James Mason rose to be one of the greatest chess players in the world in the 1880s. Despite being a game almost fully dominated by the upper class, James came from a poor background. He was born in Kilkenny on the 19th of November 1849, where he was forced to emigrate with his family in search of a better life. James Mason was not his real name and was more than likely adopted to avoid anti-Irish sentiment. Although we know this, we don't know his birth name.
Throughout his career, Mason would often let drink get the better of him. Even though he could beat the best of the best, drink would often result in him losing to the worst of the worst in what became known as "Mason days". Had he not had such a drinking problem, he would have undoubtedly accumulated a far greater amount of match and competition victories.
In 1903 he became seriously ill and had to curtail almost all activities for the remainder of his life. He died on the 12th of January 1905 in Rochford, Essex, and is buried in nearby Thundersley churchyard.