Campbell, James Henry Mussen (1851–1931), 1st Baron Glenavy , lawyer and politician, was born 4 April 1851 at Prospect House, Terenure, Dublin, the third and youngest son of William Mussen Campbell, an officer in the DMP, and his wife, Delia, the daughter of Henry Francis Graham Poole, of Newtown Abbey, Kildare. It was believed by his descendants that his paternal grandfather had been a police constable in Glenavy, Co. Antrim, and that this humble origin, though seen as socially embarrassing, inspired his later choice of title.
After attending Rev. Dr Stackpoole's school in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), Campbell entered TCD, where he had a brilliant academic career (he won a classical scholarship in 1872 and was a senior moderator in both classics and history) and won the College Historical Society's gold medal for oratory. He graduated BA in 1874. On leaving TCD he studied for the bar at the King's Inns, qualifying in 1878. A talented and ambitious advocate, he quickly distinguished himself as leader of the north-eastern circuit, took silk in 1892, and was made a bencher of King's Inns in 1894. On 22 March 1884 Campbell married Emily McCullough (d. 1939), the second daughter of John McCullough, resident magistrate, of Newry, Co. Down, and the niece of the mathematician and TCD professor of mathematics James MacCullagh (qv). They had three sons and one daughter, including Charles Gordon Campbell (qv) and Cecil James Campbell (qv) (their third son was killed in the first world war).
Campbell threw himself into the service of the unionist party, campaigning in England and Ireland against home rule. In 1898 he was elected MP for the St Stephen's Green division of Dublin at a by-election, defeating the Parnellite candidate Count George Plunkett (qv), but in 1900 he was defeated by the nationalist James McCann (qv) owing to revived nationalist morale after the reunion of the Irish Party and abstentions by hard-line unionists, who disapproved of his support for the government's ‘constructive unionist’ policy and for Horace Plunkett (qv) (unseated in South Dublin at the same election through the intervention of a vote-splitting hard-line candidate). While at Westminster, he was called to the English bar by Gray's Inn (1899); although his English practice was mainly slight and confined to the divorce division, he was made a bencher of the inn in 1901 and took silk in 1906.
From 1901 to 1905 Campbell served as solicitor general for Ireland and in 1903 was returned to Westminster as an MP for TCD, a seat he retained until 1916. In December 1905 he was briefly attorney general for Ireland and was sworn of the Irish privy council. In some respects, his 1900 defeat was a blessing in disguise. Had he remained in the house of commons, his advancement as a law officer might have been more rapid and he could have disappeared into judicial obscurity before the fall of the unionist government in 1905. Instead, he was able to continue and develop a lucrative practice as one of the most formidable and sought-after members of the Irish bar, and to achieve greater political prominence as a member of a shrunken post-1906 Conservative parliamentary party sorely in need of effective parliamentary debaters.
In the following years Campbell became a hate-figure for many nationalists because of his prominence as a unionist spokesman (D. P. Moran (qv) dubbed him ‘Jim Crow’, suggesting that his activities as a ‘carrion crow’ – a name applied to unionists who dredged up every discreditable story about Irish affairs which they could find and then relay to British audiences – were as ludicrous as those of blackface entertainers) and his identification with Ulster unionism, culminating in his nomination as a member of the provisional government which Edward Carson (qv) claimed would take power in Ulster if home rule became law.
Campbell's prominence as a member and office-holder of the Masonic Order and his suspicion of priestly influence (whether emanating from his own Church of Ireland or from the catholic church) added religious bitterness to the mixture. Like many contemporary lawyers, he believed that ‘high’ doctrines of the priesthood tended to make the clergy into a rival source of law and give them unacceptable power over the laity. He held many offices in the Church of Ireland, including the chancellorships of the united dioceses of Dublin, Glendalough, and Kildare and of the dioceses of Clogher, Tuam, Waterford, and Kilmore. Campbell was prominent in the ecclesiastical prosecution of the minister and office-holders of St Bartholomew's church, Dublin, for engaging in forms of eucharistic adoration which were held to imply Roman-style belief in the Real Presence; during his participation in the controversies over the Ne temere decree this was flung back at him by controversialists who inquired how he could describe the catholic church's enforcement of its marriage doctrines over its own members as tyrannical, while himself enforcing a particular interpretation of anglican doctrine on Church of Ireland members who conscientiously disagreed with it.
Campbell also denounced a motu proprio issued by Pope Pius X declaring that catholic priests should not be brought before civil courts except with the permission of their religious superiors; he protested that this meant that under home rule it would become practically impossible to bring a lawsuit against a catholic priest. This provoked a riposte from Archbishop William Walsh (qv), who stated that this clerical privilege did not apply to Ireland because it had lapsed through long disuse. (Walsh was at the very least mistaken; in the 1920s the privilege was used to stifle an attempt by Mary MacSwiney (qv) to sue Bishop Daniel F. Cohalan (qv) of Cork for libel.)
On the formation of the wartime coalition in May 1915 it was initially proposed to make Campbell lord chancellor of Ireland; this was dropped after fierce opposition from Irish nationalists, who resented the appointment of such a fervent supporter of the extra-legal Carson campaign to judicial office. In April 1916 Campbell was appointed attorney general for Ireland. (His formal re-election as MP, which was then necessary on assuming office, took place on Easter Monday 1916 as the Easter rising broke out.) Campbell now began to distance himself from the extremes of unionist resistance; he initially supported the proposed Lloyd George settlement after the Easter rising, but drew back when faced with southern unionist opposition. After his appointment as lord chief justice of Ireland in November 1916 he participated in various informal feelers aimed at securing a compromise settlement. This led more hard-line unionists to regard him as an opportunistic lawyer who had used them to secure office for himself, while nationalists continued to cite his 1912–14 Ulster speeches as setting precedents for the Easter rising and as treasonable utterances which should have disqualified him from public office. (William Martin Murphy (qv), who was aware of Campbell's developing search for a settlement, ordered the Irish Independent editor Timothy Harrington (qv) to refrain from further attacks on Campbell while keeping up fire against active politicians such as Carson.)
In 1917 Campbell became a baronet, and in June 1918 he finally displaced Lord Shandon (qv) as lord chancellor of Ireland, which post he held until June 1921. His experiences as head of the Irish judiciary while Ireland sank into civil strife and emergency law further convinced him of the need for change. In November and December 1920 he refused to act as a lord justice, leading Hamar Greenwood (qv) to press for his resignation; in 1921 he urged the British government to postpone elections and enter into compromise talks with Sinn Féin with a view to broadening the Government of Ireland Act. On retiring as lord chancellor he was created Baron Glenavy of Milltown, Co. Dublin.
With the establishment of the Irish Free State, Glenavy accepted a nomination to the senate; his son Gordon Campbell abandoned a promising career in Britain to become secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce in Dublin. Meanwhile Glenavy campaigned unsuccessfully for appointment as a British law lord. This campaign, which continued even after the Irish government engineered his election as first chairman of the senate, kept him in London for much of the new state's first year. This absence was encouraged by the civil war, during which his Irish home was attacked on two occasions by anti-treaty forces and his Wolseley motor car, valued at £800, was commandeered. In the senate he was an overly dominant figure who could not forget his prejudices and, according to James G. Douglas (qv), leas-chathaoirleach of the seanad, endeavoured unduly to influence the decisions of the body both outside and inside the house. (Meanwhile, his unionist and masonic record were widely invoked by opponents of the treaty who wished to portray the Free State as an illegitimate regime subservient to British interests.) Although Glenavy privately believed the senate to be ‘neither ornamental nor useful’, he demanded unsuccessfully that its powers be increased and the government made to observe some degree of accountability to its members. Undertaking little preparation before debates, he sought to master proposed legislation as the debate was in progress. The 1925 senate debate on divorce (which included the ‘we are no petty people’ speech by W. B. Yeats (qv)) was unnecessary since the motion was purely expository and did not require a debate; it is not clear whether Glenavy overlooked this through inadvertence or whether he deliberately brought forward the issue of divorce in order to embarrass the government. He showed his contempt for the new order by mispronouncing Saorstat Éireann as ‘Sour state I ran’, by dismissive haughtiness towards his fellow senators, and by adjourning the house to suit his own convenience.
The Free State government unsuccessfully attempted to utilise Glenavy's contacts with the Northern Ireland government to have southern prisoners in northern jails freed. In January 1923, without government sanction, he wrote to Sir James Craig (qv) with proposals for a political settlement involving the abolition of the proposed boundary commission and the establishment of an all-Ireland parliament in which the MPs of the six counties would have a veto over any bill concerning them. This initiative helped to frustrate Senator James Douglas's more realistic plans for rapprochement.
In 1923 the Free State government appointed Glenavy as chairman of the judiciary committee which advised the executive council on a new judicial system. The committee's unanimous report predictably recommended that the essentials of the existing judicial system be maintained, and its findings strongly influenced the Courts of Justice Bill (1924). Despite nurturing ambitions to succeed T. M. Healy (qv) as governor general, Glenavy retired from public life in 1928.
Glenavy died 22 March 1931 at his residence in Milltown, Co. Dublin, after a brief illness. In the last few years of his life he lost a great deal of money on the stock exchange and as a result did not leave sufficient monies to cover the numerous bequests in his will (including a trust intended to endow future holders of the Glenavy title). According to his grandson Patrick Campbell (qv), in his last years he also ‘spent quite a lot of time and money on the tables at Monte Carlo, and on an attractive Spanish girl who numbered tennis among her accomplishments’ (Campbell, 68).
Glenavy has tended to be remembered as an opportunist; he was certainly ambitious and financially rapacious even by the standards of early twentieth-century lawyer-politicians, but it is fair to say that many of his adaptations reflected a desire to shape a changing situation rather than fighting in the last ditch irrespective of consequences, and that his arrogance manifested pride in his own genuine abilities and in what he conceived as the superior values associated with Britishness and protestantism.
Two paintings of him exist, by Leo Whelan (qv) and Sir William Orpen (qv) (the latter was donated to Gray's Inn). He became vice-chancellor of Dublin University in 1919, and was president of Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club from 1928 to 1931. His publications include A report of the bankruptcy law of Ireland, compared with that of England and of Scotland (n.d.), A guide to the Home Rule Bill (1912), and Mr Redmond and toleration under home rule (n.d.).