qv) were Robert Joy's niece and nephew.
Henry and Robert Joy took over the printing business in Belfast when their father moved to Randalstown, Co. Antrim; they sold hardware as well as paper, published and sold books, and continued the publication of the News Letter. In 1767 they opened a paper mill at Cromac, near Belfast. Both brothers were involved with the Belfast Charitable Society from its beginning; they printed and sold lottery tickets to raise money, and organised fund-raising. In the 1750s Robert Joy was sent by the society's committee to Dublin, to submit architectural plans to Thomas Cooley (qv), but in the event it was Robert Joy's own plans that were used for Belfast Poorhouse on Clifton St. Still in existence in the early twenty-first century, it is regarded as one of Belfast's finest public buildings. Robert Joy took a great interest in its construction and its day-to-day management; for the rest of his life he visited it almost daily, even when he could no longer walk to it, but had to go in a sedan chair.
In the summer of 1777 Joy toured Scotland and became convinced that Ireland's welfare depended on the diversification of the economy, and that cotton-spinning (which he had seen in Scotland) would be a useful new industry in Ulster. A spinning machine was made to his specifications in 1777, and children from the Poorhouse were trained to use it; the committee of the Charitable Society were unwilling to take on the extra responsibility, but in 1779 Joy persuaded them to let him have rooms in the Poorhouse where the poor children would be paid to spin cotton yarn, on machines that he and his partner Thomas McCabe (qv) constructed or purchased – notably a much improved spinning jenny, and a carding machine, originally water-driven but adapted for manual use. The novel enterprise was fairly successful, and in 1784 a cotton spinning and weaving mill was started at the Falls, Belfast, by the firm of Joy, McCabe, & McCracken; it was the first water-powered mill for spinning twist in Ireland.
Robert Joy's patriotism and public spirit were exercised also in his involvement with the Volunteer movement from 1778: he was the prime mover in the establishment of the Volunteers in Belfast, and in 1781 he was in charge of arranging accommodation in Belfast for those who attended the Belfast Volunteer review. He died in Belfast in March 1785; his death was recorded in the News Letter of 29 March.
He married (November 1751) his second cousin, Grizzel Rainey from Magherafelt, Co. Londonderry; they had eleven years of happy married life before her death in 1762. He was survived by two sons, one of whom was Henry Joy (qv) (d. 1835); the other, Robert, died in 1771 aged 15, and three daughters died in infancy.