Deasy, Joseph (‘Joe’) (1922–2013), left-wing activist, was born on 12 July 1922 in Ballyfermot, Dublin, the eldest of two boys and two girls born to Dick Deasy, a train driver with the Great Southern Railway (GSR), and Mary Deasy (née O’Connor). Educated at St Michael’s National School, Inchicore, and James’s Street CBS, Deasy left school in 1939. During two years unemployment he immersed himself in the writings of George Bernard Shaw (qv) and attended classes in Conradh na Gaeilge. From 1941 he was employed by the GSR as a clerk in Kingsbridge Station where harsh working conditions spurred him to join the Railway Clerks Association. Through attendance at the Gate Theatre and acting with the left-wing New Theatre Group (1941–4), whose theatre at Rutland Place was a haven for young activists, Deasy was introduced to the writings of James Connolly (qv), which had a profound effect on him. These influences and Ireland’s severe wartime poverty spurred his involvement with socialism and the labour movement. In 1944 he met his future wife Pat Hayden (d. 1974), a communist active in the Crumlin branch of the Labour party who was a major influence on his embrace of Marxism. They had three sons together.
Deasy’s father Dick, a trade union activist and member of the Labour party, served as election agent to James Larkin junior qv) in the 1944 general election, by which time Deasy was secretary of the Inchicore branch of the Labour Party (later serving as treasurer and chairman). While living in Goldenbridge Gardens, Inchicore, he was elected a councillor of Dublin Corporation (1945–50) aged twenty-two. As a councillor, he lobbied for social housing, the subsidisation of public transport and improved pay for local government workers. He also promoted the Dublin Trades Council’s ‘lower prices campaign’ and investigated grim conditions in the residential Crooksling Sanatorium, Co. Dublin. He stood unsuccessfully for Labour in the 1948 general election in Dublin South-West. International events and the anti-communist foreign policy of the first interparty government (1948–51), which included Labour, fed his growing disenchantment with the party and he moved further to the left. His perception of Labour as politically cautious and beholden to the clergy, alongside growing self-awareness of his own political ignorance, led him to refrain from standing in the 1950 local elections. Finally, in 1951 he joined the Irish Workers League (IWL) which was formed in 1948 from remnants of the defunct Communist Party of Ireland (CPI). An able propagandist, he spoke regularly at public meetings and wrote for the IWL’s Irish Workers’ Voice newspaper and the communist monthly, the Irish Socialist; he also contributed to Saothar, the journal of Irish Labour History Society.
Deasy was a member of the Inchicore Co-op from its establishment in 1946 and chaired its committee when in 1951 it opened a second retail outlet in the growing working-class suburb of Ballyfermot, acquiring the tenancy of a grocer shop on Decies Road from Dublin Corporation. The presence of Deasy and three other IWL members on the committee was depicted as communist infiltration by an alliance of the catholic church, local retailers and the Catholic Standard. Local clergy and shopkeepers denounced Deasy, organised a picket and encouraged a boycott of the two shops, which led to the collapse of the Co-op. Deasy’s open embrace of communism and opposition to the influence of the catholic church strained relations with his father, and led to his ostracism at work and periods of exclusion from his union. He was though widely respected across left-socialist movements in Ireland as a committed campaigner and speaker through the 1950s and 1960s. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1913 Dublin lockout, he published Fiery cross: the story of Jim Larkin (1963) which examined Larkin's (qv) relationship with the Irish labour movement. He followed this with James Connolly: his life and teachings (1966) to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Connolly’s death. He wrote these pamphlets to renew interest in his heroes ‘at a time when the socialist roles of Connolly and Larkin were being either suppressed, ignored or distorted’ (Deasy (1996), 121); both were published by the Dublin-based IWL imprint New Books. From the 1970s he regularly gave public lectures on Larkin, Sean O’Casey (qv) and Irish labour history.
Deasy participated in the unification of the northern and southern wings of Irish communism into a re-founded CPI in 1970. He also contributed to New Books’ Communist Party of Ireland: outline history (1975). In December 1975 Deasy, along with his son Brian and others, left the CPI, repelled by what they perceived as the party’s reversion to Stalinism. After helping to found the short-lived Irish Marxist Society, in 1977 he rejoined both the Labour Party and the Transport and Salaried Staff Association (as the Railway Clerks Association had been renamed in 1951). He retired from CIÉ in 1984. Re-engaging with the wider union movement, though remaining a committed Marxist, Deasy was active in Labour party ginger groups urging the adoption of socialist and internationalist positions. Although critical of the party’s move to the centre in the 1990s, he welcomed its 1992 general election success, in which it won thirty-three seats, hoping this would presage greater interest in wealth redistribution in Ireland.
Elected president of the Irish Labour History Society (1993–8), he was made an honorary president in 2001. He had a repertoire of labour songs which he enjoyed singing and recorded ‘The watchword of labour’ for the album Songs of Irish labour (1998), released by Bread and Roses Productions. He died on 9 January 2013 and was buried in Deansgrange cemetery.