Scouts say ‘Great Scott’ as Irish Barrister Repeatedly Risks Life in Breathtaking Powerscourt Waterfall Rescues, 1942-44

From the Irish Independent, 4 August 1942:

Hundreds of picnickers watched, in tense excitement, while a Dublin holiday-maker balanced himself for three hours on a ledge 200 feet up the rocky side of the famous Powerscourt waterfall yesterday until he was rescued by a Dublin barrister who was camping in Powerscourt for the weekend.

The man, Charles Kenny, 41 Donnycarney Road, who had cycled to Enniskerry with friends, had endeavoured to climb up the side of the waterfall with a camera.  He reached a position where he could neither go up, nor down, and balanced himself with his back flat against the side of a rock, kicking off his shoes to get a better grip on the ledge with his feet.

The waterfall is about 400 feet high, and it was not until three hours later that ropes of sufficient length were found.  A  number of boy scouts camping in Powerscourt demesne were on the scene, and Mr Percy Scott, the Dublin barrister and a prominent member of the Dublin Boy Scouts’ Association, was lowered from the top of the waterfall.

His breath-taking and perilous descent to the ledge was watched in silent suspense, but he succeeded in reaching Mr Kenny around whom he tied a rope.  The task of haunting the two men to the top was quickly accomplished.  Mr Kenny suffered from slight shock, but was otherwise unharmed.  

Gardai told an Irish Independent representative that the waterfall was regarded as most dangerous for climbing, but two notices at the bottom warning visitors of the danger had repeatedly been destroyed by vandals.”

In August 1942, Mr Scott was awarded the Baden-Powell Bronze Cross, the highest award of the Boy Scouts  Association, only given where the rescuer’s life was in danger. At the award ceremony in Powerscourt House, Viscount Powerscourt, Chief Scout of Eire, said that Mr Scott’s heroism was a tribute not just to the scouts of Eire but the movement all over the world.  It was the first time that this award had ever been made in Ireland

Two years later, on 13 August 1944, Mr Scott, now Honorary Secretary of the Scout Council in Ireland, repeated his earlier heroics at the same spot when he saved the life of two scouts trapped 200 feet up on the waterfall cliff face.  They had found their progress barred by slippery rock and, afraid to move, had been on the rock for some hours.

For this additional heroism, Mr Scott was awarded the Bronze Cross with a bar for gallantry – the highest Baden Powell Scout award for gallantry, and the only person in the world to have been awarded it

Mr Scott, who had been called to the Irish Bar in 1931, had already done some not inconsiderable service in providing digested reports of cases for the Irish Law Times Reports throughout the following decade.

Mr Scott retired as Secretary of the Scout Council in 1965. His retirement present was a radio and record player. A great time for such gifts – hopefully he made good use of them!

Mr Scott died at Harold’s Cross in 1995 at the age of 85. He was laid to rest in Enniskerry. His obituary from the Irish Times may be read here.

Image Credits: Fine Art America (left) and Evening Herald, via Irish Newspaper Archives (right)

Flags and the Four Courts, 1885-1922

The Prince and Princess of Wales’ 1885 visit to Dublin, as depicted in the Graphic, 18 April 1885. Perhaps because of its dirty condition, there were no depictions of the Four Courts among the many illustrations of the visit.

From the Dublin Daily Express, 17 April 1885:

“Sirs – The soiled flags which were displayed on the Four Courts during the Prince’s visit, and were a disgrace to the noble building, ought, I should think, receive a thoroughly good washing before being replaced on the return of his Royal Highness.

A line or two in your influential paper calling the attention of the authorities to the matter, would, I have no doubt, have the desired effect – I am, sir, yours &c


Flags and the Four Courts were again in the news in April 1922, when the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War took occupation of the Four Courts and hoisted their flag over the building. As reported by the pro-Treaty Freeman, ‘mutineers in new trench coats’ lined the parapet at either side and saluted a tricolour flag. A later report in the Illustrated London News describes the ‘green flag of the Republicans’ as flying over the portico.

Photograph from the Illustrated London News, July 1922, via British Newspaper Archive

The rebels in the Four Courts hoisted a new flag – a white one – on the 30th June 1922, after wholesale bombardment of the building by Provisional Government forces. But later that year a rebel audaciously visited the Four Courts one more time to recover the original flag hoisted in April.

According to the Dublin Evening Telegraph of 22 June 1922:

“Shortly before 3 o’clock on Wednesday evening the Tara street section of the Fire Brigade were asked to send a fire escape ladder to the ruins of the Four Courts. They were told that some employees of the Board of Works were in the ruins and could not get down.

On arrival at the Four Courts, a young man who was standing near at hand told the firemen to put the escape ladder up to the flagstaff as the men who could not get down were near the flagstaff. The young man then climbed the ladder along with the firemen, and when at the top he said that the men must have got down by some other means.

He then produced a pliers and cut down the tricolour, which has been flying from the flagstaff since the occupation of the Four Courts on last Good Friday.

When on the ground once more the young man thanked the firemen, saying: ‘That is what I wanted,’ pointing to the flag; ‘I am from the I.R.A.*”

He then walked away.”

*The I.R.A. the young man was referring to was the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, the Irish Republican Army (1922-69) and not the Provisional IRA created in 1969.

I love this story!

Irish Barrister Beheaded on Banks of Bosphorus, c.1825

Aivazovsky, View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus,1856, via Wikimedia Commons

From the Irish Independent, 17 June 1909:


In the early years of the nineteenth century one of the most popular favourites in Dublin Society was a barrister named William Norcott, whose identity is discreetly veiled under the initial ’N—-‘ by several chroniclers of the period.  He was the life and soul of every party; his wit was keenly relished, and his satirical powers enjoyed by all but the victims whose peculiarities were so readily hit off.  As a punster, he was the equal of Lord Norbury, as a mimic unrivalled.  He was in great requests at all fashionable functions, and was supposed to possess considerable means.  He had splendid prospects at the Irish Bar, where his possibilities of practice were very great, if he cared to avail himself of his opportunities, and it was generally thought that his inability to trouble himself in this manner was due to his possession of large wealth.

Cruikshank, An Evening Party, via Wikipedia


His own bachelor entertainments were on a very magnificent scale, and he simply drove all competitors out of the field, until rumours of Norcott’s reckless gambling and doubtful methods of play became current.  That he was an inveterate card-player was common knowledge, but as most of his associates were tarred with the same brush, no special obloquy was attached to that charge.  But it was pretty broadly hinted that Norcott was in serious difficulties, that, in fact he was ‘without a sou’ and was obliged to resort to various shady expedients to continue the pace.  As soon as the fact of his being ‘broke’ became established, he speedily found himself shunned. As one who knew him declared ‘his best puns began to pass without notice, his mimicry excited no laughter, and his most high-flown compliments scarcely received a curtesy.’


He was, according to a contemporary, mediating suicide with one of his duelling pistols, when it occurred to him that one of his college companions, John Wilson Croker, had secured a high position at the Admiralty in London, and might be disposed to provide him with a distant sinecure in which he could continue to indulge his now irresistible passion for gambling.  Accordingly, he obtained a lucrative position in Malta, and left Dublin with the hope that when he had made or married a fortune he would return to the scene of his early triumphs to dazzle and delight once more the worshippers of wealth and success.

View of Malta Harbour, 1828, via Mutual Art


It was in or about 1815 when Norcott left Malta.  He had hardly landed when he recommenced his old life, playing cars for his stakes and spending freely.  The same rumours and suspicions which had enveloped him in Dublin soon began to gather round him in Malta, and finally even that station became too hot to hold him.  He was accused, rightly or wrongly, of various irregularities, and finally fled to Constantinople, where he joined the army of outcasts of all nationalities who congregated in the city on the Bosphorus.  In a comparatively short time he was reduced to absolute poverty, and was finally compelled to sell rhubarb and opium in the streets of Smyrna for a bare subsistence.

The cemetery where Dr Walsh met William Norcott, as depicted by Thomas Allom in an illustration accompanying a book later published by Walsh on Constantinople, via Antique Prints


Some years passed, and one evening the Rev Dr Robert Walsh, the chaplain to the British Embassy in Constantinople, chanced to visit one of the cemeteries of the city of the Golden Horn.  His attention was caught by the appearance of a man, evidently a European, who was dressed in a tattered white costume and wore a ragged turban.  Speaking in English, the stranger begged him for assistance, as he was absolutely destitute and serving.  He had hardly spoken when Dr Walsh, who was also a graduate of Trinity College, exclaimed ‘Gracious… can it be?’ when the unhappy outcast proceeded to say ‘Alas, it is too true, I am Mr Norcott, of the Irish Bar.


Norcott, in his desperate poverty, had formally abjured Christianity, and hoped to obtain some alleviation of his sufferings, which eventually led to his tragic end.  Some Englishmen having befriended him, he determined to return to Christianity and to escape from Turkey.  His purpose was discovered and he was pursued by the Sultan’s myrmidons.  Being captured a few miles away from the capital, he was instantly decapitated, and his body thrown into the Bosphorus.  Truly, times are changed.’


Officer of the Janissaries, by Thomas Charles Wageman, via Fine Art America

Poor Mr Norcott! The above may have been the last sight he ever saw.

Alas, the only other documentary trace of Mr Norcott lies in this 1810 advertisement for the sale of his law books, presumably placed before he left Dublin for Malta.

Times change indeed – the concept of ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ being still some way away even in 1909. Perhaps Mr Norcott’s life might now be viewed as a journey of self-discovery?

Not Putting a Ring on it, 1937

From the Irish Examiner, 26 November 1937:




At Wexford Circuit Court, before Judge Comyn KC, William McC, Wexford, appealed against the decision of the District Court Justice at Wexford, sentencing him to a month’s imprisonment on a charge of larceny by finding of a gold ring the property of Mrs K Delaney, Gardiner’s Row, Dublin.

Mrs Delaney swore that on August 22nd, 1937, she was playing golf at the Rosslare Links and lost her ring.  Some time after she returned to Dublin a Civic Guard called with a ring which she understood was her ring.  It fitted her but she had no proof that the ring was hers.  She believed it was her ring.

When the witness gave this evidence late on Tuesday night the ring was not in court, and when the case was taken up in the morning she was not present.  Mr Kelly, State Solicitor, said that as Mrs Delaney had not gone so far as to identify the ring, the State could not prove ownership, and they could not go on with the case.

The Judge – Apparently she has been thinking about it and she thought perhaps she had sworn too much.  There was no blame to be attached to her.

Mr Kelly said nothing remained except for him to present the ring to Mr Esmonde, TD, who appeared for William McC.

Mr Esmonde said the State had adopted a wise and proper course in withdrawing the case.  The defendant had an absolute and perfect defence to the charge, and had brought from England a girl who had given him the ring.  She was not present in the District Court.

Mr Esmonde applied for the return of the ring to the defendant.  The State solicitor had no objection, he understood.

The Judge – I would like to see the lady that gave a wedding ring to a man (laughter).


Miss Bessie M was sworn and stated that she is employed in England and had been brought over for this case.  The ring belonged to her mother who is dead.  She was wearing the ring when home at her aunt’s last year, and she gave it to William McC, the defendant.  Rumours got about that she was married and she was showing him the ring and he took it from her finger and kept it.  She was 21 years of age.  She had been at service in Dublin and Waterford before she went to England.

William McC was sworn and said Bessie M gave him the ring at Lady’s Island.

The Judge – Was there any witness of the ceremony? (laughter)

Witness said he was 26 years of age.

The Judge – Have you any notion of getting married?

Witness – No, sir.

What do you mean by walking out with a girl of 21 if you don’t intend to marry her?

Witness – I don’t know.

Of course I don’t want you to commit yourself if you don’t know what you meant (laughter).  Did she ever ask you what were your intentions?

Witness – No.


Do you think she was moving towards that when the matter of the ring came up? (laughter).  You must have been slow about giving her a ring when she gave you one (laughter).  How did the Guards discover you had the ring?

Witness – I gave it to another girl in Rosslare.

You got it from Miss M and gave it to another girl.  Are you married yet?

Witness – No sir.

You had great adventures as a bachelor, getting a wedding ring from a fine little girl of 21 because you were too slow about a proposal, and you gave it to another girl you are not married to (laughter) What do you say to that?

Witness – I don’t know what to say?

Well, Mr Esmonde has conducted your case with great courage and success, and you have got free from going to jail, but don’t you think you have great courage to come here and claim the ring?

Witness – I don’t know.

I think I would stick to Miss Murphy if I were you and make a proposal.  I think I will give you back the ring; it just fits her finger (laughter).

Later in the evening the judge said he would not give defendant the ring because he did not seem to be able to make proper use of it (laughter).  He directed that it be sent to Mrs Delaney in Dublin.

Technically speaking, Mr Esmonde was quite right – his client should have got the ring back! Did Judge Comyn decide not to give it back because of doubts about Bessie M’s story – or because he believed her story, felt sorry for her, and wasn’t going to give her mother’s ring back to Mr McC to be passed onto to another girl? Possibly the former – because otherwise why not just give it back to Bessie M herself?

As you can see from the above story, many judges enjoy putting their former cross-examination skills to use on witnesses! The advocacy skills of the Comyn family were unsurpassed – the legal careers of Judge Comyn and his nephew James, yet another Irishman who became an English High Court Judge, make fascinating reading!

A She-Judge, 1830

From the Dublin Morning Register, 5 May 1830:


At half-past nine o’clock yesterday morning, one of the Court-Keepers’ maids, a plump, arch-looking girl, entered the Court, and ascended the Bench to arrange their Lordships’ inkstands, cushions etc. Having completed all matters of judicial accommodation, she sat down very gravely in the seat usually occupied by Judge Jebb.

A Reporter, who generally labors under the influence of a couple of glasses (spectacles), while mending his pen, threw a glance at the Bench and asked if her Lordship would go into law arguments today.

Her Lordship, gravely – “Not until my brother Judges come into court; they will be here presently, as I just left one of them dressing.”

Reporter – My Lord, will the Court hear motions today.

Her Lordship – I will hear motions in chamber only, here I will also try applications to make conditional rules absolute.

Her Lordship was in the act of leaving the Bench, when the Reporter asked if he would attend her Lordship in Chamber.

Her Lordship, with great quickness and gravity, replied:

‘Before entering into arguments in Chamber, I must first sit in error.”

Her Lordship then retired.

So many double entendres in this piece – and so much interesting information about 19th century court procedure.

A judge’s chambers were rooms off the court where the judge dressed and undressed, and retired between cases. ‘Dressing’ meant putting on and off legal robes, bands and wigs.

Motions were (and are) applications heard on affidavit to deal with procedural matters such as delivery of pleadings and discovery of documentation, which come up in the course of preparing a case for trial.

Chamber motions referred to applications heard in the judge’s chambers rather than in open court. They were applications requiring no argument, calculated for the dispatch of business, and the indulgence of the suitor in cases of not too special or difficult of nature, which, if not heard in chamber, might never, or not for a long time be heard.

The Irish Rules of Court still provide for some chamber motions today – an example would be Order 20 of the Circuit Court Rules which allows applications in chambers for the production of deeds or the sale of any goods or merchandise the subject of court proceedings of a perishable nature, and therefore desirable to be sold at once.

Motions in error were motions to set aside orders of a court which had been made in error. Unlike chamber motions, motions in error were heard in open court.

The story illustrates the presence of women in the 19th century Four Courts. Although the idea of a woman lawyer, never mind a woman judge, was as yet fantastical, and 19th century Irish ladies, unlike their English counterparts, were not inclined to attend legal proceedings for mere entertainment, there were nonetheless women housekeepers, court-keepers, currant bun and newspaper sellers within the Round Hall, a strong female contingent engaged in the process of transporting barristers’ bags, and even the occasional female lay litigant!

Amazing to think that the interchange above took place where Court 1 is today. The High Court which replaced the old courts of King’s Bench, Common Pleas, Chancery and Exchequer now has many women judges and counting and a President of the same gender sitting just across the Round Hall in Court 4.

Judges still have chambers and sit on the bench but inkstands are no longer present – not sure about cushions! Times change but legal benches can still be hard on the posterior! Perhaps the girl above was sitting in the judge’s seat to test the quality of the cushions?!

I hope she did not get into trouble as a result of this story!

Image Credit