In an era in which the courts, and not parliament, served as the primary venue for Irish political theatre, one significant side benefit of being a barrister was the opportunity of a ringside seat!

The Kilkenny Journal, 24 May 1848, contains a report of an interesting minor skirmish which occurred in the course of the trial for sedition of the Young Irelander Thomas Francis Meagher, transported to Van Diemen’s Land for life later that year:

Mr French, High Sheriff… ordered the police to keep clear the side passages of the court, which on the most ordinary occasions – not to speak of one on which so much interest was excited, are crowded, or at least free to access…. These passages were closed against all admission from without.  A number of barristers, who were unable to procure seats in the places usually assigned to them, and rudely denied admission, deputed one of their body to represent the matter to the High Sheriff in the following note:

THE BAR TO THE SHERIFF

Members of the Bar anxious for admission to the side passages, wish the Sheriff to inform them why those places are exclusively reserved for tipstaffs and policemen.’

To this application Mr French wrote on the fold of the note the… not very dignified reply.

‘THE HIGH SHERIFF TO THE BAR

Because the Sheriff chooses.’

The gentleman of the Bar [then] wrote .. a respectful note to Chief Justice [Doherty] enclosing both notes – whereupon the learned Judge, with that courtesy which never forsakes him, forthwith directed Mr French to admit the members of the Bar into his preserved enclosures whether [he] choose it or no.”

The selfsame Mr French was a regular complainer about barristers at early solicitors’ meetings!

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