From the Irish Examiner, 26 November 1937:
“JUDGE AND A RING
AMUSING CASE AT WEXFORD CIRCUIT COURT
QUESTIONS TO WITNESS
At Wexford Circuit Court, before Judge Comyn KC, William McC, Wexford, appealed against the decision of the District Court Justice at Wexford, sentencing him to a month’s imprisonment on a charge of larceny by finding of a gold ring the property of Mrs K Delaney, Gardiner’s Row, Dublin.
Mrs Delaney swore that on August 22nd, 1937, she was playing golf at the Rosslare Links and lost her ring. Some time after she returned to Dublin a Civic Guard called with a ring which she understood was her ring. It fitted her but she had no proof that the ring was hers. She believed it was her ring.
When the witness gave this evidence late on Tuesday night the ring was not in court, and when the case was taken up in the morning she was not present. Mr Kelly, State Solicitor, said that as Mrs Delaney had not gone so far as to identify the ring, the State could not prove ownership, and they could not go on with the case.
The Judge – Apparently she has been thinking about it and she thought perhaps she had sworn too much. There was no blame to be attached to her.
Mr Kelly said nothing remained except for him to present the ring to Mr Esmonde, TD, who appeared for William McC.
Mr Esmonde said the State had adopted a wise and proper course in withdrawing the case. The defendant had an absolute and perfect defence to the charge, and had brought from England a girl who had given him the ring. She was not present in the District Court.
Mr Esmonde applied for the return of the ring to the defendant. The State solicitor had no objection, he understood.
The Judge – I would like to see the lady that gave a wedding ring to a man (laughter).
Miss Bessie M was sworn and stated that she is employed in England and had been brought over for this case. The ring belonged to her mother who is dead. She was wearing the ring when home at her aunt’s last year, and she gave it to William McC, the defendant. Rumours got about that she was married and she was showing him the ring and he took it from her finger and kept it. She was 21 years of age. She had been at service in Dublin and Waterford before she went to England.
William McC was sworn and said Bessie M gave him the ring at Lady’s Island.
The Judge – Was there any witness of the ceremony? (laughter)
Witness said he was 26 years of age.
The Judge – Have you any notion of getting married?
Witness – No, sir.
What do you mean by walking out with a girl of 21 if you don’t intend to marry her?
Witness – I don’t know.
Of course I don’t want you to commit yourself if you don’t know what you meant (laughter). Did she ever ask you what were your intentions?
Witness – No.
Do you think she was moving towards that when the matter of the ring came up? (laughter). You must have been slow about giving her a ring when she gave you one (laughter). How did the Guards discover you had the ring?
Witness – I gave it to another girl in Rosslare.
You got it from Miss M and gave it to another girl. Are you married yet?
Witness – No sir.
You had great adventures as a bachelor, getting a wedding ring from a fine little girl of 21 because you were too slow about a proposal, and you gave it to another girl you are not married to (laughter) What do you say to that?
Witness – I don’t know what to say?
Well, Mr Esmonde has conducted your case with great courage and success, and you have got free from going to jail, but don’t you think you have great courage to come here and claim the ring?
Witness – I don’t know.
I think I would stick to Miss Murphy if I were you and make a proposal. I think I will give you back the ring; it just fits her finger (laughter).
Later in the evening the judge said he would not give defendant the ring because he did not seem to be able to make proper use of it (laughter). He directed that it be sent to Mrs Delaney in Dublin.“
Technically speaking, Mr Esmonde was quite right – his client should have got the ring back! Did Judge Comyn decide not to give it back because of doubts about Bessie M’s story – or because he believed her story, felt sorry for her, and wasn’t going to give her mother’s ring back to Mr McC to be passed onto to another girl? Possibly the former – because otherwise why not just give it back to Bessie M herself?
As you can see from the above story, many judges enjoy putting their former cross-examination skills to use on witnesses! The advocacy skills of the Comyn family were unsurpassed – the legal careers of Judge Comyn and his nephew James, yet another Irishman who became an English High Court Judge, make fascinating reading!