Joseph McLaughlin – The Congressman from Burt

Burt Castle
Burt Castle

Born in Castlehill, Burt on June 9TH 1867 to Pat McLaughlin and his wife Catherine, Joseph was baptised at Burt Chapel on June 23rd, 1867. Joseph’s father worked locally as a labourer with the Swilly Railway. The young Joseph attended nearby Carrowen National School and like many of his generation, he seemed lost to Inishowen and Ireland when he sailed to America from Derry Quay in May 1889.

Joseph McLaughlin’s American odyssey began in May 1889, when he set foot on American soil for the first time and headed for Philadelphia. He picked up work with the contracting firm of J.P. McNichol. McLaughlin’s association with McNichol, one of Philadelphia’s wealthiest contractors, would trigger his interest in politics.

By the turn of the century, McLaughlin was in-situ as president of the Philadelphia Ancient Order of Hibernians county delegation, the largest single county division in the United States. In 1900, he was boarding in Philadelphia’s Fourth Ward and, at the age of 32, was running a saloon and set about building up what would become an expensive portfolio of real estate. At the age of 40, he found time to get married in 1908, to Miss Elanore Driscoll, daughter of Irish-born John Driscoll, of Brooklyn, New York, and at 23 years of age, 17 years his junior. By July 1914 the young hurler who had left Burt in May 1889, had, a quarter of a century later, risen to one of the most influential positions in Irish America, State President of the Ancient Order.

In the November election of 1916, Joseph McLaughlin was one of four Congressman at-large elected for the state of Pennsylvania. The man who had left the fields of Burt some 27 years earlier was Washington-bound to take his seat in the 65th U.S. Congress. It was an extraordinary achievement and, although the Democrats retained Congress and the White House after the 1916 elections, during the subsequent term of that Congress (March 1917-March 1919) McLaughlin would bear personal witness to some of the most momentous firsts in U.S. history including the introduction of prohibition by banning the production and sale of alcohol. As a saloonkeeper, McLaughlin voted against the introduction of prohibition in Congress in December 1917. However, the Anti-Saloon League’s drive for prohibition had built up a mighty head of steam and Congress approved an amendment to the Constitution. The result was that from January 17, 1920 America went dry and men like Joseph McLaughlin went out of business.

At the end of May 1918 Joseph failed to make the Republican ticket for the upcoming elections. His final major contribution to the 65th Congress would be before the Committee on Foreign Affairs December 12, 1918, specifically discussing the tense situation in Ireland over partition. While the State of Pennsylvania did return McLaughlin to the 67th Congress in November 1920, personally his race was almost run. He did not seek renomination in 1922 and subsequently retired.

According to the 1920 U.S. Census, the McLaughlin’s had two young children – Joseph, almost three years old and John, one and a half years old. Unfortunately, Joseph did not live to see his sons grow old. He died at the age of 59 following a long illness in his adopted Philadelphia on November 21, 1926 and is interred in Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

It is believed that Joseph McLaughlin still has a number of distant relatives in the Burt, Bridgend and Buncrana areas but that contact has been lost between the two strands of the family on either side of the Atlantic.

"This research was conducted by Donal Campbell" with "A full length version of this article was published in the 2014 Inishowen Annual. See for online version."