Graves, James (1815–86), clergyman, archaeologist, and historian, was born 11 October 1815 in Kilkenny town, son of Rev. Richard Graves (1785–1857), rector of Coolcullen, Co. Kilkenny, and vicar choral (1817–26) of St Canice's cathedral, Kilkenny, and Joanna Graves (née Anderson). After attending the classical school which his father ran for a short time in the town, he entered TCD in 1834, graduating BA (1839). He became like his father a Church of Ireland clergyman of the diocese of Ossory. He was licensed as curate of Skirk, near Donaghmore, Co. Laois (1842–6), and next served as curate in St Patrick's, Kilkenny (1846–54). He was rector of Mayne, Co. Kilkenny (1854–60) and vicar of Kilsheelan, south Co. Tipperary, (1860–63). His final appointment was as rector of Ennisnag, Stonyford, Co. Kilkenny (1863–86), where he remained the incumbent until his death.
As a student Graves became interested in archaeology and made sketches of Kilkenny monuments; his interest was nurtured through involvement with a relative, John George Augustus Prim (qv), editor and later proprietor of the Kilkenny Moderator. In May 1849 the two were founder-members of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, of which Graves became long-term secretary (1849–86, jointly with Prim until the latter's death in 1875), and later also treasurer (1858–86). The society was the forerunner, through several permutations, of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland (RHAAI, established 1869), which in 1890 became the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Its journal, a forum for articles on Irish archaeology, folklore, and related subjects, from its beginning in 1850 was exchanged with those of similar societies abroad. A frequent contributor to the journal, Graves became its editor, and subsequently edited the journal of the RHAAI. He was instrumental in having the society establish a museum and library (now in Rothe House, Kilkenny).
Graves co-wrote (with Prim) and illustrated The history and antiquities of the cathedral church of St. Canice (1857). In 1863 he was treasurer of St Canice's and from 1864 advised on its restoration. He wrote A brief memoir of the Lady E. Fitzgerald, the fair Geraldine (1874), and wrote and illustrated The church and shrine of St Manchan (1875); both were privately printed. Works edited by him include Account of the early life . . . of the first duke of Ormonde (1864); Observations in . . . the kingdom of Ireland . . . 1681 [by] Thomas Dinsley (1870); and A roll of the proceedings of the king's council in Ireland, for a portion of the sixteenth year of the reign of Richard II, A.D. 1392–3 (1877). Graves and Prim had been collecting material for a projected history of Ossory, which, however, following Prim's death did not materialise; much of the material is now in the NAI and with the Representative Church Body, Dublin. Graves's other manuscripts include notes on Ossory saints; the RIA possesses a volume of correspondence to Graves from John O'Donovan (qv).
Elected MRIA (1860), from 1878 Graves received an annual £100 civil-list pension for his contribution to literature and archaeology. His other main interest was ferns, of which he had the finest outdoor collection in Ireland; he was also interested in geology and bee-keeping. He was ill for the final few months of his life and died 20 March 1886 in Ennisnag, and is buried at St Canice's cathedral. His grave is marked by a Celtic cross designed by Richard Langrishe (qv), based on one of the high crosses at Clonmacnoise. Graves was survived by his wife Maria, the daughter of Lt. Col. William Dann Nicolls, of Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny.