A Barrister’s Right to Walk Unobstructed, 1893

From the Cork Constitution, 17 April 1893:

“STRANGE CONDUCT OF AN IRISH BARRISTER

CHARGED BEFORE THE MAGISTRATES WITH STREET OBSTRUCTION

Mr William C Hennessy, barrister-at-law, Tralee, was charged by Constable John Foster with obstructing the footpath on the Grand Parade, at four o’clock on Friday evening.  Mr Hennessy had been arrested and remained in custody during Friday night.  He was not, however, asked to appear in the dock. 

Mr Hennessy applied for an adjournment, as he was anxious to be represented by a solicitor, and anxious that the case should be tried on a convenient day.  He complained that he was not allowed out on bail on the previous evening.  If he had been allowed out on bail he would have been in a position to instruct a solicitor and able to go on with the case that day.  He could not get a note sent to the Recorder of Cork, and he was twenty-one and a half hours in custody.  He now asked the constable under what Act he brought the charge?

Constable Foster – He was walking along the Grand Parade yesterday evening close by the shops, and everything he met outside the doors he tossed further into the flagway.  I saw him take balls of goods, carpets and trunks, lying outside the doors and knock them down on the footpath.  There was a crowd after him.  I cautioned him, but he told me he would persist in doing it.

Mr Humphries (chief clerk) – I suppose Mr Hennessy was quite sober.

Constable Foster – He was.  I told him I should have to arrest him, but he defied me.

Mr Hennessy – Well, I suppose the case will be conducted regularly.  What is the charge.

Constable Foster – Street obstruction.

In reply to Mr Humphries, the constable said the shopkeepers whose goods had been disturbed were not in court.  He himself witnessed the acts of the prisoner when he knocked down the goods at the door of Mr Lynch’s furniture shop, Grand Parade.

Mr Hennessy – They were obstructing the footpath; not I.  If a crowd of rioters choose to follow me I can’t help them.

Mr Humphries – You only arrested him when he said he would persist in doing it?

Constable Foster – Yes.

Mr Hennessy – Does he know it is illegal to block the footway with goods?  Answer yes or no.

Constable Foster – They were not blocking the footway.

Mr Hennessy – Is it true that there was a bale of carpets separated by a foot from the shop in my way?

Constable Foster – I did not see.

Mr Hennessy – What did I knock down then?

Constable Foster – A carpet outside Lynch’s.

Mr Hennessy – Did these goods interfere with my passage.

Constable Foster – They did not, they were quite close to the door.

Mr Hennessy – We will have this point thrashed out as in Tralee and Killarney.  Did I go out of the direct line I was walking in to interfere with the goods? I never go out of the line I take and did not in Tralee or Killarney.  Under the circumstances I have to ask for an adjournment of the case to a date that will be convenient for the magistrates.  I want to get the case tried out.  I have to be in Tralee where we are trying the same points on Monday.

Mr Humphries – There are a number of statutes to prevent the obstruction of the footway.  You are a lawyer learned in the law.  The constable is an officer, and could not see the goods knocked about, even though they obstructed.

Mr Hennessy – I am unconscious of doing anything except turning them over.  Some of the trunks I lifted carefully – with a mother’s care (Laughter).

Case adjourned.”

Whatever punishment was inflicted on Mr Hennessy did not stop his crusade against street obstruction.  On the 31st July 1893 he appeared again before the Cork Police Court summonsed by Mrs Elizabeth Mayne, Patrick Street, for having on Wednesday last wilfully and maliciously broken a crate of china outside her shop in pursuance of a line of conduct that he had been carrying on in Cork (and from the sounds of it, Tralee and Killarney) for some months past.

In reply, Mr Hennessy described the pathways in the city as a disgrace to Zululand, said that the first rule of the common law was that the King’s highway could not be blocked and he would assert his right to walk the public pathway whatever the consequences.  He had the greatest confidence in the Cork Bench and would leave himself in their hands.

The Cork Bench, on the other hand, held that Mr Hennessy had no right to act has he had done and fined him 20s and 35s compensation.  Mr Hennessy then asked to have a case stated and he also objected to one of the magistrates, Mr Roche, adjudicating the case as he was mixed up with commercial affairs in certain houses involved in the prosecution.  He also suggested that the penalty should be increased in order that he might be able to appeal.

The Bench granted the application and increased the amount of the fine to 21 shillings..

An obituary in the Kerry Evening Post of 15 June 1898 contains some interesting information in relation to Mr Hennessy’s background. The son of William Maunsell Hennessy, antiquary and Keeper of the Records in Ireland, it had been thought that a very bright future lay before Mr Hennessy when called to the Bar sixteen or seventeen years previously, but the illness which had killed him (consumption) had led him instead to what was described as ‘a curious existence in a weak and witless way’ in Dublin, Cork, and Tralee before the recovery of his senses in the last year of his life had coincided with failing bodily powers.  

The writer tactfully omitted reference to Mr Hennessy’s street obstruction campaign of 1893 and his preceding arrest by Scotland Yard in Listowel in 1892 for issuing worthless cheques drawn on the Dingle Branch of the National Bank (he was subsequently discharged by the Bow Street Magistrates Court after hearing evidence that he had lost his way after the death of his father and sister and a broken engagement).  The obituary closed by describing Mr Hennessy at his best: full of the keenest wit, well spiced with pungency and leavened with a love of the ludicrous, as much the life and soul of the company when supping with histrionic friends in London as when eating his Christmas goose with friends in Ballymacelligott.

Poor Mr Hennessy!  Some might say that he was a man ahead of his time – and a hero to today’s daily commuter!

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