Note of Thanks Left Behind as Sweet-Toothed Rebels Vacate Requisitioned Solicitor’s Office, 1916

Sweet-toothed 1916 rebel leader Constance Markievicz (left). Move the slider left to see the former 130 St Stephen’s Green West (the building with an ad for baby carriages on the side). Image via Cinematreasures.org

From the Belfast News-Letter, 8th May 1916:

REBELS AT ST STEPHEN’S GREEN

MESSAGE OF THANKS LEFT

The offices of Messrs. Keating & Keating, solicitors, 130 St Stephen’s Green, suffered rather severely at the hands of the rebels, who burrowed through the wall from the Turkish Baths, and also effected an entrance through the wall from the Grafton Street end. Mr Edward Keating gave an interesting account of the extraordinary condition in which he found the offices on last Monday morning. A piece of notepaper bearing the following words was also found:- ‘Please send in some supplies from tea shop. Cakes or bread preferable. – C. De Markievicz.’ The following was pinned on the door: ‘Thanks very much for these comfortable lodgings. Wednesday morn absent.’

It would be impossible to enumerate the various articles which remain, but they include, tin openers, pots, pans, bandages, medicine, port wine, gin, Chartreuse, field glasses, a bag marked Q.T.C., armlets of the Veteran Corps, hairpins, keys, Woodbine cigarettes, ink, a doctor’s white coat, a comb and brush, syphons, jams, violins, violin string, liqueur glasses, candles, sweets &c., &c. It will be seen that the collection is extensive and varied, and suitable to all tastes.”

Mr Keating was luckier than a number of other solicitors whose offices had been entirely destroyed in the Rising of 1916, such as Mr Thomas Early, solicitor, of Abbey Chambers. 70 Middle Abbey Street. By 10 May, a newspaper advertisement placed by Mr Early describes him as back in business round the corner at 5 Bachelor’s Walk.

The same day, a meeting of solicitors who had suffered loss during the Rising was held at the Solicitors’ Buildings, Four Courts. At the meeting, it was noted that, in the case of ten firms, all the documents in connection with the business had been lost or destroyed, and, as costs could only be recovered on the production of documents and book entries. the situation in those cases was serious for the practitioners concerned.

Another problem was lost wills, deeds and leases, belonging to clients. It was reported that safes in the burnt offices of many solicitors had proved ineffective at saving their contents and that in one case all documents connected with the winding up of a large estate had been destroyed.

At the insistence of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, the Law and Procedure (Emergency Provisions) (Ireland) Act 1916 included a clause preventing any action being brought by clients whose documents had been destroyed in the Rising to recover damages from the solicitors concerned.

In July 1916 130 St Stephen’s Green featured in the newspapers once again when an application was made in the Probate Court regarding the will of John Stenson, of Ballintra, County Donegal. The original of the will had been sent to Keating and Keating in their capacity as town agents; one of the papers which had accompanied it had been found in the street outside their offices. Fortunately, the Ballyshannon solicitor dealing with Mr Stenson’s Probate had made a copy of the will before sending it to Dublin. Mr Justice Madden granted the application to prove the copy in place of the original will.

Another application to prove a will lost in the Rising was made in December 1916. The testatrix in this case was Madeline CHP Moore, of Ballymoney, County Antrim, whose will – in an envelope addressed to the Dublin office of her solicitors had been unfortunate enough to arrive at the General Post Office just before the Rising commenced. It was presumed that the will had been destroyed and again leave was given to prove a copy.

The following month, Mr Justice Barton in Shanahan v Shanahan relied on an 1861 judgment of Lord Chancellor Brady to find an affidavit sworn by witnesses as to the contents of a deed lost in the Rising good secondary evidence of that deed.

The records of the Incorporated Law Society could easily have been lost in 1916. Fortunately, although the Solicitor’s Building in the Four Courts (now the Law Library) was for six days in occupation of the rebels, with considerable damage being done to furniture, fittings and windows, the records were uninjured.

Probably the most famous case of legal lost property in 1916 was a car owned by Mr Thomas Erskine Alexander, solicitor. It had been requisitioned on Easter Monday while he and a party of friends were travelling from Fairyhouse, only to be abandoned the following day in poor condition behind the Hill of Tara. Mr Alexander had taken the precaution of insuring the car – albeit under a policy which stated that there was no claim for damage caused by invasion, foreign enemy, riot, civil commotion or military or usurped power. His claim against the British Dominion & General Insurance Company for failure to pay up, came up for hearing at the Belfast Assizes the following month and was unsuccessful.

Keating and Keating were still at 130 St Stephen’s Green in 1956 – forty years after the Rising. Their building was eventually demolished to make way for the Stephen’s Green Centre.

I wonder if they kept any of the mementos of the 1916 occupation?

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