O'Connor, James (1836–1910), Fenian, journalist, and politician, was born 10 February 1836 in the Glen of Imaal, Co. Wicklow, son of Patrick O'Connor, farmer, and his wife (née Kearney). He received a national school education and from there started on a commercial career. One of the first recruits to the IRB, he garnered a lot of support for the organisation in Wicklow, thereby bringing himself to the attention of James Stephens (qv), who appointed him bookkeeper for the IRB newspaper, the Irish People, when it was established in December 1863. His involvement with the paper led to his arrest with John O'Leary (qv) and O'Donovan Rossa (qv) in September 1865 when the paper was seized and suppressed. He was convicted of treason-felony and sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude, which he served in Millbank and Portland prisons, using the time to learn Irish.
Released 4 March 1869 under the general amnesty, O'Connor played a prominent role in the amnesty agitation and reorganising the IRB. In the summer of 1869, together with J. F. X. O'Brien (qv), he drafted the IRB's first known constitution, creating a new elective ‘supreme council’ executive and laying out a complex organisational structure that remained in place thereafter. As treasurer of the supreme council (1869–72), he worked to acquire funding from the moribund Fenian Brotherhood in the USA. With the assistance of his brother John (qv), he also helped open channels of communication with the recently established Clan na Gael in New York. From 1869 to 1881 he was deputy-editor and chief writer for the Richard Pigott (qv) newspapers, Irishman and Flag of Ireland, and was largely responsible for keeping Fenianism in the public eye by reprinting statements of the American Fenian Brotherhood and welcoming contributions from various IRB propagandists.
He attended the inaugural convention of the Home Government Association (19 May 1870) but maintained his distance from the home rule movement and did not support the Home Rule League (established November 1873). In early 1874 he played a prominent role in promoting the rival '82 Clubs of P. J. Smyth (qv) in Dublin, which sought to replace the demand of Isaac Butt (qv) for a federal constitution with simple repeal of the union. Although of little influence on a national level, the '82 Clubs were active in Dublin (1874–8) and, thanks partly to O'Connor, became an effective recruiting body for the IRB. Although friendly with C. J. Kickham (qv) and willing to support the importation of arms, O'Connor held no official position in the IRB at this time and followed his own political initiatives. In November 1878, acting against the supreme council's wishes, he published the ‘new departure’ proposals of John Devoy (qv) in the Irish press for the first time, calling for Fenians to adopt a more cooperative attitude towards agrarian activists and militant home rulers. O'Connor's attitude towards C. S. Parnell (qv) and the Land League, however, remained ambiguous until, during 1881, the Irishman was bought out by the league, and United Ireland was established as the official organ for the league and Parnell's Irish parliamentary party. During the early 1880s O'Connor was employed with both papers as a deputy-editor and also acted as editor of the Irishman's literary magazine, the Shamrock. Following the suppression of United Ireland in December 1881, he was imprisoned in Kilmainham for five months.
During 1883–4 he revived his old policy of allowing republican propaganda to appear in the Irishman, thereby causing much embarrassment to Parnell, who shut down the paper in April 1885. Parnell was later forced to answer for O'Connor's Irishman policy when questioned before the special commission (1888–90). As deputy-editor (1885–90) of United Ireland, O'Connor helped to promote the GAA and developed a friendship with William O'Brien (qv), After Richard Pigott's suicide in February 1889, he wrote his Recollections of Richard Pigott, the only biographical study to date. After the Irish party split in early December 1890, United Ireland, under the direction of Matthias Bodkin (qv), deserted Parnell, prompting the latter to attempt to take over the paper by force. On 10 December 1890, amid an intense brawl, O'Connor and other leading figures with the paper were forcibly evicted from the office by enraged Parnellites. This encouraged O'Connor to side with the anti-Parnellites, who employed him during 1891 as the editor of the Weekly National Press, the paper of T. M. Healy (qv). He was persuaded to stand for Wicklow West against Parnell's brother, John Howard Parnell (qv), in the 1892 general election and won the seat by a large majority.
Although nominally an anti-Parnellite, O'Connor distanced himself from the bitterness of Irish party politics during the 1890s, concerning himself solely with representing his constituents. As MP for Wicklow West (1892–1910), he was the driving force in getting a government grant of £20,000 to develop Wicklow town harbour, and acquiring more funding for the maintenance of the county's roads. Although removed from republican circles for many years, he assisted the IRB in promoting the 1798 centenary celebrations in Dublin, and in March 1901 was a pallbearer at the funeral of James Stephens. By 1908 he was suffering from stomach cancer and died 12 March 1910 at his home, 18 Mellifont Avenue, Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Co. Dublin.
In June 1890 he lost his wife, Mary (m. c.1879), and four of his five daughters after they ate tainted mussels. He was married a second time, in the early 1890s, to a Miss McBride, with whom he had a daughter. He was buried in Glasnevin cemetery in the same plot as his first wife and children, where an ornamental Celtic cross, erected by public subscription during 1890, records the tragedy of their deaths. His eldest child, Mary Elizabeth (‘Moya'; b. 1881), became an intelligence agent and ghost-writer for Michael Collins (qv).