Harold, James (1744–1830), priest and prisoner, was born into a Co. Wicklow family that claimed descent from King Harold (d. 1066) of England. He was ordained (1774), studied at Antwerp (c.1779), and was PP of Saggart and Rathcoole, Co. Dublin (1794–8). Most of the details of his life remain unclear or contested. He was sympathetic to the United Irishmen and may have written verse in support of their cause. On the orders of Archbishop John Thomas Troy (qv), he preached restraint and allegiance. This was almost certainly disingenuous, and he clashed with the military authorities enforcing disarmament. He seems, in fact, to have sheltered the wounded Felix Rourke (qv), a United Irish colonel. Harold was blamed for his parishioners’ treason; pikeheads were said to have been found at his home, and it was burned by the authorities. Some years later, following the abortive rebellion of 1803, Rourke was hanged from the remaining rafters of Harold's home. Early pro-government accounts of the rebellion also linked the priest with the treason and execution in 1798 of another United Irishman, John Clinch. Though he may have been promised protection, Harold was arrested and imprisoned. He petitioned Lord Castlereagh (qv) for trial (28 February 1798), claiming ‘that instead of even countenancing the late unhappy rebellion he has used every means in his power to suppress it’ (Rep. Novum, i (1956), 493). The petition and writs of habeas corpus were ignored and he was summarily convicted and sentenced to transportation.
Harold eventually left on the Minerva and was the first catholic priest to arrive in Australia's penal colonies (11 January 1800). While not officially permitted to minister, he appears to have celebrated clandestine masses. Within the year, Harold notified the authorities of potential disturbances. As he would not provide names, however, he was implicated in the subsequent Parramatta plot. He was forced to witness several savage floggings at Toongabbie adjacent to the victim, with his hand on the tree to which the prisoner was tied. He was then transferred to the notorious penal settlement of Norfolk Island (1800–07), some 1,400 miles from the mainland. There he befriended a fellow convict, the Rev. Peter O'Neill, and was allowed to conduct a school. Harold was eventually sent (1807) to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). He succeeded (1808) to the Parramatta ministry of Fr James Dixon (qv), later the first prefect-apostolic of Australia, and was assisted by Peter Ivers of Carlow. After ten years in the colonies, Harold was conditionally pardoned by Governor Macquarie and left Sydney on the Concord (July 1810). Vestments and other religious items arrived after his departure, confirming his private ministry.
By way of Rio, and perhaps Ireland, Harold arrived in Pennsylvania (c. March 1811). Through a nephew, the Rev. William Vincent Harold, vicar-general of Philadelphia, he became pastor and trustee of St Mary's, the city's first catholic cathedral. His relationship proved contentious, and a controversy erupted, with the lay trustees of the church claiming the privilege of electing and disposing of their pastors. Although their role is unclear, relations deteriorated between the Harolds and Michael Egan (1761–1814), the first catholic bishop of Philadelphia (and a native of Co. Galway), with whom they resided at St Joseph's church. Their insubordination in the so-called ‘Haroldite schism’ saw both resign and, after further difficulties, return to Ireland (1815). James Harold served at Kilcullen (1815–16) and Fairview–Clontarf (1818–20) and was administrator at Coolock, Co. Dublin (1818–19), before resigning due to illness. He died 15 August 1830. He is buried beside the Rev. William D. Harold in Goldenbridge (formally Richmond) cemetery.