Brayden, William John Henry (1865–1933), journalist, was born 13 September 1865 in Armagh city, son of William Henry Brayden, pawnbroker and later manager of the Ulster Gazette, and Eliza Brayden (née Windrum). He had at least three siblings. The family was Church of Ireland and unionist, but Brayden converted to catholicism in the early 1880s and became an ardent home ruler.
Educated at the Royal School in Armagh, he worked briefly on the Ulster Gazette and then on the Leinster Leader in Naas, Co. Kildare, before joining the Freeman's Journal in Dublin in 1883. In the same year he enrolled in UCD, where he studied classics. He later contributed a fine memoir of his teachers and fellow students – including the priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (qv), SJ. professor of Greek – to A page of Irish history (1930), a history of the college under the Jesuits (1883–1909). His studies were cut short when the Freeman sent him to London: he was a reporter in the house of commons press gallery 1885–7. He next served as secretary to Edmund Dwyer Gray (qv), MP, the Freeman's proprietor, and he returned to the Freeman's Dublin staff after Gray's death (1888).
After the Parnell ‘split’, Brayden was appointed editor of the National Press, established (March 1891) by the anti-Parnellites in opposition to the Freeman, which initially supported Parnell. Overwhelmed by this unaccustomed competition, the Freeman quickly changed sides. The two newspapers were accordingly merged – under the Freeman's more venerable title – in March 1892, with Brayden, aged 26, as editor. He held that post till 1916, and was a director of the Freeman company 1907–16. As editor, he makes a brief appearance in Joyce's (qv) Ulysses: his ‘stately’ arrival in the Freeman's offices is observed by Leopold Bloom who, noticing his ‘fat folds of neck’, recalls Simon Dedalus's gibe that ‘all his brains are in the nape of his neck’.
Despite the remarkable achievement of becoming editor so young, it was Brayden's unhappy lot to preside over the Freeman during a period of relentless decline in its fortunes and prestige. The damage to the Freeman inflicted by the National Press had been huge. Then, after the merger, there was a long and bitter struggle for control of the Freeman between rival anti-Parnellite factions led by T. M. Healy (qv), MP, and John Dillon (qv), MP; this was resolved in 1896 largely in the latter's favour, though the Freeman often took an independent editorial line thereafter. Moreover, throughout Brayden's editorship the Freeman faced strong competition from the Irish Daily Independent, later the Irish Independent; it had first appeared in 1891 as a pro-Parnell organ after the Freeman defected to the other side, but was purchased in 1900 by William Martin Murphy (qv), an associate of Healy. He relaunched it in 1905 at half the price of the Freeman and in a more popular format. Neither Brayden nor the Freeman's chairman and business manager, Thomas Sexton (qv), was able to counter the success of Murphy's new Independent. The Freeman, already weakened by its tribulations in the 1890s, was thus fatally undermined. The leaders of the Irish parliamentary party stepped in to save it in 1912, forcing Sexton to retire. After the further calamity of the destruction of the Freeman's premises during the 1916 Easter rising, Brayden too was replaced. The Freeman did not survive: it was sold off in October 1919, and closed in December 1924.
After leaving the Freeman, Brayden was employed as a correspondent for the Associated Press of America, the Chicago Daily News, and the English catholic Universe. He was heavily involved in army recruitment during the first world war (for which he was appointed OBE in 1920), and he undertook some anti-Sinn Féin propaganda work for Dublin Castle in 1918–19. He had been called to the bar in 1894 and practised occasionally on the north-east circuit. He was a trustee of the NLI 1923–33. He died in Bray, Co. Wicklow, on 17 December 1933.
Brayden married first (1884) Catherine (c.1863–1892), daughter of Thomas Devans, farmer, of Newry, Co. Down. They had two sons and two daughters. Their younger son, Kevin (b. 1891), was killed in action with the London Irish Rifles in Palestine in December 1917. Brayden married secondly (1895) Ethel Mary (1872–1952), daughter of George Shield, a London publican, and Eliza Jane Shield (née Spencely). They had four sons and three daughters. Their eldest son, George Bernard Arthur (1899–1958), was a career soldier who rose to colonel in the Royal Army Pay Corps and was appointed CBE in 1958. Their second son, Desmond Antony (1901–2006), served with the Indian police 1921–47, latterly as deputy inspector general; he was appointed OBE in 1945. Their third son, Basil Chrysostom (1904–95), became Dom Oliver Brayden, OSB, a monk of Downside Abbey, near Bath, and later of Worth Abbey, Sussex.