Byrne (O'Byrne), Patrick James (1759–1819), president of Maynooth College, was born in Eglish, Co. Tyrone, one of at least three children of Art O'Byrne (1710–92), farmer, and Martha O'Byrne (née Kempson). He studied at the Irish College of Nantes, France, where, after gaining a doctorate of divinity from the Sorbonne and serving for a period as chaplain to the duc d'Angoulême, he was appointed rector of the college (1787–93), presiding there during the early years of the French revolution. The college priests, being foreigners, were exempt from taking the oath to the civil constitution but in 1792 they were forbidden to celebrate mass publicly. Accused of sheltering proscribed French clergy, they were confined to the seminary. In February 1793 Byrne was absent in Paris when the college was searched and its inmates interned and subsequently deported. He escaped to Ireland, where he worked in the diocese of Armagh and served as parish priest of Aghaloo (1797–1806) and Donaghmore (1806–7).
Appointed (1807) president of Maynooth College, Co. Kildare, he inherited a tense situation of friction among the staff and student insubordination. He was welcomed for his impartiality, and established an inquiry (1808–9) to investigate student grievances. An investigation by the college trustees in July 1809 blamed lack of staff cooperation for student indiscipline. The situation deteriorated after anonymous letters by students to the Irish Magazine and the Evening Herald precipitated the introduction of stringent regulations on students by the trustees in December 1809. Possibly having lost the confidence of the trustees, Byrne resigned in June 1810. He was appointed parish priest, dean, and vicar of Armagh. He died in 1819 and is buried in Eglish. Named ‘O'Byrne’ in the French records and in his will, he styled himself ‘Byrne’ when president of Maynooth.