Nelson was born in Belfast and educated at Belfast Academical Institution. In August 1837 he was ordained minister of First Comber Presbyterian Church. In 1842 he was installed in Donegall Street Presbyterian Church, Belfast.
He stood for Parliament while still minister at Donegall Street. Having been elected, he resigned his pastoral charge and served as the Irish Parliamentary Party Member of Parliament for Mayo in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1880 to 1882.
In November 1873, at a home rule conference in Dublin, Nelson emphasised the historical nationalism of Ulster Presbyterianism and expressed his view that no candidate in the next election would succeed without embracing home rule. His views were published in The Northern Whig Newspaper and were promptly condemned by William Johnston (not the prominent Orangeman of that name), the moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The following year, Nelson attended and addressed the fourth annual meeting of the "Home Rule Association", held in Manchester, England. In 1877, he was a founding member of the "Home Rule Confederation".
He returned to Belfast and lived there in retirement until his death in 1888.
- Myrtle Hill, ‘Nelson, Isaac (1809–1888)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 16 March 2013
- The Irish Times, Obituary, 9 March 1888
- The Times, Ireland, 25 November 1873
- The Times, 12 September 1877, A New Home Rule Organization
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Isaac Nelson
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
John O'Connor Power
Charles Stewart Parnell
|Member of Parliament for Mayo
1880 – 1885
With: John O'Connor Power
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