Belfast left sided forward, normally to be found at outside left, and amateur footballer James Barron began his football career playing rugby for Royal Academy in 1887-88 and Coleraine in 1891-92. He first played association football for Cliftonville Olympic in 1892, and joined Cliftonville in 1893, playing for them until 1897. During that time he is credited with scoring 17 goals for the club, and in his first season helped Cliftonville to win the Co. Antrim Shield, including scoring a hat-trick in an 8-3 semi final victory over Distillery.
He was first capped for Ireland, still a teenager in a 4-1 defeat to Wales at St Helens Rugby Ground, Swansea in February 1894, and played in all three of Ireland’s British Championship matches that spring, Barron scored twice for Ireland in a 3-3 draw with Scotland at Solitude, Belfast in March 1896. Both goals were equalisers, setting the score at 1-1 and 2-2. He was given the honour of captaining Ireland in their defeat to England at Trent Bridge in February 1897. His third goal for Ireland came in the 4-3 victory over Wales the following month, also played at Solitude, when his goal again levelled the score at 1-1. This match proved the last of his seven caps. He also represented The Irish League once in a 4-2 defeat to The Football League at The Ulster Ground, Belfast in February 1894.
He managed an own goal in the Charity Cup Final of 1894-95, Cliftonville going down 3-1 to Linfield. He scored two of the goals in the 6-2 defeat of Distillery in the Charity Cup Final replay of 1896-97, and also played as Cliftonville won The Irish Cup the same season as they beat Sherwood Foresters 3-1 in the Final at Grosvenor Park, Belfast. However whether through injury or for other reasons, he retired soon thereafter.