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


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Birth of Timothy Michael Healy, Politician, Journalist, Author & Barrister

Timothy Michael “Tim” Healy, Irish nationalist politician, journalist, author, barrister, and one of the most controversial Irish Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, is born in Bantry, County Cork on May 17, 1855.

Healy is the second son of Maurice Healy, clerk of the Bantry Poor Law Union, and Eliza Healy (née Sullivan). His elder brother, Thomas Healy (1854–1924), is a solicitor and Member of Parliament (MP) for North Wexford and his younger brother, Maurice Healy (1859–1923), with whom he holds a lifelong close relationship, is a solicitor and MP for Cork City.

Healy’s father is transferred in 1862 to a similar position in Lismore, County Waterford. He is educated at the Christian Brothers school in Fermoy, and is otherwise largely self-educated, in 1869, at the age of fourteen, he goes to live with his uncle Timothy Daniel Sullivan in Dublin.

Healy then moves to England in 1871, working first as a railway clerk and then from 1878 in London as parliamentary correspondent of The Nation, writing numerous articles in support of Charles Stewart Parnell, the newly emergent and more militant home rule leader, and his policy of parliamentary obstructionism. Healy takes part in Irish politics and becomes associated with Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party. After being arrested for intimidation in connection with the Irish National Land League, he is promptly elected as member of Parliament for Wexford Borough in 1880.

In Parliament, Healy becomes an authority on the Irish land question. The “Healy Clause” of the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881, which protects tenant farmers’ agrarian improvements from rent increases imposed by landlords, not only makes him popular throughout nationalist Ireland but also wins his cause seats in Protestant Ulster. He breaks with Parnell in 1886 and generally remains at odds with subsequent leaders of the Irish Parliamentary Party, though he is a strong supporter of proposals for Irish Home Rule. Meanwhile, he is called to the Irish bar in 1884 and becomes a queen’s counsel in 1899.

Dissatisfied with both the Liberals and the Irish Nationalists after the Easter Rising in 1916, Healy supports Sinn Féin after 1917. He returns to considerable prominence in 1922 when, on the urging of the soon-to-be Irish Free State‘s Provisional Government of W.T. Cosgrave, the British government recommends to King George V that Healy be appointed the first “Governor-General of the Irish Free State,” a new office of representative of the Crown created in the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and introduced by a combination of the Irish Free State Constitution and Letters Patent from the King.

Healy believes that he has been awarded the Governor-Generalship for life. However, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decides in 1927 that the term of office of Governors-General will be five years. As a result, he retires from the office and public life in January 1928 and publishes his extensive two volume memoirs later in that year. Throughout his life he is formidable because he is ferociously quick-witted, because he is unworried by social or political convention, and because he knows no party discipline. Towards the end of his life he becomes more mellowed and otherwise more diplomatic.

Healy dies on March 26, 1931, at the age of 75, in Chapelizod, County Dublin. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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Death of Supreme Court Judge Adrian Hardiman

Adrian Hardiman, Irish judge who serves as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland from 2000 to 2016, dies in Portobello, Dublin, on March 7, 2016. He writes a number of important judgments while serving on the Court. He also presides, as does each Supreme Court judge on a rotating basis, over the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Hardiman is born on May 21, 1951, in Coolock, Dublin. His father is a teacher and President of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI). He is educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and University College Dublin, where he studies history, and the King’s Inns. He is president of the Student Representative Council at UCD and Auditor of the Literary and Historical Society (UCD) and wins The Irish Times National Debating Championship in 1973.

Hardiman is married to Judge Yvonne Murphy, from County Donegal, a judge of the Circuit Court between 1998 and 2012, who conducts important inquiries relating to sex abuse including the Murphy Report and the Cloyne Report. She serves as chair of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. They have three sons, Eoin, who is a barrister and has been a member of the Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee, Hugh, who is a personal assistant to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell, and Daniel, a doctor.

Hardiman joins Fianna Fáil while a student in University College Dublin, and stands unsuccessfully for the party in the local elections in Dún Laoghaire in 1985. In 1985, he becomes a founder member of the Progressive Democrats, but leaves the party when he is appointed to the Supreme Court. He remains very friendly with the former party leader and ex-Tánaiste, Michael McDowell, who is a close friend at college, a fellow founding member of the party, and best man at his wedding.

Hardiman is called to the Irish Bar in 1974 and receives the rare honour of being appointed directly from the Bar to Ireland’s highest court. Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court in 2000, he has a successful practice as a barrister, focusing on criminal law and defamation.

Politically, Hardiman supports the liberal side in Ireland’s debates over abortion, being active in the “anti-amendment” campaign during the 1982 Abortion Referendum and later represents the Well Woman Centre in the early 1990s. After his death, he is described by Joan Burton as a liberal on social issues. But he could be an outspoken opponent of Political Correctness, such as when he rejects the Equality Authority‘s attempt to force Portmarnock Golf Club to accept women as full members. He also believes that certain decisions, such as those involving public spending, are better left to elected politicians rather than unelected judges, regardless of how unpopular that might sometimes be in the media (which he tends to hold in low esteem) and among what he describes as the “chattering classes.”

Hardiman’s concern for individual rights is not confined to Ireland. In February 2016, he criticizes what he describes as the radical undermining of the presumption of innocence, especially in sex cases, by the methods used in the UK‘s Operation Yewtree inquiry into historical sex allegations against celebrities, and he also criticizes “experienced lawyer” and then United States presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for allegedly declaring in January that “every accuser was to be believed, only to amend her view when asked if it applied to women who had made allegations against her husband”, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

In a tribute following his death in 2016, President Michael D. Higgins says Justice Hardiman “was one of the great legal minds of his generation”, who was “always committed to the ideals of public service.” He is described as a “colossus of the legal world” by Chief Justice Susan Denham.

One commentator writes that “Hardiman’s greatest contribution …was the steadfast defence of civil liberties and individual rights” and that “He was a champion of defendants’ rights and a bulwark against any attempt by the Garda Síochána to abuse its powers.”


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Birth of Hugh Holmes, MP & Judge of the Court of Appeal in Ireland

Hugh Holmes QC, an Irish Conservative Party, then after 1886 a Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and subsequently a Judge of the High Court and Court of Appeal in Ireland, is born in Dungannon, County Tyrone, on February 17, 1840.

Holmes is the son of William Holmes of Dungannon and Anne Maxwell. He attends the Royal School Dungannon and Trinity College, Dublin. He is called to the English bar in 1864 and to the Bar of Ireland in 1865.

Holmes becomes a Queen’s Counsel (QC) in 1877. He is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland on December 14, 1878 and serves until the Conservative government is defeated in 1880. He becomes Attorney-General for Ireland in 1885–1886 and 1886–1887. He is made a member of the Privy Council of Ireland on July 2, 1885. He is a MP for Dublin University from 1885 to 1887.

Holmes resigns from the House of Commons when he is appointed a Judge in 1887. He is a Justice of the Common Pleas division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland until 1888 when he becomes a Justice of the Queen’s Bench division. He is promoted to be a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1897. Ill health causes his retirement in 1914.

Holmes appears to be a stern judge, who does not suffer fools gladly and often imposes exceptionally severe sentences in criminal cases. Although the story is often thought to be apocryphal, Maurice Healy maintains that Holmes did once sentence a man of great age to 15 years in prison, and when the prisoner pleaded that he could not do 15 years, replied “Do as much of it as you can.” His judgments do however display some good humour and humanity, and the sentences he imposes often turned out to be less severe in practice than those he announces in Court.

The quality of his judgments is very high and Holmes, together with Christopher Palles and Gerald FitzGibbon, is credited with earning for the Irish Court of Appeal its reputation as perhaps the strongest tribunal in Irish legal history. His retirement, followed by that of Palles (FitzGibbon had died in 1909), causes a loss of expertise in the Court of Appeal from which its reputation never recovers. Among his more celebrated remarks is that the Irish “have too much of a sense of humour to dance around a maypole.” His judgment in The SS Gairloch remains the authoritative statement in Irish law on the circumstances in which an appellate court can overturn findings of fact made by the trial judge.

In 1869 Holmes marries Olivia Moule, daughter of J.W. Moule of Sneads Green House, Elmley Lovett, Worcestershire. She dies in 1901. Their children include Hugh junior, Sir Valentine Holmes KC (1888-1956), who like his father is a very successful barrister and a noted expert on the law of libel, Violet (dies in 1966), who married Sir Denis Henry, 1st Baronet, the first Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Elizabeth, who marries the politician and academic Harold Lawson Murphy, author of a well known History of Trinity College Dublin, and Alice (dies in 1942), who marries the politician and judge Edward Sullivan Murphy, Attorney General for Northern Ireland and Lord Justice of Appeal of Northern Ireland.

Holmes dies on April 19, 1916, five days before the beginning of the Easter Rising.


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Death of John O’Byrne, Judge & Barrister

John O’Byrne, Irish judge and barrister who serves as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland, Judge of the High Court (1926-40) and Attorney General of Ireland (1924-26), dies in Killiney, Dublin, on January 14, 1954.

O’Byrne is born in Carlow on April 24, 1884, the fourth son of Patrick O’Byrne and Mary O’Byrne (née Tallon), of Seskin, County Wicklow. He is educated at the Patrician Monastery, Tullow, County Carlow, and studies Moral and Mental Science at the Royal University of Ireland, where he graduates in 1907 in First Place with First Class Honours. He is awarded a Master of Arts degree in 1908.

O’Byrne joins the Irish Land Commission, where he acquires an intimate knowledge of the system of real property and land tenure in Ireland. Subsequently, he studies at King’s Inns, Dublin, and is called to the Irish Bar in 1911, where he practises mainly in real property.

O’Byrne stands as a pro-Treaty Sinn Féin candidate at the 1922 Irish general election for the Wexford constituency but is not elected. In 1922, he is appointed by the Provisional Government of Ireland to the Irish Free State Constitution Commission to draft the Constitution of the Irish Free State. It prepares a draft Constitution. He is thus one of the constitutional architects of the Irish Free State.

In 1923, O’Byrne is appointed to the Judiciary Commission by the Government of the Irish Free State, on a reference from the Government to establish a new system for the administration of justice in accordance with the Constitution of the Irish Free State. The Judiciary Commission is chaired by the last Lord Chief Justice of Ireland (who had also been the last Lord Chancellor of Ireland). It drafts legislation for a new system of courts, including a High Court and a Supreme Court, and provides for the abolition of the Irish Court of Appeal.

O’Byrne is appointed King’s Counsel in 1924, becoming the last member of counsel in the Irish Free State to be appointed, thereafter counsel are appointed as Senior Counsel. He is also a delegate of the Irish Free State to the League of Nations in the same year.

On June 7, 1924, O’Byrne is appointed the second Attorney General of Ireland when Hugh Kennedy is appointed Chief Justice of Ireland. On January 9, 1926, he is appointed a Judge of the High Court, upon which he serves until he is appointed to the Supreme Court of Ireland in 1940. He is also Chairman of the Irish Legal Terms Advisory Committee from May 14, 1948 to May 13, 1953.

Another High Court judge, Kenneth Deale, writing extra judicially in “Beyond Any Reasonable Doubt?,” a collection of essays on celebrated Irish murder trials, offers some interesting insights into O’Byrne’s strengths and weaknesses as a judge. Deale praises him as a sound and experienced lawyer, conscientious, principled and level-headed. However he believes that O’Byrne has one serious flaw – he is excessively strong minded and, having made up his mind, is most reluctant to change it. This in Deale’s view is a serious fault in a judge especially in criminal trials, where Deale finds it hard to believe that a jury would not be greatly influenced by the summing up of so formidable and strong minded a judge. In particular Deale strongly criticises his conduct of the trial of Thomas Kelly, tried in 1936 for the murder of Patrick Henry. In Deale’s view, O’Byrne’s summing-up is designed to convince the jury that the accused is guilty. Kelly, after an unprecedented three trials, is found guilty, but the Government, which seems to have some doubts about his guilt, reprieves him from the death penalty.

O’Byrne marries Marjorie McGuire in 1924. He lives at Stonehurst, Killiney, County Dublin. He dies in office on January 14, 1954. His widow brings a celebrated test case arguing that judges could not be required to pay income tax as this breaches the Constitutional guarantee that their incomes cannot be reduced. The Supreme Court decides by a 3-2 majority that notwithstanding the guarantee, judges are liable to pay income tax.

One of O’Byrne’s sons is Paddy O’Byrne who becomes one of the best known radio presenters in South Africa.


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Birth of John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury

John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury PC, KC, Irish lawyer, politician and judge known as The Lord Norbury between 1800 and 1827, is born at Beechwood, Nenagh, County Tipperary, on December 3, 1745. A greatly controversial figure in his time, he is nicknamed the “Hanging Judge” and is considered to be one of the most corrupt legal figures in Irish history. He is Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland between 1800 and 1827.

Toler is the youngest son of Daniel Toler, MP, and Letitia, daughter of Thomas Otway (1665–1724), of Lissenhall, Nenagh, County Tipperary. His elder brother Daniel Toler is also a politician, serving as High Sheriff for Tipperary and also as MP for Tipperary. The Toler family is originally from Norfolk, East Anglia, England, but settles in County Tipperary in the 17th century. He is educated at Kilkenny College and at Trinity College, Dublin.

After graduating from university Toler enters the legal profession and is called to the Irish Bar in 1770. In 1781 he is appointed a King’s Counsel. He is returned to the Parliament of Ireland for Tralee in 1773, a seat he holds until 1780, and later represents Philipstown between 1783 and 1790 and Gorey from 1790 until the Acts of Union 1800. In 1789 he is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, which he remains until 1798 when he is promoted to Attorney-General for Ireland and sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland. In his role as Attorney-General he is responsible for the prosecution of those involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. According to the Dictionary of National Biography “his indifference to human suffering … disgusted even those who thought the occasion called for firmness on the part of government.” In 1799, he brings forward a law which gives the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland power to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act and to impose martial law.

In 1800 Toler is appointed Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland and raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Norbury, of Ballycrenode in the County of Tipperary. His appointment to the bench is controversial and John FitzGibbon, 1st Earl of Clare, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, is said to have quipped, “Make him a bishop, or even an archbishop, but not a chief justice.” His tenure as Chief Justice lasts for 27 years, despite the fact that, the Dictionary of National Biography opines, “his scanty knowledge of the law, his gross partiality, his callousness, and his buffoonery, completely disqualified him for the position. His court was in constant uproar owing to his noisy merriment. He joked even when the life of a human being was hanging in the balance.” This earns him the nickname the “Hanging Judge.” His most famous trial is that of Irish nationalist leader Robert Emmet. He interrupts and abuses Emmet throughout the trial before sentencing him to death. In spite of this, with his strong belief in the Protestant Ascendancy, he is considered to have had great influence over the government in Ireland in the early part of the nineteenth century.

However, Toler’s position eventually becomes untenable even to his strongest supporters, especially with the British government‘s aim of establishing a better relationship with the Catholic majority. His reputation is tainted in 1822, when a letter written to him by William Saurin, the Attorney-General for Ireland, is discovered, in which Saurin urges him to use his influence with the Irish Protestant gentry which makes up local juries against the Catholics. Saurin is dismissed soon afterwards. He finds his greatest adversary in Daniel O’Connell, to whom Toler is “an especial object of abhorrence.” At O’Connell’s instigation the case of Saurin’s letter is brought before the House of Commons of the United Kingdom by Henry Brougham. Toler survives this as well as an 1825 petition drawn up by O’Connell, which calls for his removal on the grounds of him falling asleep during a murder trial and later being unable to present any account of the evidence given. However, it is not until George Canning becomes Prime Minister in 1827 that Toler, then 82, is finally induced to resign. His resignation is sweetened by him being created Viscount Glandine and Earl of Norbury, of Glandine in King’s County, in the Peerage of Ireland. Unlike the barony of Norbury these titles are created with remainder to his second son Hector John. His eldest son Daniel is then considered mentally unsound.

Toler marries Grace, daughter of Hector Graham, in 1778. They have two sons and two daughters. In 1797 Grace is raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baroness Norwood, of Knockalton in the County of Tipperary, in honour of her husband. She dies in 1822 and is succeeded in the barony by her eldest son, Daniel. Toler survives her by nine years and dies at the age of 85 at his Dublin home at 3 Great Denmark Street on July 27, 1831. He is succeeded in the barony of Norbury by his eldest son Daniel and in the viscountcy and earldom according to the special remainder by his second son, Hector. In 1832 the latter also succeeds his elder brother in the baronies of Norwood and Norbury. He is considered to be the father of the astronomer John Brinkley.

(Pictured: John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury, coloured etching by unknown artist, early 19th century, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D9303)


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Death of Sir Denis Stanislaus Henry, 1st Baronet

Sir Denis Stanislaus Henry, 1st Baronet, KBE, PC (Ire), QC, Irish lawyer and politician who becomes the first Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, dies in Belfast on October 1, 1925.

Henry is born on March 7, 1864 in Cahore, Draperstown, County Londonderry, the son of a prosperous Roman Catholic businessman. He is educated at Marist College, Dundalk, Mount St. Mary’s College, Chesterfield, Derbyshire (a Jesuit foundation) and Queen’s College, Belfast, where he wins every law scholarship available to a student in addition to many other prizes and exhibitions. In 1885, he is called to the Bar of Ireland.

During the 1895 United Kingdom general election campaign, Henry speaks in support of unionist candidates in two constituencies: Thomas Lea in South Londonderry, Henry’s native constituency, and E. T. Herdman in East Donegal.

Henry’s legal career flourishes. He becomes Queen’s Counsel in 1896, a Bencher of the King’s Inns in 1898 and ultimately Father of the North-West Circuit – but his interest in politics does not diminish. In March 1905, he is a delegate at the inaugural meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council and in the 1907 North Tyrone by-election he is the Unionist candidate, losing by a mere seven votes.

On May 23, 1916, Henry is elected as an MP in the South Londonderry by-election, the first by-election to be held in Ireland after the Easter Rising, which occurred a month earlier. The rebellion has had no discernible impact on the contest.

In November 1918, Henry becomes Solicitor-General for Ireland and in July 1919, Attorney-General for Ireland. He later serves as the first Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland from 1921 to 1925. In 1923, he becomes a Baronet, of Cahore in the County of Londonderry.

Henry marries Violet Holmes, daughter of Hugh Holmes, a judge of the Court of Appeal in Ireland, and Olivia Moule. They have five children, including James Holmes Henry, who succeeds as second baronet. It is a mixed marriage as Violet is and remains a staunch member of the Church of Ireland. Despite their religious differences, the marriage is said to be happy.

Henry dies in Belfast on October 1, 1925, aged 61, and is buried near his native Draperstown.

(Pictured: Sir Denis Stanislaus Henry, 1st Baronet, bromide print by Walter Stoneman, 1920, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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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)