Deakin, James Aubrey (1874–1952), Irish-language and republican activist, was born 19 June 1874 at Mount Auburn, Richmond Road, Drumcondra, Dublin, one of at least three sons and five daughters of James Deakin, commercial traveller, native of Birmingham, England, and Mary Anne Deakin (née Tate, or Fate), native of Banbridge, Co. Down. After qualifying as a pharmaceutical chemist (1896), by 1900 he was managing the shop of Hoyte & Sons, a thriving retail pharmacy and warehouse at 17 Lower Sackville St. In 1909 he opened his own chemist's shop on Thomond Terrace, North Circular Road, Phibsborough, residing with his family on the premises. Learning Irish in the class of Sinéad de Valera (qv) in the head branch of the Gaelic League, he was active in the league's Drumcondra branch from c.1900. Also a member of the IRB, it may have been he who recruited Sean O'Casey (qv), with whom he was intimate for a time, into the organisation. An adherent of the Church of Ireland, he was active on an unofficial Gaelic League committee – which also included O'Casey, George Irvine, and Ernest Blythe (qv) – that promoted interest in the Irish language and in the Irish cultural movement generally among protestants (c.1907). Lobbying for religious services in Irish, and instruction in both the Irish language and national history in protestant schools, they were frustrated in their efforts by opposition from church members, and criticisms from within the Gaelic League leadership for introducing sectarianism into the movement.
Treasurer of an IRB circle of which Bulmer Hobson (qv) was centre, Deakin enjoyed a more prominent profile within the brotherhood than in open nationalist organs. Among the IRB cadres to infiltrate the Sinn Féin organisation, he served for a time before 1910 on the latter body's executive. In 1913 he was elected president of the supreme council of the IRB, also becoming ex officio member of the standing executive, empowered to act for the council between meetings. His increasing preoccupation with the demands of his modest business commitments allowed the two other executive members, Thomas Clarke (qv) (treasurer) and Seán Mac Diarmada (qv) (secretary), to assume effective control over the entire IRB network, and thereby weave unimpeded the secret plans that culminated in the Easter rising. Among the ten men invited to attend the meeting in Wynn's hotel, Abbey St., that determined to organise the Irish Volunteers (11 November 1913), within days Deakin withdrew from the steering committee, pleading difficulties in attending meetings. After many months of inactivity, late in 1915 he resigned his IRB presidency (to be replaced by Denis McCullough (qv)), and was granted leave to withdraw from the organisation. It has been suggested that, apart from the distractions of his business affairs, he had grown alarmed at the turn towards more militant and insurrectionist policies, and resentful perhaps of being manipulated as a figurehead; according to MacDiarmada, he had ‘cold feet’ (Béaslaí (1963)). Thereafter he disappeared permanently from the language and republican movements. About 1925 he went into partnership in the considerable wholesale pharmaceutical practice of Hanson, Deakin & Co., trading at 54 Capel St.
Deakin married (1899) Catherine Robertson MacLachlan of Edinburgh; they had one son and two daughters. On retirement in 1946 he moved to Drumcollogher, Co. Limerick, where a daughter was in business as a pharmacist. He died suddenly 10 December 1952 at his residence on The Square, Drumcollogher, and was buried locally.