Killen, James Bryce (1842–1916), barrister, journalist, and radical, was born 14 August 1842 in Kells, Co. Antrim, into a presbyterian family, the fourth son of Samuel Killen and his wife, Mary Jane (Mabel) Shaw. Educated at the RBAI and QCB, where he graduated LLB and MA, he was admitted to the King's Inns in 1865 and was called to the bar in 1869, but did not practise until several years later. In 1864 he won a competition organised by the Belfast Northern Whig for the best poem commemorating the tercentenary of the birth of Shakespeare. An ardent nationalist, in 1870 a lecture he delivered before the Literary and Scientific Society of Queen's College attracted much negative publicity in Belfast owing to its nationalist effusions and celebration of the career of the Young Irelander John Martin (qv), and led local politicians to denounce him as a ‘Fenian’ rebel. The lecture was subsequently published by A. M. Sullivan (qv) (d. 1884) as a pamphlet entitled The spirit of Irish history.
After spending a couple of years in the USA, in the mid-1870s Killen returned to Belfast, where he worked for a short time as an editor with the Northern Star. In 1877 he moved to Dublin, was appointed Barrington lecturer in social and economic science to the Statistical Society of Ireland, and established a solicitor's firm at 5 Mountjoy Park, Clonliffe Road (relocated two years later to 2 Georges Place). During the late 1870s he founded and led a short-lived Dublin Literary Society (DLS), which took a prominent role in the attempt made to erect a memorial in Glasnevin cemetery to Stephen O'Donoghue, a Fenian killed in action in 1867. A radical political pamphlet by Killen, entitled ‘The United States of Europe’, was published under the auspices of the DLS in London in 1880. Excited by the formation of the Land League, at an important land meeting at Gurteen (the first in Co. Sligo) on 2 November 1879 he called on the tenantry to ignore the arms acts, acquire firearms, and fight to overthrow the landlords and the British government. As a result he was arrested two weeks later and tried on 11 December in Carrick-on-Shannon, along with Michael Davitt (qv) and James Daly (qv), for using seditious language at Gurteen. All three men escaped conviction. As Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) and John Dillon (qv) had spoken at meetings throughout the UK for several weeks protesting strongly at their arrests, their release was a great publicity boost for the Land League and also helped to establish both Parnell and Dillon in the public mind as effective platform orators.
In 1880 and 1881, Killen acted as counsel for many figures prosecuted during the land war agitation. In late October 1881 he took up an editorial position with United Ireland, the organ of the outlawed Land League. Consequently he was arrested in late November and imprisoned for four months in Dundalk jail. Following his release he wrote a pamphlet on the relationship between Britain and Ireland entitled ‘The incompatibles’, which was published at the request of fellow Land League ex-prisoners. Thereafter he contributed articles regularly to the Irishman and the Nation and published a pamphlet on Lord Byron and Ireland. During the 1880s he also wrote many poems and stories for the Shamrock, Young Ireland, and the revived edition of United Ireland, mostly under the pseudonyms ‘Le Nord’ and ‘A Mere Irishman’. In 1886 he edited The Irish question as viewed by one hundred eminent statesmen of England, Ireland and America, a lengthy book which was published in New York by a subsidiary company of the Irish World newspaper.
After attending the Dublin lectures of Henry George during the early 1880s, Killen developed an interest in socialism. In 1887 he was a member of the short-lived socialist National Labour League, supported efforts to establish the Social Democratic Federation in Dublin, and played a leading role at two mass meetings of the unemployed of Dublin, presiding over that held at Harold's Cross Green (6 March) and expressing both socialist and nationalist sympathies in his arguments. In the early 1890s he moved to London and served for a time as a vice-president of the Amnesty Association of Great Britain. Having abandoned his legal career, around 1894–5 he left for America and worked for various Irish-American papers in New York. He returned to Ireland in the early twentieth century but fell into obscurity, and died 25 December 1916 in relative poverty at his lodgings at 132 Parnell Street, Dublin. He married Cecilia, a daughter of John Windele (qv), and they had five children.