Armour, James Brown (1841–1928), presbyterian minister and political campaigner, was born 20/31 January 1841, youngest of six children of William Armour and Jane Armour (née Brown), who both came of presbyterian tenant-farmer families in Kilraughts, north Co. Antrim; the Armours lived in Lisboy townland. He was educated in Ganaby school, Ballymoney Model School, and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In 1860 he entered QCB, and after a year teaching in Cookstown he transferred in 1863 to QCC, where he took a general BA (1864). He graduated from Belfast with a master's degree in classics (1866). He intended a career in law, but his father and brother, dying in 1864 and 1865 respectively, both expressed the wish that he become a minister, and probably as a result he entered Assembly's College, Belfast, in 1865. On 19 July 1869 he was ordained and became minister in Second Ballymoney, later renamed Trinity, Ballymoney, a few miles from his birthplace. In 1882 he and his congregation built a larger church and hall.
Armour had a lifelong interest in education, and during 1878–83 was principal and sole teacher of Ballymoney intermediate school (later Dalriada school). For twenty-three years until 1908 he was assistant to his wife's brother-in law, James MacMaster, professor of classics in Magee College, Derry, travelling ninety miles (145 km) in unheated trains several days a week. From 1882 he regularly spoke in the presbyterian general assembly on the need for united secular and separate religious primary education, and after 1900 he advocated a separate state-funded university for catholics. When QUB was founded in 1908, Armour supported measures to make it more acceptable to catholic students, and was a member of its senate (1910–14).
Armour contributed in other ways to community life, supporting temperance campaigns and in particular land reform. His eloquent indictments of the hegemony of landlords, and of the injustices done to tenants and labourers, spoke for many in Ulster. He supported liberal candidates and Gladstone's policies, convinced that political liberalism, like ‘enlightenment’ values, suited presbyterian traditions of democracy and personal judgement. His contributions to journals such as the Witness and his annual appearances at the general assembly made him prominent. Audiences relished his humour and sarcasm, even if, as often happened, his views were unpopular. After 1887 he came to see liberal unionism as dominated by the anglican and landowning establishment, and home rule (though generally unpopular with protestants) as good for presbyterians in the long run. In a special meeting of the general assembly (15 March 1893) Armour asserted that ‘the principle of home rule is a presbyterian principle’, and criticised his co-religionists for helping to perpetuate the landlord system, but was interrupted by the hostile majority, and failed to defeat the resolutions against home rule.
His own congregation remained loyal and he retained some support where liberalism persisted, particularly in Co. Antrim. When Armour and his second cousin, the Rev. James B. Dougherty (qv), organised a presbyterian memorial to be sent to Gladstone, they obtained 3,535 signatures without much effort. Gladstone's retirement (1894) and the Liberals' 1895 electoral defeat ended any immediate prospect of home rule, and thereafter Armour took less part in politics. In 1906 he became a chaplain to the viceroy, Lord Aberdeen (qv), and when in 1908 Dougherty became under-secretary, Armour had some influence in Dublin. In the 1913 general assembly he strongly advocated home rule, and supported (October 1913) a Ballymoney meeting of protestants opposing the tactics of Sir Edward Carson (qv). After 1918 he opposed partition and the establishment of the northern parliament, remarking (1923) that northern unionists had had to accept a form of home rule that ‘the devil himself could never have imagined’.
Armour resigned (September 1925) after 56 years as minister of Trinity, Ballymoney. He died 25 January 1928. He married (19 March 1883) his distant relative Jennie Adams Hamilton, daughter of Alexander Macleod Staveley from Co. Antrim, a Reformed Presbyterian minister in Newfoundland and grandson of William Staveley (qv); she had been a widow for three years, and had two sons. The Armours had three sons: James B. MacM. (‘Max’) Armour, a presbyterian minister in England and Canada; J. Kenneth C. Armour, schoolmaster in Campbell College, Belfast; and the eldest son, William Staveley Armour (1883–1940), journalist and author, who was born 28 December 1883 in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim. He was educated at Campbell College, Belfast, and Jesus College, Oxford, and in 1907 became president of the Oxford Union. In 1910, he went to teach in Queen's College, Benares, India, and became inspector of schools in the Lucknow division, but returned to England and became a barrister. He moved to Belfast after the first world war as features writer (later editor) of the Northern Whig. In its pages he suggested (1929) that a club should be formed for young people in the country; he had travelled in Denmark in the 1920s and been impressed by the folk high schools there. The article led to the foundation of the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster. Armour left the Northern Whig after political disagreements, and moved to London, where he wrote Facing the Irish question (1935), Mankind at the watershed (1936), and Ulster, Ireland, Britain: a forgotten trust (1938). His views on society, politics, and Irish affairs were very liberal. He also wrote a biography of his father, Armour of Ballymoney (1934). Armour married (10 June 1931) Ruth Marguerite, daughter of Henry Montgomery, presbyterian minister and moderator of the general assembly (1912), and died childless, 31 December 1940, in England.