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


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Six Charged in the Birmingham Pub Bombings

On November 24, 1974, British police charge six men in connection with the Birmingham pub bombings three days earlier. Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Robert Hunter, Noel McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker are accused of the murder of the youngest victim of the attacks, Jane Davis, age 17, who is one of 19 people killed when bombs explode on November 21 in the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda, and the Tavern in the Town, a basement pub in New Street.

A massive security operation is launched in Birmingham the following day when the six accused men appear in a hearing at the Victoria Law Courts. Assistant Chief Constable Maurice Buck, who is leading the investigation, says the six had been apprehended on the night of the attacks.

Five of the alleged bombers, who are from Northern Ireland but have been resident in England for at least eleven years, are arrested on the Belfast ferry at Heysham. Callaghan is arrested in Birmingham. All of the men had been living in the city, but Buck declines to give their addresses “for security reasons.”

The assistant chief constable tells reporters that the alleged bombers will be charged soon in connection with the deaths of the other 18 victims. “We are satisfied that we have found the men primarily responsible, but our inquiries will continue,” he says.

The so-called Birmingham Six are found guilty in August 1975 of carrying out the bombings and sentenced to life imprisonment. They are released after 16 years in jail when their convictions are quashed by the Court of Appeal in May 1991. One of the six, Paddy Hill states on his release, “The police told us from the start they knew we hadn’t done it. They didn’t care who had done it.” The real bombers have never been prosecuted and no group has ever admitted planting devices.

Three detectives are charged with perjury and conspiracy in connection with the investigation, but their trial is halted in 1993 on the grounds of prejudicial media coverage.

The six men finally agree on undisclosed compensation settlements in June 2002 – more than ten years after they had been freed.

(From: “1974: Six charged over Birmingham pub bombs” by BBC News, http://www.news.bbc.co.uk)


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Death of Sir James Charles Mathew, Barrister & Judge

Sir James Charles Mathew, barrister and judge, dies in London on November 9, 1908.

Mathew is born on July 10, 1830 at Lehenagh House, County Cork, eldest son of Charles Mathew, gentleman, of Lehanagh House and Castlelake, County Tipperary, and his wife Mary, daughter of James Hackett of Cork. He is of a Roman Catholic family and his uncle is Fr. Theobald Mathew, the temperance movement campaigner. His initial education is at a private school in Cork. He enters Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in July 1845, graduating BA (1850) as a gold medalist and senior moderator. In Hilary term 1850 he is admitted to the King’s Inns in Dublin. He moves to London, entering Lincoln’s Inn on June 1, 1851, and is called to the English bar in Hilary term 1854.

Mathew is a founding member of the Hardwicke Society, a legal debating society, and builds up a substantial practice as a junior barrister, being much in demand as counsel for jury cases in the Guildhall sittings. Despite being highly regarded by his peers, a certain lack of confidence holds him back and even when vacancies arise he does not apply to be made a Queen’s Counsel (QC). In 1873, however, he represents the treasury as a junior counsel in the prosecution of the Tichborne claimant, Arthur Orton, in one of the most celebrated legal cases of the day. He is the only counsel for the treasury who does not get into heated arguments in court with Orton’s leading council, Dr. Edward Vaughan Hyde Kenealy.

Mathew possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of legal procedure and in 1881 is made a bencher at Lincoln’s Inn and awarded an honorary doctorate by TCD. Although still only a junior counsel he is appointed a judge in the Queen’s Bench Division in March 1881 and knighted. After the return to office of the Liberal Party in August 1892 he becomes chairman of the commission established to investigate the state of evicted tenants in Ireland. His appointment is perhaps unfortunate, as he is a home ruler in politics and the home rule MP John Dillon is his son-in-law. When the commission begins its hearings on November 7, 1892, he announces that he will not allow witnesses to be cross-examined. This provokes protests from Edward Carson, who had recently been replaced as solicitor general for Ireland. Counsel is ordered to withdraw and eventually two members of the commission resign, while the landlords refuse to cooperate with the proceedings. Despite severe criticism, many of the commission’s recommendations are incorporated in the Wyndham Land Purchase Act of 1903.

Throughout his legal career, Mathew argues for the establishment of a separate commercial court, and eventually succeeds in convincing the other members of the bench and also Lord Russell of Killowen, who is appointed Lord Chief Justice in 1894, that such a court be established. As a result of this, he is appointed as the first judge of the Commercial Court when it is set up in 1895. In 1901 he is made a privy councilor and appointed judge in the Court of Appeal.

On December 6, 1905 Mathew is seized with a paralytic stroke at the Athenaeum Club in London, and his resignation is announced on the following day. On November 9, 1908 he dies at his London home, 46 Queen’s Gate Gardens. His remains are returned to Ireland, where they are interred in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork.

Mathew marries Elizabeth Blackmore, eldest daughter of the Rev. Edwin Biron, JP and vicar of Lympne near Hythe, Kent, in December 1861. They have two sons and three daughters. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth Mathew, marries John Dillon. A portrait of Sir James Charles Mathew, by Frank Holl, is in the possession of the family. In 1896 a cartoon portrait of him by ‘Spy’ appears in Vanity Fair.

(From: “Mathew, Sir James Charles” by David Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: Sir James Charles Mathew by Alexander Bassano, half-plate glass negative, 1883, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Birth of Susan Denham, First Female Chief Justice of Ireland

Susan Jane Denham, SC (née Gageby), Irish judge who is the first woman to hold the position of Chief Justice of Ireland (2011-17), is born in Dublin on August 22, 1945. She serves as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland (1992-2017), and is the longest-serving member of the court on her retirement. She also serves as a Judge of the High Court (1991-92).

Gageby is the daughter of the former editor of The Irish Times, Douglas Gageby, the sister of another barrister, Patrick Gageby, and maternal granddaughter of Seán Lester. She is from a Church of Ireland background. She is educated at Alexandra College, Dublin, and attends Trinity College Dublin, the King’s Inns, and the Law School of Columbia University, New York City (LL.M. 1972). She is involved with the Free Legal Advice Centres while studying in Dublin and is a founder and president of the Archaeology and Folklife Society at Trinity College.

Gageby is called to the bar in July 1971 and becomes a Senior Counsel in October 1987. She is the fourth woman to enter the Inner Bar. She becomes a senior counsel on the same day as future Supreme Court colleague Mary Laffoy. She works on the Midland circuit until 1979, following which she is based in Dublin. She is involved in a number of leading cases while a junior barrister and a Senior Counsel particularly in the area of judicial review. She becomes a High Court judge in 1991.

Gageby marries paediatrician Dr. Brian Denham in 1992. Also in 1992, at the age of 47, Denham is the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. She is considered for appointment to the role of President of the High Court in 1994, but declines to have her name put forward. She makes two dissents early on in her period on the Court. Throughout her tenure as a judge she is seen by commentators to be a “liberal” judge.

In Kelly v Hennessy in 1996, Denham outlines criteria for a court to consider the evidence of the existence of nervous shock in Ireland. In 2001, she is the sole member of the Supreme Court to dissent in TD v Minister for Education. The court overturns a decision of Peter Kelly in the High Court to direct the government to build secure care units for certain children.

From 1995 to 1998, Denham chairs the Working Group on a Courts Commission, which is responsible for a significant reform of the organisation of the courts since the foundation of the state. It leads to the establishment of the Courts Service. She is on the Interim Board of the Court Service and serves on the Board of the Court Service from its inception, and chairs the board from 2001 to 2004. She chairs the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure which recommends in 2002 the establishment of a commercial court within the High Court.

From 2006, Denham chairs the Working Group on a Court of Appeal. The report of the group is published by the government in August 2009 and recommends the establishment of a general Court of Appeal. This is ultimately established in 2014, after a referendum in 2013.

Denham is part of the Irish delegation which, with the Netherlands and Belgium, establishes the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) and she continues an involvement in this Network. From January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016, she is President of the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union which is an association of Supreme Court Presidents and Chief Justices of EU Member States.

Denham writes the judgment in McD v. L (2009), upholding the parental rights of a sperm donor.

On July 4, 2011, Denham is nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to become Chief Justice of Ireland, and is appointed as Chief Justice by President Mary McAleese on July 25, 2011. She is the first woman appointed to the office and as a member of the Church of Ireland, she is the first non-Catholic to hold the position. She is also the first graduate of Trinity College Dublin to have been appointed as Chief Justices have largely been graduates of University College Dublin. She succeeds John L. Murray.

During Denham’s tenure as Chief Justice, the Supreme Court issues suspended declarations of unconstitutionality for the first time. The possibility to delay the effect of a court declaration that a piece of legislation is contrary to the Constitution is first explored by Denham in A v Governor of Arbour Hill Prison. The court first adopts this approach in N.V.H. v Minister for Justice & Equality in May 2017.

As Chief Justice, Denham oversees changes in the operations of the Supreme Court and the courts generally. She oversees the removal of the requirement for judges to wear wigs while hearing cases. In 2015, the Supreme Court sits outside Dublin for the first time since 1931, sitting in Cork. She corresponds with the Office of Public Works over the lack of heating in the Four Courts, threatening to cancel sittings if the issue is not resolved. She advocates for the inclusion of a new courtroom for the Supreme Court in plans to develop a new family court complex on Hammond Lane.

In her capacity as Chief Justice, Denham oversees the administration of the Presidential Declaration of Office at the inauguration of President Michael D. Higgins in Dublin Castle in November 2011.

Denham retires from the position in July 2017, and is succeeded by Judge Frank Clarke. She is the third-longest serving Supreme Court judge ever at the time of her retirement. In her remarks on her retirement, she draws attention to the government’s failure to institute a judicial council, having first attempted to persuade the government to establish one in 1997.

In 2019, Denham is made an honorary fellow of Trinity College Dublin, where she was a Pro-Chancellor from 1996-2010.

The Courts Service announces on August 24, 2020 that the Supreme Court has appointed Denham to review the attendance of Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe at a dinner organised by the Oireachtas Golf Society. She is appointed on a non-statutory basis as the relevant section in the Judicial Council Act 2019 on judicial conduct has not yet been commenced.


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The M62 Coach Bombing

m62-coach-bombingThe M62 coach bombing occurs on February 4, 1974 on the M62 motorway in Northern England, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb explodes in a coach carrying off-duty British Armed Forces personnel and their family members. Twelve people, nine soldiers and three civilians, are killed by the bomb, which consists of 25 pounds of high explosive hidden in a luggage locker on the coach.

The coach has been specially commissioned to carry British Army and Royal Air Force personnel on leave with their families from and to the bases at Catterick and Darlington during a period of railway strike action. The vehicle departs from Manchester and is making good progress along the motorway. Shortly after midnight, when the bus is between junction 26 and 27, near Oakwell Hall, there is a large explosion on board. Most of those aboard are sleeping at the time. The blast, which can be heard several miles away, reduces the coach to a “tangle of twisted metal” and throws body parts up to 250 yards.

The explosion kills eleven people outright and wounds over fifty others, one of whom dies four days later. Amongst the dead are nine soldiers – two from the Royal Artillery, three from the Royal Corps of Signals, and four from the 2nd battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. One of the latter is Corporal Clifford Haughton, whose entire family, consisting of his wife Linda and his sons Lee (5) and Robert (2), also die. Numerous others suffer severe injuries, including a six-year-old boy, who is badly burned.

The driver of the coach, Roland Handley, is injured by flying glass, but is hailed as a hero for bringing the coach safely to a halt. Handley dies at the age of 76 after a short illness in January 2011.

Suspicions immediately fall upon the IRA, which is in the midst of an armed campaign in Britain involving numerous operations, later including the Guildford pub bombing and the Birmingham pub bombings.

Reactions in Britain are furious, with senior politicians from all parties calling for immediate action against the perpetrators and the IRA in general. The British media are equally condemnatory. According to The Guardian, it is “the worst IRA outrage on the British mainland” at that time, whilst the BBC describes it as “one of the IRA’s worst mainland terror attacks.” The Irish newspaper The Sunday Business Post later describes it as the “worst” of the “awful atrocities perpetrated by the IRA” during this period.

IRA Army Council member Dáithí Ó Conaill is challenged over the bombing and the death of civilians during an interview, and replies that the coach had been bombed because IRA intelligence indicated that it was carrying military personnel only.

Following the explosion, the British public and politicians from all three major parties call for “swift justice.” The ensuing police investigation led by Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldfield is rushed, careless, and ultimately forged, resulting in the arrest of the mentally ill Judith Ward who claims to have conducted a string of bombings in Britain in 1973 and 1974 and to have married and had a baby with two separate IRA members. Despite her retraction of these claims, the lack of any corroborating evidence against her, and serious gaps in her testimony – which is frequently rambling, incoherent, and “improbable” – she is wrongfully convicted in November 1974.

The case against Ward is almost completely based on inaccurate scientific evidence using the Griess test and deliberate manipulation of her confession by some members of the investigating team. The case is similar to those of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, and the Maguire Seven, which occur at the same time and involve similar forged confessions and inaccurate scientific analysis. Ward is finally released in 1992, when three Appeal Court judges hold unanimously that her conviction was “a grave miscarriage of justice,” and that it had been “secured by ambush.”