Duffin, Adam (1841–1924), stockbroker and public figure, was born 6 December 1841, second son of Charles Duffin of Belfast, a linen manufacturer, and linen and flaxseed merchant, and his wife Theodosia (née Grimshaw), granddaughter of Nicholas Grimshaw (qv). The Duffins and the Grimshaws were connected by marriage and otherwise to many of the leading business families in the Lagan valley. Charles Duffin was a JP and in 1866 president of the chamber of commerce of Belfast, as the town's commerce and industry expanded. Adam's elder brother died as a young man; there were five younger sisters and another brother. His sister Mary (d. 1879) married Thomas Sinclair (qv) in 1876. Adam was privately educated and then attended the Royal School, Armagh, and graduated BA (1862) from Queen's College, Belfast. He then studied law, graduating LLB (1864); he subsequently was awarded the degree of LLD honoris causa (1882). He was admitted to King's Inns, Dublin, in 1864, registered in the Middle Temple, London, and was called to the Irish bar in 1866.
For some years he practised as a barrister in Belfast, but, like his father, took up other business opportunities. He was a director in several financial companies, increasingly traded in stocks and shares, and in 1890 was president of the Belfast chamber of commerce. In 1892 he was a director of the National Telephone Company, and was present in the Belfast chamber of commerce at the first (unsuccessful) attempt to connect to Dublin on a pioneering phone line. When in 1895 the Belfast stock exchange was established in a room that he offered rent-free in his Waring Street stockbroking offices, he became its founding chairman. For Duffin, as for many of his contemporaries, the tradition of giving public service was very important; for years he was secretary to the proprietors of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and was also involved with the Royal Belfast Hospital, the Belfast harbour board, and the National Education League for Ireland. He was a keen pioneering golfer and in 1899 helped establish Donaghadee Golf Club.
As a very recent graduate of the Royal University of Ireland, in 1866 he was a member of a delegation concerning university education sent to the prime minister, Earl Russell. Like his second cousin Thomas Wrigley Grimshaw (qv), Duffin had a lifelong interest in education and in the social sciences; he was on the organising committee of an elaborate social science congress held in Belfast (1867), and gave a paper on prison conditions to the Statistical Society (1871).
As well as all of this, Duffin's main public activity for more than fifty years was in politics. Like many of his contemporaries in the non-subscribing presbyterian denomination, and indeed like many of Belfast's middle class, he was at first a Liberal, and supported William Gladstone. After Gladstone's election victory in 1880, Duffin and other merchants and professional men formed a committee to set up the Ulster Reform Club to provide a nexus for the consolidation of Liberal principles; after a large amount of money was raised, the impressive building on Belfast's main thoroughfare, Royal Avenue, was officially opened in 1885. However, even as it opened, rumours about Gladstone's change of heart about home rule were circulating, and Duffin was one of a delegation sent to London to try to influence the prime minister's thinking and meet other Liberal leaders. On 27 March 1886, Duffin wrote in a letter to his wife that they had not gained access to Gladstone, and all he had got from the trip was 'rather a bad headache which comes of two nights of heavy dinners at the Reform Club followed by animated political discussion' (Buckland, 10). Gladstone went ahead and introduced the first home rule bill into the house of commons on 8 April 1886, which was defeated on 8 June, with 93 Liberal MPs voting against it.
Duffin was one of those who reluctantly made common cause with former Conservative opponents to oppose home rule at all costs, and in June 1886 helped establish the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association. On 8 December 1887 he and many others from Belfast attended a huge gathering of prominent liberal unionists in Westminster Hall, London, and for the next thirty years he supported almost all the organisations set up to try to prevent home rule being introduced. He was on the organising committee for a huge unionist convention held in Belfast on 17 June 1892, attended by 11,000 delegates, and perhaps as many more visitors, in an immense pavilion erected in the Botanic Gardens, that resolved 'to have nothing to do with' a home rule parliament. That same month, he spoke as a representative of Ulster unionists at an equivalent event in Dublin, and expressed the conviction (or perhaps the hope) that the unionist cause would continue to be united despite the differing circumstances affecting north and south.
Despite the outcry from unionists, Gladstone was set upon his course, and introduced a second home rule bill in February 1893. The following month, a unionist delegation of Duffin, Thomas Sinclair, Sir Edward Harland (qv) and a few others was sent to appeal to the prime minister to take note of the economic consequences of home rule for Ulster. Gladstone impatiently refused to hear their views, and instead harangued them for most of their allotted time with him. According to Duffin, the deputation thought the prime minister had gone mad, and he wrote in a letter to his wife that Gladstone had 'the look of a bird of prey and the smile of a hyena … it was positively shocking to see the hideous mechanical grin with which he took leave of us' (Bardon, History of Ireland, episode 204).
By 1917, no settlement had been reached, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George called a widely representative convention to meet in Dublin to discuss possible models of governing Ireland. In that summer Duffin published a small pamphlet, Thoughts and facts for the consideration of the Irish Convention, and, though not a member, he was influential in the advisory committee of the convention, working behind the scenes. He commented privately to his wife that he thought very little of the southern unionists at the convention ('a cowardly crew and stupid to boot' (Buckland, 109)), and, like his Ulster colleagues, hoped that Ulster stubbornness would either save the union outright, or would make the nationalists walk away from the table, causing the convention to fail.
Duffin was consulted by Ernest Clark (qv), the British civil servant tasked with establishing new administrative structures in Northern Ireland, and his views influenced the final outcome, especially regarding the ministries that came into being in May 1921. Duffin, then 80, was made a senator in the new Northern Ireland parliament. He served on the committee chaired by Robert John Lynn (qv), which recommended changes to the education system in Northern Ireland; Duffin expressed a minority view about the structuring of support for education. The committee's report and its subsequent implementation influenced all aspects of school governance in the province for fifty years.
Duffin married (1876) Maria Drennan (1854–1954), related, like her husband, to prominent northern families: she was a granddaughter of William Drennan (qv), doctor and politician, and William Hincks (qv), a unitarian minister and naturalist. Maria was a founder of the Charity Organisation Society (later known as the Belfast Council of Social Welfare) and for many years its secretary. She, with some of her children, arranged and transcribed a large part of the Drennan papers, a rich source of historical information, and deposited them in PRONI. There were seven daughters and two sons in the Duffin family; two of the daughters, Ruth and Celia, published poetry and books for children, and Emma Duffin (qv) was a noted nurse and diarist. Adam Duffin died on 13 March 1924.