seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

Death of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, dies in London, England on December 26, 1950, Saint Stephen’s Day.

Stephens’ birth is somewhat shrouded in mystery. He claims to have been born on the same day and same year as James Joyce, February 2, 1882, whereas he is in fact probably the same James Stephens who is on record as being born at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, on February 9 1880, the son of Francis Stephens of 5 Thomas’s Court, Dublin, a vanman and a messenger for a stationer’s office, and his wife, Charlotte Collins. His father dies when he is two years old and, when he was six years old, his mother remarries. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for boys in Blackrock for begging on the streets, where he spends much of the rest of his childhood. He attends school with his adoptive brothers Thomas and Richard Collins before graduating as a solicitor‘s clerk. They compete and win several athletic competitions despite James’ tiny 4’10” stature. He is known affectionately as “Tiny Tim.” He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier except for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual Montessori school run by Patrick Pearse and later manager of the Irish Theatre. He spends much time with MacDonagh in 1911. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adoptive family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy firm of solicitors.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism, with Deirdre and Irish Fairy Tales especially often praised. He also writes several original novels, including The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish wonder tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of poet and painter Æ (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse. His influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.”

Stephens later lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they wrongly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S (for “Jameses Joyce & Stephens”, but also a pun on the popular Jameson Irish Whiskey, made by John Jameson & Sons). The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of his life Stephens finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC.


Leave a comment

Birth of Sir Frederick Matthew Darley, Chief Justice of New South Wales

Sir Frederick Matthew Darley, the sixth Chief Justice of New South Wales, an eminent barrister, a member of the Parliament of New South Wales, Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, and a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, is born in Bray, County Wicklow, on September 18, 1830.

Darley is educated at Dungannon College in County Tyrone. His uncle, the Reverend John Darley, is headmaster of the college. In July 1847 he commences studying at Trinity College, Dublin, and he graduates in July 1851 with a Bachelor of Arts (BA). He is called to the English bar at the King’s Inn in January 1853 but returns to Ireland and practises there for about nine years on the Munster circuit. He meets Sir Alfred Stephen when Stephen is on a visit to Europe, and is told that there are good prospects for him in Australia.

Darley marries Lucy Forest Browne at Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, on December 13, 1860. Lucy is the sister of novelist Rolf Boldrewood (Thomas Alexander Browne) who is best known for the book Robbery Under Arms. They have two sons and four daughters.

Darley decides to emigrate to Australia and arrives in Sydney in 1862. He is admitted to the NSW Bar on June 2, 1862 and is later appointed a Queens Counsel (QC) in 1878. In September 1868 he is nominated to the New South Wales Legislative Council. In November 1881 he becomes vice-president of the executive council in the third Henry Parkes ministry. In November 1886 Darley is offered the position of Chief Justice of New South Wales in succession to Sir James Martin. He does not desire the office and to accept it would mean a considerable monetary sacrifice. As a barrister, he is likely earning more than twice the amount of the salary offered. He declines the position and it is accepted by Julian Salomons who subsequently resigns a few days later.

Darley is again approached and this time he accepts the position. He is sworn in on December 7, 1886. He carries out his duties with great distinction, although he is not an exceptional jurist. On the retirement of Sir Alfred Stephen in November 1891, Darley is appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, and he administers the government seven times in that capacity. When the position of Governor of New South Wales becomes vacant in 1901, there are many suggestions that Darley should be given the post, but it is given to Sir Harry Rawson.

Darley’s longest period administering the government is from November 1, 1900 to May 27, 1902, a significant period in Australia’s political history with the lead up to and the aftermath of federation of the then Australian colonies. But his anxiety for New South Wales’s supremacy possibly contributes to the “Hopetoun Blunder.” Darley’s private assessment in 1902 is that “Australian Federation is so far a pronounced failure.”

Darley is knighted in 1887, created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in 1897, and receives the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG) on May 15, 1901, in preparation of the forthcoming royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary).

Darley visits England in 1902 and is appointed a member of the royal commission on the South African war. He is also appointed a member of the privy council in 1905. He dies in London on January 4, 1910.