McSparran, James (1892–1970), lawyer and politician, was born 1 May 1892 in Glasgow, Scotland, third among five sons of James McSparran, farmer and merchant of Cushendun, Co. Antrim, and Albert Road, Glasgow, and Ann (Annie) McSparran (née McDonnell), farmer's daughter from north Antrim. With both his parents working in the city, he began his education at St Mungo's College, Glasgow, before moving to St Malachy's College, Belfast; QUB; and King's Inns, Dublin. At QUB he received his BA in 1913 and three years later graduated as a barrister, after being first in his class and receiving first-class honours with an exhibition. In the same year he was also Victorian prizeman in the bar finals at King's Inns, and later added to his honours a second place and an exhibition in the John Brooke scholarship. McSparran was the Barton prizeman and a gold medallist in the King's Inns debating society. He was called to the Irish bar in 1916. He quickly established himself as one of the leading advocates of his generation. Practising at the Northern Ireland bar, he developed an expert knowledge in both criminal and common law. He became a KC (NI) in 1945 and was a bencher of the Inn of Court of Northern Ireland.
It was also in 1945 that he entered politics for the first time when he won the nomination as nationalist candidate for the Stormont constituency of Mourne, Co. Down, at the general election in June. In the subsequent contest he was returned as MP (1945–58), regaining this traditionally nationalist seat, which had been surrendered without a contest in 1938, when a local selection convention had decided to boycott the poll. When in the summer of 1945 a majority labour government was returned at Westminster for the first time, nationalists hoped that the question of partition might be reexamined. During his own campaign McSparran emphasised the need for northern nationalists to unite to help themselves, as well as promoting their aim to end partition. In November 1945 these objectives led to the establishment of a new organisation, the Irish Anti-Partition League (IAPL), at a meeting in Dungannon attended by public representatives and delegates from all over the north of Ireland. Having acted as chair at this meeting, McSparran was unanimously chosen as chairman (1945–53) and over the next year worked extensively to promote the ideals of the IAPL throughout Ireland and Britain. In addition, although he had just been elected as an MP he was also chosen as chairman of the nationalist parliamentary party at Stormont (1945–58).
It was not long, however, before the enthusiasm that had greeted the setting-up of the IAPL began to wane, as it became clear that there was little immediate prospect of any end to partition. On the contrary, if anything the mood of nationalist opinion was further darkened by the passage at Westminster in 1949 of the Ireland act, which strengthened the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK. In his capacity as chairman of the IAPL and the parliamentary party McSparran attempted to rally support, but this proved difficult, as opinion among sections of the nationalist community advocated a return to a policy of abstentionism. Finally at the 1953 annual convention of the IAPL he stood down from his role, citing pressure of work, and although he stayed on as president his involvement with the organisation was noticeably reduced. By the time of the next Stormont election (March 1958) he had made clear his intention to retire from active politics in order to concentrate on his legal career.
Away from politics and the law McSparran was a keen sportsman: he was prominently involved with Gaelic games when he was young, as well as soccer, where his family had close associations with Belfast Celtic. He was an ardent supporter of Glasgow Celtic, attending matches regularly and developing close relationships with senior figures in the club. He was later a keen golfer and a prominent member of Cushendall Golf Club. Throughout his political career he championed the cause of the Mater Hospital in Belfast and was actively involved in raising financial aid for the hospital.
His death occurred in Glasgow on the night of Wednesday 15 April 1970, after he collapsed in the directors' box at Hampden Park as he watched the European Cup semi-final between Glasgow Celtic and Leeds United. The Celtic club doctor attended to him before he was transferred to the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow, but he died before he could be admitted. His funeral took place from St Patrick's catholic church, Cushendun, and he was buried in the family plot in the nearby cemetery. James McSparran was survived by his wife Clare, his daughters Claire, Ann, and Frances, his son James, a QC, and his brothers Canon John McSparran, Dr Alex McSparran and Archie McSparran, a county councillor.