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


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Birth of John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell

John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, Irish barrister and judge known as The Lord Earlsfort between 1784 and 1789 and as The Viscount Clonmell between 1789 and 1793, is born in County Tipperary on June 8, 1739. Sometimes known as “Copperfaced Jack”, he is Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench for Ireland from 1784 to 1789.

Scott is the third son of Thomas Scott of Scottsborough, County Tipperary, and his wife Rachel, daughter of Mark Prim of Johnswell, County Kilkenny. His parents are cousins, being two of the grandchildren of Nicholas Purcell, 13th Baron of Loughmoe. His elder brother is the uncle of Bernard Phelan, who establishes Château Phélan Ségur, and Dean John Scott, who first plants the gardens open to the public at Ballyin, County Waterford and marries a niece of Scott’s political ally, Henry Grattan.

While at Kilkenny College, Scott stands up to the tormentor of a boy named Hugh Carleton, who grows up to be Viscount Carleton of Clare. They become firm friends, and Carleton’s father, then known as the “King of Cork,” due to his wealth and influence, invites him to their home and becomes his patron. In 1756, Carleton sends both the young men off, with equal allowances, to study at Trinity College, Dublin and then the Middle Temple in London. On being called to the Irish bar in 1765, Scott’s eloquence secures him a position that enables him to pay £300 a year to his patron, Francis Carleton, who through a series of disappointments has been declared bankrupt. He continues to gratefully support his patron until Hugh Carleton is financially able to insist that he take up the payments to his father. Scott in later life turns against Carleton, describing him in his diary as a “worthless wretch.”

Admitted to King’s Inns in 1765, Scott is entitled to practice as a barrister. In 1769 he is elected as the Member of Parliament for Mullingar, a seat he holds until 1783. The following year he is made a King’s Counsel (KC). In 1772 he is Counsel to the Board of Revenue and in 1774 is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland (1774–1777). Three years later, he is elected a Privy Councillor and Attorney-General for Ireland (1774–1783). He is dismissed from the latter position in 1782 for refusing to acknowledge the right of England to legislate for Ireland. In 1775, he is awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Law (LL.D.) by Trinity College, Dublin. He holds the office of Prime Serjeant-at-Law of Ireland between 1777 and 1782. He is Clerk of the Pleas of the Court of the Exchequer in 1783 and is elected Member of Parliament for Portarlington between 1783 and 1784.

In 1784, Scott is created 1st Baron Earlsfort of Lisson-Earl, County Tipperary, following his appointment to Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. In 1789 he is created 1st Viscount Clonmel, of Clonmel, County Tipperary and in 1793 is created 1st Earl of Clonmel. By the 1790s he has an annual income of £20,000. Due to heavy drinking and overeating he becomes seriously overweight, and this no doubt contributes to his early death, although his diary shows that he makes frequent efforts to live a more temperate life. Drinking also produces the red face which earns him the nickname “Copper-faced Jack.”

In 1768, Scott marries the widowed Catherine Anna Maria Roe, daughter of Thomas Mathew, of Earl Landaff and sister of Francis Mathew, 1st Earl Landaff. She dies in 1771. In 1779, he marries Margaret Lawless, daughter and eventual heiress of banker Patrick Lawless of Dublin. He leaves a son and heir and a daughter by his second marriage.

Scott lives at Clonmell House, 17 Harcourt Street, Dublin. He also keeps a country residence, Temple Hill House, in County Dublin. Clonmell Street in Dublin is named in his honour, as is Earlsfort Terrace, also in Dublin. He also gains a reputation of being an experienced duelist.

In 1797, in the last conversation he would have with his wife’s cousin, Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, he exclaims, “My dear Val, I have been a fortunate man in life. I am a Chief Justice and an Earl; but, believe me, I would rather be beginning the world as a young (chimney) sweep.” He dies at the age of 58 the following year on May 23, 1798.

(Pictured: John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, oil on canvas by Gilbert Charles Stuart)


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Establishment of the Special Criminal Court (SCC)

The Special Criminal Court (SCC), a juryless criminal court in Ireland which tries terrorism and serious organised crime cases, is established on May 26, 1972.

Article 38 of the Constitution of Ireland empowers Dáil Éireann to establish “special courts” with wide-ranging powers when the “ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice.” The Offences against the State Act 1939 leads to the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for the trial of certain offences. The scope of a “scheduled offence” is set out in the Offences Against the State (Scheduled Offences) Order 1972.

On May 26, 1972, the Government of Ireland exercises its power to make a proclamation pursuant to Section 35(2) of the Offences against the State Act 1939 which leads to the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for the trial of certain offences. The current court is first established by the Dáil under the Offences against the State Act 1939 to prevent the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from subverting Ireland’s neutrality during World War II and the Emergency. The current incarnation of the Special Criminal Court dates from 1972, just after the Troubles in Northern Ireland began.

Although the court is initially set up to handle terrorism-related crime, its remit has been extended and it has been handling more organised crime cases after the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire in the 1990s. For instance, members of the drugs gang which murdered journalist Veronica Guerin were tried in the Special Criminal Court.

Section 35(4) and (5) of the Offences against the State Act 1939 provide that if at any time the Government or the Parliament is satisfied that the ordinary courts are again adequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order, a rescinding proclamation or resolution, respectively, shall be made terminating the Special Criminal Court regime. To date, no such rescinding proclamation or resolution has been promulgated. Following the introduction of a regular Government review and assessment procedure on January 14, 1997, reviews taking into account the views of the relevant State agencies are carried out on February 11, 1997, March 24, 1998, and April 14, 1999, and conclude that the continuance of the Court is necessary, not only in view of the continuing threat to State security posed by instances of violence, but also of the particular threat to the administration of justice, including jury intimidation, from the rise of organised and ruthless criminal gangs, principally involved in drug-related and violent crime.

The Special Criminal Court has been criticised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for its procedures and for being a special court, which ordinarily should not be used against civilians. Among the criticisms are the lack of a jury and the increasing use of the court to try organised “ordinary” crimes rather than the terrorist cases it was originally set up to handle. Critics also argue that the court is now obsolete since there is no longer a serious terrorist threat to the State, although others disagree and cite the continuing violence from dissident republican terrorism, international terrorism and serious gangland crime.

Under the law, the court is authorised to accept the opinion of a Garda Síochána chief-superintendent as evidence that a suspect is a member of an illegal organisation. However, the court has been reluctant to convict on the word of a garda alone, without any corroborating evidence.

The Sinn Féin political party in the past has stated that it is their intention to abolish the Special Criminal Court as they believed it was used to convict political prisoners in a juryless court, however Sinn Féin are no longer in favour of its abolition. Some prominent Sinn Féin members, including Martin Ferris and Martin McGuinness, have been convicted of offences by it. In 1973 McGuinness was tried at the SCC, which he refused to recognise, after being arrested near a car containing 250 pounds (110 kg) of explosives and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition. He was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

(Pictured: The Criminal Courts of Justice complex in Dublin where Special Criminal Court (SCC) sittings are usually held)


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Robert King, 2nd Earl of Kingston, Acquitted of Murder

Robert King, 2nd Earl of Kingston, an Anglo-Irish peer, is acquitted of the murder of his brother-in-law, Colonel Henry Gerald FitzGerald, on May 18, 1798.

King is the eldest surviving son of Edward King, 1st Earl of Kingston, and Jane Caulfeild. From 1767 to 1768 he is educated at Eton College. He is styled Viscount Kingsborough between 1768 and 1797. He marries Caroline FitzGerald, daughter of Richard FitzGerald and Margaret King, on December 5, 1769, from whom he later separates. Together they have nine children.

King sits in the Irish House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for Boyle from 1776 to 1783, and for Cork County between 1783 and 1797, and serves as a Governor of County Cork in 1789. In 1797 he succeeds to his father’s titles and assumes his seat in the Irish House of Lords. Between 1797 and his death he is Custos Rotulorum of Roscommon.

On May 18, 1798, King is tried by his peers in the Irish House of Lords after allegedly murdering Colonel Henry FitzGerald. FitzGerald is a married man who elopes with King’s daughter. With public sympathy on King’s side and with considerable publicity he is tried by his peers. An executioner stands beside King with an immense axe, painted black except for two inches of polished steel, and holds at the level of the defendant’s neck. King is acquitted as after three summonses no witnesses come forward. After a short conferee the Lords Temporal returns to the House of Commons and delivers the verdict ‘not guilty.’ The Lord Chancellor of Ireland, John FitzGibbon, 1st Earl of Clare, pronounces the verdict, breaks his wand and dismisses the assembly.

The Directory of the United Irishmen had planned to use the occasion to kill the entire government and all the lords, but one vote cast against this scheme by the informer Francis Magan causes it to be abandoned.

King dies on April 17, 1799 in Rockingham, County Roscommon.

(Pictured: “Robert King, 2nd Earl of Kingston,” pastel by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, RHA (Dublin 1739-1808))


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Birth of Basil Kelly, Northern Irish Barrister, Judge & Politician

Sir John William Basil Kelly, Northern Irish barrister, judge and politician, is born in County Monaghan on May 10, 1920. He rises from poverty to become the last Attorney General of Northern Ireland and then one of the province’s most respected High Court judges. For 22 years he successfully conducts many of the most serious terrorist trials.

A farmer’s son, Kelly is raised amid the horror of the Irish Civil War. The family is burned out when he is five and, penniless, goes north to take a worker’s house near the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Even though they are Protestant the Kellys are met with a cold welcome. To counter that, his mother starts a bakery while the he and his father sell the hot rolls to the area pubs.

Kelly initially attends a shipyard workers’ school, sometimes without shoes, and then goes on to Methodist College Belfast, where only boys prepared to work hard are welcome. His mother, who had taught him to play the piano by marking out the keyboard on the kitchen table, is so cross when she hears that he has been playing football in the street that she tells the headmaster that he does not have enough homework.

On a visit to an elder sister at Trinity College, Dublin, Kelly is so impressed by her smoking and her painted nails that he decides to follow her to the university, where he reads legal science. After being called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1944, he has the usual slow start, traveling up to 100 miles to earn a five-guinea fee. However, aided by a photographic memory and the patronage of Catholic solicitors, he gradually builds up a large practice, concentrating on crime and workers’ compensation while earning a reputation as the finest cross-examiner in the province.

Kelly first makes a mark by his successful defence of an aircraftman accused of killing a judge’s daughter. The man is found guilty but insane, though the complications involved bring it back to court 20 years later. After appointment as Queen’s Counsel in 1958 he skillfully conducts two cases which go to the House of Lords. One involves the liability of a drunken psychopath, the other the question of automatism where a person, acting like a sleepwalker, does not know what he is doing.

In the hope of speeding his way to the Bench, Kelly is elected to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland as Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) member for Mid Down in 1964. His capacity for hard work leads to his being appointed Attorney General four years later.

In March 1972, the entire Government of Northern Ireland resigns and the Parliament of Northern Ireland is prorogued. As a result, Kelly ceases to be Attorney General. The office of Attorney General for Northern Ireland is transferred to the Attorney General for England and Wales and he is the last person to serve as Stormont’s Attorney General.

In 1973, Kelly is appointed as a judge of the High Court of Northern Ireland, and then as a Lord Justice of Appeal of Northern Ireland in 1984, when he is also knighted and appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. On the bench he proves a model of fairness and courtesy with a mastery of facts, but his role often puts him in danger.

A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gang once targets him with a bomb-laden milk van, intending to drive it through his gates. But the police are alerted and immediately take him to Stormont, where he lives for the next two months.

For a year Kelly presides alone over a non-jury Diplock court, protected by armed police and wearing a bulletproof vest before writing his judgment under Special Air Service (SAS) guard in England. He convicts dozens of people on “supergrass” evidence, though there are subsequently doubts about the informant and some of his judgments are overturned.

One of the accused, Kevin Mulgrew, is sentenced to 963 years in prison, with Kelly telling him, “I do not expect that any words of mine will ever raise in you a twinge of remorse.” While the IRA grumbles about the jail terms he dispenses, and he is often portrayed as an unthinking legal hardliner by Sinn Féin, he is a more subtle figure and is often merciful towards those caught up in events or those whom he considers too young for prison.

Kelly retires in 1995 and moves to England, where he dies at the age of 88 at his home in Berkshire on December 5, 2008 following a short illness. He is survived by his wife, Pamela Colmer.

(From: “Basil Kelly,” Independent.ie (www.independent.ie), January 4, 2009)


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Introduction of the Special Powers Act 1922

The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is an Act introduced by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. The much larger group (nationalists) are mostly Roman Catholic, identified primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. The smaller group (unionists), concentrated primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identified primarily as British and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom. In the years before World War I, both groups establish armed militias intended to enforce their aims and protect their communities from the other side’s militias. The British government resolves to partition Ireland in an effort to alleviate unionists and nationalists, with the six most Protestant counties of Ulster forming Northern Ireland while the rest of Ireland achieves self-rule. This is accepted by most unionists as the best deal they are likely to get, but bitterly disappoints many nationalists, especially those who live in the six counties which become Northern Ireland. Many nationalists on both sides of the border feel that their country has been unjustly divided, and for many decades the Irish government claims that Northern Ireland is rightfully its territory.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Special Powers Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enable the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. The Minister of Home Affairs is empowered to make any regulation felt necessary to preserve law and order in Northern Ireland. Anyone who breaks these regulations can be sentenced to up to a year in prison with hard labour, and in the case of some crimes, whipping. A special summary jurisdiction is enabled to hear cases involving such crimes. The Minister of Home Affairs is also permitted to forbid the holding of inquests if he feels this is required to preserve order and peace.

The Schedule to the Act specifies actions which the government can take in order to preserve peace, although the body of the Act enables the government to take any steps at all which it thinks necessary. Actions specified in the Schedule include the closing of licensed premises, the banning in any area of meetings and parades in public places, the closing of roads, the taking of any land or property, and the destruction of any building. The Schedule also forbids the spreading by word of mouth or text any “reports or…statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to subjects of His Majesty.”

Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Special Powers Act is initially current for only one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent. According to John Whyte, this happens because, from 1925, nationalist MPs begin sitting in the Stormont parliament which they had initially boycotted. Unsurprisingly, they object strenuously to the renewal of the Act, and it is felt by the Ulster Unionist Party Minister of Home Affairs that it would be better to make the Act permanent than for Parliament annually to “wrangle” over it.

Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial, outlined in Paragraph 23 of the Schedule. In the period from May 1922 to December 1924, 700 republicans are interned under the Act.

Political violence declines dramatically by 1925, and the government gradually shifts its emphasis from broad measures designed to return civil order to the province to more preventative regulations aimed at suppressing the threat posed by republican aspirations. Regulations banning meetings and parades and restrictions on the flying of the Irish tricolour become more common. Between 1922 and 1950, the government bans nearly 100 parades and meetings, the vast majority of which are nationalist or republican. No loyalist gathering is ever directly banned under the Act, although a few are caught in blanket bans against parades or meetings in a particular area. From 1922 until 1972, 140 publications are banned, the vast majority of which express republican viewpoints.

After the troubles of the early 1920s has died down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s border campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of the Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the Provisional Irish Republican Army amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.

The Act encounters further controversy in the 1970s due to the deployment of the British Army in Northern Ireland and its role in maintaining order and similar policing-style duties. In 1972, the government is forced to amend the Act in order to legalise the detention of internees arrested by soldiers. Martin Meehan had been arrested after escaping from Crumlin Road Gaol and charged with escaping from lawful custody. At his trial he successfully argues that under the Special Powers Act a soldier has no power of arrest and, as such, he has the legal right to escape. He is awarded £800 in compensation for being illegally detained for twenty-three days.


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Birth of James Patrick Mahon, Journalist, Barrister & Parliamentarian

Charles James Patrick Mahon, Irish nationalist journalist, barrister, parliamentarian and international mercenary, is born into a prominent Roman Catholic family in Ennis, County Clare, on March 17, 1800.

Mahon, the eldest of four children, is the son of Patrick Mahon of New Park, who took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and Barbara, a considerable heiress and the only daughter of James O’Gorman of Ennis. He studies at Clongowes Wood College, where he is one of the earliest pupils, and at Trinity College Dublin, where he takes his BA in 1822 and his MA in law in 1832. Following his father’s death in 1821, he inherits half the family property and becomes a magistrate for Clare.

In 1830, Mahon marries Christina, the daughter of John O’Brien of Dublin. She is an heiress and has property valued at £60,000 in her own right, which gives him the resources to seek election to parliament. The couple spends little time together, and she dies apart from him in Paris in 1877. They have one son who dies in 1883.

In 1826, Mahon joins the newly formed Catholic Association. He encourages fellow member Daniel O’Connell to stand for election at the 1828 Clare by-election. O’Connell’s election, in which Mahon plays a large role, persuades the British Government to pass the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which finalises the process of Catholic Emancipation and permitted Roman Catholics to sit in the British Parliament.

As a result, when Mahon is elected for Clare at the 1830 United Kingdom general election, he is entitled to take his seat. However, during the election campaign he quarrels with O’Connell, and after his election he is unseated for bribery. He is subsequently acquitted, and stands again at the 1831 United Kingdom general election, but is defeated by two O’Connell-backed candidates, one of whom is his old schoolfriend Maurice O’Connell, Daniel O’Connell’s son. He gives up on politics, becomes deputy lieutenant of Clare, and captain of the local militia.

Mahon becomes a barrister in 1834, but the following year, he leaves for Paris. There he associates with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, becoming a favourite at Louis Philippe‘s court and working as a journalist. He travels the world, spending time in both Africa, where he befriends Ferdinand de Lesseps, engineer of the Suez Canal, and South America, before returning to Ireland in 1846.

At the 1847 United Kingdom general election, Mahon is elected for Ennis, and declares himself a Whig in favour of Irish Repeal. However, he opposes the Young Irelanders, and narrowly loses his seat at the 1852 United Kingdom general election.

Following his defeat in the 1852 election, Mahon returns to Paris, then travels on to Saint Petersburg, where he serves in the Imperial Bodyguard. During this period, he journeys through lands from Finland to Siberia. He then travels across China, India and Arabia. His finances largely exhausted, he serves as a mercenary in the Ottoman and Austrian armies before returning to England in 1858. Late that year, he leaves for South America, where he attempts to finance the construction of a canal through Central America.

After exploits abroad Mahon returns to Ireland in 1871 and is a founding member of the Home Rule League. Nearly ruined by his ventures, he even ends up at the Old Bailey as a consequence of his dealings, but is acquitted. He is defeated in Ennis at the 1874 United Kingdom general election, and also at the 1877 Clare by-election. Finally, he wins the 1879 Clare by-election and holds the seat at the 1880 United Kingdom general election.

Mahon is a close associate of Charles Stewart Parnell, who he successfully nominates for the leadership of the League in 1880, but is dropped in 1885 as a party candidate because of his age and his tendency to vote with the Liberal Party in Parliament. He is also embroiled in a court case disputing the will of his son.

Parnell personally ensures Mahon is a candidate at the 1887 County Carlow by-election, which he wins at the age of 87 as a Liberal. By this point, he is the oldest MP in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. He dies at his home in South Kensington, London on June 15, 1891 while still in office.

Mahon had served alongside William O’Shea as an MP, and the two were close friends. He introduced him and Katharine O’Shea, his wife, to Parnell. After Parnell is named in the O’Sheas’ divorce case in 1890, Mahon splits with Parnell, siding with the Irish National Federation. However, Parnell attends Mahon’s funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery a few months later.

(Pictured: Caricature of James Patrick Mahon by Sir Leslie Matthew Ward under the pseudonym “Spy” published in Vanity Fair in 1885)


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Birth of Sir James Comyn, Irish-born English High Court Judge

Sir James Peter Comyn, Irish-born barrister and English High Court judge, is born at Beaufield House, Stillorgan, County Dublin on March 8, 1921. Considered by many to be “the finest all-round advocate at the English bar”, he is appointed to the High Court of Justice in 1978, serving on the bench until his retirement in 1985.

Comyn is the son of Nationalist barrister James Comyn KC and of Mary Comyn. Through his father he is the nephew of the barrister Michael Comyn KC. Both his father and uncle had been political and legal advisers to Éamon de Valera, who at one point uses Beaufield House as a safe house. However, the Comyn brothers have a falling out with de Valera shortly before he comes to power in 1932, and Michael Comyn is passed over as Attorney General of the Irish Free State. As a result, James Comyn, who is then attending Belvedere College in Dublin, is sent by his father to attend The Oratory School in England. He spends six months as a trainee at The Irish Times under the editor R. M. “Bertie” Smyllie, but abandons journalism after a joke he added to an obituary is printed in the paper, leading to his demotion to the racing department.

Comyn then matriculates at New College, Oxford, where he reads law, graduating with Second Class Honours. In 1940, he defeats Roy Jenkins for the presidency of the Oxford Union, winning by four votes. After suffering the first of several breakdowns through his life, he briefly works for the BBC‘s Empire Service during World War II.

Comyn is called to the English bar by the Inner Temple in 1942, the Irish bar in 1947, and the Hong Kong bar in 1969. In 1944, he begins his pupillage with Edward Holroyd Pearce KC, later a law lord, and joins his chambers at Fountain Court. He practises in London and on the Western circuit, supplementing his earnings by teaching banking, a subject of which he knows nothing. On one occasion, he rises in Lambeth County court to cross-examine a female defendant in an eviction case. Just as he begins by saying “Madam,” the defendant opens her bag, takes out a dead cat, and throws it at him. The judge’s reaction is to tell the defendant, “Madam, if you do that again, I’ll commit you.” Comyn wins the case.

Comyn takes silk in 1961, and acquires a large practice as a senior, appearing in many high-profile cases. In 1964, he wins damages for libel for the former safe-breaker Alfred George Hinds against a Scotland Yard inspector by convincing the jury that Hinds is in fact innocent. In 1970, he successfully defends the Labour MP Will Owen, who is accused of providing information to the Czechoslovak intelligence services. In 1975, he defeats the government’s attempt to obtain an injunction against the publication of the diaries of former minister Richard Crossman.

Comyn is Recorder of Andover between 1964 and 1971 (honorary life recorder from 1972), commissioner of assize for the Western Circuit in 1971, and a Recorder of the Crown Court between 1972 and 1977. He is elected a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1968, and serves as chairman of the Bar council from 1973 to 1974.

Having refused a previous invitation by Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone to join the bench, Comyn is again nominated by Elwyn Jones, Baron Elwyn-Jones, in 1977, and is appointed a High Court judge in 1978, receiving the customary knighthood upon his appointment. Initially assigned to the Family Division, he does not take to the work and is reassigned to the Queen’s Bench Division in 1979. He has a reputation for leniency in sentencing, first acquired as Recorder of Andover. In 1980–81, he presides over an unsuccessful libel action by a member of the Unification Church, colloquially known as the Moonies, against the Daily Mail, the longest libel trial in England up to that time. His Irish background makes him the target of Irish Republican Army (IRA) action, and in 1981 the Provisional IRA burns his house in Tara.

Recurring bouts of depression lead to Comyn’s early retirement, on grounds of ill health, in 1985. In retirement, he divides his time between England and Ireland, whose citizenship he has retained. He writes a number of books, including memoirs, light verse, and books on famous trials. He also breeds Friesian cattle. He dies in Navan, County Meath on January 5, 1997 at age 75.


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2009 Bank of Ireland Robbery

The 2009 Bank of Ireland robbery is a large robbery of cash from the College Green cash centre of the Bank of Ireland in Dublin on February 27, 2009. It is the largest bank robbery in the Republic of Ireland‘s history. Criminals engage in the tiger kidnapping of a junior bank employee, 24-year-old Shane Travers, and force him to remove €7.6 million (US$9 million) in cash from the bank as his girlfriend and two others are held hostage.

Late on the night of February 26, Travers, whose father is a member of the Garda Síochána based at Clontarf, Dublin, is alone watching television at the home of his girlfriend near Kilteel, County Kildare. The woman and her mother are out shopping together. When they arrive home with the five-year-old nephew of Travers, six heavily built masked men, dressed in black and carrying handguns, jump from the bushes.

The family is held overnight by the armed gang, during which time their mobile phones are confiscated and Travers’ girlfriend is hit across the back of her head with a vase by one of the men. As dawn approaches, the gang orders all but Travers to enter their dark Volkswagen Golf family car. They are then bound together and driven to Ashbourne, County Meath.

The bank employee is given a mobile phone, ordered to collect €20, €50, €100 and €200 bank notes from his workplace, and supplied with a photograph of the rest of the family at gunpoint to convince his colleagues that their lives are under threat. Travers drives to Dublin in his red Toyota Celica, acquires the cash through the assistance of colleagues who viewed the photo, and carries the money out of the building in four laundry bags. He takes it to Clontarf Road railway station, whereupon he surrenders the cash and his sports car to a waiting gang member.

Travers then enters a Garda station, the first point at which Gardaí are notified that the robbery had taken place. One hour after this, the other family members succeed in freeing themselves and walk to a nearby garda station. Travers’ girlfriend requires immediate medical treatment for a head wound she received during a struggle with her captors, and the family are reported to be “traumatised” by their ordeal. Travers’s car is later found burned out in an apartment block near Tolka House Pub in Glasnevin.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Dermot Ahern says “proper procedures” were not followed during the course of the robbery, saying that Gardaí should have been contacted before the money had left the bank. He also questions how such a large sum of money could be taken as a result of one man being targeted.

The bank’s chief executive, Richie Boucher, appointed just two days earlier, immediately writes to all his staff to remind them that protocol should be followed in the event of future robberies, saying “Our priority is always for the safety and well-being of all staff. I am sure this incident will raise concerns. Our best defence is to follow tried and tested procedures. I would ask everybody to remind themselves of these procedures, which are there to protect you, your families and the bank.”

€1.8 million of the stolen cash is recovered and seven people are arrested by Gardaí in a number of incidents on February 28. A house in Phibsborough is sealed off and ten more houses are searched. A total of five cars and one van are seized by Gardaí. One of the men is arrested following a chase along the M50 motorway near the Navan road, with two bales of packed cash being discovered in his car. Four other men are arrested in a car in Monk Place and in Great Western Square, Phibsborough, and two more are seized in a house on Great Western Villas, Phibsborough. Cash is also found in a car in Phibsborough.

The six men and one woman are believed to be members of a well-known gang from Dublin’s north inner city and have connections to a major Dublin gangland figure. On March 2, those arrested appear before the High Court to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, viewing the warrants issued by the District Court the day before as invalid. That day, two of those arrested are released.

An unidentified bank employee is arrested on January 28, 2010 based on suspicion that the robbery had been an inside job.


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Birth of Richard Busteed, Union Army General & U.S. Federal Judge

Richard Busteed, Union Army general during the American Civil War and United States federal judge, is born in County Cavan on February 16, 1822. Busteed comes first to Canada, then the United States with his family while a child. They settle in New York City.

Busteed reads law in 1846. He enters private practice in New York City from 1846 to 1856 and is Corporation Counsel for New York City from 1856 to 1859. He serves as a Captain in the United States Army in 1861, and a Brigadier General from 1862 to 1863, during the American Civil War.

Once when confronted with black men being thrown out of a white railroad car by the conductor, Busteed pulls his pistol and defends the black men allowing them to stay.

Busteed receives a recess appointment from President Abraham Lincoln on November 17, 1863, to a joint seat on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama vacated by Judge George Washington Lane. He is nominated to the same position by President Lincoln on January 5, 1864. He is confirmed by the United States Senate on January 20, 1864, and receives his commission the same day. His service terminates on October 20, 1874, due to his resignation.

Alabamians generally consider Busteed corrupt and pro-Northern. In December 1867, he is shot on the street in Mobile, Alabama by United States Attorney Lucien V. B. Martin, who fires two more shots into him after he falls. Martin goes to Texas and is never prosecuted, while Busteed recovers rapidly.

Busteed is nominated by President Ulysses S. Grant to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia (now the United States District Court for the District of Columbia) on January 13, 1873. At the same time, President Grant nominates Judge David Campbell Humphreys, an Alabama native serving on the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, to assume Busteed’s seat, each nomination made contingent on the other’s resignation. The Senate returns the nominations to the President as irregular in form on February 13, 1873.

In 1873, Busteed is the subject of an impeachment inquiry by the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. The Committee recommends his impeachment on charges of failing to maintain a residence in his judicial district, failing to hold scheduled terms of court, and using his official position to promote his personal interests, specifically, by remitting a fine due to the Federal government in order to obtain release from a personal judgment against him in a State court. He resigns before the full House can vote on the recommendation.

Following his resignation from the federal bench, Busteed resumes private practice in New York City starting in 1874. He dies on September 14, 1898, in New York City and is interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.


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Birth of Olympic Medalist Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith, married name Michelle Smith de Bruin, lawyer and retired Irish swimmer who wins four medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, is born in Rathcoole, County Dublin on December 16, 1969. As a result of the medals captured in Atlanta, she becomes the most successful Olympian in Ireland and the country’s first woman to capture a gold medal.

Smith begins swimming competitively at age thirteen. Though she develops into one of Ireland’s premier junior swimmers, she realizes that without more advanced facilities and training techniques, she will never be able to compete at the international level. She goes to the United States to attend school and swim at the University of Houston, where she graduates with a degree in communications. Her times steadily improve and she makes the Irish Olympic teams for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. At both of those Games, however, she is eliminated in the preliminary rounds.

In 1994 Smith moves to the Netherlands with her coach and future husband, Erik de Bruin, to prepare for the 1996 Games. The next year she emerges as an elite athlete, winning the 200-metre butterfly and the 200-metre individual medley at the 1995 European Aquatics Championships. She continues to improve in 1996, taking 19 seconds off her best time in the 400-metre freestyle. In response to questions about her sudden turnaround, she credits more sophisticated training techniques and a single-minded focus on swimming. She also points out that she is probably the most tested athlete in Irish history and that she had never tested positive for banned substances.

Prior to the Atlanta Games, Ireland had won only five Olympic gold medals, and no medal — gold, silver, or bronze — had been won by Irish women. In one week, however, Smith rewrites the Irish record books. The 26-year-old swimmer wins the gold in three events — the 200-metre individual medley, the 400-metre individual medley, and the 400-metre freestyle — and captures the bronze medal in the 200-metre butterfly. Her triumph, however, is somewhat tarnished by unsubstantiated rumours that she had used performance-enhancing drugs. Some observers question her dramatic improvements in time and point to her marriage to de Bruin, a Dutch discus thrower who had been suspended from international competition for steroid use. Smith passes all the pre- and post-Olympic drug tests, however.

Smith’s success continues at the 1997 European Aquatic Championships, where she wins gold medals in the 200-metre butterfly and the 200-metre individual medley. In 1998, however, she receives a four-year ban for tampering with a urine sample during a drug test. She maintains her innocence, but her appeal of the ban before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) fails. She is 28 at the time, and the ban effectively ends her competitive swimming career. She is not stripped of her Olympic medals, as she has never tested positive for any banned substances.

Smith’s experiences at the CAS has an effect beyond her swimming career. It is there that she develops an interest in the law. After officially announcing her retirement from swimming in 1999, she returns to university, graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in law. In July 2005 she is conferred with the degree of Barrister at Law of King’s Inns, Dublin. While a student at the King’s Inns she wins the highly prestigious internal Brian Walsh Moot Court competition. Her book, Transnational Litigation: Jurisdiction and Procedure is published in 2008 by Thomson Round Hall.

In 1996, Smith releases her autobiography, Gold, co-written with Cathal Dervan. She lives in Kells, County Kilkenny with her husband and their two children.