Lord Chancellor’s Emissary Saves Lady from Singed Cat, Incurs Husband’s Wrath, 1838


From the Waterford Mail, 5 March 1838:

“There is a story running the rounds of the hundred and one coteries that assemble in the Four Courts, that is creating much amusement. You shall have it, and you may take it, as far as its authenticity is concerned, quantum valeat.

It appears that Sir Anthony Harte, the Lord Chancellor, was engaged some days since in superintending the hanging up of paintings in his new residence, when a message from a distinguished lady, who lives in a neighbouring house, was received by his Lordship, begging as a favour that the workmen should desist for a while, as she was labouring under serious illness.

Of course the Chancellor at once gave the necessary directions that the work should cease; but fearing that the issuing of his orders would not be sufficiently complimentary to the lady, he despatched a legal friend who holds a high appointment under him, with his compliments to the lady to express his Lordship’s regret, & c. The delegate instantly called on the lady, and was shown into the drawing room, where she was sitting. He explained the object of his visit, and was requested to be seated. He had hardly taken his seat and commenced a general conversation, when a singed cat, which by some curious accident or other was concealed in the chimney, sprung from it, screeching and springing about in such contortions as to make the lady think the animal was affected by hydrophobia. She screamed, and it appears was seized with violent hysterics.

The poor barrister, who had got himself into a disastrous tête à tête, flew to the assistance of the lady in distress. The servants rushed upstairs and the husband of the lady followed them rapidly. When he saw his lady screaming on a sofa, and so violently agitated, he could of course think of nothing else but that his unknown visitor had been impertinent in some way to the lady, and that in such case he was in duty bound to chastise him, which, the story adds, he did with amazing effect. The entire business, as you may guess, was easily settled by an explanation; and what at first was tragical has resulted in more laughter than can be described.”

Hydrophobia was not unknown in Ireland in 1828 – a woman died of it in Collooney, Sligo, in March, and there was at least one other case at Greashill, in Co Offaly, in May. The lady may have been thinking of a case reported in the newspapers to have occurred in London the same month in which a father died of hydrophobia after being bitten by his children’s cat. A rabid dog was shot by a police officer in one of the quadrangles of the Four Courts as late as 1900 (as the officer was unarmed, the gun was obtained from an Ormond Quay resident).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screenshot-2022-01-10-at-15.46.52.png
Merrion Street today, via Instant Street View. Possibly one of the chimneys on the right?

Sir Anthony, Lord Chancellor of Ireland between 1827-30, lived in Merrion Street, Dublin, during his short stay in Ireland. The Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet of 17 April 1828 contains a write-up of a splendid Ball and Supper given by him there in 1828, remarkable for his mansion’s brilliant illumination, and for the profusion of the choicest plants, flowers and exotic blooms with which it was ornamented, the corridors and stairs decorated with fruit trees in full bloom.

Although there had been Irish Lord Chancellors in the 18th century, all early 19th century appointees to the highest judicial office in Ireland were from the English Bar. Sir Anthony’s successor, William Plunket, was the first 19th century Irish barrister to be appointed to the position. Despite his non-Irish status, Sir Anthony was a very popular Lord Chancellor. Some nice images of him from the British Museum below.

Neighbour disputes can be tricky, and it was prescient of Sir Anthony to delegate the responsibility of settling this particular one! I hope his unfortunate emissary did not take long to recover from his cat-astrophe!

Top Image Credit: Picryl. Bottom Images: British Museum.

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

LOYALIST

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!

The Milltown Outrage, 1861

A three minute video, the first of a two-parter about a long forgotten but once widely publicised crime of 1861 involving a Dublin cab driver, a 19-year old governess and an allegation of assault with intent to violate in the vicinity of what is now Alexandra College, Milltown.

There was a subsequent trial in the Commission Court, Green Street, involving multiple twists and turns and interesting issues regarding identification evidence. I hope to cover the trial and its aftermath in more detail over the next couple of weeks.

Also on YouTube.

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:

“A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY

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

SINISTER RUMOURS

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.’

AN ESCAPE

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

THE EAST

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

STRANGE MEETING

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.

THE END

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.’

DJ O’DONOGHUE.”

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:

“JUDGE AND A RING

AMUSING CASE AT WEXFORD CIRCUIT COURT

QUESTIONS TO WITNESS

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).

GIRL’S EVIDENCE

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.

JUDGE’S COMMENTS

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:

COURT OF KING’S BENCH – (A SHE-JUDGE)

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

A Barrister’s Account of the Easter Rising, 1916

Sackville Street, Dublin, following the Rising, via Warwick Digital Collections

From the Northern Whig, 10 May 1916:

Mr Fred H Mullan, solicitor, Trevor Hill, Newry, has just received a very interesting account from Mr John Cusack, BL, of the Easter Rising in Dublin. Mr Cusack states:-

About 12.30 p.m. on Monday I received a telephone message at my house that the Sinn Feiners had seized Stephen’s Green. I walked there, and found the rebels in possession. They had barricaded the gates with garden seats and pieces of wood, and armed sentries were walking up and down inside, while the rest were digging trenches.

On Tuesday morning early I called to see the Attorney-General, whose election was being held that day, and found at his home the Solicitor-General, who had passed the night at the Castle. As he was returning there in his motor I went with him to the Castle. The Upper Castle Yard was most unhealthy, as the rebels were still sniping.

The entrance to the Upper Castle Yard, Dublin Castle, via Warwick Digital Collections

I soon left , and made my way to Sackville Street, where I found Judge Orr coolly watching the performance. I then went to the Club in Stephen’s Green North on the invitation of a member. We stayed there some time watching a military machine gun operating on the rebels in the Green from the top of the Shelbourne Hotel, and noting the effect of the returned fire on the rebels. In the coachhouse at the back of my house the father of the anatomy porter of the Royal College of Surgeons resides, and from this porter I learned that in the College they had captured a quantity of rifles and ammunition, and they even barricaded the windows with the dead bodies which were in the College for anatomy purposes, which they removed from the tanks.

The Royal College of Surgeons, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, via Warwick Digital Collections

On Wednesday the Sherwood Foresters came marching in the broiling sun in close order from Kingstown. Nothing occurred till they reached immediately opposite my house, when they were suddenly taken unawares by a fierce fire. The officers, now recognising what they had to meet, caused the neighbourhood to be searched. With rebels sniping all round us, the military entered my home during the search. Luckily some official papers were lying on my desk with a couple of large envelopes, endorsed OHMS and Chief Crown Solicitors’ Department, Dublin Castle, and thus my respectability was vouched for, and the search proceeded no further.”

Mr Cusack, originally from Newry, lived at 9 Waterloo Road, Ballsbridge. He was a barrister with a large practice on the North-East Circuit who had been appointed counsel to the Attorney-General James Campbell earlier that year. He had also acted as counsel to the previous Attorney-General, now Mr Justice Gordon. Shortly after the Rising, he became a KC, and was later appointed County Court Judge for Kerry. He resigned in 1924 and went to live in England, where he was elected Lord Mayor of Twickenham in 1929.

Judge Cusack, as depicted in the Larne Times, 17 April 1920, via British Newspaper Archives

Judge Cusack passed away at his home in Middlesex in 1940 while reading a newspaper. His own newspaper account of 1916, however, omits two interesting matters.

Firstly, while all the above events were happening, he and his wife Dora had a newborn son in the house. This son, born in mid-April 1916, later went on to become Sir Ralph Vincent Cusack, Judge of the High Court of England and Wales. Another son, Jake, was Minister of the Interior of Kenya during the Mau-Mau period.

Secondly, Judge Cusack appears to have neglected his duty as counsel to the Attorney-General in one vitally important respect – namely, that of ensuring that the Chief Law Officer for Ireland had enough ready cash to keep going until normal financial business resumed. By the following week, the Dublin Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph was gleefully reporting that

[t]he deepest tragedy in Ireland in Ireland is always touched with tragedy, and everybody has a rebellion joke to tell. The joke of Dublin Castle is that the Attorney General and Solicitor General Mr JH Campbell [later Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor of Ireland] and Mr James O’Connor [later Sir James O’Connor, Judge of the Supreme Court of Judicature in Ireland] were besieged for nearly a week, and as no banks were open during the Rebellion they had to raise a loan in cash from a journalistic friend. The idea of an Irish journalist being in a position to finance an Attorney General has vastly entertained Dublin in the midst of its woes.

The Attorney-General’s pocket was not the only element of the Irish legal system to be turned inside out by the 1916 Rebellion! Lots more small (and large) change to come!

The Misfortunes of Judge Linehan’s Criers, 1913-29

The Old Courthouse, Dungannon, where Mr Ree was locked in in 1913, via Wikimedia Commons.

From the Mid-Ulster Mail, 7 June 1913:

“Mr Robert Ree, County Court Judge Linehan’s crier, met with an unfortunate accident in Dungannon on the afternoon of the 4th.  It seems that the business of the quarter sessions was adjourned early in the afternoon, and the officials hurried off to the Dungannon Agricultural Show, with the result that Mr Ree, after settling up the judge’s papers, found that he was locked inside the courthouse.  There is no interior connection with the caretaker’s apartments beneath the courthouse, but he attracted the attention of passer’s -by, and a ladder was brought and placed against one of the upper windows.  Unfortunately, Mr Ree turned to close the window before descending the ladder, with the result that he overbalanced and fell into the area.  He was promptly removed to the Northland Arms Hotel, and was attended to by Surgeon Marmion, JP.  It was found that his face was much cut and bruised, but fortunately he had escaped more serious injury.”

No better luck attended the judge’s replacement crier, Mr Edward Murphy, who was unfortunate enough to meet his death in Dublin during the Easter Rising of 1916. According to the Mid-Ulster Mail of 13 May 1916, Mr Murphy had been passing through St Stephen’s Green on Easter Tuesday, 9th May, when, opposite the Unionist Club, he waved his hand in salute to an acquaintance at a window.  He was immediately fired at by a rebel sniper and killed.

The Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club, formerly the Unionist Club, Stephen’s Green, Dublin, opposite which Mr Murphy met his death in the Rising of 1916, via Google Maps

On the 10th June, Judge Linehan, in addressing the Tyrone Grand Jury, expressed his satisfaction that the county had been free from the dreadful occurrences which had marked many parts of the country. He referred to the valuable lives lost during Easter Week and particularly that of Mr Murphy, stating that he felt his loss deeply and tendered his sincere sympathy to his widow and family.

Judge Linehan’s next court crier, Robert Fyffe, survived until 1929.  Announcing his death at the Dungannon Quarter Sessions, Judge Linehan said that Mr Fyffe had been with him for a great number of years, and had even made an effort to come with him to Dungannon, but had been too unwell to do so.  He was sure that the court would join with him in deploring his death and sending sympathy to his daughters.

Tyrone County Court Judge Linehan KC

Judge Linehan himself died in 1935. Tributes at Castlederg Petty Sessions Court following his death described him as one of the most courteous, efficient, and conscientious judges that had ever presided at a court in County Tyrone.  Mr VP McMullin, solicitor, on behalf of the legal profession praised his wonderful courtesy and assistance and said that as an advocate at the Bar he had had a brilliant career, but his brilliancy at the bar was easily outshone by his brilliancy on the bench. 

An obituary in the Portadown Times described Judge Linehan as a native of Cork who practised in Dublin, acted as a judge in Northern Ireland, and lived in England,  noting that although almost all the old County Court judges in the Irish Free State had been dismissed, most of the current Northern Irish Bench had been appointed prior to 1919. The obituary drew attention to the fact that, like a number of other members of the bench, Judge Linehan had commenced his career as a newspaper reporter and said that there was no doubt that his early journalistic experience had given him a wide insight into human nature which he had turned into account as a judge.

All Irish judges survived the 1916 Rising, although there were concerns at one point that Mr Justice Barton might have been detained by rebels in the Four Courts, and Mr Justice Johnson’s house in Lansdowne Road was occupied by rebel troops.

The most famous legal deceased of 1916 was of course Patrick Pearse, leader of the Rising, described alternately as ‘a nominal barrister’ and ‘a barrister without briefs’ in contemporaneous accounts. The legal profession, it seemed, was somewhat anxious to disassociate itself from him – and indeed from any of its other members who had participated in the Rising – described by one newspaper as ‘Sinn Fein ornaments.’ Now Pearse’s image hangs proudly a stone’s throw from the Law Library in the Four Courts. Times change!

Tragedy and disapproval aside, the Irish legal profession appeared to have enjoyed the drama of the Rising with gripping accounts by John Cusack BL and solicitor James D Caruth appearing in the press. The restrictions on movement imposed by both sides led to some interesting interaction between certain senior lawyers – not used to being in a position of being ordered about – and both Rebel and British troops.  More to come!

Relocating the Encumbered Estates Court, 1850-60

The exterior of 14 Henrietta Street, former home of the Encumbered Estates Court, as it appeared some years ago, via Google Streetview. Now refurbished, it currently enjoys a new existence as a museum of Georgian and Dublin tenement life.

From the Freeman’s Journal, 5 February 1850:

“ENCUMBERED ESTATES COURT

By one of those blunders peculiar to English government in Ireland the machinery of a vast revolution was set up for the sale of property, and no provision whatever made for the court which was to work the machine.  The Commissioners were cast loose on the city, without a place actually to hold a court, file petitions, or transact the various business connected with the operations of the commission.  One day they took up their quarters in the Court of Exchequer, from which they were rapidly expelled to seek temporary refuge in the Nisi Prius court, while the next day found them somewhere in the dark recesses which pierce the flanks of the hall, and where they concealed themselves so effectually that none could find them.

At last the Board of Works took compassion on their wanderings, and fitted them up at 14, Henrietta-street.  The learned heads, from whom the new court was gradually stealing away the old fat fees, were quite indignant at this change, while the junior bar, whose locomotion is not retarded by heavy bags, were equally delighted at the prospect of having the snug court in Henrietta-street all to themselves.  The seniors could not leave the old haunts without much inconvenience.  It was so pleasant to dart from one court into another, and take in their clients on the way!  Henrietta-street did not agree with the boys at all, and, though a few strolled up to argue a heavy motion, as a general rule the business of the court was transacted by juniors.

Things being in this position, a case arose which brought the rebellious tendencies of the senior bar to a head.  A matter of great importance – the construction of one intricate will – was to have been argued before the commissioners.  Several silk gowns were retained, and consulting their own rather than the convenience of the court, they applied that the matter in the estate of Denroche Purcell should be heard within the precincts of the Four Courts.  This found, as it ought to have found, a strong and peremptory refusal from the three commissioners.

Why should the public be inconvenienced for the accommodation of a few particular counsel? It was clearly their duty to accept no business which they could not execute with satisfaction, and if their absence was incompatible with their engagements to their other clients, they should have returned the briefs to which they could not attend; but to attempt to hold both – to butter their toast on the upper side and the under – implied a looseness of moral duty which is the general but censurable result of long professional practice.

The court at once quelled such pretensions.  They could not consent that their court should be locomotive and ambulatory – a travelling hospital of records – to accommodate counsel.  But Baron Richards drove the nail deeper.  If, said he, the case required so much attention as had been represented, it would be well that the counsel engaged in it should give it their exclusive consideration, instead of being subject to be called from court to court by solicitors, and enabled to slip out from place to place.  If they came to that court they would come to the business for which they were retained, and that alone, and it was not reasonable for any counsel, no matter whom, to call upon the commissioners to walk down to the Four Courts to hear a particular case.

This is the true rationale of the matter.  If a senior accepts a brief in the Commission Court, he should discharge his duty there exclusive of all personal considerations.  If it be inconvenient to leave the ancient haunts, why his remedy is easy! Let him stay in the hall and its ‘precincts’ and leave the incommodious court in Henrietta-street, and its inexpensive practice, to a class of professional men who understand the business quite as well, and will do it without protests or round-robins! Except in some special cases of rare occurrence, there is nothing so very mysterious in the proceedings of the new tribunal that the average intellect and learning of the bar could not penetrate.”

This was not the first, nor yet the last, criticism of the practice, apparently unique to Ireland, of Senior Counsel not only practising in each of the four courts but appearing in cases in more than one of them on the same day, thereby leaving most of the work to their Juniors.

In fact such criticism was just one of a series of fierce salvos fired by the Outer against the Inner Bar as part of an intense mid-century territorial war for work initially provoked by the expansion of jurisdiction on the part of the County Courts and subsequently exacerbated by a post-Famine decrease in litigation. 

According to a paper read to the Dublin Statistical Society in May 1862, the number of barristers paying their subscriptions to the Law Library decreased from 690 to 424 between 1850 and 1859, and probably most of those who exited were Junior Counsel.

Though by no means a goldmine, the Encumbered Estates Court established in 1849 to facilitate the sale of impecunious estates provided a much-needed source of income for Junior practitioners – it is understandable that they did not want to see the Inner Bar intrude!

The Encumbered Estates Court was replaced in 1858 by the Landed Estates Court. New premises for this Court in the Four Courts took two years to build, but were finished in early 1860.

The new building, designed by architect Jacob Owen, is described in the Freeman’s Journal of 15 March of that year as ‘a continuation of the range extending in the westerly direction from the pile known as the Benchers Building in suite with the insolvency and bankruptcy courts at the eastern side of the coffee room and Solicitors’ Chambers.’ A Probate Court was added on shortly afterwards.

An early OS map showing the Four Courts as it was before the building of the Landed Estates Court, via Geohive. The southern side of Pill Lane has already been incorporated into the complex but the northern side survives intact.
Also from Geohive, a later OS map depicting a very different Four Courts later in the 19th century. The Solicitors’ Building shown on the earlier map is now flanked by the Probate Court and Landed Estates Court on the west and Insolvency and Bankruptcy Courts on the east. There is a separate Public Records Building (not yet in place in 1860) further to the west of the Probate Court.

The Dublin and Evening Packet and Correspondent of 15 March 1860 describes the Landed Estates Court as a most useful and creditable work in a solid, graceful and unpretentious style, presenting an appearance both chaste and imposing, and harmonising perfectly with the older portions of the rear extension. The report draws attention to housekeeper’s apartments in the basement, fire safety precautions and the inclusion of hot water pipes for the purposes of maintaining a proper temperature. Hopefully they were more efficient than the ones in the main Four Courts building!

The above development necessitated an enlargement of the Four Courts complex to include most of the north-east side of Pill Lane. This once-vibrant commercial street, haunt of Dublin fishwives, had originally run immediately behind Gandon’s Four Courts. Its decline started in the 1830s, when the south-east side was acquired to provide land for the Solicitors’ Building. The building of the Landed Estates Courts effectively finished it off. It was replaced by today’s Chancery Street (now New Street), somewhat north.

You can see the change in street configuration on the above before and after images. An 1865 OPW map included in this post by Beyond22 gives a very helpful overlay of the changes. Beyond22 also provides a useful account of the Encumbered Estates Court and its work.

It is sad to see the end of Pill Lane, which had a wonderful history – hopefully it will be possible to reconstitute some of it in future posts!