The Devil’s Own, or, the Bar and the Boers, 1900

From the Freeman’s Journal, 22 February 1900:

“We have never been quite able to understand why the Four Courts has not raised a ‘Devil’s Own’ Corps for service in the present war. It was not that there were not plenty of juniors and others, with sufficient leisure for soldiering, nor yet was it that business was coming in too rapidly. Perhaps the explanation will be found in the fact that, during the Napoleonic Wars, when the danger of invasion had passed, the lawyers’ corps were anxious to retire from military life, they were not allowed to do so, the Government of the day insisting that they were bound to serve during the continuation of the war. The great Erskine’s opinion was taken at the time, and after its expression we are not surprised that the members of the Library, who expend so many words in supporting the Constitution, have professed to warm the calves of their legs at the Library fire rather than to proceed to the front on behalf of Queen and Country.”

Perhaps inspired by this article, a number of young devils did in fact enlist in the Boer War, including Andrew Marshall Porter, the son of the then Master of the Rolls, described by the Belfast Newsletter as

“just the type of man to be the hero of a romance – refined, dignified, accomplished, with grit and fortitude to endure patiently, and the courage of a lion to face danger. Parting with a brother barrister and cricketing chum when leaving Dublin, his last words were – ‘Well, whatever happens I won’t be taken alive.‘”

He wasn’t. On the 8th June 1900 a private telegram from the War Office travelled along the pneumatic tube from the GPO to the Four Courts to inform his father of young Master Porter’s death at Ladywood. Sir Andrew received the telegram while sitting on the Bench. Another young barrister, Mr W Holmes, son of Lord Justice Holmes, was dangerously wounded in the same skirmish.

One can only feel for these young barristers and their families. Bad enough nowadays hanging around the Four Courts for work, without having to deal with newspaper suggestions that, because you have time on your hands, you should go out and risk your life in a different hemisphere!

Jingoism has a lot to answer for!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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