Bernard, John Henry (1860–1927), Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin and provost of TCD, was born 27 July 1860 at Sooree, Bengal, India, eldest among three children of William Frederick Bernard, assistant engineer to the east Indian railways, and his wife Martha Amelia, eldest daughter of Henry Humphrys, a senior partner in the mercantile firm of Henry Humphrys of 10 College Green, Dublin. In 1863 Bernard's father, who had worked in India for sixteen days, died of sunstroke; consequently the family returned to Ireland in reduced circumstances and settled in Bray, Co. Wicklow.
Initially educated at Bray College and later St John's College, Newport, Co. Tipperary, he matriculated at TCD (1875) and quickly distinguished himself in philosophy and mathematics, taking the first scholarship in science (1879) and winning both the Wray prize for philosophy (1880) and the MacCullagh prize for mathematics (1883). During his undergraduate years, and later while reading for a fellowship, he was obliged to take paid positions to augment the family income, working (1876–9) as an assistant master at Dr C. W. Benson's (qv) Rathmines School and subsequently giving tuition in Trinity. Graduating (1880) as senior moderator, he was a gold medallist in mathematics, logic, and ethics. He proceeded MA, (1883) and DD (1892). In 1884 he was elected to a fellowship at his third attempt, defeating the historian J. B. Bury (qv) in the process.
Ordained in 1886, he was the first TCD fellow to join the church since disestablishment. From 1886 to 1902 he was chaplain to the lord lieutenant of Ireland and thereby gained entry into a society that would influence the direction of his career and the tenor of his lifestyle. In 1888 he was appointed Archbishop's King's lecturer in divinity. This post, the second in the TCD divinity school, was an unusual distinction for one so young. A gifted teacher, he influenced a generation of Church of Ireland clergymen through his liberal high churchmanship. In 1906 he was appointed professor of divinity.
His first published work was a commentary on the Dialectic of pure reason, which he contributed to the revised edition of Mahaffy's two-volume interpretation, Kant's critical philosophy for English readers (1889). In 1892 he published the first English translation of the Critique of judgement; thereafter his many publications were largely in the fields of theology and biblical scholarship. He made an important contribution to Irish liturgiology in an edition of the Irish Liber Hymnorum (1898) and in several papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy on subjects that included the ‘Domnach Airgid’, a Latin-Irish manuscript of the gospels, and the copy of St John's gospel in the Stowe missal (1893). In the field of biblical scholarship he wrote commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles (1899) and Second Corinthians (1903), and two volumes in the International Critical Commentaries on St John's gospel (1928), on which his reputation as a theologian is largely based.
In 1896 Bernard became involved in the administration of TCD as a spokesman for the advocates of change, having been displeased by the management of college affairs by a board whose youngest member was aged 69. His proposed reforms proved too radical and no progress was made. His experience convinced him that reform could only come from without. In 1897 he was made treasurer of St Patrick's cathedral, and might have become bishop of Meath had he not preferred to retain his academic post. He was appointed dean of St Patrick's in 1902, which required him to resign his fellowship, though not his lectureship. This move shocked many, as he had been seen as the successor to the 83-year-old provost, George Salmon (qv). Conscious of the drift towards ecclesiastical separatism, as dean he established closer links between the Church of Ireland and the Church of England. He became a select preacher at Oxford and Cambridge and frequently preached at Westminster abbey. In 1911 he was appointed bishop of Ossory, Ferns, and Leighlin and preached a sermon in Westminster abbey, attended by members of the Russian duma. As a consequence of this he was included as one of four bishops in a British parliamentary delegation to Russia in 1912.
Appointed archbishop of Dublin (1915), he soon after entered the political fray. In a letter to The Times in 1916 he called for stern punishment for the 1916 rebels, while as president (1916–21) of the RIA he successfully advocated the expulsion of Eoin MacNeill (qv) from its membership. A unionist by tradition and inclination, Bernard was nevertheless to the forefront of pragmatic unionism in Ireland during 1917–22. As an ex officio member of the Irish convention in 1917 he worked with the earl of Midleton (qv) in attempting to avoid partition by convincing unionists of the inevitability of home rule. He was of the opinion that such a policy would give the unionist grouping a greater influence on shaping the character of home rule and thus secure their interests. In the years of flux between 1917 and 1925, Bernard and Lord Midleton – and later Bernard and Andrew Jameson (qv) – were widely consulted as representative southern unionists by both the British and Irish governments.
In June 1919 he resigned as archbishop to become provost of TCD, succeeding Sir John Mahaffy (qv), who had died in April; he had been recommended for the post by James Campbell (qv) and supported by Sir Edward Carson (qv) and Lord Iveagh (qv). The move from the episcopal bench to the provost's house caused no small amount of acrimony in the councils of the Church of Ireland. Apart from the first provost, Adam Loftus (qv), no archbishop of Dublin had taken the post, and Bishop Gregg (qv) of Ossory considered it ‘a loss of caste’. As provost, Bernard was neither popular nor particularly effective: an over-meticulous disciplinarian, he was interfering and reluctant to delegate. Age seems to have made Bernard hard and unsympathetic, though he was clearly hardworking and loyal. During his time as head of the college his main preoccupation was to obtain the annual grant of £30,000, sanctioned by the royal commission of 1920, from either the British or Irish governments. Although he failed in this endeavour, frustrated by the larger political issues of the time, he did support and campaign successfully for higher education for women.
Before the treaty negotiations began in London he urged unionists to seek representation, but his pleas were unwisely ignored till it was too late. After the treaty was signed, Bernard and a delegation of southern unionists met with the Irish signatories and agreed minority safeguards, though these were far short of what Bernard desired. At the start of the civil war he intervened unsuccessfully to protect the documents in the occupied public records office. Bernard's subsequent support for the new order, like that of the Irish Times and the Church of Ireland, was tactical. Unsigned articles in the Quarterly Review (October 1924) and Round Table (December 1925) reveal his true feelings of disapproval and distaste for the new regime, though he continued to exert some influence and be consulted by both governments.
He served as a commissioner of national education for Ireland (1897–1903) and a commissioner of intermediate education for Ireland (1917), and was a visitor of QCG. A member of the general synod of the Church of Ireland (1894) and of the representative church body (1897), he received an honorary DD degree from Aberdeen University (1906) and honorary degrees of DCL from the universities of Durham (1905) and Oxford (1920). An honorary fellow of Queen's College, Oxford (1919), and of the Royal College of Physicians, Ireland (1921), he was a privy counsellor of Ireland (1919) and warden of Alexandra College (1905–11). In 1925 Bernard was diagnosed with cardiac disease. He died two years later at 11.30 p.m. on 29 August 1927 at the provost's house, TCD, and was buried in the old churchyard of St Patrick's cathedral.
He married (1885) his cousin Maud Nannie, second daughter of Robert Bernard, MD, RN, deputy inspector of hospitals and fleets. They had two sons and two daughters. One son, Robert, was killed in 1915 while serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at Gallipoli; the other, William, served after the war as British vice-consul at Tunis and Boston, USA. One of his daughters, Alice Eleanor, worked for the British Foreign Office and for nine months was on the staff at the Paris peace conference, for which she was awarded an MBE. Bernard's appointment diaries are available in TCD manuscripts department with a small collection of his papers; the bulk of his papers are held by the BL. The earl of Midleton's papers at the PRO, London, also include Bernard correspondence.