Chief Baron Palles at Home, 1898

Mountainville House, later Knockrabo, Dublin, summer residence of Lord Chief Baron Palles between 1885 and 1920. In the late 19th century, the practice grew up among Irish judges of keeping a summer residence in the Dublin suburbs. Image via Historical Stillorgan.
Lord Chief Baron Palles, via Wikipedia

From the Warder and Dublin Weekly Mail, 26 November 1898, this remarkable account of a ‘Hello’ type visit to the summer home of the last Lord Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer:

“In the current issue of the ‘World’, Lord Chief Baron Palles is the ‘Celebrity at Home’   The writer of the article gives a delightful pen picture of the Chief Baron at his beautiful residence, Mount Annville, Dundrum, with some sidelights on his favourite pursuits. 

Mount Annville is described with much minuteness, its magnificent situation, the fine entrance, with its Ionic columns, and the hall of noble proportions, with its appropriate decorations.  The pictures on the staircase include Mary of Modena, by Sir Peter Lely, and a portrait of the celebrated Archbishop of Armagh, who was executed at Tyburn.  His brother was the ancestor of the Chief Baron on his mother’s side, who was a Plunkett.  On the first landing are two magnificent cases of stuffed tropical birds of wondrous plumage, sent him by Chief Justice Kane, of the Niger, an old friend and brother of the long robe. 

Mary of Modena, by Lely, via Wikimedia Commons. The picture on the stairs of Judge Palles’ home may perhaps have been similar.

The drawing-rooms are magnificent apartments.  The Chief Baron’s study, which he calls his ‘den,’ with its thick Turkey carpets and big divan chairs, is an exceedingly cosy room, and much used by him when residing in the country, his stay there usually lasting from the conclusion of the Spring Assizes until the first day of Michaelmas term.  The chimneypiece is of Galway marble, upon which there are a bronze clock and ornaments to match.  Among the photographs is a large panel of the late Lord Justice Barry, the Chief Baron’s lifelong friend, who died only a short time ago. 

The study table is littered with documents, proofs, pamphlets, letters, many dealing with educational matters, for the Chief Baron is a great educationalist.  When he wearies of writing at this table, he can adjourn to the convenient upright bureau near the window, where he may continue his work standing, and protected from draughts by an old tapestry screen.  The book-cases are free from legal lore, his legal library being housed at his residence in Fitzwilliam-place; but there is here a large collection of general literature, amongst which are a number of first editions.  The Chief Baron is a great horticulturalist, as his ferneries and hothouses indicate.  These contain many of the rarest specimens.

Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin, via the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. The corner house is Judge Palles’s former townhouse.

The Chief Baron is the son of the late Mr Andrew Christopher Palles, of Little Mount Palles in the County of Cavan.  He was born in 1831, and was educated at Clongowes College, and afterwards at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating Bachelor of Arts in 1852, when he took a Senior Moderatorship and gold medal in mathematics and physics.  The following year he was called to the Irish Bar from King’s Inns and joined the Home Circuit.  It is interesting to hear that while at the outer Bar he had as one of his pupils the present Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Mr Peter O’Brien.  

The Chief Baron was not immediately successful, but the lack of briefs in his earlier years enabled him to lay the foundations of the vast knowledge both of law and equity which distinguishes him.  At one time, indeed, his friends say he took such a despondent view of his prospects at the Four Courts that he was on the point of coming over to Westminster with a view to mending his fortunes, and he had the promise of backing from the head of an eminent firm of London solicitors.  Had he done so there is little doubt that he would have made his mark among us just as among his fellow countrymen in Dublin, but it was decreed by fate to be otherwise.  He had not finally determined upon the change to England when the opportune delivery of some substantial briefs made him relinquish the idea for ever. 

In the early sixties he took two steps which greatly influenced his future successful career – he became a Queen’s Counsel, and he married Ellen, the only daughter of the late Mr Doyle, of Dublin, with whom he spent twenty of the happiest and best years of his life.  The Chief Baron unsuccessfully contested the ‘Maiden City’ in the Liberal interest in 1872; but, notwithstanding the fact that he had not a seat in the House of Commons, he was elected on his merits as a profound lawyer to be Solicitor-General for Ireland by Mr Gladstone.  That year he was also elected a Master of the Bench of King’s Inn.  He had only been in office a few months when the post of Attorney-General fell vacant, to which he was appointed forthwith, holding it until 1874, when he was raised to the Bench as Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer. 

As Solicitor-General, and afterwards as Attorney-General, it was his painful duty to prosecute in the celebrated Montgomery murder trial, which created a tremendous sensation for months, owing to the position of the accused.  He was an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary, and a man of good birth and position, who was charged with the brutal murder of Mr Glass, a bank manager at Newtonstewart.  The first trial before the late Mr Justice Lawson resulted in a disagreement, and it was not until the third trial, which took place before the late Lord Justice Barry in the summer of 1873, that the culprit was found guilty, and shortly afterwards suffered the penalty of his atrocious crime.  Outside his judicial duties the Lord Chief Baron has for many years rendered most valuable and onerous public services in Ireland.  In 1883 he was a joint Commissioner of the Great Seal; he is a Senator of the Royal University, Chairman of the Board of Intermediate Education, and also an active member of the Board of Irish National Education.  In 1872 he was sworn of Her Majesty’s Privy Council in Ireland, and in 1898 of the Privy Council of Great Britain.  Personally, the Lord Chief Baron possesses that natural charm of manner which has made him so universally popular.  He is gentle and courteous to all with whom he comes in contact, yet a very short acquaintance suffices to show that he is possessed of a very keen wit and is a thorough man of the world.

A man of the world or a man in an ivory tower? Chief Baron Palles’s lifestyle was very different from that of the ordinary Dubliner of the time living in the streets around the Four Courts. His decisions, however, continue to influence Irish law to this day. Read about them here.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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