Jordan, Jeremiah (1829–1911), businessman, land campaigner and MP, was born in the townland of Tattinbar, parish of Aghavea, Brookeborough, Co. Fermanagh, the eldest son of Samuel Jordan, tenant farmer, and his wife Elizabeth (née Warrell). He was 'a Wesleyan methodist of the third generation' (Methodist Times, 14 January 1886). After attending Stranafely and Mullynaburtlan national schools, Jordan was sent to Portora Royal School, Enniskillen. He was then apprenticed to the grocery and provision trade, and in 1857 acquired his own grocery and rope business. Through hard work and business flair he established himself commercially, and in the 1890s rebuilt and extended his business premises, with extensive stores for bacon curing, meal, flour and groceries. Jordan developed an extensive wholesale trade with customers across the north-western counties of Ireland and eventually floated the business as a limited liability company. Given that his political activities sometimes led to retaliation against his business, this was a remarkable achievement, and 'J. Jordan, Ltd' provided a secure financial underpinning for his later political career; unlike many other nationalist MPs, Jordan never required subventions from his party, and one obituarist estimated that during his life he spent £4,000 on political campaigning.
Methodism and local politics Active in the methodist church locally, Jordan became a part-time lay preacher and Sunday school teacher, and a supporter of the Irish Temperance League and other temperance groups. He was also a lifelong non-smoker. His favourite recreational activity was fox-hunting; he was a member of the Fermanagh Hunt Club and kept racehorses.
He honed his speaking skills in the Enniskillen Young Men's Christian Society, where he developed a style of aggressive 'banter', also expressed in caustic public letters on political affairs. Jordan was one of a group of young men attracted to a more liberal theology than their elders; these differences (including a dispute over the age of the earth) led to Jordan's eventual dismissal as a secretary of the YMCA, his resignation as Sunday school teacher, and his becoming a semi-detached (non-communicating) member of the Wesleyan congregation. Jordan and the dissidents (including his close friend, the antiquarian and town councillor Thomas Plunkett, MRIA) formed their own Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society. Jordan entered municipal politics as part of this group of young reformers, although his political path later diverged from theirs.
From the 1820s Enniskillen witnessed a political struggle between the Cole family (earls of Enniskillen) and a liberal reform faction led by town merchants and headed by the Collum family, local professionals and property owners, with strong catholic support. The reformers acquired an electoral base when an elected town commission was established in 1846 after the abolition of the Cole-dominated corporation; before its dissolution the corporation alienated property and income sources to the Coles and others, leaving permanent ill-feeling and a legacy of disputes.
Jordan's political career was shaped by hostility to the power of the anglican landed aristocracy. He recalled childhood experiences of seeing a labourer who asked for a drink of water ordered to drink from the animals' trough, and his own father returning weeping from the estate office because the agent called him a liar. Jordan rented land for such purposes as keeping dairy cattle to supply milk for sale, and this reinforced his hostility to landlordism. His views were not universally shared by his relatives, some of whom became prominent Orangemen in the Brookeborough area.
Jordan publicly declared himself a Liberal (and advocated greater recognition for Enniskillen catholics) by 1865. In 1868 he campaigned for the unsuccessful Liberal candidate for the borough's Westminster seat against Lord Enniskillen's son-in-law, Viscount Crichton (John Henry Crichton (qv)). Jordan co-founded the Enniskillen Advertiser as a short-lived rival to the local Liberal paper, the Impartial Reporter. In 1870 he was elected a town commissioner and appointed to a committee on the navigation and drainage of Lough Erne; he was admitted to the grand jury in 1871, elected an Enniskillen poor law guardian in 1874, and chaired the guardians in 1881. Jordan was chairman of the town commissioners (1876–9; 1881–3), securing the creation of a new municipal graveyard and the replacement of the town's open sewer with pipes. He remained a member of the town commissioners (and from 1898 their successor body, Enniskillen urban district council) and the poor law guardians continuously until 1910; he took a particular interest in the running of Fermanagh county infirmary. In 1892 he was appointed JP for Fermanagh and was an active magistrate for the rest of his life.
Entering the national stage: home rule and Land League Although Jordan always admired Gladstone, in the early 1870s he distanced himself from other local protestant Liberals by sympathising with the Home Rule League of Isaac Butt (qv). In 1873 he appeared with Butt at a meeting in Enniskillen, and in January 1875 addressed a land convention in Dublin. In 1879 he co-founded the Fermanagh Farmers' Committee, which campaigned for fixity of tenure, but its collapse after the failure of the tenant-right candidate J. G. V. Porter (qv) to shake tory hegemony at the 1880 general election convinced Jordan that such local tenant groups were too weak and localised to be effective.
From late 1879 Jordan became one of the leading activists in Ulster of the Irish National Land League, joining the first Ulster branch of the league (at Arney in south Fermanagh). He secured considerable protestant support for the league by presenting it as a law-abiding single-issue reform body, membership of which was compatible with unionism and even with Orangeism. Jordan's protestantism was a political asset; a league meeting at Belleek in November 1880, addressed by Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) and chaired by Jordan, was described as featuring 'a protestant leader with a protestant chairman in a protestant county' (Livingstone, 259).
Most of this support, however, fell away after Gladstone's 1881 land act, the upsurge of agrarian violence in the winter of 1881–2, and the internment of Parnell and many other activists. After Parnell's release Jordan definitively identified with the home rule cause by joining the new Irish National League, campaigning on its behalf across the north-west of Ireland.
Entering parliament Jordan organised and financed the National League throughout Fermanagh in the run-up to the 1885 general election. He aspired to contest one of the two Fermanagh seats established under the 1884 reform act, but the national leadership imposed outside candidates, William Redmond (qv) and Henry Campbell (qv), which produced discontent among Jordan's supporters. Jordan was persuaded to withdraw by being promised a seat elsewhere, and sent to West Clare where he defeated a Conservative candidate by 6,763 votes to 289. (He was unopposed at the 1886 general election.) Jordan quoted John Wesley's famous justification for preaching outside his own locality: 'the world is my parish'. He campaigned for Campbell and Redmond, and hailed their victories as the culmination of Fermanagh's long struggle against aristocratic dominance. Nevertheless, his experience contributed to his growing dislike of Parnell's 'dictatorship'.
Jordan's advocacy of home rule after Gladstone's conversion at the end of 1885 emphasised that it would maintain the imperial connection while enabling Irishmen to carry out reforms they themselves considered necessary. He occasionally spoke in parliamentary debate, but his chief interest was in constituency matters (both for Clare and Fermanagh). He promoted methodist policy on temperance (despite considerable opposition from other nationalists) and the encouragement of national schools, though he did not challenge the existence of denominational education; he also advocated a separate catholic university.
Jordan became a leading member of the Irish Protestant Home Rule Association, founded in May 1886, publicly lamenting that 'protestant stupidity' kept the bulk of his co-religionists from seeing that while they could not defeat home rule, they were too numerous to be persecuted, and by supporting home rule they could influence the final settlement. He was used extensively as proof that Irish nationalism was not religiously intolerant, addressing audiences in Britain and campaigning in by-elections; his lifelong friendship with John Ferguson (qv) may date from this period. These activities aroused the scorn of most Irish methodists: Jordan was regularly attacked in their paper, the Irish Christian Advocate, as a renegade in league with murderers and attending political meetings on Sundays. The Methodist Times of London, edited by the social reformer Revd Hugh Price Hughes, provided Jordan with a platform to defend his methodist credentials and advocate home rule.
Parnell split This closeness to British nonconformity made Jordan acutely aware of the political impact of the exposure of Parnell's relationship with Katherine O'Shea. (Hughes declared that if the Irish retained a proven adulterer as leader they would be unfit for self-government.) At the next meeting of the Irish parliamentary party on 25 November 1890, Jordan appealed to Parnell to step down 'even if only for a month' to preserve vital nonconformist support for home rule. In the debates in Committee Room 15 leading to the formal division of the party, Jordan combined moral outrage at the divorce court revelations with defending the Liberal alliance as one of Parnell's greatest achievements, and claiming its destruction would be a greater loss than Parnell. Parnell himself commented that Jordan was accentuated by 'the best and most honest motives', an implicit contrast with other anti-Parnellites (Fermanagh Herald, 6 January 1912).
At the 1892 general election Jordan contested North Fermanagh, but was defeated by a populist campaign in which the unionist candidate combined support for temperance and land purchase with reminders to methodists that their church officially opposed home rule. In a by-election on 17 February 1893 Jordan was elected MP for South Meath. At the 1895 general election he contested both South Meath and South Fermanagh (where the outgoing MP retired for health reasons); he lost Meath to John Howard Parnell (qv), but won South Fermanagh and held it until his retirement in December 1910.
During the infighting of the 1890s, Jordan supported John Dillon (qv) in insisting on centralised leadership and a continuing Liberal alliance. He strongly favoured reunion of the Irish party, working with Timothy Harrington (qv) to reconcile the factions, participating in negotiations as a representative of backbench opinion, and helping to establish the first Ulster branch of the United Irish League (UIL) at Arney in 1898.
Jordan marked the centenary of the 1798 rising by suggesting that unless the over-taxation of Ireland was addressed there might be another rebellion in the future, and he later praised the Irish cultural revival and the Gaelic League. In 1904 he was sent on one of the party's fundraising missions to the US. He remained a supporter of John Redmond (qv), engaging in vigorous controversy with the dissident William O'Brien (qv) in the latter's weekly, the Irish People.
Later political career and last years The disappearance of the immediate prospect of home rule after Gladstone's retirement, along with his own continuing presence in the associational life of Enniskillen, helped Jordan to rebuild bridges with the local protestant community; in the last decade of his life he was again regarded as a respected and valuable member of Fermanagh methodism. The RIC estimated that 150 to 200 protestants voted for him, a development that Jordan encouraged in 1900 by choosing not to sign the party pledge or issue an election address. His willingness (like other nationalist shopkeepers in Enniskillen) to support a Boer War memorial and decorate his shop with union flags for the coronation of Edward VII provoked criticism from a predominantly working-class UIL branch in the town, which was dissolved as a result.
After the Irish party reunified in 1900, Jordan was somewhat marginalised at Westminster, but was far from a political nullity. In 1899 he was elected to the new Fermanagh county council for Newtownbutler, and in 1902 became the first nationalist chairman of the council. In 1905 unionists regained control of the council and Jordan lost his seat, but was co-opted by the nationalist-controlled Lisnaskea rural district council and elected chairman, and thus a county councillor ex officio. Opponents as well as supporters acknowledged that he vigorously resisted jobbery in county council appointments. Jordan's Gladstonian insistence on cheap government was also evident in his restrictive attitude to old age pension applicants; some nationalists complained that he was less willing to support applications, even from nationalists, than were unionist magistrates and state officials.
After 1906 Jordan was visibly affected by 'apoplexy' – possibly mini-strokes – and consequent memory lapses. At the nominating convention for the January 1910 general election he was challenged by the Enniskillen-based county president of the AOH; his political survival was attributed to the influential parish priest of Arney, Fr MacMahon, an old personal friend.
Jordan defeated a unionist candidate in January 1910, but his frailty was so apparent that John Redmond told him not to come to Westminster unless summoned. Wishing to join the final struggle against the Lords, Jordan crossed to Westminster in defiance of medical advice, and suffered a major seizure. He recovered sufficiently to return to Enniskillen and his usual activities in business and local government, but in July 1910 another stroke left him permanently bedridden. His retirement at the December 1910 election was now inevitable; he was succeeded by Patrick Crumley (1860–1922), an Enniskillen-based ally. Jordan remained compos mentis for a time, receiving visits from methodist ministers and issuing a final statement of political faith for a collection of statements by protestant nationalists disavowing any fear of persecution under home rule, but his condition gradually deteriorated and he died at home in Enniskillen on 31 December 1911. He never married. A small collection of his papers is held in PRONI.
Legacy A wide variety of local public bodies passed resolutions on Jordan's death; even aristocratic opponents praised his honesty and integrity, while methodist speakers hailed his fidelity to his church and noted him as evidence that methodism valued individual private judgement. Thousands from both communities attended his funeral to Aghavea churchyard at Brookeborough. He left bequests to catholic and methodist charities as well as to his relatives and employees and to his old schools.
Jordan was soon almost entirely forgotten outside Fermanagh, but recently there has been a revival of local and academic interest in him as a figure who bridged both communities, an embodiment of the shifting identities of the Ulster borderlands, and a case study in the attitudes and difficulties of protestant nationalists. His political and religious vision was that of a mid-Victorian provincial nonconformist Gladstonian: embedded in a network of local associations, denouncing aristocratic privilege, and favouring education and infrastructural development while believing that the key to individual and national happiness lay in the personal moral regeneration and self-discipline that made his own business success possible. What marks Jordan out from other Ulster protestant liberals of the same vintage is his ability to recognise many of the same character traits among catholic nationalists, and his belief that Irish self-government was a logical development of this nonconformist ethos of self-reliance. His personal courage and integrity in pursuing this vision, his success in retaining a strong local base, and his failure to recruit local protestant successors of equal stature and determination, are equally noteworthy.