seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Birth of Edward Kenealy, Barrister & Writer

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edward-kenealyEdward Vaughan Hyde Kenealy, Irish barrister and writer, is born in Cork, County Cork on July 2, 1819. He is best remembered as counsel for the Tichborne case and the eccentric and disturbed conduct of the trial that leads to his ruin.

Kenealy is the son of a local merchant. He is educated at Trinity College Dublin and is called to the Irish Bar in 1840 and to the English Bar in 1847. He obtains a fair practice in criminal cases. In 1868 he becomes a QC and a bencher of Gray’s Inn. He practises on the Oxford circuit and in the Central Criminal Court.

Kenealy suffers from diabetes and an erratic temperament is sometimes attributed to poor control of the symptoms. In 1850 he is sentenced to one month imprisonment for punishing his six-year-old illegitimate son with undue severity. He marries Elizabeth Nicklin of Tipton, Staffordshire in 1851 and they have eleven children, including novelist Arabella Kenealy (1864–1938). They live in Portslade, East Sussex, from 1852 until 1874. He commutes to London and Oxford for his law practice but returns at weekends and other times to be with his family.

In 1850, Kenealy publishes an eccentric poem inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe, a New Pantomime. He also publishes a large amount of poetry in journals such as Fraser’s Magazine. He publishes translations from Latin, Greek, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Irish, Persian, Arabic, Hindustani and Bengali. It is unlikely he is fluent in all these languages.

In 1866, Kenealy writes The Book of God: the Apocalypse of Adam-Oannes, an unorthodox theological work in which he claims that he is the “twelfth messenger of God,” descended from Jesus Christ and Genghis Khan. He also publishes a more conventional biography of Edward Wortley Montagu in 1869.

During the Tichborne trial, Kenealy abuses witnesses, makes scurrilous allegations against various Roman Catholic institutions, treats the judges with disrespect, and protracts the trial until it becomes the longest in English legal history. His violent conduct of the case becomes a public scandal and, after rejecting his client’s claim, the jury censures his behaviour.

Kenealy starts a newspaper, The Englishman, to plead his cause and to attack the judges. His behaviour is so extreme that in 1874 he is disbenched and disbarred by his Inn. He forms the Magna Charta Association and goes on a nationwide tour to protest his cause.

At a by-election in 1875, Kenealy is elected to Parliament for Stoke-upon-Trent with a majority of 2,000 votes. However, no other Member of Parliament will introduce him when he takes his seat. Benjamin Disraeli forces a motion to dispense with this convention.

In Parliament, Kenealy calls for a Royal commission into his conduct in the Tichborne case, but loses a vote on this by 433–3. One vote is Kenealy’s, another that of his teller, George Hammond Whalley. The third “aye” is by Purcell O’Gorman of Waterford City. During this period, he also writes a nine-volume account of the case.

Kenealy gradually ceases to attract attention, loses his seat at the 1880 general election and dies in London on April 16, 1880. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Helen’s Church, Hangleton, East Sussex.

Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017). I have also served on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, Chairman 2017-2018) and the Walnut Valley Property Owners Association board (2015-2020, Secretary 2017-2020).

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