Parnell, John Howard (1843–1923), farmer and MP, was born at Avondale, Co. Wicklow, third but eldest surviving son among five sons and seven daughters of John Henry Parnell and Delia Tudor Parnell (née Stewart). He was the older brother of Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) and later wrote an important memoir recalling his beloved ‘Charley’. John Howard was first educated locally, and then at Paris, where he successfully overcame his stutter; it seems Charles Stewart developed the same problem from mimicking him. The death of their father in 1859 led to John Howard inheriting estates in Armagh, while Charles Stewart succeeded at Avondale. The Parnell family had a distinguished political pedigree that included the former Irish MPs Sir John Parnell (qv) and Henry Brooke Parnell (qv). Therefore it was no surprise when John Howard decided to stand for parliament in Co. Wicklow in the 1874 general election, although his brother's influence was discernible. He was unsuccessful, coming bottom in the poll, and decided to emigrate to the United States, where he had been investing in coal-mines and property. Residing in Alabama during his brother's political triumphs, he built a steady fortune through farming, and invented a method for transporting frozen fruits. He returned to Ireland after Charles's death, having inherited Avondale despite his brother's intention that the estate should go to Katherine O'Shea. Because of a technicality the will was not valid, and John Howard ignored the expressed wishes of his brother. The land was heavily mortgaged, however, and he later sold the property. His ambivalence towards the place was not helped by the tragic death of his mother there in 1898 when her clothes caught fire in her bedroom. Trading on the Parnell name, he stood for election a second time, in Wicklow West (1892). Again he came in last, but he was returned for Meath South in 1895; he represented the constituency for five years. He was not a good parliamentarian, and never spoke in the chamber; it seems he was more interested in playing chess with other MPs. He stood for election again in 1903 for Meath South but was defeated. Securing the honorary position of city marshal of Dublin, he retired from active politics.
In 1916 he published his memoir of his famous older brother. It was an affectionate, but not uncritical, account and has proved invaluable for historians. John Howard detailed his brother's jealous and suspicious nature, and also his superstitions: his fear of the colour green, the number thirteen, and the month of October. Nor was John Howard immune to such beliefs: he reveals his conviction that his brother's spirit visited him in 1897.
He died 3 May 1923 at Glenageary, Co. Wicklow. He married (1907) a widow, Olivia Isabella Matier (née Smythe); she had one son from an earlier marriage. John Howard Parnell's reputation rests on his relationship with his more famous brother. In Ulysses, by James Joyce (qv), he appears seven times, and his importance is summed up in two sentences: ‘That's the fascination: the name. All a bit touched’.