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


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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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The Capture of Robert Emmet

robert-emmetRobert Emmet, one of the most famous revolutionaries in Irish history, is captured by the British at the home of a Mrs. Palmer in Harold’s Cross, outside Dublin on August 25, 1803.

Emmet is born at 109 St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin on March 4, 1778. He is the youngest son of Dr. Robert Emmet, a court physician, and his wife Elizabeth Mason. He attends Oswald’s school in Dopping’s-court, off Golden-lane and enters Trinity College, Dublin, in October 1793 at the age of fifteen. In December 1797, he joins the College Historical Society, a debating society.

While he is in college, his brother Thomas and some of his friends become involved in political activism. Emmet becomes secretary of a secret United Irish Committee in college and is expelled in April 1798 as a result. That same year he flees to France to avoid the many British arrests of nationalists that are taking place in Ireland. While in France, he garners the support of Napoleon, who promises to lend support when the upcoming revolution starts.

After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Emmet is involved in reorganising the defeated Society of United Irishmen. In April 1799, a warrant is issued for his arrest. He escapes and soon after travels to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid. His efforts are unsuccessful, as Napoleon is concentrating his efforts on invading England. He returns to Ireland in October 1802.

In March of the following year, Emmet begins to prepare a new rebellion, with fellow Anglo-Irish revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope. The revolutionaries conceal their preparations, but a premature explosion at one of Emmet’s arms depots kills a man, forcing Emmet to advance the date of the rising before the authorities’ suspicions are aroused.

Despite being unable to secure help from Michael Dwyer‘s Wicklow rebels and many rebels from Kildare turning back due to the scarcity of firearms, the rising begins in Dublin on the evening of July 23, 1803. Failing to seize the lightly defended Dublin Castle, the rising amounts to a large-scale disturbance in the Thomas Street area. Emmet witnesses a dragoon being pulled from his horse and piked to death, the sight of which prompts him to call off the rising to avoid further bloodshed. However, sporadic clashes continue into the night until finally quelled by British military forces.

Emmet flees into hiding, moving from Rathfarnham to Harold’s Cross so that he can be near his sweetheart, Sarah Curran. He is captured on August 25 and taken to Dublin Castle, then later removed to Kilmainham Gaol. Vigorous but ineffectual efforts are made to procure his escape.

Emmet is tried for and found guilty of high treason on September 19, 1803. Chief Justice John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury sentences Emmet to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, as is customary for conviction of treason. The following day, Emmet is executed in Thomas Street near St. Catherine’s Church. He is hanged and beheaded after his death. Out of fear of being arrested, no one comes forward to claim his remains.

Emmet’s remains are first delivered to Newgate Prison and then returned to Kilmainham Gaol, where the jailer is under instructions to be bury the remains in a nearby hospital’s burial grounds if no one claims them. No remains have been found there and, though not confirmed, it appears that he was secretly removed and reinterred in St. Michan’s Church, a Dublin church with strong United Irish associations. There is also speculation that the remains are buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When inspected in the 1950s, a headless corpse is found in the vault but can not be identified. The widely accepted theory is that Emmet’s remains are transferred to St. Peter’s Church in Aungier St. under cover of the burial of his sister in 1804. In the 1980s the church is deconsecrated and all the coffins are removed from the vaults. The church has since been demolished.


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Execution of Robert Emmet, Irish Nationalist & Republican

Robert Emmet, Irish nationalist and Republican, orator and rebel leader, is hung, drawn, and quartered in Dublin on September 20, 1803, following his conviction for high treason.

Emmet is born at 109 St. Stephen’s Green, in Dublin on March 4, 1778, the youngest son of Dr. Robert Emmet, a court physician, and his wife, Elizabeth Mason. He attends Oswald’s school, in Dopping’s-court, off Golden-lane and enters Trinity College, Dublin in October 1793, at the age of fifteen. He becomes secretary of a secret United Irish Committee in college, and is expelled in April 1798 as a result. That same year he flees to France to avoid the many British arrests of nationalists that are taking place in Ireland.

After the 1798 rising, Emmet is involved in reorganising the defeated Society of United Irishmen. In April 1799 a warrant is issued for his arrest. He escapes and soon after travels to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid. His efforts are unsuccessful, as Napoleon is concentrating his efforts on invading England.

Emmet returns to Ireland in October 1802 and, along with fellow revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope, begins preparations for another uprising in March of the following year. A premature explosion at one of Emmet’s arms depots forces him to advance the date of the rising before the authorities’ suspicions are aroused.

Emmet is unable to secure the help of Michael Dwyer‘s Wicklow rebels. Many rebels from Kildare turn back due to the scarcity of firearms they had been promised, but the rising proceeds in Dublin on the evening of July 23, 1803. Failing to seize Dublin Castle, which is lightly defended, the rising amounts to a large-scale disturbance in the Thomas Street area. He sees a dragoon pulled from his horse and piked to death, the sight of which prompts him to call off the rising to avoid further bloodshed but he has no control over of his followers. Sporadic clashes continue into the night until finally quelled by British military forces.

Emmet flees into hiding but is captured on August 25 and taken to Dublin Castle, then removed to Kilmainham Gaol. He is tried for treason on September 19. The Crown repairs the weaknesses in its case by secretly buying the assistance of Emmet’s defence attorney, Leonard McNally, for £200 and a pension. McNally’s assistant Peter Burrowes cannot be bought and he pleads the case as best he can. Emmet is found guilty of high treason.

Chief Justice John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury sentences Emmet to be hanged, drawn and quartered, as is customary for conviction of treason. The following day, September 20, Emmet is executed in Thomas Street near St. Catherine’s Church. He is hanged and beheaded once dead. As family members and friends of Emmet had also been arrested, including some who had nothing to do with the rebellion, no one comes forward to claim his remains out of fear of arrest.

Emmet’s remains are first delivered to Newgate Prison and then back to Kilmainham Gaol, where the jailer is under instructions that if no one claims them they are to be buried in a nearby hospital’s burial grounds. A later search there finds no remains. It is speculated that Emmet’s remains were secretly removed from the site and reinterred in St. Michan’s Church, a Dublin church with strong United Irish associations, though it is never confirmed. It is later suspected that they are buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When the vault is inspected in the 1950s a headless corpse was found, suspected of being Emmet’s, but cannot be identified. Widely accepted is the theory that Emmet’s remains were transferred to St. Peter’s Church in Aungier St. under cover of the burial of his sister, Mary Anne Holmes, in 1804. In the 1980s the church is deconsecrated and all the coffins are removed from the vaults. The church has since been demolished.