Bernard, James Francis (1850–1924), 4th earl of Bandon, landowner and kidnapping victim, was born 12 September 1850, the son of Francis Bernard (b. 1810), 3rd earl of Bandon, and Catherine Mary (née Whitmore), daughter of Thomas Whitmore, of Apley Park, Shropshire. The Bernard family had lived in Bandon since the founding of the town during the Munster plantation; much of their wealth was derived from speculating in forfeited estates in the aftermath of the Williamite war. Educated at Eton, in 1877 James Francis Bernard succeeded his father as 4th earl; he inherited about 41,000 acres of land, and a seat, Castle Bernard, near Bandon. In 1876, he married Georgina ‘Doty’ Evans-Freke, daughter of the 7th Baron Carbery. He was appointed knight of the Order of St Patrick (KP) in 1900, was elected a representative peer for Ireland in 1881, and was lord lieutenant and custos rotulorum of the county and city of Cork. He was a leading freemason, serving as grand secretary and provincial grand master of Munster. In 1883 Bernard was president of the grand committee of the Cork Industrial Exhibition, and from 1902–3 he was joint president of the Cork International Exhibition.
A resident landowner, and the leading landowner in Cork, Bernard’s estates were unsettled during the land war era, leading to several evictions. In response, Bernard took part in the landlords’ anti-agrarianism movement: in 1885 he became chairman of the executive committee of the Irish Defence Union, which was founded to aid those suffering from boycotting. However, relations with tenants later improved and Bandon developed a reputation as a good landlord. Politically a staunch conservative and unionist, Bandon was not immersed in the minutiae of unionist politics in Cork; rather, as the leading landowner in the county, he chaired meetings, gave speeches, and performed ceremonial functions at major anti-home rule gatherings. In 1896 the report of the Royal Commission on the Financial Relations between Great Britain and Ireland inspired outrage among all sections of the public when it found that Ireland had been overtaxed by about £3 million annually. Members of the aristocracy took the lead in denouncing Westminster, with Bernard leading the protestations in County Cork. The author and journalist Standish O’Grady (qv) saw the emergence of figures such as Bernard as a moment when the aristocracy might have cast aside their loyalty to Britain to seek a leadership role in Ireland. To O’Grady’s great disappointment, nothing new emerged from the over-taxation campaign and Bernard returned to a conventional unionist position.
The 1898 Local Government Act led to the creation of democratically elected institutions, and saw an exodus of landlords from local politics. Unusually, Lord Bandon remained active in local government: in 1899 he was returned unopposed to a seat on Bandon town commission; in 1903 he was unanimously elected chairman. Shortly after the passing of the Wyndham Land Act in 1903, Bernard announced that he would sell his estates to his tenants, with the exception of his home farm and demesne. The terms of sale were considered generous, and the County Cork Eagle reported (19 Sept. 1903) that a substantial number of smaller west Cork landlords planned to sell to their tenants on the same terms as Bernard. He did not, however, join Lord Dunraven’s (qv) devolutionist Irish Reform Association (established in 1904).
His opposition to home rule remained unchanged: in April 1912 he presided over a large anti-home rule rally in Cork City, telling attendees that, contrary to press reports, the unionists of Munster were not inclined to support self-government. He argued that the government should speedily implement land purchase, which he stated was the only way to placate the country. The following year local nationalists wrote to Bernard, seeking a commitment to not voting against the Home Rule Bill in the House of Lords; when he refused to give such an undertaking he was removed as chairman of Bandon town commission by a unanimous vote.
With the outbreak of war in Europe, Bernard became a prominent speaker at recruiting meetings. He was patron, alongside the nationalist lord mayor, of the City of Cork Volunteer Training Corps. Lady Bandon was prominent in raising funds for the war effort. During the war of independence Lord Bandon followed his cousin, and close friend, the earl of Midleton into the latter’s Anti-Partition League. In December 1920 Lord Bandon was publicly criticised by Daniel Cohalan (qv), the catholic bishop of Cork, for failing to exert his influence as lieutenant of Cork to prevent excesses by the military. Eventually, Bandon came to endorse a dominion home rule solution to the crisis. In August 1920 he convened a meeting of the deputy lieutenants of Cork which resolved that owing to the ‘existing state of anarchy’, Ireland should be granted full self-government within the British Empire.
On the morning of 21 June 1921, Castle Bernard was burnt to the ground and Lord Bandon was kidnapped by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) company led by Commandant Sean Hales (1881–1922). Several reasons have been provided for the attack, but principally he was taken as a hostage to prevent the execution of prisoners held in Cork City gaol. Having initially failed to locate Lord Bandon, the decision was made to burn the castle. The high-profile kidnapping came amidst attempts to bring about a cessation of violence; the diaries of Mark Sturgis, a senior Dublin Castle official, reveal attempts to secure Lord Bandon’s release as part of moves towards a truce. Eventually, the IRA agreed to free him as a sign of good faith. On 12 July Lord Bandon was released at the gates of Castle Bernard. He and Lady Bandon were eventually awarded about £80,000 damages by the Irish Compensation Commission. After his ordeal Lord Bandon moved to England, dying at his London residence on 18 May 1924. The kidnapping of Lord Bandon and the burning of Castle Bernard has become symbolic of landlord dispossession during the revolutionary era. Politically, Lord Bandon is an example of an aristocrat who moved far too slowly towards advocacy of self-government to allow his class to play any meaningful role in an independent Ireland.
The 4th earl left no issue. He was succeeded by his cousin from the Tuam branch of the family, Percy Ronald Gardner Bernard (1904–79), known as Paddy, 5th earl of Bandon, later a senior commander in the Royal Air Force.