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


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Birth of Barrister Alexander Martin Sullivan

alexander-martin-sullivanAlexander Martin Sullivan, Irish lawyer best known as the leading counsel for the defence in the 1916 treason trial of Roger Casement, is born in Dublin on January 14, 1871. He is the last barrister in either Ireland or England to hold the rank of Serjeant-at-Law, hence his nickname The Last Serjeant.

A younger son of A.M. Sullivan and Frances Donovan, Sullivan is educated at Ushaw College, Belvedere College, Trinity College, Dublin and King’s Inns. He is called to the Irish Bar in 1892 and practises on the Munster Circuit.

Sullivan is appointed an Irish KC in 1908 and King’s Third Serjeant-at-law (Ireland) in 1912 advancing to Second Serjeant in 1913 and First Serjeant in 1919, the last holder of that position.

A moderate constitutional nationalist and supporter of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Sullivan is a prominent campaigner for the recruitment of Irishmen into the British Army during World War I. His opposition to Sinn Féin republicanism and his prominent role in conducting prosecutions on behalf of the Crown during the Irish War of Independence lead to at least one attempt on his life. As a result, he relocates to England in 1921 and establishes a career at the English Bar, having previously been called to the Middle Temple in 1899. He subsequently becomes a Bencher and Treasurer of Middle Temple. By courtesy, he is always referred to as Serjeant Sullivan, even though that rank no longer exists in England.

Sullivan remains a member of the Irish Bar, and returns at least once to appear in the celebrated case of Croker v Croker, where the children of the former leader of Tammany Hall, Richard “Boss” Croker attempt to overturn his will, which leaves his entire estate to their stepmother.

Sullivan is noted as a fearless advocate, who brings to his English practice the robust manners he had learned in the Irish county courts. He does not hesitate to interrupt the judge, and if he feels that he is not receiving a fair hearing, he is quite capable of walking out of Court.

In 1916 Sullivan is retained as lead counsel in the trial of Sir Roger Casement for treason. No English barrister will defend Casement, and Sullivan is persuaded to take the case by George Gavan Duffy, whose wife Margaret is Sullivan’s sister. Despite his rank of Serjeant at law and King’s Counsel at the Irish bar he is only ranked as a junior barrister in England. As the facts relied on by the prosecution are largely undisputed, Sullivan is limited to arguing a technical defence that the Treason Act 1351 only applies to acts committed “within the realm” and not outside it. The Act’s terms had however been expanded by case law over the previous 560 years, and the defence is rejected by the trial judges and by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Sullivan writes two books: Old Ireland in 1927 and The Last Serjeant in 1952. He retires from legal practice in 1949. He dies on January 9, 1959.


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Dáil Éireann Approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty

second-all-ireland-dailDáil Éireann votes to approve the Anglo-Irish Treaty on January 7, 1922, following a debate through late December 1921 and into January 1922. The vote is 64 in favour, 57 against, with the Ceann Comhairle and three others not voting. The Sinn Féin party splits into opposing sides in the aftermath of the Treaty vote, which leads to the Irish Civil War from June 1922 until May 1923. The treaty is signed in London on December 6, 1921.

Two elections take place in Ireland in 1921, as a result of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 to establish the House of Commons of Northern Ireland and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. The election is used by the Irish Republic as the basis of membership of the Second Dáil. The general election to the Northern Ireland House of Commons occurs on May 24, 1921. Of 52 seats, forty are won by unionists, six by moderate Irish nationalists, and six by Sinn Féin. No actual polling takes place in the Southern Ireland constituencies, as all 128 candidates are returned unopposed. Given the backdrop of the increasingly violent War of Independence, any candidates opposed to Sinn Féin and their supporters can expect to be harassed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Supporters of the Irish Labour Party stand aside to allow the constitutional situation to run its course. Of these 128, 124 are won by Sinn Féin, and four by independent unionists representing the University of Dublin constituency. Only the Sinn Féin candidates recognise the Second Dáil and five of these have been elected in two constituencies, one in each part of Ireland, so the total number of members who assemble in the Second Dáil is 125.

During the Second Dáil, the government of the Irish Republic and the British government of David Lloyd George agree to hold peace negotiations. On September 14, 1921 the Dáil ratifies the appointment of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan, and George Gavan Duffy as envoys plenipotentiary for the peace conference in England. These envoys eventually sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6. After almost a month of acrimonious debate the treaty is formally ratified by Dáil Éireann on January 7, 1922.

To satisfy the requirements of the British constitution, the treaty also has to be ratified by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Thus Irish nationalists end their boycott of the home rule parliament to attend the southern House of Commons as MPs. This they do alongside the four Unionist MPs who had refused to recognise the Dáil. In this way the treaty is ratified a second time in Dublin, this time unanimously as the anti-Treaty TDs refuse to attend.

Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty a provisional parliament, considered by nationalists to be the Third Dáil, is elected in the 1922 general election on June 16. Collins and Éamon de Valera agree a pact between the pro- and anti-Treaty wings of Sinn Féin and this pact and the elections are endorsed by the Second Dáil. The new assembly is recognised both by nationalists and the British Government and so replaces both the Parliament of Southern Ireland and the Second Dáil with a single body. The anti-Treaty groups of IRA members, TDs, and their supporters are still bitterly opposed the settlement, despite the election result, and this leads to the Irish Civil War.

(Pictured: Second All-Ireland Dáil Éireann, elected in 1921)