Rice, John Joe (1893–1970), republican activist, was born 19 June 1893 in Kilmurry, Kenmare, Co. Kerry, son of George Rice, draper's assistant, and Ellen Rice (neé Ring). After national school he became a clerk with the Great Southern & Western Railway Co., working at stations in Kenmare, Killorglin, and Killarney. In 1913 he joined the Irish Volunteers, but he did not take part in the 1916 rising. For a time he shared lodgings in Rock St., Tralee, with Austin Stack (qv), and like Stack he was a GAA member, playing hurling with Kenmare. He was in the IRB and was active during the war of independence, becoming OC Fifth Battalion, Kerry no. 2 Brigade. He also held the post of second in command of that brigade, under Humphrey Murphy. There was a good deal of internal conflict within the IRA in Kerry during the war of independence and Rice recalled that he spent ‘all my time tramping from one company to another, fixing disputes and squabbles’ (Hopkinson, 11). On 26 April 1921 he attended the meeting in Kippagh, Co. Tipperary, that saw the establishment of the First Southern Division. After the truce Murphy was transferred to command Kerry no.1 Brigade, and Rice became commanding officer of Kerry no. 2.
He opposed the treaty and led the brigade throughout the civil war. When Michael Collins (qv) came to Killarney (22 April 1922) to speak in favour of the agreement he was met at the train station by a group of fifty men, led by Rice, who attempted to prevent him from speaking. The meeting went ahead despite several attempts by Rice to stop it. During the civil war he led his men into Limerick, briefly seizing Rathkeale, but for the most part they were on the defensive. In September he commanded a force of seventy republicans to take Kenmare. This was a rare and morale-boosting success; according to Rice, ‘Kenmare kept us going’ (Hopkinson, 207). When the First Southern Division council met 26–8 February 1923 he was one of only two senior officers, among a group of eighteen, who felt that it was worth fighting on.
After the civil war he continued to be active in the IRA and Sinn Féin. He attended IRA executive meetings (1923) and was involved in attempts to reorganise the army (1924). He was a delegate to the Sinn Féin ard-fhéis in 1926, opposing the proposal of Éamon de Valera (qv) that abstention be a matter of policy rather than principle. In November 1926 he, with John Joe Sheehy (qv), was arrested and interned for a brief period in Mountjoy. During the 1930s and 1940s, though still a member of the republican movement, he was less active. He continued his attachment to the GAA, and in 1934–5 was among the most determined organisers of an attempt within the GAA in Kerry to organise a boycott of club games, pending the release of republican prisoners. More cautious republicans such as Sheehy felt this protest was unpopular. At various stages he was registrar of the Kerry county board and chairman of the Kerry hurling selectors committee. He was president of the south Kerry hurling board at the time of his death.
At the 1957 general election he again came to national attention, taking the third seat in the constituency of Kerry South for Sinn Féin. He was one of four Sinn Féin candidates elected at that election, and all pursued an abstentionist policy. He failed to retain the seat at the election of October 1961, but was the only Sinn Féin candidate to perform respectably on that occasion. In 1966 he, and the entire north Kerry comhairle ceanntair, were expelled from Sinn Féin as he sided with those who would later become Provisional Sinn Féin against Official Sinn Féin.
He drove an oil lorry for a time and then became manager of the Tralee branch of Messrs Nash, mineral-water manufacturers and bottlers. He remained in this position until his retirement (1965). He died 24 July 1970 at his son's residence, Oakview, Tralee. Shortly after the civil war he married Nora Aherne, a Cumann na mBan member; they had one son, George.