Harrison, Henry (1867–1954), politician, soldier, and writer, was born on 17 December 1867 at Hollywood House, near Hollywood, Co. Down, son of Henry Harrison, landowner and JP, and Letitia Harrison, grandniece of Henry Joy McCracken (qv) and daughter of R. J. Tennent, liberal MP for Belfast 1847–52. The family was very prosperous. On the father's death (1873) they moved to London, living for some time at 9 Chester Place, London NW. Henry was educated at Westminster School, London, of which he became a queen's scholar, and in January 1887 enrolled at Balliol College, Oxford, with the intention of entering the diplomatic service, for which he had received a nomination. As an undergraduate, he was a keen sportsman and secretary of the Home Rule Club of Oxford University. In early 1889, during a holiday in Gweedore, Co. Donegal, he was imprisoned for one week for helping local tenants resist eviction. During 1889–90, as a member of and regular speaker at the Eighty Club, he became acquainted with many leading English liberals. After declining a nomination to stand for parliament as a liberal, in May 1890 he accepted an invitation to stand for parliament as a nationalist and was duly elected for Tipperary Mid. He did not take his final exams in Oxford, where he had obtained a third class in classical honours moderation (1888).
Shortly after his election, while he was making speeches in Tipperary in favour of the outlawed Plan of Campaign, the police attempted to arrest him but he resisted by knocking three constables unconscious with his fists – an event that earned him immediate notoriety in Ireland. Remarkably, he escaped conviction but was injured after attempting a similar feat not long afterwards. In December 1890 he sided with C. S. Parnell (qv) during the crisis in the Irish parliamentary party and subsequently became one of Parnell's closest confidants, acting in an unofficial capacity as his personal secretary until his death. In March 1891 he travelled to New York as part of a Parnellite delegation that appealed unsuccessfully for Irish-American aid. After the death of her husband in October 1891, Katherine Parnell chose Harrison to place wreaths on Parnell's coffin on her behalf. Over the next six months he was a very regular visitor to the Parnell family home at Walsingham Terrace, Brighton, Sussex, where he consoled Katherine and heard her side of the divorce scandal – information that he later used in an attempt to vindicate Parnell's memory. In the face of intense clerical opposition, he declined to stand for reelection for Tipperary in 1892, running instead for Limerick West, where he was badly defeated. In the 1895 general election he stood unsuccessfully as a Parnellite for Sligo North. Thereafter, although he remained a confidant of leading Parnellites such as John Redmond (qv) as well as many English politicians, he retired from public affairs and worked for many years for Lloyds Bank in London.
In March 1915, aged 47, he joined the Royal Irish Regiment as a second lieutenant. In October 1916 he was awarded an MC (a bar was added the following year) for bravery while acting as a special patrol officer on the western front. In 1917 he was promoted to captain, and after the end of the war was awarded a military OBE and decorated by the king. In 1920 he became secretary to the Irish Dominion League, founded by Sir Horace Plunkett (qv), and wrote pamphlets appealing to the British government to end its war in Ireland. During the Irish civil war (1922–3), he offered his services to the Irish Free State as a private. Instead he was appointed supervisor of the military intelligence department's secret ‘Citizens' Defence Force’, established in November 1922 specifically to counteract the republican threat. This body disbanded after the war ended. During the mid 1920s he worked (1922–7) as the Irish correspondent of the Economist and became the proprietor and editor of a Dublin weekly, Irish Truth (1924–7), that helped publicise the concerns of former British soldiers. In September 1926, after serving for two years on the organisation committee of Cumann na nGaedhael, he became a member of the small National League party headed by Capt. W. A. Redmond (qv). The following year, he helped to persuade Redmond to join forces with Fianna Fáil in the dáil in supporting a Labour vote of no confidence in the Cumann na nGaedhael government (it was defeated by one vote). After the National League dissolved in January 1931, he became an active propagandist for a variety of causes. He was now the last surviving member of the Parnellite party, and his books such as Parnell vindicated (1931) and Parnell, Joseph Chamberlain and Mr Garvin (1938), as well as his success in forcing the Times to revise its account of the Pigott forgeries in its official history (1952), helped to revive public interest in Parnell's memory. During the 1930s and 1940s he wrote many newspaper articles and gave numerous public lectures on Parnell, especially in London, and in 1941 was the principal speaker at the Irish government-sponsored fiftieth-anniversary commemoration of the death of Parnell. Meanwhile, in 1933 he was appointed the first manager and chief editor of the Irish News and Information Bureau in London. In this capacity he successfully endeared himself to Fianna Fáil by writing pamphlets that defended the policy of Éamon de Valera (qv) regarding the land annuities, partition, and constitutional reform. During the late 1930s he wrote books, such as Ireland and the British empire: conflict or collaboration? (1937) and Ulster and the British empire: help or hindrance? (1939), that espoused a similar political perspective. This understanding with Fianna Fáil continued during the 1940s, not least because of his growing praise of de Valera, his book The neutrality of Ireland: why it was inevitable (1942), and his work to publicise the cause of the Anti-Partition League in Britain. Nevertheless he maintained an essentially independent political stance, resigning from the Anti-Partition League in December 1949 owing to his disagreement with its republican leaders. He opposed Ireland's leaving the commonwealth, having formed his own short-lived Commonwealth Irish Association in 1942 to encourage Irishmen to believe in its benefits for Ireland. In July 1953 he made his last public appearance when he was granted an honorary LLD from Dublin University. He died at Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital, Dublin, on 20 February 1954. He was buried in the Old Priory graveyard in Hollywood, Co. Down. Among the many dignitaries present at his funeral were a representative of the president, the taoiseach, almost all of the cabinet, the attorney general, the lord mayor of Dublin, and the general secretary of Fianna Fáil. He married (1895) Maie Byrne, an Irish-American; they had one son, who was badly wounded at Gallipoli during the first world war and died not long after the war ended. A portrait of Henry Harrison by his sister, S. C. Harrison (qv), can be seen in the NGI. An unpublished manuscript of a play he wrote, ‘The real Parnell: the truth of the love story: a tragedy in three acts’, is held in the NLI (MS 5630–31).