Kennedy, Sir James Shaw- (1788–1865), army and police officer, was born 13 October 1788 at the Largs, Straiton parish, Ayrshire, Scotland, second among six children of Capt. John Shaw, originally of Dalton, Kirkcudbrightshire, and Wilhelmina Hannah Shaw (née Macadam) of Waterhead, Kirkcudbrightshire, sister of John Loudon Macadam who invented macadamised roads. Relocating to Maybole, also in Ayrshire, James was educated there and at Ayr Academy. In April 1805 he joined the 43rd (Light Infantry) Regiment in Kent as an ensign. Developing his own theories on light infantry, he gained experience (1807–9) as a lieutenant serving in Denmark, Spain, and Portugal, much of it in the light division under his role model, Maj.-gen. Sir John Moore (qv), pioneer of light infantry training and humane veteran of the Irish rebellion of 1798. In 1809 Shaw became adjutant of the 43rd and later ADC to Maj.-gen. Robert Craufurd, commander of the light division, whose Standing orders he edited. Seriously wounded at Almeida in July 1810, he was with Craufurd again at Ciudad Rodrigo (January 1812), where the latter was fatally wounded. Shaw returned to his regiment and distinguished himself at Badajoz, at Salamanca, and in the occupation of Madrid. Promoted to captain, he was sent home on sick leave, the result of recurrent fever, first contracted in 1808, which would affect him for life.
Briefly on the staff of the Royal Military College (1813), he was sent in 1814 to join the staff of the duke of Wellington (qv) in the Netherlands as deputy assistant quartermaster-general of the light division commanded by Alten. In June 1815 Alten gave Shaw a crucial opportunity to demonstrate his light infantry methods in practice, impressing Wellington with his complex and unorthodox anti-cavalry formations during the battle of Waterloo (where he was again wounded). Essentially, he quickly formed a chequered line of resistance which blocked the enemy's advance. Promoted to major, Shaw received the postwar command of Calais during the allied withdrawal from France and the port's three-year occupation. There he overcame problems arising from the defeated and disgruntled French, demonstrating his even-handed diplomacy under pressure. In 1819 Shaw became a lieutenant-colonel on Wellington's personal recommendation. He married (1820) Mary Kennedy of Kirkmichael, Ayrshire, whose family name he adopted in 1834 when they inherited the Kennedy property.
Meanwhile, Shaw was posted to Ireland (1826–7) as assistant adjutant-general in Belfast, transferring in 1827 to Manchester, where he remained till 1836, using troops as an effective but unprovocative police force to control labour disturbances which anticipated the chartist movement of subsequent years. Declining a commissionership in the new London metropolitan police (1829), offered by the tory home secretary Sir Robert Peel (qv), he accepted the first appointment as inspector general of the recently reformed Irish Constabulary, commencing in June 1836. Peel approved, and Shaw-Kennedy's favourable record in Manchester suited him to the ‘liberal’ whig policy of fair government in Ireland, championed by the progressive under-secretary, Thomas Drummond (qv). When diehard tories had blocked the initial constabulary bill in the lords, largely on account of the rumour that the ‘pro-catholic’ Sir Frederic Stovin (1783–1865) would be appointed as inspector general, and that this would lead to widespread catholic recruitment, a weaker version was drawn up. Before the lords could react to the new bill, Shaw-Kennedy was deftly placed to take immediate command of the constabulary pending its approval. His ostensibly safe Scottish background sufficiently deflected potential claims of party political interest in his appointment, to ease him into office.
Once installed in Dublin Castle, Shaw-Kennedy shared Drummond's zeal for restrained, non-sectarian policing. He encouraged catholic membership and applied his centralised model of a light-infantry-style, uniformed, and rigidly disciplined force of 8,000, with police titles corresponding to military ranks, ever vigilant but responding in proportion to the urgency of a given crisis. He spent his brief term of office in Ireland creating a durable, regulated framework for the Irish Constabulary (from 1867 the Royal Irish Constabulary), well intentioned yet susceptible to the political, religious, and social friction which would ultimately overwhelm it. He drew up a strict disciplinary code, which imposed fines, demotion, and dismissal for infractions, especially drunkenness; a code whose inflexibility caused frustration and occasional unrest among ordinary members. He made crime prevention a priority and introduced clear lines of police procedure in response to illegality.
Shaw-Kennedy resigned office in March 1838, flushed with success (but frustrated by obstructionist officials), now a full colonel and soon a CB. He entered lengthy semi-retirement (with promotion to major-general in 1846), from which he was recalled in 1848 to control the chartist crisis in Liverpool. He was also placed on the Irish staff of the army but had no executive role, falling back into ill-health and semi-retirement. In August 1854, recently promoted lieutenant-general, he became colonel of the 47th Foot. A full general in August 1862, he was created KCB in 1863. Though semi-retired for many years, he spent time writing both modern military theory and memoir. Notes on the defence of Great Britain and Ireland appeared in several editions in 1859. His Notes on Waterloo (still quoted by military historians), a short autobiographical essay, and his Plan for the defence of Canada were all published in 1865. In spite of frequent illness, Shaw-Kennedy led a successful life, attracting praise from many quarters (especially the duke of Wellington), seeing his military and police methods adopted as official policy, and enjoying the full panoply of rank, property, and distinction. Though he was gravely reserved in the Victorian mould, his friends and family benefited from his inner warmth. His wife, a son (future laird of Kirkmichael), and two daughters, one of whom died young, completed the household. He died 30 May 1865 at Bath, Somerset, but was buried in Kirkmichael parish church, where his wife was also interred in 1877.