The Great Dublin Lodging House Theft, 1847

From the Freeman’s Journal, 29 May 1847:


The following very curious case came to light yesterday and perhaps in the annals of clever rogues, the hero of the present story has been the most successful during his career, which is estimated at about 12 calendar months from the date hereof, and what makes the case more remarkable is, the fact that these very ‘knowing gentry,’ the ‘detective police,’ have been completely at fault during that period. However, it remained for one of the aforesaid detectives to reveal a very strange case indeed, and this man’s name is in excellent keeping with his profession-his name is Hawks – a very appropriate name for a detective. Yet, though he be a Hawk and a detective, he is a very efficient and respectable officer, and deserves much credit for his conduct on the present occasion.

The police, for the last year had received accounts, almost daily, of robberies com- mitted in lodging and other houses throughout the city by a person whose description always accompanied the report, but the fellow always contrived, chameleon-like, to change his colour – the colour of his clothes at least, and the cut of his hair or beard, so as to avoid detection up to the present. He carried on his operations in the following successful manner. Into every respectable house, where he saw a bill with “furnished lodgings” on the window he went, and at once entered into negotiation for taking the spare apartments, stating that he was sent by a gentleman from Trinity College, and that he had authority to engage the lodging for his friend, whom he represented as a man of considerable property, and great respectability.

He generally said- ‘Myself and friend were driving past in our cab yesterday, and we took a great liking to the respectable appearance of your house, and came to the conclusion at once of coming to live here. The situation is very cheerful and the street respectable; all of which we require and we are determined to have the lodging. What is your price by the month?’ And then, of course, a bargain followed, and the airy bedroom and desirable sitting-room, drawing room or parlour, as the case might be, were at once engaged.

There was a good deal of attention paid by him to the culinary department of the house. The teapot must be silver, the spoons of the same metal; the egg cups must be plated at least, and the kitchen utensils could be nothing less than copper highly tinned. In fact, everything should be perfect, and nothing wanting, as his friend of the College was most particular in these matters-the more so as he always paid with a liberality to compensate for all trouble that might be taken.

The fellow had an eye to trade also; for in one place the paper of the bed-room was quite out of fashion, and must be replaced; in another, the sideboard was too antique, and a more fashionable one a should be ordered, as his friend would engage the lodging for twelve months certain; in a third, the fire-irons and fender were quite out of keeping with the rest of the room – it would not cost much to get new ones, and this would render a real service to the proprietor, as the whole would look so genteel, and please his college friend vastly.

So matters went on; the room was newly papered, the sideboard ordered, the fire-irons purchased, and all done to order. The lodgings were to be taken possession of the next day; but when the morrow came it brought not the ‘gentleman from college,’ but, on the contrary, the visitor generally was a policeman called off the beat, in order to recelve a description of a fellow who had engaged apartments the previous day, and who contrived to carry off a gold watch, a lot of silver spoons, a teapot, or any other article that lay convenient at the time of this visit. Nor did the fellow mind trifles-a pair of trousers, a vest, or shirt, was just as lawful a prize as a double-jewelled patent lever repeater. He had a great fancy, too, for silver snuffers and trays, and if a box of surgical instruments lay in his way he made as little scruple of carrying it away as would its owner when going to perform a post-mortem examination and a body at a coroner’s inquest.

At last his tricks became too broad to bear with, and there being about two hundred complaints lodged against him the police resolved to grip him under any circumstances. Hawks got a scent, and after seven weeks hard trail he at last earthed the fox in a house, 11 Moore Street. The prisoner, whose name it appears is David Givvins, was brought before Mr. Tyndall yesterday evening at College Street Police Office, and such a scene as was presented seldom takes place in a police court. Old and young ladies were there, servant maids and little boys came forward to give evidence. The prisoner appeared to be about 24 years of age, with a peculiar knowing cast of countenance, and penetrating eye. His hair long, and combed backward, his whiskers nicely curled, and coming round on his chin, his shirt (a stolen one) collar was turned gracefully down over a black satin scarf, and altogether the fellow looked more like a half exquisite on town, than an accomplished robber.

Out of the innumerable number of charges preferred against him, the following only were brought forward for the present, the first being that of his last exploit, which was performed at the house of Mrs. Campbell, 137, Upper Leeson-street. On the 20th instant, he went to the house, engaged a sitting and bedroom, and while examining the latter in presence of Mrs. Campbell, he stole her gold watch chain, some rings and a locket, which were attached. Of course, the lady did not see him take the articles, but she missed them shortly after he left, and she was certain they were in the room a few minutes before he entered it.

From the 6th of March, up to the 20th of May, he committed the following robberies, all while engaged taking lodgings. From the house of Mrs. Austin, Holles Street, he abstracted a silver table spoon, and two forks of the same material; from Mr. G. Kennedy, of Coburgh Place, a five, a three, and a one pound note, a vest, scarf, and pair of trousers; Mrs. Wallace, of North Earl Street, lost a top-coat and pair of silver snuffers ; Miss Byrne, of King street, was minus a night shirt and pair of boots; Mr. O’Dwyer, of Newcomen Lodge, a pair of black dress trousers, quite new, value 11 shillings; Mr. Walsh, Denzille Street, lost a silver tea pot; Mrs. Ryan, Harcourt Street, a silver spoon; Mrs. Kennedy, Mountpleasant, a silver jug, gilt inside; Mr. Graves, of Queen Square, a box of surgical instruments; Mr. Rooney, Upper Dorset Street, a silver snuffers; and Mr. Clapperton, Middle Abbey Street. a gold chain, a diamond ring, and gold locket.

It appeared that the prisoner generally had a large top-coat with ample pockets inside the skirt, and into these receptacles he stored away every article that he could lay his hands on. When engaging the lodging he would turn back to admire the prospect from the bedroom window, saying he was particularly struck with the beauty of the scene. Of course, he had previously surveyed the apartment and the attendant being thrown off guard he was enabled to conceal any article that came within his grasp. lie was identified by several witnesses, and Mr Tyndall committed him for trial, saying he never in the course of his experience heard of such a case.

The prisoner, it was said, is respectably connected. A gentleman who happened to be in the Office on private business seeing the prisoner-not knowing he was in custody-called a policeman and said: ‘Take that person into charge – he robbed my house about two months since of a large quantity of property.’ The gentleman was informed that the prisoner was in charge already, and the gentleman was very much surprised when he heard the number of complaints preferred against him. Besides the above number of complaints against the prisoner there will be over forty other Indictments sent up at sessions by persons who are able to identify him. It is supposed that he has realised several hundred pounds by his plunder. Lodging-house keepers should be on their guard against similar practitioners; but at present it is supposed that he acted purely on his own account.”

David Givvins’ real name turned out to be Daniel Levins, or Levine, a former ship’s steward and now a so-called tailor. He had previously been a member of the Irish Methodist Church, whose coffers he had also plundered.

History does not record what happened to Mr Levins.

Making exorbitant demands of one’s victims which need to be complied with quickly remains a key tactic of fraudsters today!

Image Credit

From the Four Courts to Buenos Aires, 1790-1830

Image via Mediastorehouse.

From Saunder’s News-Letter, 22 December 1810:

“A few days back, a young woman, rather well dressed, with a green coat hanging loosely on the shoulders, walked into a respectable shop in the neighbourhood of Werburgh street, and contrived to carry off a parcel which lay on the counter papered and ready for delivery; and the better to evade pursuit, walked into the shop of Mr Michael O’Connor in the same street, under pretence of purchasing a pair of shoes. While Mr O’Connor was endeavouring to please his new customer, he was astonished to hear his neighbour’s young man demand the bundle she had stolen, which she sternly denied, but on opening her great coat, the bundle became too visible. Mr O’Connor, contrary to his usual custom, made an unsuccessful attempt to detain his new customer, who thought it best to be at liberty without a coat, than by retaining it to enter a prison. The manner in which Mr O’Connor disposed of the coat, evinces not only his feeling for the misfortunes of his fellow creatures, but his wish to render service to society in general, as he sent the coat to the Bow Street Asylum, for the most deserving of the penitents.”

An advertisement of a fundraising concert for the Bow Street Penitent Asylum, from the Hibernian Journal, 27 April 1805, via the British Newspaper Archive.

In the early years of the 19th century, Bow Street, Dublin, close to the Four Courts, was the home of an asylum for penitent females voluntarily seeking to retire from a life of prostitution, founded in uniquely romantic circumstances. According to Warburton’s History of the City of Dublin, Vol. 2:

Some years ago a young child was sent to the house of a tradesman residing in Church-Street, with a request that he would bring it up and the promise of a certain annual sum for its support.  This sum was regularly paid, and the child grew up under the care of his adopted parents, without the smallest knowledge of his own.  When of a competent age, he learned the trade of a bricklayer from his adopted father, and worked at it for his support.  In this state of indigent obscurity, he was returning home one night from his daily occupation, when he was accosted in Dame Street, by an unfortunate female as desolate as himself.  Being a young man of moral principles, he was shocked at the address, and being of a serious turn of mind he exhorted her on her mode of life.  The unfortunate female told a story of desertion and distress somewhat similar to his own, and excited his sympathy to such a degree that he invited her to his poor dwelling, till he could provide her temporary accommodation elsewhere.  Having related the circumstances to some companions as well disposed as himself, a small sum was raised from their daily labour, and a humble asylum was established, of which this poor sincere penitent became the first inmate.  In some time after, a letter was received from abroad by a merchantile house of great eminence, inquiring anxiously for the boy.  His name was now ascertained to be Dillon, and his family of much opulence and respectability.  He subsequently became a merchant of high repute, and in prosperity supported that estimable moral character which he so strikingly evinced in adversity.  He at present resides in Monte Video, in South America; meanwhile his asylum continues to prosper.  It is now established in Bow Street, and receives into its bosom 30 repentant sinners.

‘A view of Montevideo,’ by William Marlow, via

The hero of the above story, John Dillon, subsequently moved from Montevideo to Buenos Aires, where he became a famous man of business, founding Argentina’s first brewery. His descendants were notable in the history of 19th century Argentina with one son, Juan Dillon, becoming a justice of the peace.

Juan Dillon, son of John Dillon, founder of the Bow Street Penitent Asylum, via Wikipedia

As can be seen from the story at the start of this post, Dublin residents were very proud of the asylum founded by Dillon, and, for the first few decades of the 19th century, until it was taken over by the Catholic Church, they contributed generously to it. The asylum operated at 13 Bow Street, on the site of what is now Bow Street Courthouse. The events of the story appear to date from the last decade or so of the 18th century, when the Four Courts itself was still under construction – indeed, it is not improbable that Dillon, as a bricklayer, may have assisted with its construction.

Relevant locations as marked on Rocque’s Survey of the City of Dublin, with additions and improvements by Bernard Scale, via Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

One mystery remains – how was it that the infant Dillon came to be sent to Church Street in the first place? Was he, as he initially thought, the child of a non-marital relationship? Or was his family in Spain anxious for some other reason that he be brought up in Dublin? Perhaps some of his descendants in South America might know?

A true Cinderella story!

Eight Days in a Lifeboat for Author of Indispensable Irish Criminal Law Text Torpedoed off Africa, 1941

Image via the Times

From the Irish Examiner, 3 November 1941:

After eight days in a lifeboat, following the torpedoing off the West African coast of a Dutch ship in which he was travelling, Mr Robert Lindsay Sandes, a Dublin barrister who has been practising in South Africa for a number of years, was picked up and taken to Konakri, capital of French Guinea. He has now been handed over to officials of British Gambia, says the Associated Press. Mr Sandes, who was formerly well-know in Dublin legal circles, is a barrister-at-law of King’s Inns, Dublin, and Gray’s Inn, London. He was an advocate in the Supreme Court in South Africa. He is the author of the legal work entitled: Criminal Procedure and Evidence,’ which reached a second edition.”

Robert Lindsay Sandes BL had previously come to prominence in June 1926 when he acted as a Deputy District Court Judge in Donegal while the local District Court Judge was on holiday. This promotion to locum tenens initially caused some perplexity, not just because the appointment itself was unusual, but because of the appointee’s presumed lack of association with the new regime. Pondering the point, the Derry Journal whimsically remarked regarding Sandes that

“He may, of course, have done a bit in the ‘Tan’ war, though his name has not exactly a mise le meas flavour about it. But perhaps Mr Sandes is a very modest man who figured in many an ambush up the country… perhaps he was even in the GPO in Easter Week, but has been too bashful to tell the world… for whereas only a few handful of men where thought to be associated with the fight in the GPO in 1916, vast numbers have now manfully come forward and admitted their connection with that exploit… Owing to the smoke and flames that enveloped the burning building it is quite obvious that a great many of them could not have been seen…”

Sandes did not remain long in Donegal, departing on Judge Walsh’s return, but the following review of the first edition of his Criminal Procedure textbook from the same newspaper of August 1930 is testimony to his popularity during his brief time there.

It is said that ‘somewhere in Ireland there is a a justice of the District Court of Saorstát Eireann who is kept right in matters of law by his motor driver; and to the list of queries, which this useful functionary is wont to put to his perplexed master, when they are packing the bag on a court morning, the driver now always takes care to add the very important one – ‘have you Sandes with you all right? ‘ The reference is to a very handsome and comprehensive book entitled Criminal Practice, Procedure and Evidence in the Irish Free State, written by the facile pen of Robert Lindsay Sandes, well know to Donegal people as a very capable and broadminded and sympathetic Deputy Justice of the District Court. This wise and learned chauffeur, drawing on his long and varied experience of ‘coorts’ is evidently of opinion that it is not safe to allow any Justice to mount the Bench without having Mr Sandes most useful book at his hand. I am inclined to agree with him – except that I would go further and like to see it in the hands of every District Court Clerk, every Garda officer, and every sergeant or other Garda who really wants to learn his job and to secure his advancement. Above all, I would like to see the volume in the office of every solicitor, who has ever to appear at a District Court or to handle a criminal case before any of our tribunals.”

We find Robert Lindsay Sandes back in Ireland again in August 1950 as a witness at a bigamy trial in Ennis Circuit Court, giving expert evidence regarding the validity of an English marriage. The marriage may have been English, but the accused’s defence was uniquely Irish – he claimed to have separated from his first wife after being visited by the ghost of her deceased father.

Sandes himself married late in life in 1940, decades after his call to the Bar, to an Irish rector’s daughter. It is not reported whether or not she was with him during his Atlantic adventure. A third edition of his text came out in 1951, which continues to be referenced in a number of recent textbooks as well as in the report of the Morris Tribunal. Whoever would have guessed at its author’s wartime experience!

Kidnapped Fermoy Solicitor Negotiates his own Ransom, Subsequently Sues for its Recovery, 1922-26

‘Cottage and Stream Before Mountains,’ by William Percy French, via

From the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 27 March 1926:




The dramatic story of the experiences of Mr Anthony Carroll at the hands of kidnappers in the mountains near Mallow in 1922 was continued in the High Court, Dublin, on Friday, before Mr Justice Hanna and a county special jury.

Mr Carroll, who has his home in Fermoy, has for many years been one of the most prominent solicitors in the South of Ireland, and amongst his many duties he acted as solicitor to the Irish Land Commission. In this capacity he had to proceed against a number of farmers for arrears of purchase annuities. While engaged in the discharge of his duty, he alleged that he was seized by Maurice O’Brien and a number of other men and carried off to the mountains, where he was informed he had been sentenced to be shot. Owing to the intervention of a priest, he was permitted to purchase his life by giving a cheque for 550 pounds and undertaking to leave the country. The present action was brought against O’Brien and eight other men claiming 5000 pounds damages for conspiracy and robbery. Mr Carroll was examined on Thursday.


Rev. William Carey, C.C., was examined on Friday. He told how, on the night of the 24th April, 1922, Maurice O’Brien and Timothy Donovan (two of the defendants) came to his house. They asked if he could oblige them with some petrol. He gave them a couple of gallons and as the night was a wild one he also gave them refreshments. After a while they said they wanted him to do a job. ‘What job?’ he asked. They said they had a prisoner some distance away that they wanted to shoot, and that they wanted witness to attend the prisoner. They did not first disclose the name of the prisoner, but after a few minutes they said it was Anthony Carroll, of Fermoy. He had often heard of Anthony Carroll before and he asked them what he had done. In the course of conversation they said that Carroll was ‘robbing the country,’ and was responsible for the collection of Land Commission money, and that, of course, there was no freedom in the country until he was out of it, that they had got orders from their superior officers to shoot him, and that would be an end of it.


Witness accompanied the men in a motor car a distance of about two miles to a cottage which was locally known as a prison, where suspected men had been confined under armed guard until they were tried. On the way down one of the men said that Mr Carroll had been tried and convicted and sentenced to death, and that there was no chance of his getting out of it. As the result of further conversation they appeared to think that he (witness) would be as anxious as they were to have Mr. Carroll under the sod.

When they arrived at the cottage he was conducted to the room in which Mr Carroll was confined. It was a small room, and the only light was from a candle stuck on an overturned bucket. Mr Carroll presented a miserable spectacle, looking as if he had been dragged out of water or out of a pile of muck. Witness then described the negotiations that preceded the fixing of the price of Mr Carroll’s life. The first figure was 3000 pounds, and it was reduced to 1000 pounds.

A photograph of Mr Carroll in youth, published in the Irish Independent, 3 December 1964.


When that was communicated by witness to Mr Carroll he point blank refused to pay, saying that they might come back next week for another thousand, and perhaps his life as well. Witness appealed to him for the sake of his family to pay something and get them all out of an awkward situation. Mr Carroll said that the thing was so morally unjust that he would sooner face death than pay the sum or any sum at all.

Witness then resumed the negotiations with the man and the sum of 500 pounds was ultimately mentioned. Mr Carroll was still opposed to pay anything, but witness thought he might succeed if he promised the men something more. He himself offered to Mr Carroll to lend him 100 of his own, but Mr Carroll would not accept the offer. Witness had, for the sake of peace and to get the man liberated, offered to give the 100. Ultimately they struck a bargain for 550 pounds. Witness then detailed the circumstances which followed the drawing of a cheque by Mr Carroll for 550 pounds, and his release from custody.


At the conclusion of the examination of the witness an incident probably unprecedented in a court of justice occurred when Mr Justice Hanna, rising from his seat on the bench, walked over to the witness-box and, addressing the reverend gentleman, said, ‘No one has impeached your honour.’ Here the judge shook hands with the witness, saying as he did so: ‘You are an honour to your Church, sir.’ The action of the judge was received with applause by the crowded court.

Mr Justice Hanna on the bench, via Harvard Law School

David Flynn, the tenant of the cottage or ‘local prison,’ was the next witness. He described the goings to and from of the men while negotiations were taking place. He said he was obliged to give them the use of the cottage. Afterwards, Matt Donovan, one of the men, told him that he (witness) was not supposed to know any of the party that took Mr Carroll prisoner.

Michael Toomey, a farmer in the vicinity of the cottage, said that he was in the ‘Half-Way’ public house on the night of 24th April 1922, when a motor-car drove up containing a number of men. Some of them came into the house. Witness remembered Matt Donovan being there and saying to him did he hear that Anthony Carroll was kidnapped. Witness said that he had not. No further conversation took place between them.


A Mallow bank manager deposed to receiving Mr Carroll’s cheque for 550 pounds, written on s sheet of notepaper. It was presented by John Madden, one of the defendants, who in the course of conversation, said that the cheque was a legacy, and added that someone had died and he wanted to pay the funeral expenses (Laughter.) Witness had knowledge that the man was John Madden.

Liam Roche, who was the officer in charge of the police force under the Provisional Government, deposed that the kidnapping of Mr Carroll was not done with the authority of any recognised organisation.

Patrick Crawley, messenger of the Cork Bankruptcy Court, described how on 27th March 1922, he found Mr Carroll in an excited state conversing with two men in his room. Three other men were outside. In consequence of a remark, witness assisted Mr Carroll in escaping by the basement exit.

Thomas Carroll, brother of the plaintiff, deposed to a conversation Matthias Donovan had with him on 28th May, in the course of which Donovan suggested a settlement and return of the 550 pounds. He said he was saying on behalf of others, that the money had not been all spent, and would be made good. Some correspondence followed, and in one letter in October witness wrote that if the money was deposited in the bank his brother would take no further steps in the matter.


In the New Year witness again met Matthias Donovan, who said that the Donovans would pay back their half of the money, but that they would not be responsible for the half that Maurice O’Brien got; that if Maurice O’Brien ever returned to Ireland, he would only be laughing at him (witness) at the way he had been done, and he would not have that. Donovan further asked if he could get an undertaking that if any legal action was taken the Donovans would not be included if they paid up their share. Witness aid that he could not agree, as if any action were taken they must all be brought in. Nothing was done.

This closed the case for the plaintiff.

On the court resuming after the luncheon interval, Mr Lynch KC, on the part of Matthias J Donovan, and Mr Hungerford, on the part of Maurice Madden, each asked for a direction in their favour on the ground that there was no evidence on which the jury could reasonably find against them. Mr Justice Hanna refused both applications.

Mr Phelps KC, then stated the case on behalf of Timothy Donovan, junior, whose defence was that he was compelled by force to accompany the others to show them the route.


Timothy Donovan was then examined, and stated that while in Mallow on the 24th April he was accosted by an unknown man and asked if he knew the way to Fermoy. He replied that he did, and the man, who was armed with a revolver, said that he (witness) was the man he wanted, and that he was to come on. Witness had to follow the man down the street to where a motor-car was standing, when he was ordered to enter the car in which other men were seated. When nearing Fermoy, the unknown man asked witness if he knew where Mr Carroll’s house was. He said he did not. When they got to Mr Carroll’s House, three of the men named Maurice O’Brien, Maurice Madden and Patrick Donovan, and another man whose name he did not know went into the house and, after some little time, they returned accompanied by Mr Carroll, and they all got into the car. During this time witness had remained beside the car.

On the way to the cottage in the mountains, a filthy sack was thrown over Mr Carroll’s head. Mr Carroll seemed to be suffocating and witness pulled the sack off his head. When at the cottage, he was asked by the strange man if he knew where to get a priest, and he as sent for Rev Father Carey, the strange man accompanying him. On getting aback to the cottage with the priest, witness got away and walked to his home. He knew nothing of what had taken place in the cottage.”

Mallow, County Cork, where the conspiracy against Mr Carroll was fomented. Image via Ebay.

Proceedings continued on Monday, when the Evening Herald (Dublin) reported as follows:

“The first witness to-day was Margaret Sullivan, a servant girl in the employment of Thomas and Anne Donovan, to whose house Mr Carroll was brought on the night of the 24th April from the cottage in which he had been imprisoned. She said she did not know he was a prisoner, and had no idea what he was. She brought him his breakfast in the morning. The door of the bedroom was not locked, and she did not see any one guarding him. She never got any instructions not to speak to Mr Carroll.

Thomas Donovan, owner of the house, examined by Mr O’Connor, denied any conspiracy with his brother and the others. He never heard of Mr Carroll being kidnapped. He was not at home when Mr Carroll was brought to his house from the cottage. When he came home at night the girl told him about the man being brought to the house by ‘Paddy,’ brother of witness, and Maurice Madden, and a bedroom being got ready for him. Witness went to bed and did not know any more about the matter. He saw nothing to prevent Mr Carroll walking out of the house if he wanted to and he could have got away without being heard or seen. He knew nothing about the cheque being extracted from Mr Carroll in Flynn’s cottage. The next day he was asked by the men to show them the way to Lombardstown station.

Asked by counsel when he heard of the 550 pounds being got from Mr Carroll, Thomas Donovan said it was the second day afterward. He could not say who told him, but it was general talk in the neighbourhood.

Mr O’Connor – Did you ever get any portion of that 550 pounds?

Thomas Donovan – No.

Mr Justice Hanna – If anyone referred to the Donovans having half of it, are you one of the Donovans?

Thomas Donovan – I am one of the Donovans

Mr Justice Hanna – Are you one of the Donovans that had half of it?

Thomas Donovan – No.

In cross examination by Mr Wood, on behalf of the Plaintiff, Thomas Donovan said he heard there were jailers there at the time, but he did not see them. He asked who brought the man, but he did not ask who they were ‘jailing.’ He did not approve of Patrick Donovan and Maurice Madden bringing the man to the house. He did not want to have anything to do with him.

Mr Wood referred to the letter written by Matthias Donovan to Mr Carroll’s brother about influencing the plaintiff to stop proceedings and arrests. Thomas Donovan denied that he was one of the Donovans on whose behalf the letter was written.

Mr Wood -Was Timothy Donovan?

Thomas Donovan – Yes.

Mr Wood – Timothy was one of the guilty parties?

Thomas Donovan – Well, he was one of the party.

Mr Wood – For whom the letter was written?

Thomas Donovan – Yes

Mr Wood – You know all about the letter he wrote?

Thomas Donovan – No.

Mr Wood – Who are the Donovans who had this money?

Thomas Donovan – I don’t know any Donovan that had it.

Mr Wood – Who got the money?

Thomas Donovan – I could not tell you.

Mr Wood – Which of the Donovans got it?

Thomas Donovan – I could not tell you.

Mr Lynch then submitted to the jury the case on behalf of Matthias Donovan. Before doing so he paid a high personal tribute to the plaintiff, Mr Carroll, and said no language of his would be too strong to condemn the outrage committed upon him, and he hoped Mr Carroll would accept that expression from counsel opposed to him professionally.

Mr Justice Hanna – I think it is very appropriate that you should make that remark from your high position at the Bar.

Mr Lynch went on to submit that Matthias Donovan had nothing to do with the conspiracy. They had come to a nice state of affairs if people were to be made liable because they were related to or had the same name as other people. The conspiracy against Mr Carroll was, he asserted, fomented in Mallow on Labour Day, the 24th April 1922. ‘Labour Day, said counsel, ‘because no one was doing any labour, and they had lots of time, and a number of people against whom Mr Carroll had issued processes were in Mallow that day, and five men went and carried out the kidnapping.

Counsel remarked that whether it was prudent or imprudent for Matthias Donovan to try to settle the matter was a question on which opinions might differ. Never act the Good Samaritan or do a good turn to anyone, and you will probably rise in the highest eminence’…

The report tantalisingly breaks off at this point but the Belfast News-Letter of 2 September 1926 reports that judgment was given against seven of the Defendants, including Maurice O’Brien, for 4200 pounds plus costs and against the others for 500 pounds plus costs. This report was in the context of a bankruptcy application by O’Brien, now in the United States.

Anthony Carroll (left), his son Edmond (centre) and his grandson Brian Anthony (right), all star performers in the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland Final Examination, from the Irish Independent, December 1964.

Mr Carroll continued to carry on business as a solicitor in Fermoy, Cork until his death in November 1935. He left his professional business to his sons, Edmund and Michael, and the sum of 50 pounds to his clerk, Redmond Tobin, his will expressing the desire that no black clothes, mourning, or mourning bands should be worn for him. The remainder of his estate, including the town of Fermoy, which Mr Carroll had purchased from its owner, Sir G Abercromby, was left on trust for his descendants.

The Carrolls of Fermoy featured again in the news in 1964 when it was noted, on the qualification of Edmund Carroll’s son Brian Anthony as a solicitor, that grandfather, father and son had all shared the distinction of having taken first place in the Final Examination of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland.

The family firm, Anthony Carroll & Co, continues in practice in Fermoy to this day!

The Judge’s Son Who Shelled the Four Courts, 1922

28-30 June 2022 marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Four Courts, the central event of the Irish Civil War, which resulted in severe damage to the original Four Courts building. The image above (via Dublin City Digital Archive) shows the extent of this destruction, which precluded any resumption of legal business on the site until the 1930s.

The extent of involvement of British forces in the Battle of the Four Courts has often been speculated on. The following unattributed newspaper clipping in the archives of Boston College has been kindly forwarded to this site by Killian Woods:


The following information in regard to the actual commencement of hostilities in the present conflict is derived from an absolutely reliable source.

At the last visit Mr Collins paid to London he was ordered back immediately by the British authorities, and it was said that there would be no further conferences held with him until he got the ‘Irregulars’ out of the Four Courts.

The time given him to have that accomplished expired at 12 midnight on June 27.  But as he had not yet made an attempt to get them out, he was allowed another four hours up to 4 am on the 28th.

Failing that, Colonel Boyd – who was in charge of the British military in the Phoenix Park, and who from 12 midnight was in command of a large detachment of troops – infantry and artillery – was to move with his troops against the Republicans in the Four Courts.

These men under Colonel Boyd were under arms from midnight and ready to march at a moment’s notice.

At 3.40 a.m. the ultimatum was sent by T Ennis in the name of ‘the government’ to the Republicans, to evacuate the Four Courts by 4 a.m.  As the Republicans took no notice of this message the Free Staters opened the attack at about 4.05.  This obviated the necessity of Colonel Boyd and his troops doing so.

At 1.30 a.m., the 28th, that is about two hours previous to the attack on the Four Courts, a body of Free State soldiers called to the British military camp in the Phoenix Park and got from the English military two large field pieces, together with shells for them.  These were signed for by ‘General’ Owen O’Duffy.

The Free Staters were bombarding the Four Courts from 24 to 30 hours without doing much material damage to the building; then the Free State officers who had received the two field pieces wired directly to the British government authorities in London accusing the British military in the Phoenix Park of having supplied them with ‘dud’ shells.  The London authorities wired the complaint back to the British authorities in the Phoenix Park.  At once a British officer and two British gunners were despatched from the Park to the Four Courts to examine the shells supplied by them.  On examination it was found that the Free Staters had not fused the shells, ad that, it was pointed out, was the reason why they proved ineffective.

The two British gunners and officers returned immediately to their headquarters in the park and as a result of their statement to the officer in charge there, four British gunners were at once sent back to the Four Courts.  They took over the working of the field pieces which now came to tell with deadly effect on the building and these four British gunners remained in charge of the bombardment until eventually the fortress went into flames on Friday shortly before midday.”

The ‘Colonel Boyd’ referenced above was in fact the son of one of the Four Courts’ best-known figures, Mr Justice Boyd. His obituary, published in the Belfast Newsletter of 5 November 1943, not only corroborates the above report, but goes further and suggests that the Colonel himself, dressed in the uniform of the Free State Army, may have been one of the British officers involved in firing the guns:

“Shelled the Four Courts

Lieut-Colonel HA Boyd CMG DSO, whose death is announced, was an officer of the Royal Artillery, with a distinguished record in war and in sport.  The third son of the late Mr Justice Boyd, he is reputed to have had the unique experience of shelling the Four Courts, Dublin, the main scene of his father’s long career.  This episode occurred after the establishment of the Irish Free State, but before then Colonel Boyd was in action on the streets of Dublin when his battery took part in the quelling of the Sinn Fein rebellion of 1916.  He was then Major Boyd, and it so happened that he was among the remnants of the British Forces that were left in Dublin when Michael Collins ‘took over.’ Not long afterwards, Collins had to face a rebellion on the part of some of his former comrades, a gang of whom seized the Four Courts.  This building was shelled by British guns (ostensibly in charge of Free State soldiers) and the story goes that Colonel Boyd was in command, camouflaged as an officer of the new Free State Army.  He was a fine golfer and won the Irish Amateur Championship on several occasions.”

One notable feature of the bombardment was that it left the Chief Justice’s chambers completely undamaged. Colonel Boyd would have been intimately familiar with the layout of the Four Courts. Could this have been his way of paying respect to the judicial regime of which his father had formed part?

Mr Justice Boyd, the Colonel’s father, was, like his son, a man of action – a noted yachtsman, unafraid, where necessary, to take the law into his own hands by apprehending malefactors on the street outside the Kildare Street Club.

A photograph of the Boyd family in its prime, including the youthful Colonel (with pet seagull) may be seen below.

Image of the Boyd family at Howth in the late 19th century, via Whytes

A Wizard in Court, 1856-1870

From the Freeman’s Journal, 15 September 1856:

The Wizard Anderson’s Banners

A motley group of men and women were brought before the magistrate in custody charged with carrying banners calculated to attract a crowd in the streets, and thereby obstruct the public thoroughfare. The flags, about a dozen and a half in number, were of an exceedingly handsome description, made of party coloured silk suspended from gilt poles, and bearing on them in gilt letters various statements and announcements relative to the Wizard Anderson, who will appear this evening.

They were all carried into the police office, and their bearers were crowded into and about the dock to answer the accusation of the police inspector. A gentleman connected with the wizard attended on behalf of the prisoners. It was stated that they were marching in single file through the streets, and were followed by a crowd of persons who interfered with the free passage of the flagways. The inspector said they had been cautioned against moving about with such ensigns, that it was contrary to law, but, notwithstanding, they persisted.

In answer, it was urged that Mr Anderson had gone to considerable expense getting up these banners, which from their handsome appearance, he thought would be perfectly unobjectionable. If, however, it was contrary to the law to have them carried about, he would, of course, direct that it should not be done.

Mr Stronge said that if an undertaking was given to withdraw these flags from the street, and instead to furnish the persons brought before him with ordinary placards, he would not impose penalties upon the accused (Here there was a general expression of thanks to his worship and of mutual congratulation from the prisoners). Placards of such a size as would not be inconvenient to the public might be sent out, but party coloured flags could not be paraded through the streets.

One of the women – We must bring them home, your worship.

Mr Stronge – Yes, I cannot help that.

The accused parties then shouldered their condemned banners and, on arriving in the street, were formed by a man who acted as commander into line, in which order they proceeded at a slow and measured pace through D’Olier Street, and Sackville street, to the Rotunda.”

John Henry Anderson, the Wizard of the North’, claimed to have been given his title by none other than Sir Walter Scott, although, as one writer remarked, whatever authority the literary giant possessed to confer such honorifics remains lost in the Gaelic mists. The first magician to pull a rabbit out of a hat, the Wizard later adapted his performances to include his four beautiful daughters, Louisa, Lizzie, Ada and Flora, the most famous of the quartet being the mentalist Louisa, otherwise known as ‘The Second-Sighted Sibyl.’

Anderson and Louisa, c.1870, via V & A Digital Collection

The Wizard’s daughters were with him when he visited Dublin again in 1870, but sadly their visit led to their father once again running into trouble with the law. On the 26 July 1870, the Freeman’s Journal carried a story about Anderson’s appearance at the Dundrum Petty Sessions Court in answer to a summons issued at the instance of Alfred Armstrong, a sewing factory proprietor, who complained that, on the 18th and 29th July 1870, at Lower Churchtown in the county of Dublin, the wizard had violently assaulted him and tore his clothes.

On Armstrong’s account, he had let lodgings to Flora and Louisa Anderson, without knowing that they were the daughters of the Wizard of the north. On discovering this, he demanded that they find other lodgings immediately. Tragically, Flora, in poor health at the time, died two days after the move. Reading between the lines, fear of contagion from her illness may have been the real cause of the demand she leave. The Wizard’s attack on Mr Armstrong was made in the belief that her death had been contributed to by Armstrong’s actions.

At the subsequent court hearing Louisa gave evidence that she never disguised the fact that she and her sisters were the Professor’s daughters, as there was nothing to be ashamed of in this; Flora, who had lodged in Dundrum on doctor’s advice, and appeared to be getting better there, left for town immediately as a consequence of her interview with Mr Armstrong, arrived there dreadfully existed, and died in Louisa’s arms on the following night, never having recovered from her nervousness.

Flora’s doctor, Mr Moran, from the College of Surgeons, deposed that Flora suffered from phthisis of one lung, but might have lived for a considerable time had it not been the shock on her nervous system; beyond doubt the immediate cause of death was the distress caused by Armstrong’s treatment of her and the subsequent move.

In the circumstances, the court unanimously came to the finding that it was appropriate to deal very lightly with the still greatly distressed Professor, imposing on him a sentence of 6d plus costs. Some might say that it was Mr Armstrong who should have been subject to legal sanction! The Professor had the last word: ‘I have done my duty to my dead child, and I pledge on my sacred word of honour that I will not visit that man again.’

Professor Anderson did not visit Ireland again either, dying prematurely in 1874. Although there were many subsequent pretenders to the title of ‘Wizard of the North’ and indeed to the title of ‘Daughter of the Wizard of the North,’ it is not clear what happened to his actual surviving daughters, one of whom was described, in a newspaper report of the 1880s, as ‘singing for pennies in the London slums.’ Would life have been different for them all were it not for the above tragedy?

More about the Wizard of the North (whose name may perhaps have inspired L. Frank Baum) here.

Top Image credit: Meir Yedid Magic

Revolving Doors Require No Hands, 1954

It’s often said that the Four Courts is not a place for children, but sometimes their presence there is necessary, as in the case of 11-year-old Joseph Moloney who turned up in the Four Courts in May 1924 to give evidence in his claim against Mayo County Council. Moloney had found an unlocked box of gelignite belonging to the Council’s building contractor in a field near Barrett’s Forge, Irishtown, Foxford in March 1953. He then lit the tail of one piece of gelignite, held it with both hands and waved it in circles in the air. It exploded and blew off both his forearms.

A field in Foxford.

The Irish Independent of 13 May 1954 gives a touching vignette of events following the settlement of Moloney’s claim for £7500:

“When the court proceedings were over, Joseph Moloney, who is a boy of fine physique, amused himself with his younger brother John (10), playing hide and seek in the new revolving doors erected in the approaches to the Law Library, while his mother was in conversation with her legal advisers. Barristers hurrying to and from the courtrooms paused to allow the game proceed, as the handless boy pushed the doors round and round with his arms.”

The revolving doors off the Square Hall, installed in 1937, were once upon a time a notable feature of the Four Courts building. More about their installation here.

We often think of personal injuries actions as a gravy train for lawyers and opportunists, but they also provide a crucial public function of protecting the individual against the negligence of others. Who could expect an 11-year-old-boy of 1954 to resist an unlocked box of gelignite?

I hope Mr Moloney went on to have the best of lives despite his injuries!

Image Credits: (1),(2)

The Time They Tried to Move the Four Courts to London, 1850

From the Freeman’s Journal, 17 July 1850


The Irish bench and bar are now upon their trial in a way more dangerous to them and to the national interests than at any previous time since the Union.  Not a post leaves Ireland without communications from some of the correspondents of the London press, laying bare every accessible point of their position.  If business be brisk it is pointed out with grudging envy, if it is slack a shout of exultation is set up over the empty bags of the practitioner, and some even of our Irish contemporaries re-echo the fine news as a preliminary to the shutting up of our national tribunals.  Bench and bar had need to look to themselves; and it especially behoves the judges to take care that their conduct shall leave no room for injurious observation; for we can assure these learned functionaries that there is no motive so base but the domestic traitors, who have been employed for our vilification and sale, will be quite ready to impute to them, to their sons, their sons-in-law and their remotest cousins, if any occasion, no matter now trivial, be given for corrupt aspersions.”

What was the cause of this concern? And why was the Freeman, so often their trenchant critic, so concerned for the reputation of the mid-19th century Irish bench and bar?

Follow the money.  On 27 March the same paper had reported that a bill ‘for the abolition of the Irish courts, and for reducing Dublin to the rank of a market town,’ had been communicated to a select few of the Irish members by Prime Minister Lord John Russell. According to the Freeman, Lord John, possessing ‘all the cold-blooded obstinacy of the Russells, added to the cold- blooded dogmatism of a doctrinaire’ would ‘pursue his venesection regardless of the writhings of his victim’ unless the Irish people raised their voices unanimously to object. 

Lord John Russell, reputed to be scheming to move the Four Courts to London, as depicted in Vanity Fair, via Artflakes.

What had actually been proposed was the abolition of the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland, but it was felt that should this office be abolished, ‘then would follow the abolition of the Four Courts, the Custom-House, the Stamp-Office, the Royal Hospital, so that Dublin would be only a city in name, but really a village, requiring gentry, citizens, tradesmen and artisans to proceed with their families across the Atlantic to the shores of that rising country the United States of America to earn for themselves the means of support.’

The thought of the courts being transferred to Westminster created consternation in Dublin, not just among barristers, solicitors and court staff, for whom this would mean either emigration or prolonged annual absences from their family, but also among businessmen who, still feeling the pain of the abolition of the Irish Parliament fifty years previously, anticipated a further disastrous fall in trade. Public upset was such that on 30 April 1851 the Lord Lieutenant himself met with a deputation from the Dublin Chamber of Commerce to assure them that no possible removal of the courts of law and equity had ever been contemplated and that he considered their existence essentially necessary to Ireland. 

This reassurance did not alleviate the concerns of the Freeman, whose view was that although it would be a long time – four years at any rate – before the predicted relocation of the courts went ahead, ‘woe to the judge whose temper or connexions might expose him to a showing up as the Irish correspondents of English newspapers would take care that any scene in the Rolls would occupy a prominent place in the column of diurnal preparatory damage to the ancient and permanent seats of justice, the possession of which gives a constitutional dignity to our country and our city, to the befouling of which this covey of evil birds apply themselves.’

Safely removed from the predicted carnage, the Ulster Gazette was less sympathetic, remarking that Ireland (if not Dublin) would not lose one farthing’s work by the removal of the High Court to Westminster, as it was not law courts and lawyers which gave dignity to a country but the honesty and pure morality of its people. 

The 5th Marquess of Londonderry, who thought the Four Courts should stay where it was, via AbeBooks.

One of Ulster’s best-known peers did not agree.  The Marquess of Londonderry spoke against the abolition of the Lord Lieutenancy in the House of Lords, saying that if the office  were abolished, the Four Courts and other establishments would inevitably follow, Dublin would become a desert and grass grow in her streets, particularly at a time when nearly a decade of famine had already educed Ireland to the utmost verge of destitution. 

The above coincided, intentionally or not, with the implementation of a change in jurisdictional rules which stood to remove many previously lucrative cases from the scope of the superior courts. According to the English Sun, this would render the profits of Irish barristers so inconsiderable as to render the profession not worth following by 9/10 of the present practitioners, making it a matter of justice, as well as expediency, that they should be granted the privilege of practising in England, and indeed English barristers likewise in Ireland. 

The Tralee Chronicle sarcastically remarked that there was little graciousness in permitting Irish barristers to abandon their homes, families and connections to plead the cause of their clients before the judges of Westminster Hall and accept verdicts at the hands of ‘Cockney juries,’ nor was there any sense in encouraging English barristers to come to Ireland to gaze at ‘deserted halls and unemployed judges.’ It also suggested that the proposed move was due to embarrassment suffered by the British establishment in the course of a number of recent political trials, such as that of Daniel O’Connell in 1844, when the prosecuting Attorney-General had notoriously challenged opposing counsel to a duel in open court.

Something had to be done to stop the move, and it was.  On 1 June 1850 the Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent wrote happily that

“The spirit of the Irish Bar, so long dormant, and by many supposed to be defunct, has at length been resuscitated and the energetic elasticity which characterised its revival yesterday, holds out a hope of better days for Ireland. For the first time since the disastrous period of the Legislative Union, the members of that honoured profession – casting to the winds all political differences and selfish considerations – met in proud array to protest against the fresh wrong to be inflicted on their native country, against the Process and Practice Bill and the bill for extending jurisdiction of the Assistant Barristers as calculated to affect most injuriously the long recognised privileges and the emoluments of both branches of the profession under the plausible pretext of rendering law cheap the real object being to degrade the superior courts of justice in Ireland and pave the way for transferring the principle legal business of the country to Westminster Hall”

James Whiteside QC, later Lord Chief Justice of Ireland (zoomable version here)

The meeting was notable for a speech by James Whiteside QC, who stated that, having lived long enough to listen with distrust to what public men say with respect to Ireland, he was certain that, in the absence of a determined expression of opinion on the part of the Irish people, the courts would be removed to London whenever expedient – something which would be disastrous for Dublin. The difference, he said, that the Four Courts made to the city was palpable – out of legal term the city bore a ‘dull and dreary’ appearance in contrast to the animated aspect it presented whenever the courts were sitting.

The Four Courts never did move to London, although some said it had never been intended to move them there in the first place and the whole debacle had been one almighty and maybe even very Irish fuss about nothing.

The Irish Bar survived the post-Famine years with the help of guineas generated in the Encumbered Estates Court in Henrietta Street. By the following decade, all talk of moving to Westminster was over and the Four Courts itself was expanding again with the erection of new buildings.

By this time, Mr Whiteside, now Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, had transferred his crusading abilities henceforth to another, even more serious problem – the eradication of the Liffey smell. Could his June 1850 speech have swayed parliamentary opinion? And, if so, should we consider another move – a transfer of his statue, currently in Christchurch, back to its original site?

Statue of Lord Chief Justice Whiteside, via Wikimedia Commons

After all, who better deserves to be commemorated within the Four Courts than the man who just may have tipped the balance in saving it for Ireland?

Note of Thanks Left Behind as Sweet-Toothed Rebels Vacate Requisitioned Solicitor’s Office, 1916

Sweet-toothed 1916 rebel leader Constance Markievicz (left). Move the slider left to see the former 130 St Stephen’s Green West (the building with an ad for baby carriages on the side). Image via

From the Belfast News-Letter, 8th May 1916:



The offices of Messrs. Keating & Keating, solicitors, 130 St Stephen’s Green, suffered rather severely at the hands of the rebels, who burrowed through the wall from the Turkish Baths, and also effected an entrance through the wall from the Grafton Street end. Mr Edward Keating gave an interesting account of the extraordinary condition in which he found the offices on last Monday morning. A piece of notepaper bearing the following words was also found:- ‘Please send in some supplies from tea shop. Cakes or bread preferable. – C. De Markievicz.’ The following was pinned on the door: ‘Thanks very much for these comfortable lodgings. Wednesday morn absent.’

It would be impossible to enumerate the various articles which remain, but they include, tin openers, pots, pans, bandages, medicine, port wine, gin, Chartreuse, field glasses, a bag marked Q.T.C., armlets of the Veteran Corps, hairpins, keys, Woodbine cigarettes, ink, a doctor’s white coat, a comb and brush, syphons, jams, violins, violin string, liqueur glasses, candles, sweets &c., &c. It will be seen that the collection is extensive and varied, and suitable to all tastes.”

Mr Keating was luckier than a number of other solicitors whose offices had been entirely destroyed in the Rising of 1916, such as Mr Thomas Early, solicitor, of Abbey Chambers. 70 Middle Abbey Street. By 10 May, a newspaper advertisement placed by Mr Early describes him as back in business round the corner at 5 Bachelor’s Walk.

The same day, a meeting of solicitors who had suffered loss during the Rising was held at the Solicitors’ Buildings, Four Courts. At the meeting, it was noted that, in the case of ten firms, all the documents in connection with the business had been lost or destroyed, and, as costs could only be recovered on the production of documents and book entries. the situation in those cases was serious for the practitioners concerned.

Another problem was lost wills, deeds and leases, belonging to clients. It was reported that safes in the burnt offices of many solicitors had proved ineffective at saving their contents and that in one case all documents connected with the winding up of a large estate had been destroyed.

At the insistence of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, the Law and Procedure (Emergency Provisions) (Ireland) Act 1916 included a clause preventing any action being brought by clients whose documents had been destroyed in the Rising to recover damages from the solicitors concerned.

In July 1916 130 St Stephen’s Green featured in the newspapers once again when an application was made in the Probate Court regarding the will of John Stenson, of Ballintra, County Donegal. The original of the will had been sent to Keating and Keating in their capacity as town agents; one of the papers which had accompanied it had been found in the street outside their offices. Fortunately, the Ballyshannon solicitor dealing with Mr Stenson’s Probate had made a copy of the will before sending it to Dublin. Mr Justice Madden granted the application to prove the copy in place of the original will.

Another application to prove a will lost in the Rising was made in December 1916. The testatrix in this case was Madeline CHP Moore, of Ballymoney, County Antrim, whose will – in an envelope addressed to the Dublin office of her solicitors had been unfortunate enough to arrive at the General Post Office just before the Rising commenced. It was presumed that the will had been destroyed and again leave was given to prove a copy.

The following month, Mr Justice Barton in Shanahan v Shanahan relied on an 1861 judgment of Lord Chancellor Brady to find an affidavit sworn by witnesses as to the contents of a deed lost in the Rising good secondary evidence of that deed.

The records of the Incorporated Law Society could easily have been lost in 1916. Fortunately, although the Solicitor’s Building in the Four Courts (now the Law Library) was for six days in occupation of the rebels, with considerable damage being done to furniture, fittings and windows, the records were uninjured.

Probably the most famous case of legal lost property in 1916 was a car owned by Mr Thomas Erskine Alexander, solicitor. It had been requisitioned on Easter Monday while he and a party of friends were travelling from Fairyhouse, only to be abandoned the following day in poor condition behind the Hill of Tara. Mr Alexander had taken the precaution of insuring the car – albeit under a policy which stated that there was no claim for damage caused by invasion, foreign enemy, riot, civil commotion or military or usurped power. His claim against the British Dominion & General Insurance Company for failure to pay up, came up for hearing at the Belfast Assizes the following month and was unsuccessful.

Keating and Keating were still at 130 St Stephen’s Green in 1956 – forty years after the Rising. Their building was eventually demolished to make way for the Stephen’s Green Centre.

I wonder if they kept any of the mementos of the 1916 occupation?

Portico Problems, 1786-1925

From the Evening Herald, 5 March 1925:

“A Chara – may one hope, from two lines in your most interesting article on the Four Courts, that Gandon’s original plan for the portico may at long last be executed and the renewed pile be adorned by the grand and noble entrance he designed.

‘The question of the Central Hall and its surroundings is under consideration.’

Your article appropriately appeared on the 3rd of March – the very date on which the foundation stone of the Four Courts was laid in 1786.  An extraordinary incident marred the occasion.  The Lord Chancellor and the chief judges had only retired from the ceremony when, in Gandon’s words, ‘a gentleman of considerable fortune and influence, a Privy Counsellor and a member of the Irish parliament. stopped his travelling carriage to inquire the cause of the enclosures being made on the quay.  Being informed that the ceremony of laying the first stone of the new Courts of Law was the cause, this gentleman left his carriage and addressed me in a manner not very courteous ‘What is all this going on here? Who ordered the quay to be enclosed? Etc etc.’

Gandon explained, saying all the authorities had sanctioned what had been done; had seen, examined, and approved the designs, and had just taken part in the laying of the first tone.  This precious bully then ‘immediately left the ground, observing that if the building proceeded, it should be pulled down!’

Gandon continues: ‘Knowing the gentleman’s influence, and thinking to prevent clamour, I was induced… to set back the portico originally designed to cover the footway.  This I considered a great sacrifice of the beauty of the front; but even this sacrifice of my design was not sufficient, for as the gentleman had not been consulted about the building, he disapproved of the designs, which he condemned in every particular…’

Looked at from the quay on which it stands, the long almost unbroken flatness of the front strikes the eye forcibly from its want of beauty of proportion.  Looked at the from the opposite quay, the splendid relief which would have been given to the front and the great additional beauty to the whole block had Gandon’s design been carried into effect are obvious at a glance.    The dome, the drum of which is so vast, would appear to have much less preponderating weight were the portico to advance, as designed by Gandon, well in front of the rest of the building.  The adjoining arcades would, prospectively, retire, by reason of the projection of the portico, with most graceful effect, from the lightness of their construction; and in the rejuvenated Four Courts the capital would at last have in all the glory of its original conception what the great block was first intended to do.

WL Cole

3 Mountjoy Square”

Gandon’s Four Courts had recently been destroyed in the Civil War of 1922 and their reconstruction was in contemplation at the date of the above letter.   An article in the Dublin Evening Telegraph of the previous September had likewise suggested that the reconstructed building might be improved to embrace the entire footpath – as was the case with one of Gandon’s other buildings, the former Parliament Building in College Green.

Its alleged over-projection was not the only element of the six-columned Corinthian portico which had to be varied.  The Freeman’s Journal of 15 September 1808 notes a recent lowering of the pavement at the entrance and under the portico to ‘obviate the inconvenience or injury resulting from wet weather, and especially a species of nuisance justly censured… a saline and ungracious practice professionally justified on the principal that ‘necessity has no law.’  

Possibly a delicate allusion to the vexed question of public urination? If so, the following letter from ‘JF’ in Saunders’s Newsletter of 1819 suggests that the above works may have been less than successful in achieving their objective:

“Mr Editor

May I, through your valuable Paper, put a question viz Why the principal entrance into the Great Hall of that beautiful edifice, the Four Courts, is so shamefully neglected and abused? It has become the receptable of the greatest filth, to the shame of the person whose province sit to see and keep it otherwise… should the external of the building be without the necessary servants for its preservation, this statement may meet the eyes of the Judges and give employment to some industrious and starving family.  The Watchman stationed near the spot could prevent nightly abuses and the daily attendance of a decent man would entirely do away the abuse contained of.”

A 19th century photograph showing the portico from another angle. Then as now, Edward Smyth’s sculptures of Moses, Mercy, Wisdom, Justice and Authority adorn the pediment above.

Clearly something must have been done since there were no more complaints about the condition of the portico – at least until the occupation of the Four Courts during the 1916 Rising, when its pillars were damaged by bullets – possibly misfires intended for the statue of Moses on the pediment, which myopic British soldiers were convinced was a sniper. 

Moses and companion, post-1922, via Europeana

Irish Free State soldiers knew better during the Battle of the Four Courts in 1922, when Moses survived without a scratch, though his companion statues of Mercy, Authority and Wisdom were described afterwards as ‘grimy and careworn’ and Justice had lost her face from ear to chin.  The portico, in fact, was one of the few portions of the Four Courts to survive the bombardment, its pillars and pediment, gashed and torn by shell-fire, still in place gamely supporting the skeleton of the collapsed dome. 

Perhaps the survival of the portico in outline form operated as a disincentive to follow Mr Cole’s suggestion of extending it – its projection over the pavement after the reconstruction being the same as previously.

Did the Irish Free State miss an opportunity to improve this beautiful building?  Or has it always been simply perfect as it is?  Have a look above at the images side-by-side of the portico as it currently subsists, and its companion portico in College Green, reflecting Gandon’s original plan, and decide!