McKelvey, Joseph (c.1885–1922), revolutionary, was born in Stewartstown, Co. Tyrone, and moved to Cyprus St., Belfast, c.1914 when his father, a member of the RIC, was transferred to Springfield Road. Very little is known about his early life or career, other than that he was a member of the IRB and the Irish Volunteers/IRA, and that he defended catholics during the ‘Belfast pogroms’ of July 1920. Appointed commandant of the 3rd Northern Division of the IRA in 1921, he supported the Anglo–Irish treaty initially, but after the formation of the anti-treaty IRA executive (April 1922) he left his divisional post and was appointed assistant chief of staff of the anti-treaty IRA. He took part in unsuccessful efforts to unify the army before the outbreak of the civil war, and was involved (February–April 1922) in the plans of Michael Collins (qv) for pro- and anti-treaty IRA collaboration on an invasion of the north. After a split in the anti-treaty IRA between the 1st Southern Division under Liam Lynch (qv), which continued to press for army unity, and the Four Courts garrison, which supported war, Lynch was ousted as chief-of-staff and replaced by McKelvey on 18 June 1922. The capture of J. J. ‘Ginger’ O'Connell (qv), national army deputy chief of staff, by the members of the Four Courts garrison – one of the events that sparked off the civil war – was ordered by McKelvey. Arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy after the surrender of the Four Courts on 30 June 1922, he was executed by firing squad on 8 December 1922, along with Rory O'Connor (qv), Liam Mellows (qv), and Dick Barrett (qv), in a reprisal for the killing of pro-treaty TD Seán Hales (qv) by republicans. These controversial executions, described as ‘a brutal and an utterly ruthless act without pretence of legality’ (Regan, 116), created four republican martyrs. The official explanation for the selection of the four prisoners was that one was chosen to represent each province.
C. Desmond Greaves, Liam Mellows and the Irish revolution (1971); Ernie O'Malley, The singing flame (1978); Michael Hopkinson, Green against green (1988); Austen Morgan, Labour and partition (1991); Padraic O'Farrell, Who's who in the Irish war of independence and civil war (1997); John M. Regan, The Irish counter-revolution (1999)