From the Meath Chronicle, 24 November 1934:
“BARRISTER ON FIRE IN COURT
Mr Connolly, a barrister, was addressing Judge Wyse-Power in Ballina (Co Mayo) Circuit Court, when his gown came in contact with an electric fire and blazed up. A solicitor dashed forward and put out the flames after a good part of the gown had been burnt. “I must apologise for going on fire,” was Mr Connolly’s comment, before continuing his address.”
Such sang-froid! So who was this imperturbable barrister? Although his first name is not given in the article, all the evidence points towards him being Mr TJ Connolly BL, who, as one would expect from the aplomb described in the report above, went on to notable success as a Senior Counsel in cases such as Lawless v Ireland (1957-61), the first case before the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr Connolly was not the first nor the last barrister to catch fire in court. In July 1886, a London barrister had just finished making an application to the Master of the Rolls when the back of his gown was observed to be in flames. He left the court hurriedly in shirt-sleeves after quickly divesting himself of his gown and tailcoat. Another barrister, Mr FE Hodgson, went alight during the Dorchester Quarter Sessions in 1937, when some matches in his pocket ignited. In neither case was there any serious injury.
What with their flowing garments and expressive gestures, the wonder is that barristers do not catch fire more often. To date, Mr Connolly remains the only reported barrister to have ignited in court in this jurisdiction, and the only one worldwide to have done so as a result of an electric heater. May he long retain this distinction!