Barton, Arthur Henry ('Harry') (1916–2006), naval officer, writer, broadcaster, and public figure in Northern Ireland, was born 13 January 1916 in Belfast, only son of Arthur Willis Barton (qv), then Church of Ireland curate in Dundela, east Belfast, and of (Zoe) Dorothy (Victoria) Barton (née Cosgrave) from Dublin. There were two sisters, one of whom married Richard R. Hartford (d. 1962), regius professor of divinity in TCD. Both parents' families were well-to-do, related to Church of Ireland clergymen and legal men; his mother's brother, Sir William Alexander Cosgrave (d. 1952), was chief commissioner of the Andaman Islands. Arthur W. Barton (d. 1962) became rector of Bangor, Co. Down (1925–30), bishop of Kilmore (1930–39), and archbishop of Dublin (1939–56); he was noted for the pastoral care and gentleness of his ministry. Dorothy Barton (d. 1968) was noted for a lifetime of Christian commitment to developing women's work in the Church of Ireland.
Harry Barton (as he was always known) went to Wrekin College in Shropshire, England, and on leaving school joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman. He saw active service in the second world war on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, surviving without injury when a Japanese kamikaze pilot crashed his explosive-laden plane onto the carrier's deck; this and other wartime experiences convinced him of the importance of trying to prevent conflict. He spent over thirty years in various naval postings throughout the world, and attained the rank of captain.
On retirement from the navy in 1967, Barton and his family built a house on the slopes of Benevenagh mountain, in Ballymaglin, near Aghanloo, Co. Londonderry. Appalled by the atavistic violence of the Northern Ireland troubles, he and others set up the Northern Ireland district council of the United Nations Association. He was president or chairman for many years. The organisation was involved in a range of activities to promote peace, by trying to make people aware of the work of the UN, and by building bridges within the community; he strongly backed 'Model United Nations', in which schoolchildren from catholic and protestant schools met as delegates in simulations of UN assemblies. The initiative was almost immediately successful, and has flourished in Ireland as in the rest of the world ever since. Barton also supported joint activities with the sister organisation in the Republic of Ireland. All-Ireland conferences on the environment, co-chaired with Seán MacBride (qv) in the early 1970s, were challenging events for many of the participants, at a time when involvement with conservation and environmental education was almost as novel as cross-border cooperation. In 1982 Barton was awarded the OBE for his work with the association. On 9 September 1973 he organised an open-air inter-denominational meeting in a field near Bellarena, Co. Londonderry, to pray for peace: over 500 people, including clergy of different denominations as well as local farmers, participated. He was the first chairman of the board of visitors officially appointed to oversee conditions in Magilligan prison.
Alongside these public roles, Barton had a parallel career as a prolific writer; he published a novel (as A. H. Barton), With a flag and a bucket and a gun (1959), and many comic articles in Punch. A children's book, Sponge, X and Y: a tale of fishy troubleshooters, was published by Puffin in 1979; Barton's son Anthony did the illustrations. Some of Harry Barton's twenty-nine plays, drawing on his experience of naval life and wartime, revealed a characteristic impulse to find solace in humour, and to satirise culpable stupidity. 'The giant lobelia' and 'A borderline case' were produced in the Eblana Theatre, Dublin, in 1975 and 1976, and other plays were put on in the Riverside Theatre, Coleraine, the Arts Theatre, Belfast, and the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Barton also wrote radio plays, for Radio Ulster, BBC Radio 4, and RTÉ radio, and his broadcast short stories were popular. 'Hoopoe day', a gently humorous play about an old birdwatcher, won the Giles Cooper award for best radio drama in 1983. The Office of Public Works in Dublin commissioned a one-act play about John George Adair (qv), a Donegal landowner who evicted scores of tenants; it was performed regularly over several months of summer 1989 in Adair's Glenveagh Castle. Like all of Barton's work, it was meticulously researched. A 1995 historical play about Frederick Hervey (qv), the famous earl-bishop, was turned into a 1997 book illustrated by the cartoons of Martyn Turner. 'Fire at Magilligan' (1984) was Barton's only television play, first written for radio, notable for a relatively sympathetic portrayal of a hunger-striking paramilitary.
Barton was best known for his work on radio. A very moving and often-cited radio programme on the Claudy bombing of 1974, 'Why doesn't someone explain?', was a collaboration with James Simmons (qv). An updated but scarcely less bleak version was broadcast eighteen years later, in August 1992. In the early 1970s, when politics in Northern Ireland seemed irremediably grim, Barton broadcast a highly original series of lunchtime monologues on Radio Ulster. They purported to be letters and warnings from a leprechaun called Mr Mooney, spokesman for a fictitious but all too plausible terrorist organisation, the Queen's Own Loyal Sinn Féin Republican Volunteers. Each week Barton satirised the attitudes of Ulster's intransigents; Mr Mooney had survived for 10,000 years, and was smelly, bigoted and vicious. The leprechaun's customary salutation, 'Yours till Ireland explodes', was the title of a collection of the talks, published in book form in 1973; a second collection, Yours again, Mr Mooney, appeared the following year.
Harry Barton's gentle voice and comic delivery contributed greatly to the success of the Mr Mooney episodes. The former naval officer delivered his monologues with the assurance of someone who had first-hand experience of what war does to communities; he knew about Irish history, but crucially also was familiar with other parts of the island of Ireland and was aware of a wider world. Received Pronunciation speech counterpointed the evident local knowledge and perceptive analysis; this was a kind of voice not heard often enough in Ulster after terrorism silenced traditional leadership.
On 17 December 1940 Barton married Marjorie Lumsden from Edinburgh, in Holy Trinity, Dunfermline, Scotland. She died in September 1997, and afterwards Barton, suffering from Parkinson's disease, moved to Canada to be close to the family of one of their two sons. He died 8 December 2006, aged 90, in Carbonear General Hospital, Newfoundland, Canada. His works, including sound recordings, are archived in the library of the University of Ulster in Coleraine.