Valentine, John (b. 1857, d. p. 1945), businessman and political activist, was born at Longford town, the son of a blacksmith. Valentine was educated at the national school in Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh, where his family moved in the early 1870s. As ‘a bare-footed boy’ Valentine's poetic efforts attracted notice locally. Some of his earliest memories concerned a hard-fought Longford election (probably the 1869 or 1870 by-election – two of the earliest contests involving home rule candidates). He wrote to T. D. Sullivan (qv) offering his verses to the Nation, and was eternally grateful that the editor took the trouble to reply, advising Valentine to learn elocution, read the best authors, consider journalism as a career, and keep his verses until maturity before seeking publication. ‘I read up all the books I could borrow – we were too poor to buy them – and, following the kindly advice, laid the foundation of a good knowledge of Irish and English literature’ (Valentine, 33). He was briefly a journalist at Enniskillen, and later moved to Belfast. Here he became involved in home rule politics; he knew Joseph Devlin (qv) and J. G. Biggar (qv), and was briefly a member of the Ederney branch of the Land League in Co. Fermanagh. He obtained employment with the help of friends after experiencing difficulties because of his catholicism. He worked in a linen warehouse for four years, where he became a supervisor, but he was sacked after refusing to ‘tell tales’ about a fellow employee. A rival Belfast linen firm sent him to Bristol as its representative and travelling salesman; he subsequently set up in business on his own account and marketed linen across southern England and Wales.
Valentine rapidly emerged as the leading Irish activist in Bristol. In the early 1880s he co-founded the Bristol Hibernian Society, a benevolent society that provided assistance to the poor of Irish birth or parentage in Bristol; he was subsequently a governor of St Brendan's College and St Joseph's High School in the city. Valentine became a leading member of the Irish National League of Great Britain and its successor the United Irish League of Great Britain (UILGB), serving on their executives for more than twenty years and campaigning on behalf of nationalist and liberal candidates. He oversaw nationalist activities in southern England outside London, and leading home-rulers stayed with him when they visited Bristol. In 1896 he represented Bristol at the Irish Race Convention organised in Dublin by John Dillon (qv).
Valentine admired Michael Davitt (qv) for his lack of bitterness and Justin McCarthy (qv) for his courtesy, and his two meetings with Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) impressed him with the Chief's force of personality. He was greatly depressed by the memoirs of Katharine O'Shea – ‘a wretched woman [who] wrote spicy articles on her dead husband’ (Valentine, 8). He was an anti-Parnellite in the split, and a consistent hero-worshipper of John Dillon and T. P. O'Connor (qv). He liked John Redmond (qv) personally and admired his statesmanship, but thought him insufficiently decisive to control the Irish party.
In 1909 Valentine sought the parliamentary nomination for the vacant West Clare seat, but was defeated by Arthur Lynch (qv). In January 1910 he was the official nationalist party candidate for Mid-Tyrone; however, the deselected outgoing MP, George Murnaghan (qv), ran as an independent nationalist and the unionist candidate was elected on a split vote. Valentine remained active in the UILGB until its final demise after the treaty, and remained prominent in Irish and catholic affairs. He was a friend of the Free State representative in London, John Dulanty (qv), a former UILGB activist, who arranged for him to meet W. T. Cosgrave (qv) and Éamon de Valera (qv) on visits to Ireland in 1927 and 1945. Nothing is known of him after that date.
In 1928 or 1929 Valentine brought out a book of reminiscences, Irish memories, with a Bristol publisher. Though fragmentary and undeveloped, it contains valuable glimpses of leading Irish party members. For example, Valentine is probably the only contemporary memoirist to note that Redmond's dearly-loved second wife was a protestant, a detail unmentioned or overlooked by the home rule leader's biographers. Valentine was also an occasional contributor to the Bristol Times and Mirror. He was married with a family. Like his Cardiff-based friend James Mullin (qv), Valentine was an unusually successful example of the self-made Irishmen and ghetto entrepreneurs, who dominated the lay leadership of Irish émigré nationalism in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.