McNeile, John (1785–1855), banker and entrepreneur, was born most likely in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, son of Alexander McNeile (d. 1839), landed gentleman, of Ballycastle, and his wife Mary (d. 1852), only daughter of John McNeale, JP, of Currysheskin. Born into a wealthy protestant family, McNeile was no doubt educated, but rather than pursuing a career in Ireland he chose instead to spend a significant portion of his early life in South America, where he amassed a considerable fortune engaging in trade and commerce. On his return to Ireland in the early 1820s, McNeile bought an extensive amount of land in Craigs, Cullybackey, and the neighbourhood of Cushendall, all in Co. Antrim; in 1829 he also purchased from William Cairns the estate of Parkmount in Belfast, which became his main residence.
In 1824 the Irish banking act was passed, permitting for the first time the creation of joint-stock banks; these were believed to be more stable, in the wake of collapsing banks due to deflation brought on by the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars. Originally a partner in Montgomery's Bank in Belfast, McNeile was one of the main signatories of the deed of co-partnership reorganising the former as the Northern Banking Company, the first joint-stock bank in Ireland, England, and Wales (1 August 1824). He purchased 200 shares for £20,000 and was appointed one of three directors for life at a salary of £900 a year (1824–55). Now fully immersed in Belfast's economy, McNeile took a keen interest in its development and was one of several prominent businessmen who proposed a railway from Belfast to Ballymena (March 1844). Thanks to his persistence the proposal received royal assent (21 July 1845); he was immediately appointed as one of the line's directors and served (1845–55) as vice-chairman of the Belfast & Ballymena/Belfast & Northern Counties Railway Company until his death. For his role in the promotion of the railway, he is remembered as the ‘father of the Old Northern Counties Railway’. McNeile took a further interest in the administration of Co. Antrim, where he played an active part in the county's grand jury and served as both DL and JP. On 18 May 1855 he died in London at the age of 70. He was survived by his children and his brother, the Very Rev. Hugh McNeile (qv), dean of Ripon.
McNeile married (June 1823) Charlotte, daughter of Lt-gen. Sir Thomas Dallas; they had three children. His eldest son, Henry Hugh McNeile (1829–1904), inherited most of the family's wealth and, like his father before him, played an important role in Ireland's banking and railway industries. McNeile's daughter, Mary Harriet, married (9 May 1856) Sir Hugh McCalmont Cairns (qv), 1st Earl Cairns, lord chancellor of England, and son of William Cairns who had originally sold Parkmount to McNeile.