Solicitor Tarred in South William Street Wine Cellar, 1875

61 South William Street, Dublin, today, via Google maps..

From the Freeman’s Journal, 27 August 1875:


At the Southern Divisional Police-court yesterday, Joseph Steele, who described himself as a wine merchant, of 16 Summer-hill, summoned Mr Richard Parsons, solicitor, for having assaulted him in the complainant’s place of business at 61 South William Street on the night of the 10th August.  It will be recollected that a few days ago Mr Richard Parsons, solicitor, summoned Joseph Steele and William McCabe for alleged assault and ill-treatment of him at Mr Steele’s wine cellar, at 61 South William Street, on the night in question.  From evidence given that day in favour of Parsons’ case it appears that Parsons had been invited by Steele, in company with two others, to his wine vaults in South William Street, and that while there, after drinking two or three bottles of wine, Parsons had been assaulted and abused by the others, knocking him down and kicking him, breaking his hat, and bedaubing his clothes and persons with tar, and then absconded.

Consequently both Parsons and Steele were arrested and confined during the night.  It also transpired that Parsons had obtained a judgment against Steele some twelve months ago for a debt, on foot of which execution was issued, and Steele confined in the Marshalsea.  Parsons insisted that Steele’s recent ill-treatment of him was due to ill-feeling arising from the former transaction.

William McCabe, of 15 North Earl Street, was examined by Mr White, and deposed that on the evening question in met Joseph Steele at the corner of Earl Street, they went into Byrne’s public house, where they were joined by Parsons.  Steele asked Mr McCabe to his business place in William Street and said to Parsons he would be welcome to come…. On going to William Street they had first, a bottle of port, secondly a bottle of sherry and thirdly, at the request of Parsons, a bottle of claret, shortly after Parsons became very drunk and struck Steele on the hat, who struck him in return, he next wanted to get the key of the wine cellar from Steele, a tussle ensued and in the excitement, Parsons seized a can of tar and rushed at Steele, who put up his hand to ward off the tar, thereby upsetting the tar over Parsons.  Parsons commenced to curse and swear and call Steele a bloody little fraud and say that the wine in Steele’s cellar belonged to Parsons and not Steele and he had only come to check it out.

His Worship, Mr Woodcock –  This case appears to me to be in all respects the most discreditable I have ever heard.  Mr Parsons, even on his own showing, was guilty of most discreditable conduct in spying on Steele.  Such conduct on the part of a member of his profession opens up a view of Dublin life which I had no idea of.  I intend sending the case for trial.”

All parties were acquitted in the Dublin Recorder’s court in October 1875, but poor Mr Parsons was unlucky again in March 1883 when he was attacked and robbed in Gloucester Street on his way home from the pub the day after St Patrick’s Day.  At the subsequent trial of John Duncan for this offence, Mr Parsons was asked under cross-examination:

“I believe you were tarred and feathered once? (Laughter) 

I was, by blackguards (Laugher). But I was not feathered.

Not feathered? Well no, not exactly.

Did you lose anything on that occasion? No, except my reputation.

Tell me where your offices are?  I am registered at Lower Gloucester Street.

That is where you hang out. What is that house? A spirit grocer’s establishment? Are your offices at the end of the counter?  Well, no, a bit off it.

Round the corner? No, I had the drawing room of the establishment, but never finished it.”

Despite, or perhaps because of, this somewhat mean cross-examination of Mr Parsons, his attacker, a Mr Duncan, was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 9 months with hard labour.

Number 61 William St is still standing today and even features in the National Inventory of Irish Architectural Heritage, though no reference is made to the wine cellar.  Perhaps it was filled in, as often happened with these cellars over the years!

The moral of the story: never accept a drinking invitation from your former opponent in litigation until the heat of their loss to you has subsided in their memory!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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