Joe was born on 1st March 1925, in Dublin, to a family that was as involved in the independence struggle as any. He left Ireland at the age of 15 to join the RAF. During his period in the forces, he met and married Ethel, with whom he had five children. They had decided to settle in the heart of the Nottinghamshire coalfield and, after Joe left the RAF, he started work at Linby Colliery, where he remained for over 20 years.
A life-long member of the Communist Party, which he joined in 1949, Joe Whelan was quickly elected to the NUM branch committee.
Whelan was a Communist Party candidate in local council elections in 1961 at Hucknall, Nottinghamshire; he increased the Communist vote from 240 to 499.
He later became branch secretary, a position he held with great distinction until he was elected to be an NUM Area Agent in 1965. Along with leading Communist miners, such as Les Ellis, who Joe had first met at Linby and who he succeeded as agent following his death, Joe Whelan was a key figure in creating conditions for moving the Notts area beyond its heritage of Spencerism during the 1960s and 1970s.
Some six years later, he was elected to the National Executive Committee of the NUM. In May 1971, he was elected Financial Secretary of the Nottinghamshire Area NUM and then, from 30th November 1977, the Area General Secretary. In this capacity, he was Joint Secretary of the Notts Pension Scheme, Secretary of the Coal Industry Welfare Organisation and a Trustee of the Miners' Convalescent Home.
During the 1972 and 1974 national miners' strikes, as a member of the miners' union NEC, Joe made powerful contributions to the negotiations with the Coal Board and Government. He was noted for a particular affinity with the rank-and-file of the miners, which aided his popularity across political divides.
An active member of CND and Vice-President of the Nottingham British-Soviet Friendship Association, he was also active in support of pensioners' campaigns and the Peoples' March for Jobs. Joe was also a cultured man, fond of poetry, which he could recite with aplomb. He was an accomplished musician, with a fine singing voice in which he rendered Irish rebel songs, traditional miners' ballads and revolutionary hymns with equal talent. Joe Whelan died in Mansfield in September 1982, still a member of the East Midlands District Committee of the Communist Party, having previously served for eight years as a member of the national Executive Committee.
Source: GS personal knowledge; Funeral Orations dated 6th September 1982 Fred Westacott and Frank Watters.