The Scandalous Divorce of Gogarty’s Aunt, 1888

From the Irish Times, 11 February 1888 and 14 February 1888:

“MCNIFFE V MCNIFFE (Probate and Matrimonial Court, Warren J)

The parties were married in 1877, in Dublin, and after their marriage they went to live at Enniskillen, where the respondent practised as a solicitor. For some years they lived happily, but in February 1886, the respondent went to Dublin with a governess in his employ… it was understood they would come home that night, but they did not come back that night… up to the time of her marriage, Mrs McNiffe had lived in a convent, and knew nothing of the ways of life of the respondent. Owing to the habits of her husband, the petitioner was compelled to occupy a different bed… in 1885, when Mrs McNiffe was up at the Horse Show in Dublin, Dr Gogarty, who is married to her sister, found that she was suffering from a loathsome illness….

Mr McNiffe, who conducted his own defence, read the petition in which it was stated that he committed adultery with Rose Carney, Margaret Atwell, Kate Chance and the family’s nursery governess Anne Lynch, and denied that he ever committed adultery with any of those persons. He repeated solemnly his denial that any impropriety had ever taken place between Miss Lynch and himself, and said that Miss Lynch simply took care of him, when he was in delicate health…

The respondent, who spoke with great emotion, and shed tears during his evidence, proceeded – in the months of February and March 1886, I was afflicted with one of the most serious diseases. I suffered from epilepsy from February 1884 till March last – one of the worst forms of epilepsy… my home in Enniskillen was a happy one until Dr Gogarty and his wife upset it, and I challenge any man in the town of Enniskillen to say that there was a happier home there.

The respondent then said that his wife deserted him and took the children away while he was lying on his sick bed, and two or three days afterwards, bailiffs came to his house. He went down to Galway to seek an interview with his wife, and to ascertain why she left him, and his credit from hotel to hotel in Galway was affected through statements made by Dr Gogarty and his wife. He came to Dublin, and wrote a cheque which he could not meet, and was placed in a lunatic asylum, and after a lapse of time allowed out, and then for the first time learned that those charges at to Miss Lynch were made against him by Mrs Gogarty. He took an action against Mrs Gogarty, and also against Dr Gogarty. As long as he had money he was courted and feted by the Gogartys in Rutland Square, and when he fell on evil times he was deserted by his wife and three children. He was fighting the case not so much for himself, for his domestic life was gone, but for his children, who might say when they grew up that their father might have his faults, but that his name was free from any charge against his morality… ”

Today, we know the Gogarty medical family best via Oliver St John Gogarty, immortalised as Buck Mulligan in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’ But his father, Dr Henry Gogarty (shown above, with family), would have been immediately familiar to Irish lawyers of the 1880s as the man who delivered their wives’ babies – the most respected obstetrician in Dublin, with an enormous practice, a house in Parnell Square (also shown above) and a beautiful and pious wife, Margaret, sister to Mrs Macniffe in the story above.

Dr Gogarty also seemed to have a remarkable knack for getting into disputes with his brothers-in-law. In 1882, his sister’s husband, Patrick Mohan, had sued him to recover the price of a piano, bed and bedstead, gold rings, a diamond pin and a number of books including Homer, Macaulay’s Essays, and the Annals of the Four Masters, which he alleged had been illegally detained by Gogarty. The claim failed but Gogarty’s counterclaim for £30 succeeded, ruining Mohan, who, in the final round of litigation, admitted: “I have lost everything trying to bring you on.”

Had Macniffe likewise met his ruin at the hands of a domineering and vengeful Dr Gogarty?

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