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?
Come back with me this weekend to the Four Courts of early 1921 to witness the operation of the Restoration of Order in Ireland (Act) 1920, the implementation of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and the threatened division of the Irish Bar proposed by the Government of Ireland Act 1920.
Stories covered in this video include the mysterious shooting of eminent Dublin KC William McGrath almost exactly six months after embarrassing the military at an inquest.
100 yrs after his death, is it time for Mr McGrath to be remembered? You’ll find his story at 10.39-14.40 and 28.48-36.47 below.
Full index of stories covered in the video, all from the super-eventful Hilary term of January-March 1921:
- Man shot down and abducted in Greek Street (2.52-5.49)
- Barrister falls under train in St Louis Alsace (5.50-7.39)
- Concern that Southern Bar may not survive (7.39-9.51)
- Chief Justice anticipates women on the bench (9.51-10.39)
- The murder of a leading KC (10.39-14.40)
- Military cordon from Capel to Church St (14.41-18.08)
- Barrister court-martialled for acting as Sinn Fein judge (18.08-20.24)
- Night attack on Inns Quay (20.25-22.03)
- Unionist KC fights for court-martialled client sentenced to death (22.04-22.51)
- First female jurors take their seats (22.51-24.19)
- Questions asked in House of Commons as solicitor’s office raided and barristers’ briefs stolen (24.20-26.42)
- Nationalist KCs refuse to act for defendants at court-martial (26.43-28.47)
- The continuing mystery surrounding Mr McGrath’s death (28.48-36.47)
Also available to watch on YouTube.
From the Freeman’s Journal, 29 September 1879:
On Saturday morning at ten o’clock Richard D Lawless, solicitor, formerly resident in Lower Mount Street, was found dead in his bed, at the house No 4 Mecklenburgh-street. Deceased sixteen years ago was a member of a respectable and thriving firm of attorneys on Usher’s Quay. After a time the partnership was dissolved, and Richard Lawless practised his profession on his own account for a year or two, when he suddenly disappeared from Dublin, leaving his wife and children at their residence in Mount-Street. He was next heard of in Belfast, living a disreputable life with a woman of bad character, who pursued a shameful business in the Northern capital with lamentable success. The police authorities of Belfast, after several attempts, rid the town of the parties, and Lawless was again seen in Dublin with his companion, not often walking in the streets, but frequently driving about in a handsome brougham.
The end came this morning under the circumstances detailed at the inquest, a report of which is published. Deceased, before he quitted the decent paths of society, was a well-looking man, stoutly built, of dark complexion. When he re-appeared in Dublin he had a remarkable aspect from his extreme corpulency, deeply lined face, grizzled moustaches and hair, and general aspect of premature old age.
On Saturday Dr N Whyte, city coroner, held an inquest at the Morgue on the body of Richard Denis Lawless, formerly a solicitor, who died the previous day in a house of ill=fame, No 4 Lower Mecklenburgh Street, under peculiar circumstances. Before the jury was sworn, the Coroner explained that the deceased had been, it would appear, living in a brothel, where he died. He held the inquest with great reluctance because of his death in such a place suddenly. He need not point out to them that a person dying in such a place might be ill and in danger of death, and was from the surroundings of the place liable to be neglected, and might die without proper care or attention having been paid to him. He, therefore , always found it well to hold an inquest in such a case, as much for the sake of the unfortunates who live in these places as for the general public, and unfounded accusations had from time to time been made which such an inquiry served to bring up.
The jury was being sworn when the Coroner, pointing to one of the persons in the jury, asked – Are you not one of the persons who live in the house, 4 Mecklenburgh Street?
The person referred to said he was – that he was the ‘coachman.’
The Coroner – It is a shame to see you there. You had great effrontery, sir, to get into that box at all. Go away at once.
The jury was then sworn.
Mrs Anna Williams, who was dressed in deep mourning, and wept bitterly during the inquest, was sworn, and deposed – I live at 4 Mecklenburgh Street. I am the owner and proprietoress of the place. It is a house of ill-fame, and I am sorry to have to acknowledge it. The deceased Richard Denis Lawless lived with me for twelve years. He was in no way owner or proprietor of the house.
He did not own any property in it? Not a pennyworth; not a farthing.
He was a solicitor, I believe? Yes he was.
And married? Yes.
And his wife living? Yes.
How long has he been confined to his bed? For nine days.
And was he drinking heavily? No, no, no. He was a man who never drank.
Was there a doctor brought in? No. That is the only thing I am to blame for, I suppose.
Did he object to a doctor being called in? He objected to see one; he thought he was not ill. I never dreamed he was ill.
On Thursday night did he seem in any danger? At nine o’clock yesterday morning I spoke to him and he seemed no worse. He was not ill at all. If he was ill I would get him a doctor. At one o’clock he was dead.
Why was he lying in bed if he was not sick? Was he suffering from drink? He was a helpless man. He was very stout, as you must all see, but he was not drinking heavily.
A Juror – Why did she not bring in a doctor to see if he was sick?
The Coroner – It appears he would not have one.
The Juror – But a doctor should have been sent for. A doctor would have known if he was ill.
Witness – At some time after nine o’clock a knock came to the door. I knew it was one of the servants, and I said I would not open the door. I then went asleep. At ten o’clock I was alarmed at not hearing him breathe. I then found he was insensible, and sent for a doctor, when it was too late. This lady (pointing to a woman in court) was in the room sleeping with me. Dr Nedley was sent for and came, and pronounced the poor man dead.
The Coroner – Are his family aware of his death? Oh perfectly well.
And are they aware an inquest would be held? Yes, well.
Have they made any statement, or made any claim? No.
A Juror – Might we learn what time the doctor arrived?
Mrs Williams – As soon as possible, but it was too late. It was about half past ten o’clock.
The Coroner – He had been drinking during the week?
Mrs Williams – He never drank much. He drank nothing for years but soda and milk.
Several jurors expressed an opinion that from their knowledge of the deceased he never was much given to drink.
Another juror said that the deceased had been a consummate drunkard.
Dr Richard Egan deposed that he had made a post mortem examination of the deceased. The cause of death was apoplexy. His liver was indicative of a man who had been of intemperate habits.
Have you formed any belief that he was neglected? No; I never saw a body in which there was so much fat. How his heart acted under the circumstances I am almost at a loss to know.
A Juror – Were his own friends aware that he was unwell?
Mrs Williams (crying bitterly) – Yes, they did. Every day he was there they knew of it.
The Juror – What means of knowing it had they?
Mrs Williams – His son-in-law was there every day, and his daughters were there – every day – they all knew it.
The Coroner – Unfortunately it is so.
Mrs Williams – They all knew it, well. It is a terrible exposure on his poor daughters, but they knew of it, and were there.
The jury returned a verdict to the effect that death resulted from apoplexy.”
The following note was also published below the Freeman’s report of the inquest:
“Sir – Several statements made at the inquest on my unfortunate husband are untrue. I was not informed of his illness until I was told of his death; I am not in a state of mind clearly to comprehend them all. I declare that my two daughters were never at the house 4 Mecklenburgh Street until after their father’s death, and then they went there with his brother, without my knowledge or consent, to see his remains. It is a cruel addition to our misery to have that statement obtain circulation. I am, sir, the Afflicted Widow C Lawless.”
Mrs Williams’ premises at 4 Mecklenburgh St in the Monto area of Dublin featured in the Southern Police Court in March 1881 when young woman by the name of Maude Sutherland asserted to be residing there was charged with having stolen 17s from John McSkerritt JP of Mountjoy Square while in her company at the Chatham restaurant, Chatham St.
Mr McSkerritt’s initial request not to proceed with the prosecution was refused by the Magistrate, Mr Exham, who said that he had brought the case and he should take the consequences.
Mr McSkerritt was then sworn and deposed that he was a Justice of the Peace for County Kildare, and had known Miss Sutherland for some time and she had taken the money out of pique when he got into a temper with her due to having missed his bet on the Grand National.
Mr Exham: You say you are a magistrate. And you charge a girl with larcency, though you believe she took the money in a freak. I must discharge the prisoner for want of evidence.
The accused was then discharged.
Clearly Mrs Williams’ establishment at 4 Mecklenburgh Street (later Tyrone and now Railway Street) was patronised by some very respectable Dublin citizens!
145-151 Church Street, Dublin, has been a Law Library building for over two decades. But what about its earlier history? Have a listen to find out!
From the Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 25 December 1858:
“MELANCHOLY DEATH BY DROWNING
On Sunday night last one of the most distressing melancholy accidents that could well occur took place by which a respectable young man of the name of Michael Murphy, son of Mr Laurence Murphy, Ironmonger, of Church Street lost his life. The deceased, who bore a very high character, was betrothed to a young lady named Mary Lawler, residing at Buckingham Street, and was to have been married within a month.
Yesterday evening the deceased called to the house of Miss Lawler, where he took tea in company with his intended wife, her grandmother, uncle and aunt, with whom she resided. After tea Miss Lawler, seeing the night so bright and fine, proposed a walk, to which the deceased consented, and the happy pair left Buckingham street at a quarter to seven. It was agreed that they should walk to Sandymount, but they changed their mind and turned down the right side of the canal leading to the railway.
They had not proceeded far when Mr Murphy observed that the passage was very muddy, and for the purpose of preventing Miss Lawler’s dress being spoiled he led her over to a portion of the road near the edge of the quay where the mud was not so deep. In doing so his foot slipped and he was precipitated into the water. On his rising to the surface, Miss Lawler threw him an end of the jacket which she wore, and called out loudly for assistance, but before a helping hand could be extended to the drowning man he perished in the presence of the distracted woman on the quay.
Fortunately, a man came up in time or Miss Lawler would have thrown herself into the water, as she appeared almost entirely bereft of reason on hearing that her lover was drowned. She was taken by force from the scene of the sad calamity to the station house, where she remained until the arrival of her relatives and those of the deceased, and when they came nothing could exceed the distressing character of the scene which ensued. Miss Lawler, who was elegantly dressed, was an extremely prepossessing young person.”
The business carried on by the deceased’s father at 158 Church Street was known as the Eagle Ironworks, not to be confused with the Eagle Foundry located close by. Specialising in highly ornamental gates and garden furniture, the Ironworks had been located in Church Street since the 1830s, on a site now occupied by Law Library premises.
The Murphy family lived on the premises, with the subsequent inquest into Michael’s death also taking place on what is now the Law Library site. A bereaved Miss Lawler, too upset to give evidence, waited in an adjacent room as Mr Richard Eden, bookbinder, told the jury that on the night in question he had heard screams from the edge of the Ringsend Basin and saw Ms Lawler on the bank, she had to be kept by the wrist and held fast to stop her from throwing herself in; she told him that Mr Murphy had tripped on a stone and fallen in while showing her the way to follow him along the brink. A hat was floating in the water but there was no sign of the deceased.
Mr Connolly, uncle of Miss Lawlor, gave evidence that, when he heard of the accident, he went immediately to the Basin, and saw a woman there, who said that she had been on the footpath at the corner of the Basin with two sailors, when she heard a scream; she had not seen Mr Murphy falling into the water. Mr Connolly judged this woman to be improper, and suggested that it might have been to avoid his betrothed coming in contact with such a person that Mr Murphy had selected the mode of walking within the margin of the Basin.
Following further evidence from Surgeon G Porter, who had examined the body of the deceased, that death had been due to simple drowning, the jury returned a verdict confirming this and expressing the opinion that the large quantity of loose stones recently left on the edge of the Basin was the immediate cause of the melancholy accident.
It appears from the description above that Mr Murphy met his tragic end in the southern half of what is now known as the Grand Canal Basin (first image above).
A bereaved Laurence Murphy continued to carry on business in 158 Church Street until his death in the late 1870s, with the business being sold not long after. Possibly if Michael Murphy had survived, things might be different for the Eagle Ironworks – and indeed for poor Miss Lawler, for whom the Christmas of 1858 must have been a sorry one. I hope things improved for her in 1859!
If something like this this were to happen today, I suspect that the current denizens of 158/9 Church Street would have plenty of advice to give regarding the negligent maintenance of the Basin!
From The Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 24 July 1920:
LEFT STRANDED IN THE FOUR COURTS
On Thursday last week, the action of D Coffey, Derrymilleen, Co. Cork, farmer, v Denis P O’Regan, Farransbesbary, Enniskeen, Co. Cork, farmer, was listed for hearing in the Chancery division before Mr Justice Powell. The plaintiff sought specific performance of an agreement for sale by the defendant.
When the case was called, Mr DB Sullivan BL said neither of the parties had turned up, and he would have to ask his lordship to take the case out of the list for the present. They could only guess what had happened. Mr Bourke was for the defendant and he consented.
Mr JF Bourke BL – I can do nothing else but consent. We do not know what has happened. We can only guess. The fact is no witnesses are here on either side.
Mr Justice Powell – The best thing I can do is to strike the case out.
Mr Bourke – We have no definite instructions of what has happened.
Mr Sullivan – Let it stand out of the llst for the moment. We will mention it again in the event of it going on. I don’t suppose it will.
Mr Justice Powell – Very well. By consent take the case out of the list for the present.”
A barrister’s worst nightmare! Whatever could have happened? The date of the above events raises the suspicion that the missing parties had eschewed the Four Courts in favour of the Dáil Courts – the first alternative dispute resolution mechanism in Ireland since duelling went out of fashion midway through the previous century.
The first newspaper reference to Irish barristers being involved in such proceedings is to be found in the Evening Mail of 21st May 1920, which references one Kevin O’Sheil BL as presiding over a landlord and tenant dispute before an Sinn Féin Arbitration Court in Ballinrobe, County Mayo.
A subsequent court held in Ballinasloe, County Galway, the following week was presided over by an unnamed barrister of the High Court. Eight or ten solicitors of the Circuit argued cases. The evidence was taken in the usual way with a pledge of honour substituted for the oath.
The Ballinasloe Court – the largest Arbitration Court so far – led to a question being asked in the House of Commons as to what steps the Attorney General for Ireland, Denis Henry KC, proposed to take to deal officially with lawyers who participated in such court proceedings. Mr Henry’s response was that this was a matter, in the case of barristers, for the Benchers of the King’s Inns and, in the case of solicitors, for the Incorporated Law Society. The questioner, Colonel Ashley, then asked if he was to understand that the Crown had no power to deal with barristers or solicitors who had taken part in treasonable and illegal proceedings. There was no reply from Mr Henry.
On the 24th June, 1920, the news broke in the Four Courts that the Bar Council had, at a special meeting, passed a resolution declaring that it was professional misconduct for any barrister to practice in a Sinn Féin Arbitration Court. It was stated on behalf of those who attended that any barrister found so practising would be reported to the Bar Council and dealt with thereafter by the Benchers, who would have the duty of determining what sanction should be imposed against them. This was in contrast with the decision of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland not to interfere with the appearance of solicitors at such courts.
The Bar Council resolution created considerable hubbub, having regard to the fact that, during the 1913 Home Rule agitation in Ulster, many members of the judiciary and prominent lawyers had been members of a Provisional Government which declared its refusal to recognise the Home Rule Act, without any objection from the Bar Council.
On the 28th June a letter from Maurice Healy KC, 1 King’s Bench Walk, Temple, London, brother of controversial Irish barrister and politician Tim Healy, was published in the Irish Independent. Mr Healy stated that
“So far as I understand the position of a barrister he is entitled not only to appear before every court (other than certain statutory exceptions); he is also entitled to act as arbitrator or to appear as counsel before such arbitrator. Accordingly, the only objection that can be raised to a barrister appearing before a Sinn Fein court is that he is acknowledging the jurisdiction of an authority other than his Majesty’s government… whatever weight should be attached to this objection in 1920, should also have been attached to it in 1913.”
The following day a decree of the First Dail abolished the Sinn Féin Arbitration Courts and replaced them with Dáil Courts of wider jurisdiction.
On the 3rd July 1920 The Freeman’s Journal carried a letter from Serjeant McSweeney KC saying that the Bar Council resolution involved the threat of professional ruin to Irish barristers and deprivation of their means of living. He also pointed out that the resolution was not yet technically in force, as it had not yet been formally posted up in the Library.
The Londonderry Sentinel, on the other hand, regarded the Bar Council resolution as unnecessary, since no decent counsel would soil themselves by association with such tribunals:
“The slaves who are bullied into submitting to the Sinn Fein courts subscribe to the lie that the Irish Courts, of which every member of the Bar is an officer, are enemy organisations for the oppression of Ireland. No man, unless afflicted with the mind of a prostitute, could believe in this declaration and still desire to be a member of the Irish Bar.”
Of course, involuntary starvation can lead even the most chaste to sacrifice their virtue, and, as the Sentinel itself acknowledged, the official courts were by now practically empty throughout three fourths of Ireland, the only business being applications for criminal injury compensation, with the word in the Law Library being that when the judges went out on Circuit in 1921 there would be practically no business for them.
The forthcoming July Assizes showed that things were even worse than predicted. Lord Justice Ronan had practically nothing to do in the Record Court at the opening of the Mayo Assizes in Castlebar. This was due to the fact that a Dáil Court held on the previous day, and attended by a large number of barristers and solicitors, had heard almost all the appeals listed for the Assizes.
On 7th July 1920, it was reported that an informal meeting of the Leinster Circuit had resulted in a resolution of the majority of the Circuit that a member of the Bar, instructed by a solicitor, was entitled to appear before any Dáil Court.
Later that month, the news broke that the Attorney-General’s brother-in-law Hugh Holmes, son of Lord Justice Holmes of the Irish Court of Appeal, John Monroe, son of Mr Justice Monroe, and Mr Webb, a leading junior on the Connaught Circuit, were leaving Ireland to take up judicial positions in Egypt. Meanwhile, the Derry Journal of 27 August 1920 reported that three of their colleagues from Dublin were spending the long vacation learning Irish at Coláiste Cholmcille in Cloghaneely, Co. Donegal.
A meeting of the Bar to consider the June resolution, postponed due to the July Assizes, took place in the Law Library on 5th November 1920. It was held in response to a requisition signed by about seventy members of the Bar and there was a large attendance. Tim Healy, in an address frequently interrupted by applause throughout, expressed the view that the Bar Council had no right to pass judgment on the conduct of any member of the Bar or on their action or non-action, the only body with a right to do so being the Benchers. According to Mr Healy, the Bar Council was under a misapprehension if it thought that its duties corresponded with those of the Bar Council in England, where, due to the presence of four Inns of Court, it was necessary that some body should exist there which would have general jurisdiction in matters of professional etiquette.
After some discussion the meeting adjourned indefinitely. According to the Freeman’s Journal of the following day, it was generally understood that the feeling of the meeting was that the Bar Council had acted without jurisdiction and that the effect of the proceedings of the meeting had been to nullify the previous resolution.
On the 12th of the same month, Mr Diarmuid Crowley, barrister and Circuit Court judge in the Dáil Courts, was arrested on returning to his lodgings at the Moy Hotel, Ballina, after presiding over a court in that town. A report of his arrest in the Manchester Evening News described Mr Crowley was known as a sound lawyer and a fearless advocate has appears in some important civil cases before the judges in the Four Courts. One suspects that his arrest was not unconnected to what had taken place in the Law Library the previous week.
What happened to Mr Crowley? Or, indeed, the Dáil Courts? What did barristers and solicitors unwilling to practise in these courts do to occupy their time throughout 1920? You’ve guessed it – they lobbied for an increase in fees! How many went to the Colonies? The story continues here!
From the Evening Herald (Dublin), 13 May 1925
“STRANGE WESTERN WOOING
FARMER WHO COURTED BY PROXY MULCTED FOR BREACH
COMPACT WITH PARENTS
LESSONS ON MELODEON AND A PAIR OF GLOVES
DEFENDANT UNASHAMED OF HIS CONDUCT
A farmer of 42 years, who sent emissaries to arrange a marriage with a girl half his age, figured as defendant in a breach of promise action in Ballina Circuit Court. He was ordered to pay £220 damages.
One of the witnesses made the interesting statement that nine-tenths of the marriages in Co Mayo are arranged by parties other than the principals.
The judge said it was the most extraordinary case of the kind he had ever heard of. ‘The defendant’s own public confession here in court,’ he declared, ‘is sufficient condemnation of him.‘
‘I have no hesitation in saying that the way this case has developed is the most extraordinary breach of promise action I have ever heard myself, or of which I have ever heard.’
This was the comment of Judge Wyse-Power at Ballina Circuit Court, giving judgment for £220 in breach of promise action, preferred by Miss O, a farmer’s daughter, against a farmer named Edward C.
The girl’s age was given as 21 and the defendant’s as 42. The plaintiff was stylishly dressed and a pretty girl. The parties were neighbours, said Mr Fitzgerald Kenny, who appeared for the plaintiff, and the claim was for £500 for damages for breach of promise of marriage.
In June 1923, the defendant sent two emissaries, one a man named Murphy, to the plaintiff, and the other his brother, Daniel C, to the father of the plaintiff, asking whether there would be a possibility of a marriage between himself and the plaintiff being arranged.
Towards the end of June defendant came to the plaintiff’s father’s house and asked if a marriage between Baby, the plaintiff’s pet name, and himself could be arranged. The parents consented, and the question of the fortune was considered. The plaintiff was to get a fortune of £150 down and £50 in 12 months’ time and the marriage was to take place in three weeks.
The defendant, who lived with his mother and his brother, Dan, told his mother
‘I am going to bring down this girl before Christmas, and I hope you will like her,’ and the mother replied: ‘I wish you had brought her here long ago.’
When the three weeks had nearly elapsed the defendant showed the plaintiff a deed of conveyance of the farm from his mother and brother to him and told her they would go on their honeymoon for a week to Belmullet. Defendant told her he wanted to build a room to his house, and would have to postpone the wedding.
Up to that he had come frequently to the plaintiff’s father’s house, and was teaching her to play the melodeon. A coolness arose, but there was no breaking off of friendly relations. In September defendant came to the plaintiff’s house, and said he wished to have the date fixed for the marriage. The plaintiff’s mother had a sore foot, and it was arranged the wedding should be put off until after Christmas. They went into Ballina, and defendant bought the plaintiff a pair of gloves, which cost the substantial price of 17s.
Counsel went on to say that on February 10 plaintiff met the defendant on the road and he seduced her, and told her they would be married on February 17, but he did not keep his engagement, and little more than a month later he married another woman. A baby girl was born to the plaintiff on November 21, 1921, and a cloud of disgrace was cast by the defendant over an honourable and respectable household.
John O, father of the plaintiff, told of the negotiations, and of his asking the defendant how much fortune he wanted. Defendant said he would leave it to himself. Witness offered £100, but his (witness’s) wife said he would give more, and he agreed to give £150 down and £50 in 12 months’ time, which satisfied the defendant, who said his brother Dan wanted £300 for his interest in the form, but that he would supplement the £200 by rearing a few pigs and cattle for Dan.
It was the custom in Co Mayo, witness said in answer to counsel, that nine-tenths of the marriages were arranged by parties other than the principals.
The plaintiff said when defendant left her father’s house after his first visit of arrangement, he came to her outside and said he had arranged a marriage. ‘He asked me was I satisfied,’ she went on, ‘and I said I was. He told me then to get something new, and he would bring me to Belmullet for a week after the marriage.’ She had known the defendant, she said, for years, and was fond of him.
‘Was there no more romance about it than that,’ questioned the Judge. ‘Did he kiss you?’
Plaintiff – No, my lord.
She met him again that evening, when there was a crowd present.
‘Love can make opportunities,’ said the Judge. ‘Did he kiss you then?’
Plaintiff – No, my lord.
Continuing, she said the marriage was put off first until September, and then until Christmas. On Christmas Eve, he took her to Ballina, and bought her a pair of gloves (the gloves, still new and unworn, were produced.)
Plaintiff gave evidence of the act of seduction.
To Mr Kelly, she said she was not surprised that defendant did not kiss her after they became engaged, and she could not tell when he kissed her first. She first heard of his intended marriage to Mary L, another neighbour, the night before he was married.
Defendant denied that he ever promised to marry the plaintiff or that he asked her to marry him, or asked her father to agree to their marriage. He admitted he seduced her, but not under promise of marriage. He had been keeping company with his present wife for 15 years, and the match with her was arranged a fortnight before the wedding. Plaintiff’s father asked him to marry his daughter (the plaintiff) in 1922 and at Christmas 1923, saying he would be well off and not to marry the other girl, as she would have no money, and he told the father he did not know what he would do yet.
‘Are you ashamed of yourself for ruining this girl,’ asked Mr Kenny, and the defendant’s reply was ‘I don’t think so.’
Defendant’s wife gave evidence that he had been keeping company with her for 15 years and gave her a ring 5 years ago. In January, 1921, he sent a man to her to arrange marriage, and they were married on March 15.
‘I don’t want to comment too strongly on the action of the defendant,’ said the judge at the conclusion of the case. ‘I think his own public confession here in court is sufficient condemnation of him. The damages must be such as will speak for themselves,’ and he made the decree for £220.“
Was Mr C a rotten cad? Or were the O family lying through their teeth? Claims by girls allegedly seduced were a lucrative source of revenue for Irish barristers as late as the 1920s, but we find significantly less of them in the following decades, as ‘ruined’ women disappeared into the shadow of Magdalen homes, with their children adopted rather than, as in this case, kept in their mother’s family. Did Mr C step up to the plate in future years and assume parental responsibility for his son? Or did ‘Baby’ and her child use the money to emigrate to a new life in America? How did the new Mrs C feel about the whole thing? It would be fascinating to know!
Though the grounds and means of complaint may have changed over time, there is nothing new about criticism of Irish judges.
As far back as 1826, one Daniel O’Connell petitioned for the removal of Lord Norbury, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, on the ground that he was 85, afflicted with deafness, and lethargic stupor which rendered him entirely unfit for discharging the duties of his office, as he frequently fell asleep during the most important trials.
Throughout the 19th century, almost every judicial appointment was subjected to criticism from one or more organs of the press; the burning of effigies of judges who had given unpopular decisions was not uncommon, and there were a number of assassination attempts.
Even non-politically charged publications were not afraid to tweak judicial robes as popular interest in the judiciary peaked in the latter part of the 19th century. In 1889-90 Irish Society (Dublin) ran a weekly series, ‘Our Judges,’ in which an anonymous ‘Dublin Barrister‘ recounted in the most intimate detail the personalities and peculiarities of each individual member of the Irish Bench of the time.
Despite the shock of the pieces, most of the subjects were still alive in 1891 when the Graphic published the above two-page illustration of the Irish judiciary. Let’s see what ‘Dublin Barrister’ had to say about each of them.
I. Mr Justice Gibson
Brother of Lord Chancellor Edward Gibson, Lord Ashbourne, John Gibson comes in for some criticism for committing the fatal sin of ‘forgetting that he himself had once been a barrister.’ Possessed of the indescribable Gibson voice and accent, and prematurely white hair, he is described as ‘difficult’ when sitting as a Divisional Judge, particularly when his colleagues agree with him.
II. Mr Justice O’Brien
‘Extravagantly Celtic’ in nature, and ‘reminiscent of a Cardinal in appearance,’ Corkman and former Green Street prosecutor William O’Brien can be a terror to witnesses, ‘often recalling them to the box after they had stepped down and thought themselves safe.’ Although ‘occasionally angry, sometimes even storming with anger,’ he always comes into court in a good mood,‘amiable characteristics returning as soon as the storm was over.’
III. The Lord Chief Justice
‘Mickey’ Morris, ‘the most Irish of judges with his strong Galway brogue, his wit, his shrewdness, his great power of striking terror and his preference for common sense over law,’ got a tough time from ‘Dublin Barrister,’ who described his rulings as ‘unpopular’, and the judge himself as ‘dullness itself’ as a public speaker – comments so controversial that a colleague subsequently wrote in complaining. Possibly the writer had been personally offended by the Lord Chief Justice’s practice of ‘conspicuously reading the newspaper during counsel’s summing up in jury trials,’ while actually listening intently; his own subsequent summing-up being invariably excellent.
IV. The Lord Chief Baron
No criticism for Christopher Palles, described in glowing terms as ‘one of the most popular judges in Ireland, but besides popularity he commands the respect of all who know him… what an infinite variety of learning he possesses to be sure and with what ingenuity he applies it to everything – though sometimes it can be hard to understand his judgments… As conscientious and painstaking in small matters as in great, to the most trivial motion he gives his whole attention determined to do absolute justice to every party – according to law. His love for the law is a governing principle in his nature and can only tolerate common sense when in strict agreement with law – though where he finds man a stickler for his legal rights without regard to the real justice of the case he will find means ‘within the law’ to bring him to sense of fair and honourable dealing as between man and man.’ Although ‘generally somewhat pedantic and no means always in the sweetest of humour, when angry, the Bar never resents it, as they instinctively feel that his anger is founded on righteousness... In fact, the first person to comfort the victim is usually Chief Baron himself, who is magnanimous enough to make up by a kind, complimentary word later on for the annihilation he has wrought.’
Even disappointed litigants were reluctant to appeal Palles’ rulings -though he himself was never happier than when one of his judgments was on the way to the House of Lords. Once, as a junior barrister, ‘after hearing that some advice he had given in his professional capacity had resulted in pecuniary loss, [Palles] sat down at once and wrote a cheque for a sum of money sufficient to indemnify the unhappy client... it is to be hoped that such conduct was mere chivalry and generosity on Palles’ part, and that no obligation of the sort attaches to the opinion of Junior Counsel in general.’
The Irish bench was lucky to still have Palles; he nearly died due to the drains in the fetid Court of Exchequer in 1877. He survived to award one litigant 5 guineas for the loss of a beard in 1896.
V. Mr Justice Andrews
William Drennan Andrews is described as ‘thin and delicate, with the marks of study, and work, and scant response on his face, his countenance occasionally lighted up by mirthful enthusiasm and of a temperament the farthest possible removed from the phlegmatic.’ He is unusually energetic, and always three points ahead of counsel, thinking of new relevant cases, and sending to his private library for books which might assist. ‘Dublin Barrister’ describes Judge Andrews as possessing ‘what is, in a judge, more powerful than brilliance, namely a power of concentrating his faculties on every subject before him whether of interest or not.’ Although he can consequently take an hour to dispose of a motion of course, he jealously guards the rights of an accused, and, when in practice, was known as a hard working barrister, ‘who although loaded with briefs and importuned by annoying attorneys would nevertheless make time to give friendly advice and assistance to any other brother barrister that consumed him.’
VI. Mr Justice Harrison
A portly, round, comfortable man, who travels to the Four Courts each day in a comfortable brougham, ‘prosperity shines from [Michael] Harrison’s countenance, his person, his gait and his attire.’ A Northern Ireland man, he has great respect for commerce, strong common sense and moderation but ‘becomes a little talkative on circuit, especially in Ulster.’ He has ‘a useful faith in counsel’s competency to conduct his own case,’ and is extremely fair to the prisoner in criminal cases. Without ‘brilliant talent or very deep learning,’ his judgments are ‘short, lucid and well expressed.‘
VII. Mr Justice Murphy
In the palmy days of Green Street, Limerickman James Murphy used to prosecute for the Crown. Originally ‘a man without too much of the milk of human kindness,’ he is now known as ‘a judge of tender feelings and generous emotions, sometimes so overcome by the pathetic side of a case that his feelings are apt to run away with a sober judgment.’ He is however, terrifyingly bombastic in sentencing. His ‘extreme solicitude for the convenience and comfort of jurors makes him very popular with Dublin businessmen.’
VIII. The Recorder of Dublin
Though not a judge of the supreme court, Frederick Falkiner, Recorder of Dublin, is as well known as any of its justices; every practitioner addresses him as ‘my lord’ and no member of the Bar dare appear before him unrobed – even during the long vacation when other judges allow counsel to appear in undress. Custom has surrounded him with all the dignity and circumstance of a judge; he despatches a vacant amount of business, his decrees ‘having recourse to every kind of device – common law, natural equity, legal equity and common sense’ – and he will exercise every means to promote settlement. Of a literary bent, he is ‘willing and able to illumine the dreary proceedings of the day by reflecting on them the gleams of his own refined thoughts and imagination as they come flashing through his mind – a single word will recall to him some scene in Shakespeare or an incident in the Arabian Nights.’
When his tipstaff, Robert Pierson, was killed tragically in the Phoenix Park in June 1905, the Recorder took personal charge of the collection for his family. Some of the cases which came before him were more amusing than others – read about one of the most pleasant ones here.
IX: Mr Justice Johnson
Of essentially ecclesiastical appearance, with a mild and polite urbanity of temper suggestive rather of the English cleric than the Irish lawyer, it is almost impossible to conceive Judge Johnson as having passed through ‘the rough and ready training, and the scrambling, more or less undignified‘ of the Irish bar. An excellent explainer of law, he has no grasp of facts, thinking that he has a good knowledge of ordinary business matters, and insisting upon importing same (such as it is) into the sworn testimony of witnesses, usually with lamentable results.
X. Mr Justice Holmes
According to ‘Dublin Barrister,’ ‘there is scarcely any part of the law that [Hugh] Holmes has not touched, and there is no part which he has touched but he has made it completely his own… Few men on the Irish bench have worked so industriously as him and fewer still have such a competent knowledge of law.’ In his early years on the bench, Holmes had an unfortunate habit of sending young barristers back to the Library to re-read their briefs, but has mellowed of late. His primary fault is informality; his delivery is like that of a university debater, not a judge, and he lolls on the bench rather than sitting up straight.
Holmes’ barrister son fought with other young barristers in the Boer War and was seriously injured. Holmes is also known for being the judge who reputedly wore silk top hat, tails and grey striped trousers when playing in an early Bar Golf Tournament.
XI. Mr Baron Dowse
Richard Dowse is the humorist of the Irish bench, ‘free to say anything or everything that comes into his head, whether it be apropos of the matters before him or not, provided only it be amusing.’ Highly intelligent, well-read and the most cynical man on the bench, an Irish patriot since his days in Trinity College, he consults ancient authorities ‘chiefly for the purposes of finding something amusing in them, and if he thinks them rubbish he says so.’ Though the Bar does not resent his joking ‘for they recognise its thoroughly good nature and as such are willing to take it,’ litigants are often horrified to see their case translated into a high class comedy for the entertainment of even more highly paid advocates, and his humour can be out of place in criminal proceedings, no matter how ludicrous the facts. Baron Dowse, who lived at 38 Mountjoy Square, died shortly after the above piece.
XII: The Lord Chancellor
Benevolent and powerful, ‘a man that stands well in the estimation of the companions of his youth,’ and ‘the object of a veritable worship at Trinity College,’ Edward Gibson, Lord Ashbourne, has ‘a way of looking at the facts and circumstances of each particular case, as it comes before him; of dealing with it on its own special merits; and of forming his decision with a general all-round satisfaction, that suggests rather the broad-minded, practical man of the world than the narrow, rule ridden intellect of the law.’ An indifferent lawyer, he had long ceased to practice at the Bar when appointed Lord Chancellor, seldom even paying a visit to the Law Court, preferring the House of Commons. Now, ‘his dignified manners, his fresh ruddy face, his fine sonorous voice, his graceful courtesy to his colleagues and the Bar, is a valuable educational function for whosoever would cultivate a humane and polite side to his own character.’ Occasionally attends race meetings, and does not patronise the theatre in Dublin, though sometimes in London.
Lord Ashbourne is now best known as being the father of Violet Gibson, who attempted to assassinate Mussolini. He lived in a haunted house at 12 Merrion Square; one of his sons died in mysterious circumstances in the smoke room of the Crown Hotel, Horsham, in 1922; another was a star player in the turn-of-the-century Bar Golf Society. Lord Ashbourne was instrumental in setting up the Bar Benevolent Society, which subsists to this day.
XIII. Lord Justice Fitzgibbon
A man about whose high position as a lawyer, as a judge and as an orator there is almost unanimity of opinion, Gerald Fitzgibbon the second can even make interesting a disquisition on contingent remainders. A wonderful orator, combining beauty and warmth of expression with sensible judgment and moderation, and the only public speaker in Ireland who makes an attempt at good elocution, he manages, when reading aloud his judgments, ‘to diffuse through the court some of the superabundance of his own intellectual light and energy so that people who never understood a legal judgment before will understand him, and glimmerings of the reason and simplicity of the law will shine into minds to which law has hitherto come in an complex and seemingly irrational form.’
Perhaps FitzGibbon’s legal skills had been honed by his presence in court from a young age?
XIV. The Vice-Chancellor
A personal symbol of the seriousness of the Court of Chancery, Corkman Hedges Eyre Chatterton resembles ‘a school master of 30 years ago warning his pupils that playtime is over.’ Always suspecting that an attack is being meditated upon the order of the Court, ‘he appears to believe that if the pressure of his authority were for one moment removed, the Bar would break out in open insubordination of the rules.’ He insists on inspecting all documents handed up to him, and even the slightest irregularity will bring down his serious displeasure. He particularly dislikes the introduction into affidavits of unnecessary and irrelevant matter, punishing it by an award of costs against the offending party. Securing an adjournment in his court is ‘an enterprise of extreme peril and uncertainty, requiring considerable eloquence and prodigious pertinacity.’ However, where there is bona fide arguable matter he will listen with ‘a fortitude of endurance and fairness of mind that make him one of the best judges on the Bench.’
XV. Judge Warren
Robert Warren, judge of the Probate Court, is described as a dignified, elderly gentleman, ‘with a long flowing white beard and the usual legal shaven upper lip,’ a serious man, with ‘high notions of the importance of every judicial position.’ The Probate Court being far from busy, he ‘does not sit every day, but when he does he does not break for lunch but has a sandwich on the bench.’
XVI. The Master of the Rolls
Andrew Marshall Porter, Master of the Rolls, has a wide and varied knowledge of many matters outside the region of pure and simple law, demonstrating that ‘the deepest lawyers are often the most versatile in their accomplishments.’ His greatest judicial fault is that he is ‘preternaturally serious… inclined to become really angry, and lose all amenity of disposition ‘because the directorate of a company has acted ultra vires, or because a contracting party resists the specific performance of his contract.’ Consequently mornings in his court can be terrible, with ‘the white heat of Porter’s half suppressed anger’ being more than most counsel can bear before lunch.
Marshall Porter was to suffer tragedy in later life when his son, also Andrew Marshall Porter, was killed during the Boer War. More here.
XVII. Lord Justice Barry
‘One of those hearty good fellows who make themselves agreeable to the whole world,’ everyone in Ireland, from clerks, to medical students, to dowdy ladies in provincial towns, seems to know Limerickman ‘Charlie’ Barry, though, on the bench, he has ‘a vehement – not to say violent -way of expressing his strong opinions which most people would diagnose as the symptoms of an intractable temper.’ A man of the world, indisposed to great exertion, his judgments are extremely short and persuasive, delivered in full round judicial tones with a curiously sibilant sound. His ‘fine red setter dog’ accompanies him to the courts each morning, turning up him again at 4 o’clock to take him to the club after work. Dresses with ‘an attention to fashion unusual in an Irishman of his profession;’ his judicial bands, from London, are enormous, and of the finest muslin.
Lord Justice Barry and Lord Ashbourne once narrowly escaped being killed when a ventilator nearly fell on them in the Law Library. More here.
XVIII. Mr Justice Boyd
Apt to describe himself as half Scotch, half Irish, Walter Boyd gets his sternness from the Scotch side and the enjoyment of its effect from the Irish. Apart from sailing, his main desire in life is to bring home the terrors of the law to an anarchical people; something which he struggles to achieve in his role of Bankruptcy Judge.
XIX. Lord Justice Naish
A man of retiring studious deposition, with ‘no enthusiasm, no passion, no eloquence and no delusions’, the forensic success of John Naish is flatteringly described as ‘a mystery to the Irish Bar,’ though it is admitted that, as a judge, he ‘comes to very sound conclusions in a modest unobtrusive course of excellent reasoning.’ At the time of publication of this piece, he was in the South of France for his health, and died shortly afterwards. One of his final appearance was at the famous Bar/Vice-Regal Cricket Match in the Phoenix Park in May 1889.
XX. Judge Townsend
‘Eighty years old, dignified courteous and kind, it is impossible to imagine in [John Fitzhenry] Townsend’s court an unpleasant incident, a quarrel among counsel or an interchange of warm words between the bench and the bar. His genial presence causes warm and kindly feeling to flourish in the little company around the barristers’ table, and everybody instinctively recognises that it is a professional duty to make the judge’s position as pleasant and as free form irksomeness as possible.’ Appropriately for an Admiralty judge, he is (like his colleague Judge Boyd) a capital sailor.
XXI. Mr Justice Monroe
The ‘brilliant and popular jury counsel’ John Monroe now spends his time as a Land judge, ‘arguing real property issues with Chancery Counsel.’ Though briefless for the first few years at the bar, spending his time chiefly in noting cases for Law reports, ‘once he finally got work he made the best advantage of it,’ displaying a ready knowledge, good judgment and ‘wonderful tact and dexterity in mastering difficult facts.’ Very popular at the bar, though sterner on the bench. An ‘exceptionally able and efficient judge.’
XXII. Judge Miller
Even after 23 years on the bench, Stearne Ball Miller, Armagh man and senior judge of the Court of Bankruptcy, remains ‘a man of perpetual youthfulness, who rises with the lark to ride every morning… His movements in court betoken a marvellous activity for a man of his years: his hands and fingers are in constant motion; he slaps the books down on the desk, and throws the papers about with a charming youthful disregard for the laws relating to falling bodies.’
XXIII. Mr Justice Litton
Edward Falconer Litton, the new appointment as Land Judge, is described as having ‘a cool, clear calculating head,’ and ‘the ability to dispose of a case with facility and despatch.’ A ‘particularly patient man, and scrupulously courteous to everybody,’ he does not long survive the publication of ‘Our Judges,’ dying after catching pneumonia on holiday the same year.
XXIV. Lord Chief Justice O’Brien
Described by Irish Society as one of the few ‘Peters’ ever to rise to fame, no one refers to Lord Chief Justice O’Brien by anything other than his Christian name, often followed by the words ‘the Packer.’ Though no law officer ever received greater abuse than was heaped upon him when was was attorney general, ‘he could never be really hated; his good humour, his bonhomie, his plausibility and his courage was proof against his deadliest darts – his easy manners his jolly, well-favoured face, his strong minded determination to do what he conceived to be his duty (even though it should be the unpleasant task of packing the jury).’ Very popular with the bar, so far he has ‘committed no mistakes beyond remaining unaffectedly the old somewhat affected Peter,’ though he still suffers from a tendency to think himself an advocate, and ‘when there are no witnesses before him, will actually cross-examine the counsel at the bar.’
This piece came too early to include one of ‘Peter’s’ most famous moments as a judge – when he rebuked his former leading Senior for wearing a white waistcoat when appearing before him in court. Peter lived at Newlands Cross, Clondalkin, reputedly haunted by the carriage of another Lord Chief Justice assassinated while in office. The subject of a number of assassination attempts during his career, he also had a bumpy visit to Ennis, Co Clare when his judicial coach was hijacked by a local lad. His efforts on behalf of the Bar Cricket Club are well documented, as is the fact he favoured a quarter chicken and two roast apples for lunch.
Although many of the judges featured, such as Palles, the Gibson brothers, Porter, Boyd and Holmes, continued in office for decades and others enjoyed a happy retirement, four out of the twenty four featured – Naish, Litton, Dowse and Warren – sadly died within a year or two of the series being published – hopefully not out of shock!
Thanks to the anonymous ‘Dublin Barrister’, whoever he may have been, a record of their traits, and those of their longer-lived colleagues, survives to remind us that, no matter how much may have changed in the past 140 years, one current Irish judicial characteristic – that of magnanimous imperturbability in the face of criticism – is of long-standing!