Carlow Solicitor Takes Down Two IRA Men in Career-Ending Gun Battle, 1923

From the Freeman’s Journal, 19 February 1923:





Sensational to an almost incredible degree is the account that has just come to hand of experiences that befell Mr Edward S Maffett, a Co Carlow solicitor, and his family some time ago.

Held at the point of the gun by two men, who were ransacking his house, he succeeded in eluding his captors, armed himself with an automatic pistol, and in the most dramatic fashion turned the tables on the raiders, killing one and seriously wounding the other.

Although the tragic affair took place on January 5, the details have, for some unexplained reason, not been previously disclosed.


Mr Maffett has offices in Carlow, but resides at ‘Thornville,’ about four miles on the Dublin side of the town, in close proximity to the well-known Burton Hall.  The house is a spacious old Georgian mansion, standing about 80 yards off the road, and approached by a winding avenue.

On the morning in question Mr Maffett left as was his practice, at 10.30 o’clock to cycle to his office.  He had only reached the top of a steep hill about 200 yards from the house when he was suddenly called on to halt by a young man sheltering behind a wall on the left hand side of the road.  Mr Maffett had no option but to dismount, and the young man, afterwards ascertained to be Patrick Bermingham, scrambled across the road and approached him.

He ordered Mr Maffett to put up his hands, and kept him in that position for three or four minutes, whilst a second man, to whom he had whistled, approached across a fied.


During this interval Mr Maffett asked what was the reason for being held up. 

The young man replied by asking ‘Are you Maffett?’ and, receiving an answer in the affirmative, said ‘You will soon know the reason damned well.’

On the arrival of the second man, Edward Snoddy, Bermingham said ‘I have got him’.   

The two men searched Mr Maffett, after which they ordered him to return home, saying that they wanted to search the house for arms.

While walking up the avenue to the house Snoddy, pointing a revolver at Mr Maffett, said ‘If we get any arms in the house I’ll plug you.’

The men were met at the halldoor by Mrs Maffett, who was naturally surprised to see her husband coming up the avenue with his strange escort.


What happened in the house is best told in the words of Mr Maffett himself, as related to a Freeman’s Journal representative who visited the scene.

‘I went in first, followed by the two men, who first searched the dining-room, where they found an air gun and two or three old cartridges that had been lying for years in a drawer.  They then said they were going to search the upper part of the house.  I led the way upstairs, and went first to the schoolroom, which has a separate staircase.’

‘As you can see,’ said Mr Maffett when showing our representative through the house, ‘this schoolroom has two doors – one at the head of the stairs and the other leading into a bedroom, which in turn communicates with the top landing, off which is my dressing-room.  The men did not notice this second door, as there was a heavy portiere curtain hanging over it.’

While the men were engaged searching a cupboard at the opposite side of the room, Mr Maffett, who had been standing near the concealed door, quickly slipped through it.


‘I pulled the double doors after me and in a second reached my dressing-room, and opened a black tin box in which I had my automatic pistol.  Having secured the automatic I took up my position on the top landing, from which I commanded a view of the stairs from the schoolroom, and also the double door through which I escaped.’

‘I was barely there,’ he proceeded, ‘before I heard Bermingham coming down the stairs and then I saw his head and revolver coming round the foot of the staircase.  He saw me immediately and raised his revolver to fire, but I fired before he had time to do so and he fell, the revolver dropping out of his hand.’

‘I then watched for the other man, who immediately after the shot rushed at me through the double doorway, and I fired at him.  He turned back immediately for cover, and just as he was entering I fired again, thinking I had missed him, the first time.  He then fell in the door way and did not move again.’

Mrs Moffett stated to our representative that shortly after Bermingham went out she heard a shot, and said to her youngest daughter, ‘Ruby, is that your daddy?’ – thinking Mr Maffett had been shot.  She ran through the double door, and Ruby followed. 

Snoddy shouted to her to come back, and caught hold of Ruby by the arm, but the latter, who is a fine athletic girl of about 17 years, struck him in the face with her clenched fist, and broke away.  She heard the other shots and afterwards saw that Snoddy was lying on the floor.

In the meantime Bermingham, who had been shot through the side of the face, tried to get hold of the revolver he had dropped, but was prevented in time by the older girl, Muriel, who snatched it away from his reach.


Mr Maffett then went down to the lobby, where Bermingham was lying.  The latter asked for a drink of water, and Mr Maffett said whiskey would be better, and sent his daughter Ruby to get some, which she brought in a tumbler with water.

‘I lifted him up to give him a drink,’ said the solicitor, ‘but observing him putting his right hand into his overcoat pocket, I dropped him and searched his pocket, in which I found a Mills No 5 bomb.

His daughter afterwards cycled into Carlow to report the matter to the military, who at once rushed to the scene, and took away the dead body of Edward Snoddy and the wounded man, Patrick Bermingham.


Asked by our representative whether he could offer any explanation of why the men held him up and searched the house, Mr Maffett said the only reason he could suggest was that one night some months ago a party of Irregulars, some 40 strong, had tried to break into the house.

He had fired on them, shots had been exchanged and the party went away.  After that, Mr Maffett had sandbags placed on the windows in case of a repetition of this attack.   He received threatening letters at the time, but paid no heed to them.

Mr Maffett is a native of the county, and has been established all his life in practice in Carlow.  In politics he was always a Unionist, but like so many men of his way of thinking in the Free State, he has philosophically accepted the new order of things, and was quite ready to give the new Government full recognition and loyal service.  He has never taken sides in the present conflict.


Edward Snoddy, who was shot dead, belonged to Blackbog, outside Carlow.  He had been a railway porter, and was a political prisoner till quite recently.   It appears he had been arrested by the military and, pending trial, had been sent to a military hospital as a consequence of injuries received at the time of his arrest.  He escaped only a few days before his death and was, it is said ‘on the run,’ at the time of the raid on Mr Maffett’s.


Attention has been further roused by an attempt on Saturday, February 10, to murder Mr Maffett.  He was driving home from his office about 2 o’clock that day, when three shots were fired from behind a road fence at practically the same spot where he was previously held up.

Since the occurrence the house has been occupied by a strong guard of National troops.”

Alfred Harmsworth BL and Geraldine Maffett, parents of newspaper proprietor Alfred Harmsworth.

Mr Maffett was the son of William Maffett, an Irish barrister. His aunt Geraldine had married another Dublin barrister, Alfred Harmsworth BL; they subsequently moved to England. Their son, another Alfred Harmsworth, went on to revolutionise the British newspaper industry by founding the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail – just one of many Irish legal offspring to make their names in areas outside the legal world!

There was some surprise – and not just in papers controlled by the Harmsworth family – when the Carlow inquest jury returned a verdict of manslaughter by Mr Maffett. Though subsequently arrested and remanded on bail, it does not seem that he was ever prosecuted. Perhaps a compromise was reached. On April 23, 1923, a notice appeared in the local paper to say that he had retired from the business of solicitor, and that his practice had been acquired by Mr O’Donnell, ‘a popular local practitioner.’

After that, Mr Maffett, aged 59 at the date of his retirement, occupied his time with farming, sport and fishing, occasionally surfacing in newspaper reports of shareholders’ meetings. His 1948 obituary in the Nationalist and Leinster Times described him as a foundation member of the Bective Rugby Football Club who had come to Carlow in 1893 and practised at Leinster Crescent with a very extensive practice in Carlow and surrounding counties.

At Carlow Circuit Court the following week, Judge Sealy referred to Mr Maffett’s recent death, saying that although the name of the deceased could only be a name to most lawyers in court as he had retired very many years ago, he, as a member of the Bar, had known Mr Maffett very well and he was a man of great ability in the profession and of high integrity. He was a very satisfactory man to deal with and he never concealed his opinion about any man. His clients, in whose interest he never spared himself, appreciated that. Mr R O’Hanrahan BL, as senior member of the Leinster Bar present, said that, although the late Mr Maffett was a practitioner in that Court long before they came there, the current Carlow Bar had heard of him as a man of character and ability who did his best for his clients without fear or favour. Mr Maffett’s descendants now live abroad.

The remains of Ned Snoddy, aged 18, were first conveyed to Carlow Military Barracks and then to his father’s residence at Blackbog, where they lay overnight, numerous people coming to pay their respect to the dead and sympathy with the living. The subsequent interment took place in the family burial ground, Ballinacarrig, and, according to the Irish Independent of January 1924, the funeral was large, all classes, creeds and shades of political thought being represented. The funeral cortege was preceded by the Graigecullen Fife and Drum Band, playing appropriate music along the route. Following the coffin was a large guard of honour, composed of the dead man’s comrades in the Carlow Brigade IRA and the Carlow Cumann na mBan. The general public followed. A volley was fired over the grave and the ‘Last Post’ sounded, and the large crowds then dispersed.

The loss of one man’s life – and another’s career! Would Mr Maffett have been better not to resist? Or would he have been shot had he not done so? Where does a man’s right to defend himself begin – and end? Would any of this have ever happened if the Carlow Brigade of the IRA had considered that a solicitor might have the skill and determination to protect himself and his family?

Just one of a multitude of tragic stories during a decade of change!

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Fun on Circuit, 1909

‘When the Court rises for the day the members of the Circuit amuse themselves as best they can until dinner-time.’

From the Irish Independent, 2 July 1909:


July is undoubtedly the pleasantest month in the barristers’ working year.  The Circuits are out then, and business is judiciously combined with pleasure.  The old stager, whose hair is whiter than his wig, and to whom briefs are a weariness to the flesh, renews his youth again, and the junior, who hopes timidly that some good-natured solicitor may take pity on him, enjoys himself fully, and forgets his brieflessness.

From the end of the month, when the judges leave in pairs, until the last town is reached, they are accompanied by a swarm of counsel, old and young, expectant of briefs, and sure of amusement, who take possession of hotels, and drive the usually pampered commercial traveller to distraction and profane language – for even that autocratic person has to take a back seat when the Bar arrive.


The Circuits are five in number: North-East, North-West, Connaught, Leinster and Munster, each having its own set of members, and its own Bar rules, which are rigidly enforced.  The rules for admission to a Circuit differ considerably; on one Circuit a barrister after being proposed and seconded, having paid his fees, is, de facto, a member, on another, he must go through a probationary period before he is admitted.  During this period the probationer must dine with the Bar and appear in Court in a certain number of towns.  If he does not misbehave himself in any way, he is elected at the next meeting of the Circuit bar, should he displease the bar he may be blackballed, in which case he must try another Circuit.  Once elected he is permanently attached to that Circuit while he conforms to its rules and may not attend the Assizes on another, without a special retainer much greater than his ordinary fees.

Circuit work was a great way to pick up early briefs. Many inexperienced barristers received their first brief on Circuit.


A junior’s first Circuit is always a novel and interesting experience.  Should the Bar travel in the same train with the judges, he must go first class, no matter how slender his purse.  On the journey he hears discussions on the business of the day and humorous stories of the business of other days.  He is made to feel at home from the first, and soon loses the ‘small boy’ discomfort with which he starts, for there is no other profession in which there is so much good fellowship as there is in the Bar; every man, no matter how young, is treated as the equal of every other.  When the Assize town is reached he sees lines of nervous looking police standing to attention along the railway platform, and the High Sheriff and his attendants ready to receive the judges, who bear with them the Commissions of ‘Oyer and Terminer’ and ‘jail delivery’.  As their lordships alight the police salute and the mounted police (or in garrison towns the military) draw their swords and escort the carriages to the judges’ lodging, where sentries are usually on guard during the Assizes.


The Bar proceed unostentatiously to the Courthouse, and find the ‘wig and gown’ man waiting for them in the dressing room.  They robe at once, and interview the solicitors, who are anxious to see them.  Soon a blaze of trumpets announces the arrival of the judges, who go at once to their respective courts, preceded by the staves.  The senior judge presides in the Crown Court in the first town on the Circuit, after which they take it alternately.  The Commission is read in open court by a (usually) shaky-voiced crier, and the Grand Jury are sworn and charged by the judge.  They almost invariably find true bills, and then the real business begins.  Those counsel who are not engaged in Court remain in the Bar room, where the Circuit library, which always travels with the Circuit, is arranged on the shelves, and writing materials and daily and weekly papers are strewn on the tables. ‘Bar cess’ is usually collected in the morning.  This cess is the amount which each barrister must pay into the common fund, and it goes to the expenses incurred in the town.  In a ‘one day’ town, the Bar, as a rule, lunches in court on cold meats, brought from the city by the Bar butler, except when the High Sheriff invites them to the Grand Jury luncheon, which is always very enjoyable.  In a two or three day town the Bar put up at a hotel, where they breakfast, lunch and dine.

The ‘morning after’ a Circuit dinner could be difficult.

When the Court rises for the day the members of the Circuit amuse themselves as best they can until dinner-time, which is generally about half-past seven.  Some play golf, some go in for fishing, and others either see the places of interest about the town or cycle into the country (the very successful motor).  The Bar dinner is perhaps the pleasantest feature of the day.  A room is reserved in the hotel and no stranger is allowed to enter it.  The ordering of the dinner is left to the Junior for the time being, on whom falls all the humorous blame if it be late or unsatisfactory.  The ‘Father’ of the Bar sits at the head of the table, and the Junior at the foot.  The ‘Father’ is the senior member present, and he must be addressed as ‘Father,’ while he addresses each one as ‘My son.’  Everything at the dinner is of the very best.  The Circuit carries its own wine with it, and champagne is as plentiful as soda water (very little ‘plain’ water is seen, as most of the Bar use lemonade or soda water).  Every member who takes silk or is otherwise advance presents a certain quantity of champagne to his Circuit, so that it seldom runs out.  During the dinner there is much wit and humour flying, almost every man having something good to tell, and the one who is a good mimic or story-teller soon becomes a favourite.


When the coffee is brought around the Junior, using a ‘time-worn formula’ will appeal to the ‘Father;’ ‘Father, may your sons smoke?’ on which the ‘Father’ will reply: ‘Yes, my son, if you think they won’t get sick.’  Then comes, on some Circuits, the greatest ordeal of all for the probationer – the ordeal of the ‘song’.  Whether he has the voice of a Caruso or the croak of a raven he must ‘sing’.  Once the Junior says: ‘Father, might I call attention to the fact that there is a probationer present?’ there is no getting out of it.  He cannot plead that he does not sing, for that is no excuse.  He gets on his feet and blushingly makes a start.  If he can sing he is heard to the end, and ever after may be called on to ‘oblige the company’.  But if he is of the raven order of singers he will not get on very far before there is a chorus of ‘Certificate, Certificate!’ which means that he is awarded a ‘Certificate of Inefficiency,’ and that he will never again be called on to sing, as the Bar has had enough of ‘music.’

Even judges could be mildly amusing on Circuit.


The known and appreciated songsters are called upon in turn and the quiet provincial town is startled by the rousing choruses that float out of hotel windows, the toast to the Father being honoured with the greatest enthusiasm.  Later on, card-tables are produced, and Bridge is played by some until the small hours of the morning; others smoke and chat till bedtime.  The judges, who would perhaps be lonely otherwise, issue invitations to dinner each day to members of the Bar; but these dinners, though highly instructive and sometimes mildly amusing (judges’ jokes are not always of the judicial kind) are not quite so enjoyable; junior members are liable to feel that they are on their good behaviour.

If we did not know that the Circuit was specially instituted for facilitating the administration of justice, we might think that their chief purpose was to make a body of grown-up men as jolly as schoolboys and as courteous as knights errant.  Truly, the Circuits are a great institution – for the Bar, for provincial hotels, and for the facilitation of the administration of Justice.”

A great account of old Irish Circuit life at the turn of the twentieth century! The values of collegiality and humour so described still exist on Circuit today.  Circuit practice is a great way for a determined young barrister without connections to obtain those much sought-after first briefs!

Image Credit: Mr Punch in Wig and Gown

His Only Brief, 1896

From the Weekly Irish Times, 27 June 1896:


QC, MP’ tells a true story infinitely full of pathos.  A fortnight ago a letter reached him in the handwriting of an old college friend, telling a pitiful story of a stranded life.  The writer had been called to the Bar, hoping some day to land on the judicial bench, even if he did not reach the Woolsack.  He had no influence, and very little money.  No business came his way.  But he held on through long years, patiently hoping that some day his chance would come.  Now he was sick, probably unto death, and had no money to buy food or medicine.  His old friend promptly sent a remittance, which was gratefully acknowledged.

At the end of a fortnight, it occurred to him that he would call on the sick man and see what more he could do to help him.  Arrived at the address, the door was opened by a lady-like woman, still young, pretty in spite of the pinching of poverty.  He gave his name and announced his errand.  Whereat the lady, bursting into a passion of tears, told him he was too late.  Her husband had died that morning.

“Would you like to see him?” she asked wistfully.  The two walked upstairs to a small front room.  On the bed lay the body of a man about 40, fully dressed in the wig and gown of a barrister.  In the right hand he held a bundle of foolscap.  ‘What is that?’ the old friend whispered. ‘That’ said the widow, ‘is the only brief he received in the course of 19 years waiting.  He asked me to dress him thus, and put it in his hand when he was dead’.”

A lot to think about in this story for established barristers!  If this man’s successful friend had paid more attention to sending work his way earlier, things might have been different!

Although unattributed by the Irish Times, the above story originally appeared in an English publication, the Strand Magazine.

The Bar is a profession where many of us, starting out, depend on the kindness of colleagues. Sad though this story may be, we must never ever, even when established ourselves, forget what it was like to be briefless!

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The Goat of Morgan Place, 1881

From the Freeman’s Journal, 22 April 1882:


A fish dealer named Ennis was charged by Police Constable 69D with having stolen a goat, the property of Mr Alexander Blyth, Four Courts.  A workman named Michael Higgins, in the employment of the Board of Works, stated that he saw the prisoner take the goat away, which was grazing on the plot of grass near the law courts in Morgan Place, about twelve o’clock today.  Witness followed the prisoner and gave him into custody.  Mr Blyth said the goat had been grazing on the plot for the last twelve months.

 The prisoner – A man gave me 6d to bring him the goat.

 Mr Keys asked the prisoner if he could produce the man who sent him. 

The prisoner said he could not; he did not know him.  He was sent for trial to the City Sessions.”

Mr Blyth was the carpenter attached to the Four Courts.  He subsequently gave evidence in an inquest into the death of a plumber’s assistant killed in an explosion in the Bankruptcy Court in 1888. 

The evolution of Morgan Place is interesting.  Though not originally within the curtilage of the Four Courts, it seems to have been developed around the same time, possibly with a view to capitalising on its proximity.   I have not been able to trace the origin of its name, but perhaps there was a connexion with Mr Robert Morgan, resident at 7 Morgan Place, who was issued with a Game Certificate in August 1817.

The Sheriff’s Office was located on Morgan Place, and Saunders’s News-Letter of July 1799  contained advertisements for three small houses to let there, describing them as contiguous to the New Courts and particularly convenient for attorneys’ offices.   Certainly at least one attorney or barrister took up residence shortly after, as the Dublin Evening Post of July 1806 includes an advertisement from Mr Phelan, of 2 Morgan Place, for return of a valise containing papers of consequence of the utmost moment (of no use to any person but the owner) last seen in the cabin of the Castlereagh Grand Packet Boat, on its passage from Dublin to Athy. A lost brief?

A pre-1836 Morgan Place

There was residential property in Morgan Place too.  Saunders’s News-Letter of 15 September 1803 advertised for sale two complete new built houses in thorough repair and fit for the accommodation of two genteel families, held under a lease of three lives renewable forever.   Later that year there was an advertisement for the upper part of a neat house to let at No 3 Morgan Place consisting of two sitting rooms, two bedchambers and kitchen; a most eligible situation for a small family, or two Gentlemen of the Law, being so contiguous to the courts.

And in June 1804 an intriguing advertisement in the same publication from Mrs Morrison, Embroiderer, respectfully acquainted her friends that she had a great Variety of Masonic Aprons, Sashes and Ribbons at her premises at 4 Morgan Place ready for sale; also a French and English School for young Ladies, with the most approved Masters attending!

Warehouses on Inns Quay and premises on Pill Lane also had rights of way through Morgan Place.  A ripe opportunity for neighbour disputes was removed by the 1833 decision of the Wide Streets Commissioners to acquire these properties, along with Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 Morgan Place, for the purposes of expanding the Four Courts.

Not a moment too soon, as it seems that Morgan Place was becoming home to some rather unsavoury individuals.   In September 1836, there was a robbery of houses which had been purchased by the Benchers at Inns Quay.  The Magistrates granted a warrant for the search of No 2 Morgan Place on foot of information that the watchman of the houses robbed, a man named Rainbow, was concerned in a combination prevailing in the neighbourhood to plunder the establishments situated in it, and that persons living in No. 2 were his accomplices.

Morgan Place, around the time of the incident at the start of this post, after much of it had been compulsorily acquired and rebuilt

Some of the premises compulsorily acquired were subsequently demolished, rebuilt and let out to private owners, advertisements for most commodious Law Chambers in 1 and 2 Morgan Place, all new papered and painted, appearing regularly in the newspapers between 1849 and 1852.   These buildings continued to be let out as Law Chambers even after the remainder of Morgan Place had been compulsorily acquired in the 1860s. 

In 1886, No 2 Morgan Place hosted the inaugural meeting of the Irish Red Setter Club, at which the standard of points for the breed was first approved. Not inappropriate, since Morgan Place and the western end of Inns Quay generally has a long tradition of dog-stealing dating back almost to the opening of the Four Courts. 

Saunders’s News-Letter contains touching advertisements offering reward monies in respect of two animals ‘lost’ there in 1806 and 1808: a large young rough white Spaniel Dog, unbroken, with red ears, some red spots over his body, and a large bushy tail, answering to the name of Sancho, and a small red and white Lapdog, answering to the name of “Flora’.  Sancho’s owner offered two guineas; Flora’s advertisement stated that whoever brought her to 98 James’s Street would receive half a guinea reward, no questions asked.  

Poor Sancho and Flora – they must have been much loved! At least Mr Blyth got his goat back!

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Mr Dunn BL in Prison for Love, October 1838

Mr Dunn’s Belle Dame Sans Merci, Angela Burdett-Coutts

From the Tuam Herald and the Sheffield Independent, 13 October 1838:

The Irish Gentleman (Mr Dunn, the Irish Barrister) alluded to in our paper a few weeks ago, is now at Knaresboro’ in the custody of a police officer from London, on the charge of annoying a certain rich young lady, Miss Burdett Coutts. He was brought before the magistrates at Knaresborough, and Miss Coutts appeared to complain of his outrageous conduct. The case was adjourned to Friday, when the bench ordered Mr Dunn to enter into his own recognisances and find sureties to keep the peace towards the complainant and all other of her Majesty’s subjects.  The ‘gallant’ declared that the lady had shown her attachment towards him on more than one occasion, that his advances had been received, and bitterly complained of the treatment he had experienced.  The law however, like the lady, was inexorable, and in default of finding sureties, he was committed to York Castle, until the West Riding Sessions, which commence at Knaresborough on the 16th of October.  

York Castle Prison, where Mr Dunn and his law library spent a couple of weeks in October 1838

Miss Coutts left Harrogate, we understand, on Tuesday morning, for town; so that it is probably she will not appear against him further, but that he will be discharged on the 16th inst, in the usual course of law.  Mr Dunn was received into the Castle, on Saturday, he is a fine-looking young man, about the middle size and of genteel appearance; he has brought with him an extensive library of law books; and declares that he is a very ill-used man.   Since the transaction above referred to he has written a very long letter to Sir Francis Burdett, explaining his honourable intentions towards his daughter, and concluding with the emphatic declaration ‘Never fear, Sir Francis, but at length I shall come off with flying colours!’

We observe it stated that this devoted martyr to his amorous disposition, was, not long ago, the persevering, or rather we should say dunning, suitor of the present Countess of Clonmel, the beautiful Miss Burgh, on which occasion he was also taken into custody.    Mr Dunn is confined to the New Prison, in the same ward as those committed for trial.  Love in this instance, at least, will not laugh at Locksmiths, and we think that the strict discipline of York Castle will ring the enamoured lover to the soberness of reason.”

The Crown Inn, Knaresborough, today.

According to the Leeds Mercury, the case had been heard at the Crown Inn, Knaresboro, in a private room, with Mr Dunn defending in person, and there was much disappointment at the hearing having been private.

Meanwhile, the Limerick Chronicle of 3 November 1838 contained the following poem, possibly penned by one of Mr Dunn’s erstwhile colleagues, and entitled “From Miss Burdett Coutts to Mr Dunn, the Irish Barrister,”

“Waste not your arrows on my heart, for this, Sir, you may know

To penetrate my breast, the dart must spring from my own beau

So save your shafts for other maids, for this I’ll tell you true

My beau, unlike the bows of old, is certainly not yew.

Nor can I think I’ve pierced your heart (Pray do not take affront)

When you well know the only dart I have for you is blunt.”

The Burdett-Coutts mansion in Stratton Street, directly across from the new Dunn abode at the Gloucester Hotel.

It seems that Mr Dunn was released from York Castle, as predicted, in mid-October 1838. By 17th November 1838 the Preston Chronicle informed its readers that Miss Burdett-Coutts, who had returned to town immediately after the above proceedings, had not long enjoyed the summer quiet of the metropolis before ‘the gentleman of the long robe’ arrived at the Gloucester Hotel, Piccadilly, a location affording him every opportunity of frequently beholding his beloved, the windows of the apartments occupied by him commanding those of the Burdett-Coutts’ mansion at the corner of Stratton Street. The same paper reported that

“Mr Dunn is of rather a gentlemanly appearance, but unfortunately has the brogue of his native land.  During last week he was repeatedly observed walking past the residence of the lady, who we understand, has two constables constantly staying within the hall, in case of any emergency.”

What would happen next?  Would Miss Burdett-Coutts relent?  Would Mr Dunn find himself back in prison?  Would there be more xenophobic commentary on his Irish origins? Click here for instalment no 4 in the Dunn BL saga!

For new readers, instalments no 1 and 2 may be found here and here.

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Legal Monkeys Hire Organ-Grinders to Disrupt Judge’s Party, 1846-66

Not the actual party.

From the Derry Journal, 28 June 1909:

“The recent successful campaign against the street organ-grinders in securing that persons who disliked it should not be annoyed by street music recalls a practical joke played on a learned Judge through the medium of organ-grinders in Dublin.  Mr T.B.C. Smith, who was Irish Master of the Rolls from 1846 until 1866, a gentleman of atrabilious temperament, to whom O’Connell affixed the soubriquets of ‘Vinegar Smith’ and ‘Alphabet Smith,’ gave a musical party at his residence in Merrion Square, the invitations to which were restricted to the crème de la crème of Dublin Castle society, to the exclusion of several members of the Junior Bar with social ambitions.  The music, however, at the party of the Master of the Rolls was disturbed, and eventually stopped, by the performances outside his door of a dozen organ-grinders all playing at the same time different tunes, who indignantly refused to move on, and produced documents purporting to be written by the Master of the Rolls requesting their presence on that very evening to perform outside his door, and even naming as remuneration very handsome sums.  The writers of these bogus invitations were well known to be some of the very many members of the Junior Bar to whom the Master of the Rolls had consciously or unconsciously given offence.”

The Hon. T.B.C. Smith, Master of the Rolls and occasional victim of Irritable Judge Syndrome.

Another report in the Freeman’s Journal of 23 August 1904 suggests that the number of organ-grinders was even greater – between twenty and thirty – and that they came from Chancery Lane,  between St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christchurch Cathedral, where a colony of Italian organ-grinders flourished in the 19th century.

Alphabet Smith was without doubt irascible – he challenged opposing Counsel to a duel during the trial of Daniel O’Connell and, even before this, the Vindicator of 22 November 1843 carried a report that leeches were having to be applied to his temples to calm his nerves.   To be fair, he also suffered from chronic indigestion, which would make anyone cranky.

I suspect leeches may have been required again following this ill-fated party!

The scene of the above story, T.B.C. Smith’s house at 8 Merrion Square, today. Now the Royal Institute of Architects of ireland.

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No Catholic Testament in the Four Courts, 1919

From the Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 6 December 1919:

“In the King’s Bench Division – Probate, before Mr Justice Kenny, in the matter of the goods of Denis Dwyer, Deceased, the Rev James O’Sullivan, PP, attended, under an order of the Court, in order to give evidence as to his knowledge of the existence of the will of the deceased.

Mr Justice Kenny asked Mr Fitzgerald, cross-examining Father O’Sullivan, whether he wished a shorthand note to be taken of the evidence.

Mr Fitzgerald replied in the affirmative.

It was then stated that the official shorthand writer was not present (being officially engaged in another court) and the Reporter representing the Freeman’s Journal, who was the only journalist present, was asked if he would take the necessary shorthand notes.  The reporter expressed his willingness, and he rose from his place under the Registrar’s desk for the purpose of being sworn.

The Registrar handed him a book.  The reporter asked was it a Catholic Testament.  The Registrar replied that it was not.  The reporter expressed his desire to be sworn on a Catholic Testament; and the Registrar handed him another book.  The reporter on opening it discovered that it was not a Catholic Testament; and he declined to be sworn on it.  Then the Registrar informed Mr Justice Kenny of the situation.

Mr Justice Kenny suggested that possibly Father O’Sullivan, who was seated in the witness box, might have a Catholic testament in his possession.

Father O’Sullivan stated that he had only his Breviary.

Mr Justice Kenny suggested that other apartments in the Four Courts should be searched with a view to the discovery of a Catholic Testament, and presumably this suggestion was followed.  He also suggested that the official shorthand-writer should be sent for.  It was stated in court, though not publicly, that the search throughout the Four Courts for a Catholic Testament proved unavailing; and the Crier, who was sent for the official shorthand-writer, returned with the information that he would not be disengaged for a quarter of an hour.

Mr Justice Kenny suggested that a messenger should be sent to the Catholic Presbytery, Halston Street, with a view to getting a Catholic Testament there.

Ultimately the official shorthand-writer, who is a Protestant, arrived and was sworn and took a shorthand note of Father O’Sullivan’s evidence.”

The lack of any Catholic testament in the Four Courts arose once again in the King’s Bench in Michaelmas Term, 1921.   According to the Kilkenny Moderator of 5 November, when Mr T.J. Fleming was about to be sworn on the jury in a Probate suit, he found that the bible handed to him had been issued by the Hibernian Bible Society and did not bear the Catholic imprimatur.  He informed Mr Justice Pim that he preferred to be sworn on a Catholic testament. There was none in court and Mr Justice Pim sent for one.  While waiting for it, Mr Fleming said he was willing to affirm and that solution of the difficulty was accepted by the judge.  Mrs Flood and Mr P.J. Kenny, two other jurors, followed the example of Mr Fleming.  Other jurors were sworn in the customary way. It was stated that this was at least the third time this had happened.

The next day’s case before Mr Justice Pim involved a personal injuries claim against the Master of the Coombe Hospital arising out of a motor crash at Merrion Square the previous May.  This time, the Dublin Evening Telegraph was pleased to report that

“[f]or the first time probably in the history of the Four Courts, a Catholic lay witness coming to the witness box to be sworn found a Catholic Testament awaiting him.  Mr Thomas Fanning’s manly protest of yesterday has been speedily effectual.  Mr Justice Pim, a member, by the way of the Society of Friends, saw to it.”

The same paper described the arrival of a Catholic Testament in the Four Courts as even more interesting than “the recent incident of the call of two Irish ladies to the Irish Bar in the Court of Appeal.”

Changing times indeed!

Enough to make Curls Stand on End: Fee Recovery and the Junior Bar, 1862-present

Barristers and Solicitors – sharing the weight of litigation, but not the entitlement to sue for fees incurred in so doing.

From the Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette, 5 February 1876:

“The normal calm of the ‘Coffee-Room,’ that veritable place of ‘refreshers,’ was somewhat disturbed by an occurrence of an unprecedented character, so far as the Four Courts of our days are concerned.  In a very short space of time as many versions of the strange episode went through the hall as there are curls on a barrister’s wig.  So, from about a dozen different accounts, we take the following, although we do not commit to the literal accuracy of the matters stated: A Junior Barrister, who practises frequently in the police courts, who has been writing on sanitary law and whose name has recently appeared under the head of Marriage in the morning papers, requested a well-known solicitor to pay him some fees.  The solicitor denied that he owed the barrister any fees, and, after an altercation, it is said, told wig and gown that he always paid his debts and, no doubt, with the view of making his observation sit the more forcibly, accompanied it with a box straight from the shoulder.  It is said the ‘little affair’ must be heard of again in a department of the Four Courts other than the ‘coffee room’.”

A consideration of the thorny question of barristers’ fees had already featured in the Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser of 8 July 1863:

“The wrongs done to counsel form a considerable set-off to the injuries done by them.  The theory of forensic remuneration is that the bar is strictly an honorary profession, and that its members are as little entitled to compensation for their services as are the honorary secretaries of a debating society or a sporting club. In short, a barrister as such has no locus standi as a plaintiff in a suit for remuneration for his professional services, his fee being an honorarium which may be given or withheld at the discretion of the client.  This is the theory which was, perhaps, sufficiently well suited to the times when it first prevailed in England, when the Chancellor was always a person in holy orders, and when the coif was used to conceal the tonsure.  Spiritual persons may very well be presumed to be less interested in their worldly advancement than laymen.”

The author of the article, however, made no suggestion that this state of affairs be changed:

“Barristers are not spiritual but lay persons and though they cannot recover their fees at law or equity, they take exceedingly good care not to concern themselves with cause from which they do not expect to obtain any emolument.  The law failing them, they have recourse to a negative strategy, so that a barrister may be said, like Fabius, rem cunctando sustinere.  If a barrister were empowered by law to recover his fees, he should, on the other hand, be liable for negligence, like any other paid agent.”

Junior barristers unable to sue for fees often suffered from nightmares of impending creditors.

If, however, this pitiful letter by ‘An Ill Paid Junior Barrister,’ published in the Cork Examiner of 14 September 1866, is anything to go by, exclusion from liability for negligence was cold comfort for those barristers less likely to be able to terrify solicitors into paying fees by threatening to withdraw their services!

“Myself a junior barrister, like many of my tribe, a sufferer by reason of the non-payment of my fees, and having, moreover, but my profession to depend on for subsistence, I may be allowed to utter a word or two as to how I feel, when, having sold my brains for gold – having coined (as I hoped) into drachmas the fruits of god’s gifts to me of thought and speech, made better, as best I could, by laborious industry – when, in a word, having done the work entrusted to me, I am left to wait for payment until it suits my employer’s perfect convenience.  How practically is the fee discharged?  Rigidly, with men in large practice and of great reputation, with men whose service it is considered of advantage to gain or (what is of little less consequent) to prevent the other side from having.  But not so with poor Mr Phunkey (kept down by want of means, or interest, or connection or impudence, as the case may be) briefs are sent to him in the full certainty that he will do the work and do it and wait for the money, rather than offend an attorney, aye more briefs are sent to him with the most entire indifference as to his having to make the hardest struggle put upon a man, the effort of a man of honourable feeling to preserve his honour and his self respect in a battle with narrow means.”

Lord Justice Gifford – defender of the honorarium

Poor Mr Phunkey indeed! Yet no change ensued; a bill to allow Counsel to sue for fees failed, and the judges remained unrelenting in their defence of the honorariam.  In March 1870, Mr Barry, English Chancery barrister, applied to Lord Justice Gifford in support of a claim against the executors of the late Lord Mostyn, to be paid £700 for fees for professional work done.  The Lord Justice said it would be contrary to all principle to allow a Barrister to recover his fees and the application must be dismissed with costs.

Irish judges were no different. In December 1899 the Dublin Daily Nation described Nisi Prius Court No 2, Four Courts, as ‘crowded’ for the hearing of a claim by John Lowry, barrister, of 7 St Anthony’s Road, Dublin, for the sum of £279.13s due and owing to him by Kilmainham District Council in respect of work done and services rendered in opposition to the Corporation Boundaries Bill. Mr Justice Madden held that there was no such contract between the parties as Mr Lowry maintained; everyone knew the remuneration fees of a barrister were not recoverable by action at law.

From the above accounts, boundary and sanitary law seemed to be a particularly risky area in terms of fee recovery.  Of course, as the ‘Ill-Paid Junior Barrister’ above would no doubt point out, the unrelieved tedium of the law of drains and fences inevitably meant that barristers specialising in it tended to be younger, less well-connected, less confident and consequently more vulnerable.  Who cared?  Not many, it seemed.

Patience Swynfen, who left her barrister lover substantially out of pocket.

Some light relief from the inroads effected by the honorarium on the solvency of junior barristers may be found in the most notorious English case on barristers’ fees, brought by English barrister Charles Rann Kennedy against the famous probate litigant Patience Swinfen, for whom he had obtained a verdict giving her over £60,902.   According to the Waterford Mail of 26 March 1862:

“Mrs Swinfen was grateful, and gratitude carried her so far that she actually executed a deed by which she conveyed the reversion of her newly-acquired property to Mr Kennedy and his children, reserving to herself only the life interest.  But last November the lady got married, and the sequel may be easily imagined.  Mr Broun, the husband, was not at all satisfied with the profuse generosity of his wife, and the two have joined in a suit to set aside the deed on the ground of due influence.  On the other hand, Mr Kennedy claims £20,000 for services rendered and so forth.  But as a barrister cannot recover his fees, it is not likely that he will get much for this large claim.”

The Mail was right! Although Mr Kennedy initially obtained a verdict in his favour, this was set aside by the Court of Common Pleas in January 1863, allowing the new Mrs Broun to profit from his services without losing a penny.  The reaction of the Belfast Morning News of 21 January 1863 vacillated between disapproval and awe:

“There are some, no doubt, who will applaud this feat as a master-stroke of perseverance and energy; others may think it a shabby and ungrateful return for an almost romantic devotion to her cause. Not being under the spell of Mrs Broun’s personal attractions, which proved too much for Mr Kennedy, we can afford to regard her as a shrewd woman of business, fully alive to her own interests, with strength of character enough to inspire a clever woman with faith in her cause and in herself and with coolness enough to throw him overboard when the time for payment arrived and a change had taken place in her prospects…”

Mr Kennedy’s devotion was more than ‘almost’ romantic – subsequent evidence indicates that, in the course of the proceedings, a certain intimacy had sprung up between him and his alluring client.  A broken heart and £20,000 in outstanding fees – an awful warning for young counsel not only against exploitation by unscrupulous solicitors but also against the wiles of beguiling litigants!

But who would have thought that a concept as outdated as the honorarium would survive not only into the 20th century, but the one after that!  Of course, there was a reason – as we shall see, the rule that barristers could not sue for their fees did have substantial advantages for well-established Counsel – and not merely in protecting them from negligence claims!

A possible candidate for the barrister involved in the coffee-room dispute at the start of this post is John Norwood BL, author of an 1873 paper dealing with the working of the Sanitary Laws in Dublin and the subject of another post on this blog. Interestingly, the unsuccessful Barristers and Advocates Fees Bill of 1876 was also put forward by a Mr Norwood – I wonder if he could have been a relation?

For those interested in reading further on the rule against barristers suing for their fees, and its continuing application today, a great discussion by Mark Tottenham BL can be found here.

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The Fighting Herb Doctors of Church Street and Parnell Street, 1852

From the Freeman’s Journal, 4 May 1852:

“John McDonnell, of Church-Street, ‘herb doctor’ and ‘professor,’ appeared to sustain a complaint against Michael Gafney, ‘herb doctor and universal practitioner,’ for an alleged violent assault.

The complainant professing in this instance to have been assaulted was a low-sized dark visaged young man, rather decently attired, but his mode of stating his complaint at once evinced his contempt of the generally received system of education.

Both complainant and defendant were provided with agents to plead the cause of each. 

The complainant stated that on the Tuesday previous he had occasion to visit a patient residing in the neighbourhood of Britain-Street.  He brought a man with him for protection, as he was afraid of the defendant (Gafney), who had frequently before offered him violence.  After visiting his patient he directed his man to post up some of his bills, whilst he (the professor) went into a bacon shop to purchase a couple of pounds of bacon.  On his coming out his man informed him that the defendant (Gafney) and his son had come and torn down the bills.  Complainant saw them at the corner of Stafford-Street.  When they saw complainant both father and son rushed at him and violently assaulted him, the son giving him some severe blows.

Defendant’s agent cross-examined the complainant – You say you are a professor?

Complainant – Yes, I am a professor, for a lived with a man that followed the doctorin’ business, and I larned all his cures.

Agent – So, you are a professor – professor of what?

Complainant – I’m a professor of the Peruvian Pills (loud laughter).

The bark of the Cinchona, Peru’s national tree, from which Mr McDonnell’s pills were probably made. Still used in herbalism today!

The defendant’s agent here exhibited a handbill bearing the device of a mortar and pestle, inscribed with a legend stating that ‘Dr McDonnell’ professed all diseases, and inviting the afflicted to try the ‘Peruvian pills.’

Complainant said that was one of his handbills, similar to those which the defendant had torn down.

The defendant, who was evidently under the influence of some potent elixir, said that the complainant, who called himself a professor, had been once in his employment, and not content with setting up for himself, had come poaching on his (the defendant’s) neighbourhood, and on the day in question had absolutely come and posted up his bills in his (defendant’s) hall, in Stafford-Street.

Complainant – Pooh, you’re only a herb-man – a whack doctor; your worship can see what a beast he makes of himself at this hour of the morning.

Defendant – Why you caput mortuum of all creation – 

Magistrate – I dismiss this case.  Constable, let those parties be sent out of the office by different doors.

An illustration of how a written contract of apprenticeship containing a restraint of trade clause can prevent unseemly disputes between master and former student!  The ‘Peruvian Pills’ Mr McDonnell was offering to the public may have contained those extracts from the bark of the Cinchona tree known as ‘Jesuits’ Powder,’ used in Victorian times to treat malaria and many other conditions.   If so, they were almost certainly less harmful to patients than many of the official medical ‘treatments’ on offer at the time.  Given the location of Mr McDonnell’s business on Church Street beside the Four Courts, I have no doubt that some of his customers were barristers!

Little Britain Street, looking down into Capel Street, with Stafford Street out of sight on the far side. Possibly regarded by Mr Gafney as the boundary of his ‘manor’!

The offending bills were posted on ‘Britain Street,’ which may have been Little Britain Street on the west side of Capel Street or more probably Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street) on the opposite side.   The above photograph taken from Little Britain Street looking down into Capel Street shows this area c. 1900.  The exact location of the fight seems to have been at Stafford Street, out of sight behind the line of buildings in the far distance – now known as Wolfe Tone Street, its southern corner is marked with a red dot on the map below.

Click here to go for a stroll around the area as it is today. Hopefully any homeopaths currently resident there keep on better terms than Messrs McDonnell and Gafney! 

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Mr Dunn BL in Love Again, 1838

Angela Burdett-Coutts, Mr Dunn’s second love

From an unnamed London journal, as recounted in the Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier, 25 September 1838, this update on the continued romantic endeavours of Irish barrister Richard Dunn, last heard of on the way to Kilmainham Gaol two years earlier, after an unsuccessful attempt to win the hand of the Honourable Anne Burgh:

“Some months back a well-known Irish barrister, Mr Richard Dunn, was making a pedestrian tour of Hyde-park, when, on passing the carriage of Miss Burdett-Coutts, he thought he recognised a smile from the lady, which was confirmed on observing her drop her glove – whether by accident or design we know not, from the carriage window, which the enraptured gentleman hastened to pick up, and which he still retains as a memento of the lady’s affection! 

Of course, with such a recognition of favour, Mr Dunn lost no opportunity of placing himself in Miss Coutts’ path, and looking as amiable as it was possible for one born and bred in the Emerald Isle to look.  There was no return, however, to his ardent signs of love – no exchange of salute; in short, nothing more than an expression of wonderment that he should presume to look so agreeable in her presence; but then he had the glove, and she threw it to him from her carriage – at least this was the interpretation he put upon it!  

The affair in Hyde Park occurred some time before the Coronation, which ceremony externally Mr Dunn attended – he tracked the carriage of his fair one, and after she alighted got into conversation with her coachman – offering him refreshment, which he declined, but accepted the fee to tell the secret of Miss Coutts’ movements.  It was from him that he learnt the lady’s intention to go to Harrowgate, whither Mr Dunn followed her.  

Hyde Park, around the time of these events. The lady driving her own carriage bears a certain resemblance to Miss Burdett-Coutts.

The lady took a suite of apartments in the Queen’s Hotel. It happened that a single room on the same floor was not required – of it our hero was so fortunate as to possess himself; it was immediately opposite the bed-chamber of the rich lady, and there he sat, day after day, hour after hour – his door wide open awaiting the passing and re-passing of Miss Coutts.  He wrote billet-doux by dozens, and verses by scores, expressive of his ardent attachment – but all without effect.    At length he determined on being heard, for he one fine morning walked leisurely into her chamber, and concealing himself behind her bed curtain waited with untiring patience until she awoke, when, falling on his knees, he confessed his passion, and prayed for a return.  She did re-turn it, for she rang the bell violently, and with becoming firmness ordered Mr Dunn to be turned out of the room; he was turned out, and the lady left the hotel and went into private apartments. 

 Miss Coutts, indignant at the insult, wrote off immediately to her solicitor Mr Majoribanks, who posted down to Harrowgate, and obtained an interview with Mr D, representing to him the impropriety of his conduct, and begging of him to desist all further annoyance.  To this, however, Mr Dunn refused to pledge himself.  An application was then made to the Magistrates for a peace warrant… a summons was sent for Mr Dunn privately to attend; this he declined to do before a full bench and in public court.   

The next step to intimidate Mr Dunn was, to cause him to be publicly advertised by the town-crier as an Irish adventurer by no means reputably connected.  This had no effect upon the gallant Lothario, besides that of bribing the crier to give up the manuscript of the placard which was printed and cried about, and this proving to be in the hand writing of Mr Majoribanks, Mr Dunn means to bring an action upon it, in the hope that a jury may place the same estimate on his character that he does himself.  The lady, finding herself thus persecuted, was advised to leave Harrowgate, which she did, and proceed to Scarborough, to which place she was followed by the invincible Irish barrister.  

We have omitted, in the above paragraph, to state that the lady, if she did ‘smile’ at Mr Dunn, did so from a belief that she knew him.  The dropping of the glove from the carriage window was mere matter of accident – not so, however, the use which the lady permitted him to make of her prayer-book in the Church of Harrowgate; that circumstance Mr Dunn tortures into a proof of the return she made of his attentions.  On the first Sunday after Miss Coutts’ arrival at Harrowgate she attended divine worship, and, observing, in a pew contiguous to her own, a gentleman unencumbered with a prayer book, she politely tendered him the use of part of hers.  This amounted, an Irishman would say, to a declaration at once on the part of the lady – and on this circumstances, conjoined with that of the ‘glove’ and the ‘smile’, Mr Dunn builds up his hopes of future happiness!

Christ Church, Harrogate, the scene of the prayer-book incident, as it would have looked at the time.

Miss Burdett-Coutts, daughter of a baronet, was extremely well-connected; her family owned the banking firm of Coutts & Co.   She was also outstandingly rich in her own right.   Reports of her prospective suitors featured regularly in the press, with the Belfast Chronicle of February 1838 carrying a formal denial of her engagement to another Irish barrister, Nicholas Purcell O’Gorman QC.  If the Chronicle is to be believed, Mr O’Gorman was instead on the verge of becoming engaged to Baroness Lehzen, late governess to Queen Victoria, in a match negotiated by none other than the Prime Minister.  Irish barristers over for the Coronation were certainly making an impression on London society!

Miss Burdett-Coutts’ portrait above demonstrates that she and Mr Dunn’s first love Anne Burgh shared a classical albeit slightly moist beauty. Two young ladies less likely to succumb to the blandishments of an importunate Irish adventurer can hardly be imagined. But life can be full of surprises, and it was still too early to absolutely rule out the possibility that Angela Burdett-Coutts might relent and consent to share her fortune with the ardent Mr Dunn. What would happen in Scarborough?

For those coming late to the romantic party, details of Mr Dunn’s earlier unsuccessful pursuit of Miss Burgh can be found here.

More, much more, to come – read the next instalment here!

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