From the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 29 July 1840:
Henry Street – A Barrister in Disguise –
Counsellor Richard Tucker was brought on Thursday before Mr Duffy, just as the morning sittings concluded, and charged by police sergeant Moore (6C:) but just as the sergeant got into the box for the purpose of being sworn, the counsellor said – ‘Mr Duffy, I will tell you the facts of the case; you need not swear the sergeant. The fact is, your worship, I took too much drink yesterday evening, and when proceeding home I met with a female with whom I unfortunately went home, and while I remained there my coat, hat, trousers and waistcoat, were stolen. On awaking in the morning, and finding how matters stood, I sent for a covered car, into which I got, and knowing the lodgings of Sergeant Moore, with whom I am long acquainted, as we are both from the same country, I went there. My intention in going to the lodgings of the sergeant was for the purpose of getting some clothes till I could go home. However, he was unfortunately from home; but I got into his room and found his trunks and boxes locked. This placed me in a peculiar dilemma, out of which I did not well know how to extricate myself; however, on looking round the room, I fortunately got a coat and hat, which I put on and went away. I confess it was a very delicate situation, but what could I do under the circumstances? It appears, however, that the coat which I unfortunately took belongs to the sergeant, being his top coat, and, as far as I understand, is the property of the Commissioners of Police; and I had not proceeded far before a policeman discovered me in the coat, and suspecting it was not come by properly, he took me into custody on suspicion of stealing it, and here it is.
Mr Duffy – Is that the coat on you?
Mr Tucker – It is; and the hat is also Mr Moore’s; but this is his own private property.
Mr Duffy – Had you no other clothes on at the time?
Mr Tucker – No, for they took all from me in the house where I was except my boots and shirt.
Mr Duffy – You took some liberties with the sergeant’s clothes; did he ever go to your house and dress himself in your wig and gown?
Mr Tucker – Oh certainly not; nor would I take the coat if I thought it belonged to the commissioners.
Sergeant Moore – I am very sorry that the counsellor did not break open my trunk and take my own private clothes, as he would be perfectly welcome to them. I know him many years, but I am placed in a curious position with the commissioners, although I am perfectly satisfied the counsellor had no bad intention in taking the coat.
Inspector McMahon – The gentleman was brought into the station-house to me, and I thought it better to bring the matter before the bench; and I do not think the matter would be here at all but that Mr Tucker went into the Lord Mayor’s court, where he was engaged by a client, and was arguing the case before his Lordship in the coat when the policeman recognised it, and took Mr Tucker into custody.
Mr Duffy said there was not the slightest doubt that Mr Tucker took the coat only for a short time; his character was quite unimpeachable. He therefore discharged Mr Tucker at once.”
Was Mr Tucker a newly qualified barrister or one of long standing? The Pilot of 17 April 1839 records a Richard Tucker, Esq, fourth son of Martin Tucker, late of Petersville in the county of Meath, as having been admitted a bencher of the Honourable Society of King’s Inns. The Commercial Journal of 7 April 1855 records the death of Richard Tucker, Esq, barrister at law, fourth son of the late Captain Tucker, at his residence, Petersville, in the 39th year of his age, stating that “[h]e devoted his talents and profession to the cause of the poor.” Since this Richard Tucker would only have been 23 in 1839, either two different Richard Tuckers of Petersville, both fourth sons, are involved or, more likely, there is a mistake in one of the newspaper notices.
To date, Counsellor Tucker (the term ‘Counsellor’ was used in relation to Irish barristers in the first half of the 19th century) retains the signal distinction of being the only documented Irish legal professional prior to 1921 to have argued a case in court without wearing trousers or breeches!
A juror in the last case complained that there was a strong smell of gas in the jury box.
The Lord Chief Baron – Is there anyone in charge of the court?
Mr Walker (court keeper) – Yes, my lord.
The Lord Chief Baron – I can only say, gentlemen, I think this courthouse is a disgrace to any civilised country, much more to the metropolis of Ireland.
A Juror – It is, my lord.
Mr Curran BL – I never leave the court without a cold, or a crick in my neck from looking up at the jury box.
Another Juror – There is a terrible draught up here.
The Lord Chief Baron – All I can say is that any recommendation that you make on the subject I will feel it my duty to forward to the Government.
Mr Murphy KC said the Treasury would not give a six pence to any alteration; neither would the Corporation.
The Lord Chief Baron – It has come to such a point, that I think the Government ought to interfere, even if it became necessary to pass an Act of Parliament. As far as I am concerned, I will not be able to sit in the court house. Can nothing be done to stop this escape of gas?
The Court-keeper – Nothing, my lord. I go round every morning with a candle to try to find it out; but I cannot discover it.
The Lord Chief Baron – Why do you not turn it off at the main?
The Court-keeper – That would leave the passages below in darkness, my lord.
Mr Murphy observed that there was no intermediate cock.
The Lord Chief Baron – So that there is no way of turning it off?
The Court-keeper – No, my Lord.
A Juror – It is a very unfortunate circumstance.
The Lord Chief Baron – I quite understand it; because I go home sick every night myself, and I suppose you do too. Can nothing be done?
The Court-keeper – No, my lord.
A juror suggested that candles should be used in the passages to the cells, and the gas turned off.
The Lord Chief Baron directed that this should be done at once.
The jury, before leaving the box, presented the following requisition:
“We, the undersigned jurors, serving on the February Commission of Oyer and Terminer, desire to draw the attention of the authorities to the unsatisfactory condition of this court in regard to the accommodation for jurors, and the bad atmosphere, owing to defective ventilation and sanitary arrangements.”
The above court was in Green Street Courthouse, but similar problems with the gas system applied in the Four Courts, with the Irish Times of 14 January 1888 reporting that, owing to a fog, both judges and counsel had to get candles lit to enable them to read briefs or make notes.
Before gaslight, business in the Four Courts, and the old Four Courts, must regularly have been carried on in this way.
The first record of gaslight in the Four Courts occurs in 1856, when the exterior was illuminated on a gigantic scale for the Proclamation of Peace. The design, prepared by Mr Mooney of Ormond Quay, was described as being of beautiful construction, and the effects splendid.
As gas jets spread throughout the city, litigation from the resulting explosions kept lawyers busy. The courthouse in Green Street had suffered its own gas explosion in 1867, audible as far away as Dominick Street, which blew out a great portion of the roof of the building, as well as the doors of the rooms in which jurors slept. Fortunately no one was injured. Although it was originally thought that the explosion was due to a design to perpetuate an outrage, it turned out that it had been caused by the court-keeper’s servant woman striking a match. This explosion must have been very much in the mind of the Chief Baron when he smelt gas in the court in 1879.
The reign of gaslight in the Four Courts came to an end in October 1905, when the Irish Independent reported that
“Visitors who have not seen [the Four Courts] since the commencement of the Long Vacation will get a pleasant surprise. The Capital’s Temple of Justice has undergone a thorough cleaning and renovation…. the most important improvement is the installation of electric light on the three-phase system all over the premises, with the exception of the Hall and a few of the passages, in which gas will continue to be used – at least for the present. Messrs. Egan and Tatlow are the contractors for this extensive alteration in the lighting arrangements. The electric current is supplied from the Corporation mains, the wires being carried in screwed steel conduits. There are four electroliers in the Law Library hung from the centre of the ceiling, each containing seven incadescent lights of thirty two candle power, and there are also several small electroliers introduced into the different recesses.”
One person who must have been pleased at the above was Lord Chief Baron Palles, still presiding in the Court of Exchequer, over thirty years after his dialogue with Mr Walker in Green Street above. It has to be said that the Lord Chief Baron was most unfortunate in his working conditions, as his usual place of business, the Court of Exchequer, located where Court 3 is today, was notorious for its smell, being built above a cesspit. It is reassuring to know that, despite the numerous breaches of health and safety which he had to endure, he continued on the bench until 1916!
A fascinating Belfast defamation action arising out of a most unusual misunderstanding, as reported in the Cork Constitution, Friday 29 July 1864:
“At the Belfast Quarter Sessions, before Mr. Otway QC, the case of Louisa Fraser v Patrick McCabe came on for hearing on Wednesday. This was an action brought to recover the sum of £10 for false arrest and oral slander.
Mr. Seeds stated the case. It was to recover damages laid at £10, ‘for that the defendant, on or about the 11th of May 1864, at Belfast, then being a lodger of the plaintiff, did wrongfully and maliciously, and without any lawful excuse, publish and declare that the said plaintiff had concealed under the bed in the room in her house, occupied by defendant, a skeleton or corpse, and did thereupon cause and procure a large number of police and other constables – to wit, the number of eight – to surround and invade her house and premises, under pretense of searching for said corpse and skeleton, and did cause the said constables the said plaintiff to keep in close custody as a prisoner while such search was being made, without lawful authority, aforesaid, whereby the said plaintiff has suffered much inconvenience and damage, in the loss of her reputation, and whereby her business of a lodging-house keeper has been much injured. ‘
His client was a widow and kept a boarding house in Nelson Street. Her husband was dead, and during his lifetime was an artist, who made it his business to study all the intricacies of the human frame, and for that purpose made wax figures and models of the living body. He, in fact, carried on the business of an artist as his profession. The poor woman, in remembrance of her husband, kept one of these models in the house. The defendant, who had not been long married, took one of the rooms in the house as a lodger; and, on the first night of his residence in the house, he brought a whole posse of constabulary to the house, and gave the poor woman into custody as a murderess – telling the police that she had a dead body in a coffin concealed, beneath the bed, he having searched under the bed, and there found the wax figure concealed where it was not annoying him.
When the box was there, he was afraid to open it himself, but, like a gallant figure, he put his wife to in the front, and pushed her under the bed to find out what was there; and she got hold of one foot and popped over (Laughter). The defendant then put in his hands, and he caught hold of both feet, and then ran off and informed two constables of the dreadful crime he had found out, and comes back for his wife, and places her, after her swoon, in the charge of the constables, while he himself goes off for a number of the police, telling Mrs. McCabe he was going to see a friend, and that he would be back shortly.
He goes away and brings Sergeant Fury and two or three constables, who entered the plaintiff’s house in search of this diabolical murder, and they find that the whole subject of their case was a wax figure. The plaintiff brought the action for the annoyance she had been put to, and the loss she had sustained; for, in consequence of the stories circulated by the defendant, she had since no lodgers in her house.
Louisa Fraser examined by Mr. Seeds – I am a boarding house keeper. My husband was an artist, and he modelled figures of the human body. On the 11th of May last the defendant was a lodger in my house. I remember him leaving my house on that evening, and saying he was going to a friend’s house, and when he returned, he had a number of police with him. The constable ordered me upstairs, and made me pull out the box, and took hold of the leg (Laughter). I told the constable what it was. McCabe said he would not stay in the house for a million of money. The sergeant of the police was in front, and they had their firearms with them. My rooms have not been less since as a consequence of this affair.
Mr. Seeds – How much have you lost by your rooms not being let?
The plaintiff – I don’t think less than £10.
Mr. McLean – Do you produce the ghost?
Mr. Seeds directed it to be brought it.
[Mr. Rule, the court-keeper, brought in the coffin and the corpse of the victim. The box was coffin-shaped, and the figure was encased in a blue shroud. Every joint is on springs, and it was with some trouble the hands or feet could be kept at peace. The court was in roars of laughter when it was proposed to place the corpse in the witness-box.]
Mr. McLean – It’s no wonder, your Worship, he was afraid of it. Just look at its arms. It would kick him out of bed if he was lying above it (Laughter).
The plaintiff (to Mr. McLean)- It never lived any. (Laughter) it is no friend of mine. It is not an Egyptian mummy. It is made on springs. The feet and arms won’t jump up and down unless you touch them. I did not tell the defendant this was under his bed when he became a lodger.
His Worship (to the defendant) – Did you not know it was not a corpse?
The defendant – I did not.
Mr. McLean – You did not sleep in the bed with the corpse that night?
The defendant – Well, I think not.
Cross-examined by Mr. Seeds – I was a little, but not altogether frightened. I sent my wife to get a chop for my supper, in order that I might examine it, for I had a suspicion, and I pulled it out, and then my wife came in again.
His Worship – Why did you not tell Mrs. Fraser, and have it examined in her presence, without bringing the police?
The defendant – She never told me there was a coffin under the bed. I had seen the box in the morning, and my curiosity being awakened in the evening, I lifted the lid and put in my hand to see what was in it, and I caught hold of a cold foot (Laugher). My wife put in her hand afterwards and she says, ‘My God, it’s a corpse’ and fell at my feet. She was insensible for a few minutes, and I took her out and gave her in charge to a constable – (laughter) – while I went for the police. She would not remain in the house.
The defendant – I had my suspicion. It was dressed like a corpse, as any who looks at it can see.
Mr. McLean – It is dressed in its grave clothes.
His Worship said that the defendant should have spoken to Mrs. Fraser, when the whole mystery would have been cleared up at once. It was ludicrous bringing in the constables. There was no doubt there was a case of slander and false imprisonment. Decree for the plaintiff, with costs.”
The below advice for those contemplating a call to the Irish Bar was published on 17 February 1883 as part of Flags of Ireland’s ‘Peeps at the Profession.’ Times have changed, but quite a few of its observations remain relevant today…
“The first thing a young barrister does is to take unto himself a wig, gown and brief bag. The outfit costs something like seven guineas. He puts himself into the wig and gown, but he has to wait (sometimes a long while) for the solicitors to put something into the brief-bag. Meantime, he stays its stomach with newspapers, books and parcels of sandwiches. It is curious how seldom it strikes anyone, least of all those who see it oftenest, how foolish a custom this is of barristers wearing, and being compelled to wear, wigs and gowns; how utterly incongruous in this matter of fact nineteenth century. Suppose the doctors refused to visit a patient, or feel a pulse, or prescribe a draught, until they had arrayed themselves in funny wigs of curly horsehair and strangely fashioned bedgowns of black bombazine?
By the way, those gowns have a lot of eccentric tags and tassels which are a puzzle to the most inexperienced wearer. This long flap that falls over the shoulder was erst a sword-sheath in the old times, when the Templars were prompter with their weapons than their tongues; this triangular tag supported a purse, and this an inkhorn. They remain as memorials of their former usefulness.
Let us follow the novice from the underground cellar, where he daily dons the regalia of the profession – the Library. The Library is sacred to the profession of the bar. Not even solicitors can pass its portals. Now and again ladies flit like sunbeams through this gloomy temple of law, gazing at the crowd of men in strange costume bent over big books or broad papers with the same kind of timid curiosity that one regards the animals feeding at the zoo. An entrance fee of three guineas and an annual subscription of two guineas gives the barrister the freedom of the Library, a privilege not lightly to be underrated.
Apart from its legal advantages, the Library is a wonderful place for social and political anecdote and gossip. The conversation is generally focused around the three great fires with which the spacious rooms are heated. A pleasant atmosphere of social equality and kindliness pervades the place. The veriest tyro can appeal in his perplexities to the most eminent leader with the perfect certainty of courteous and kindly assistance.
Some men display in the Library a power of concentrated attention that is little less than miraculously. Amid the babble of constant conversation, amid the incessant and stentorian shouting of names by the porter who gives voice to the desires of the crowd of eager solicitors at the door, those men work as composedly as in their own silent studies, track an intricate line of argument from authority to authority, or draft a complicated deed in which a slip might mean the forfeiture of an estate for a client.
The first sensation of a young barrister on entering the library is one of blank dismay. He is appalled by the multitude of law books. Ten lives of more than patriarchal length, devoted exclusively to the work, would not suffice to read a tithe of them. Yet in any one of those ten thousand volumes, and in that alone, may be contained the proposition of law of which he is in quest. It is a curious system, this of English law, and I doubt if it Is generally understood. Apart altogether from the long series of statues, confused and contradictory, stretching back to the earliest times, every decision of every judge became and becomes law the moment of its delivery. Those decisions are contained in the ten thousand volumes of reports already mentioned, and each ‘moment times a new one.’ The ideally perfect lawyer should know them all.
It is probable that there are very few questions on which diametrically opposite decisions may not be discovered. Great case lawyers, as they are called, have their notebooks and memories stocked with conflicting decisions, so that they can expound the law in favour of whichever side they happen to be engaged upon.
It is a very popular delusion that the young aspirant to legal honours is very anxious for his first brief. He is more afraid of it than anxious for it, and it is not infrequently a white elephant to him when it comes. Outsiders have no idea what nervous work the conduct of a case is. The simplest matter is as bristling over with law points as the fretful porcupine himself. The path of a lawyer is beset with snares and pitfalls. The discovery of some mouldy old case, the neglect of any one of the ten-thousand-minute precautions may result in defeat and disaster. There is no such thing as certainty in law.
It would be amusing, if it were not provoking, for a barrister to be asked offhand, as he constantly is, by some of the public for his opinion on some complex question of law, just as he would be asked for the solution of a sum in simple arithmetic. I was on one occasion requested by a lady to explain the legal result of a long line of settlements of an estate. To evade the question, I suggested that perhaps it might be advisable to see the settlements before expressing an opinion. ‘Oh’ replied my fair interrogator, ‘it would be inconvenient to get them just at present, but I can tell you anything of importance that is in time.’ It is worth remembering that the ablest and most erudite judges, after the most careful consideration and elaborate discussion, frequently come to directly opposite conclusions upon any complicated question of law.”
Even if the young novice does succeed in getting a brief and winning his little motion or little case, if he passes successfully through the terrible ordeal of his first address to a court or jury, his fortune is not so immediately and so completely made as novel writers would have us imagine. The attention of the civilized world is not concentrated on his success. He is not besieged by a crowd of anxious clients and eager solicitors. On the contrary, everything goes on much the same as before. If he wishes to reach eminence he must patiently climb. Now and again, by some special success, he may at most leap up two steps at a time on the ladder that reaches to distinction.
The Bar is divided into two great classes. The distinction is more marked in England. But it prevails here too. There is the Equity Bar and the Common Law Bar. By way of a broad popular definition, it may be said that the Equity barristers are the orators, and the Common Law barristers are the talkers. The Equity men are great framers of pleadings and drafters of affidavits. It may be well to explain that the public generally are under a very natural delusion as to the legal meaning of the word pleading. You hear people say they have heard a barrister pleading very eloquently in court. You cannot hear a pleading. A barrister pleads on paper. The pleading is in the written statement of the case relied on by either party to an action. It shows what is to be fought out between the parties and clears the field for battle. In Equity, the battle is fought on sworn written statement. In Common Law, generally by oral statements on oath in open court, and subject to the test of cross examination.
The Equity men are distinguished by erudition and acuteness and have a wonderful faculty for marshalling their paper battalions in the most imposing and formidable way. There is not much glory to be had in Equity, but the profit is considerable. Now and again in a great Equity suit in which there are innumerable parties, although there is no real conflict of evidence or of interest, it is amusing to see counsel for each one of the several parties every time the case is called pop up one after another like the notes of a pianoforte, mention for whom they appear , and sit down again. Each pop means at least two guineas for the barrister and twice as much for the solicitor. Besides, reputations are certainly often very cheaply obtained at the Equity side of the bar. A very eminent judge is said to have described the majority of Equity leaders as ‘pompous fiddlers with affidavits’ and it is pretty certain that some of them acquire their reputation for ‘wisdom, gravity and profound conceit’ by simple, ponderous stupidity, and ‘therefore only are reputed wise for saying nothing.’
The Common Law men, on the other hand, live their lives out more in the fierce light of public opinion. It is theirs to conduct cases; to address juries, and to cross-examine witnesses. s This is the rarest and most important power of all. For one barrister who can cross-examine you will find ten that can speak. It is cross-examination that wins cases. It is cross-examination that drives a truth or falsehood home to the mind of the jury. The speech can at most only clinch the nail after it is driven. It is a wonderful power, truly. As to its practical and paramount importance for elicited truth or exposing falsehood there can be no difference of opinion. Everyone remembers how the lying and libidinous Elders in the Scriptures were put to confusion by the brief cross-examination of the youthful Prophet, and every other day in our law courts we witness cross-examination made the medium of triumphs of truth as signal as the triumph of the chaste Susannah, of exposures of falsehood as sudden and as withering as the exposure of her perjured accusers.
No lie, however skillfully concealed, however elaborately disguised, can escape the search of a skilful cross-examination. The cross-examining counsel tracks the shifty perjurer with the certainty of a sleuth hound. He does what Hamlet defied the king’s spies to do. He plays upon him. He seems to know all his stops. He sounds him from his lowest note to the top of his compass. He plucks out the heart of his mystery.
All barristers, to whichever side of the profession they belong, keep their faces fixed steadily towards the bench. Hundreds drop out of the race every year. But those few who are endowed with exceptional perseverance or speed hold on doggedly to the end, safely leap the dangerous fence of the inner bar, and arrive at last at the goal of their ambition. At the foot of the bench, I will leave the profession. It is dangerous to look at or write about a judge.”
In the Four Courts, Dublin, yesterday, a breach of promise action brought by Beatrice Kate Roberts against Dr Charles Burnett Scott came before Master Bruce and a jury of six for the assessment of damages.
Mr Molony, KC, in stating the case for the plaintiff, said she lived near Streatham, London, and the defendant, who now practised at Kingstown, County Dublin, was at the time he met the plaintiff practising at Brighton, where his father had purchased a practice for him. The plaintiff’s father was the founder of the London firm of Ebenezer Roberts and Co., and when he died in 1895, he left a widow and eight children. They were staying in Brighton in November 1897, when they got introduced to the defendant through Dr Fowler of that town. The defendant’s attentions to the plaintiff were from the first unmistakable, and, in February 1898, he proposed to her and was accepted.
The engagement lasted till October of last year when it was broken off without the suggestion of a fault or a complaint. In the course of the engagement the defendant wrote the plaintiff 348 letters, and as many more were written in return. In his letters the defendant went through the whole vocabulary of affectionate expressions, and he did not even stop there, for, perhaps, struck with the poverty of the English language in conveying love ideas, he had quoted from Russian, Italian, French and German, and it was almost a wonder that, in the midst of a Celtic revival, his sentiments did not lead him to quote Irish. (Laughter).
The quotations reached from the Bible to the latest music-hall ditty, and it was curious to trace the different modes of appellation by which he addressed his lady love. At one time – for a very short time – she was ‘dear Kate’. Then nothing but three words would express the degree of his affection, and she was ‘my dearest Kate,’ ‘my sweetest Kate,’ ‘my darling Katie,’ ‘my ownest Kate,’ ‘my ownest love,’ and ‘my ownest sweet.’ But he did not stop there. Three words were then inadequate for him, and he broke into four. She became ‘my own sweet Kate’ and ‘my own darling Katie.’ And even four did not satisfy him, for in a subsequent letter he addressed her as ‘my ownest and dearest Kate.’
Counsel read some of the letters. In one he said ‘I hope you are not trying to make love to the lips that are near you till mine are near you, when you can make love as much as you like. Twiggez-vous, ma cherie?’
The plaintiff then met with an accident which counsel said, ‘happens to most of us.’ She fell downstairs. The defendant wrote to her: ‘My darling Katie, what do you mean by falling downstairs and damaging yourself? I would like to be near and kiss the place to make it well, if that would have the desired effect.’ (Laughter). In another letter the defendant wrote ‘I am nearly melted with the heat, but there is still some of me left. What there is left of me is yours, my dearest – yours, with love to command, Burnett.’ (Laughter).
After a vast number of other letters, each couched in terms of endearment, on October the 24th of last year, the defendant wrote saying: ‘In the last few weeks I have met a former friend of mine and feel I cannot give you the love which I have done and which you require. It is very hard for me to write this, and I hope you will try and think well of me. Anyway, I am not breaking this off to become engaged again, for that is impossible for me for many years on account of my family, and I would be refused if asked.’
Miss Roberts, a rather prepossessing young woman, in a quiet grey dress, was examined as to the facts.
Mr Jefferson, for the defendant, said it was better in the interests of the plaintiff that the engagement should be broken off. The defendant had nothing but the tall hat and set of clothes he wore.”
The defendant then stated that his father had given him £300 to buy the Brighton practice and £150 for furniture. Everything he made went to his mother and father’s account. He was in debt when he sold the practice in Brighton.
To Mr Molony – ‘He thought he did the girl a favour by breaking off the engagement. He was in love with the other girl when he broke it off, also when he wrote to plaintiff on the 1st of October, addressing her as ‘My darling Katie.’ He was not at present engaged to any girl.
Mrs Scott, mother of the defendant, stated that every farthing earned by him went to keep herself and her husband, who was an invalid.
Master Bruce, in charging the jury, said he had rarely known a more shocking case of heartlessness than that shown in the conduct of the defendant.
The jury awarded the plaintiff £1000 damages.”
With the Gaelic Revival in full swing, it was only a matter of time until there was a breach of promise case involving love letters in Irish, in which Thomas Molony KC (later Lord Chief Justice Molony) likewise appeared for the spurned lady.
Delaney v Burke, heard before Mr Justice Wright and a city common jury in the Four Courts of June 1904, involved a claim by Miss Margaret Delaney, a young lady residing with her father, a cabinetmaker, in County Kilkenny, against the defendant, Frank P Burke, a revenue officer, for breach of promise of marriage. The impecunious Mr Burke represented himself, on occasion receiving guidance from Mr Justice Wright in this regard.
The account of the hearing, in the Weekly Irish Times of 25 June 1904, is as follows:
“Mr Molony, in opening the plaintiff’s case, said the defendant, a Gaelic enthusiast, had come from Glasgow to Kilkenny in 1900, and had devoted his spare moments to promoting the spread of the Irish language and supporting the Gaelic League. The plaintiff had also tastes which led her to study the Irish tongue, and she became a member of the branch of which defendant was secretary, and first me the defendant there. He undertook to be her instructor in the mysteries, as well as the beauties, of the Irish tongue.
The plaintiff was possessed of a nice contralto voice, and entered as a competitor for the Oireachtas, held in Dublin in 1901. She was accompanied to the festival by the defendant. Until that time, beyond the instruction which the plaintiff had got from the nuns in the convent where she was educated, she had no special knowledge of music, and had received no lessons from any master. On that occasion, therefore, in Dublin she only succeeded in getting highly commended by the examiners. The defendant suggested to her when she returned home that, under careful tuition, she might become a great singer, and went so far in the matter as to interview Dr Malone, the organist of Carlow Cathedral. As a result, he arranged with Dr Malone that she was to take music and singing lessons with him. The defendant agreed to pay Dr Malone his tuition fees.
Up to this time there was no engagement of any formal kind between them, but it suggested itself to the young girl’s mind, as it would naturally suggest itself to the mind of any right-minded young girl, to find out the reason why he was taking such an interest in her. It was a natural and proper question for her to ask him, and he replied, ‘it was only natural for a man to take what interest he could in a girl that he intended to make his wife.’ That was in June 1901.
In January 1902, when she was some five or six months under Dr Malone’s tutelage, he procured her an engagement at a concert in Dublin. It was what was called the Rooney Concert, organised for the purpose of raising funds to erect a suitable monument over a young Irishman named William Rooney, who for a number of years had been deeply interested in the Gaelic movement, and who died rather young. The defendant came to Dublin with her, and they stayed at the same hotel in Rutland Square. The concert was a great success, and the defendant was enthusiastic in his approval of the great success which she had attained. As a tribute of his admiration for her he presented her with a volume of ‘Moore’s Irish Melodies’ set to music.
He continued paying for her lessons, and watching her progress until the Oireachtas came round again in 1902. Defendant again accompanied her to Dublin, and stayed at the same hotel as she did. Miss Delaney secured first prize this time, and both of them were very pleased. In one of the rooms of the hotel, when all the rest had gone to bed, and when plaintiff announced her intention of doing the same, he called her to him, and said, ‘I want to know will you marry me? I will give you your own time. I know you are only a child, but I want the promise from you.’ She at first said – as young ladies generally did when they were coy and young – ‘I will tell you in the morning.’ ‘No,’ said he, ‘I want your answer now,’ and then the plaintiff replied as they might expect her, saying ‘Yes’ and the defendant kissed her. He suggested that she should sing at a Gaelic League concert in Manchester in March 1903. Her appearance was a great success in Manchester, and the defendant wanted to buy her a ring, but as the one plaintiff fancied would cost 18 guineas, none was bought (laughter).
The defendant went away for a holiday and came back in August 1903. He entered her parents’ residence in the guise of a lover, and what did he do? He said to the plaintiff ‘Get me the letters that I wrote while I was away.’ She wanted to know what he wanted them for. ‘Oh’, said he, ‘I want to make a reference from them’ and the unsuspecting girl handed them to him. He promised to bring them back on the next day, but he did not do so, and although repeatedly asked for them he never gave them back, and now said they were destroyed. Two, however, which the plaintiff subsequently found she had not handed over, were discovered, and the jury could assume the character of the rest of the correspondence from these two specimens which would be produced.
The first was dated the 27th of October 1902. He did not commence his letter ‘Dear Maggie’ or anything of that kind, but began ‘Maghraid, asthore,’ which meant ‘Maggie, my treasure.’ (Laughter).
Mr Justice Wright – Does he relapse into English again? (Laughter)
Mr Molony said that was so, but his lordship would see that he broke out into Gaelic frequently again (Laughter).
Then the letter went on: ‘Last night I was disappointed and missing you – glad you did not venture out on such a night, and yet very much down in the mouth that you could not be out. However, aroon (that, said counsel, meant ‘oh great love’) I hope to make up for this little fast someday very shortly. I shall be up at St Pat’s this evening between twenty to eight to eight o’clock, and again after the confraternity. Should you be out at either hour I’d like to see you, machree (which meant, said counsel, ‘my heart’) if even for only ten minutes.’ When he came to an end the Gaelic ardour broke out again. He was not satisfied with ‘yours sincerely’ or ‘affectionately.’ How miserably the English tongue fitted the ardour of the Gaelic heart! He wound up with words in Irish, which meant ‘with everlasting love from Francis.’
Two days afterwards, he addressed her with a different heading, but with the same intensity of feeling, ‘Maghraid Machree’ ‘Maggie of my heart’. He had expected to see her that evening, but met her brother instead, and asked him what had become of Maggie. ‘Oh,’ said he, ‘I left her at home eating a coconut.’ (Loud laughter). Then the defendant in his letter built up a little romance around the coconut:
‘Is that coconut a good one? I hope you are enjoying it as much as I enjoyed my walk up and down the town. While you were munch, munch, munch I was tramp, tramp tramp – (loud laughter) – and when I got a glimpse of you through the little slit in the shutter (I wanted to know if your old boy was within) and saw how you were enjoying yourself, I hadn’t the heart to disturb you, agrah, meaning love. I am sorry you didn’t come, though, for I cannot turn up on Thursday evening. By the way, that was a great run you made down the town about 1.15 today. I saw you a good way ahead, and did my utmost to overtake you, but could not take an inch off the distance intervening. It’s a shame for you, Maggie, the way you run from me whenever you get the chance. I’ll chalk it up some day, though.’
Then he wound up with more Gaelic ardour, with another Irish expression meaning ‘With great love to my little dark treasure, from your lover, Francis.’(laughter)
Counsel said the rest of the story was sad. They continued on good terms until October last. Something then made plaintiff write to ask if defendant wanted to break off his engagement. To that letter there was no reply. She had heard of him walking with another girl, and when she met him afterwards and complained she denied there was any truth in the story. Her mother and sister died within a fortnight of each other in November and December. He never came to see her or offer his sympathy, and in the end, he married Miss Catherine Phelan in February last.
The plaintiff, a good-looking girl, who said she was under 21 years of age, was examined in support of counsel’s statement. She was then cross-examined at length by the defendant with the object of showing that their acquaintance was solely due to the fact that he had to teach her and some other girls how to sing in Irish at the Feis competitions.
The defendant – Did I write to one of the adjudicators about you?
The plaintiff – Yes.
The defendant – What did he say?
The plaintiff – He said my voice was like a piece of Kilkenny black marble – capable of much polish. (Laughter).
The defendant – You told nobody that we were going to get married?
The plaintiff – No, because you said you wanted to give the gossips a surprise.
The defendant – You are able to read Irish?
The plaintiff – Yes
The defendant – I have a little bit here that I want you to read.
The plaintiff – Thank you, but I have not been studying Irish all the time (laughter)
The defendant – But you swore you were able to read it?
The plaintiff – I said I was not able to speak or read it fluently, but I can read what you had in your letter.
The defendant – But you won’t read anything else?
The plaintiff – I won’t try
Mr Gibson (Junior Counsel for the Plaintiff) – What has this to do with the case?
The defendant – It shows that the plaintiff knows nothing about Irish.
The plaintiff – And that is your teaching, Mr Burke (laughter).
Mr Justice Wright – If the defendant wants to win his case it will be on his own evidence, and not by cross-examination.
William Delaney, brother of the plaintiff, in reply to Mr Gibson, said he knew the defendant since he had come to Kilkenny. He was frequently a visitor to their house, and the defendant and his sister (the plaintiff) were almost constantly together. He remembered when the defendant was ill and sent for him. The first word he said was ‘How’s Peg?’ (Maggie). He then said ‘The next time I get ill I’ll have a nurse to mind me. I’ll get married.’ The defendant frequently spoke of wishing to be transferred, as he did not want to get married in Kilkenny, where there were so many gossips.
Cross-examined by the defendant: I am not aware that you had any other object in coming to my father’s house than to see my sister.
The defendant – Was it not about a lathe that I went there?
Delaney – Oh yes, you were going to see the lathe, but it was not the lathe that you really wanted to see, but my sister (Laughter)
The defendant – Did you ever belong to a disreputable club in Kilkenny?
Delaney – I would not say it was a disreputable club.
Mr Justice Wright – The jury may resent that sort of question and may visit their resentment on your head.
The witness in reply to Mr Gibson said the club had been broken up because of a dispute among the members.
The defendant was then sworn and stated his own case. He said he had never directly or indirectly promised to marry the plaintiff. He was appointed to Kilkenny in September 1900 and in December he became secretary to the local branch of the Gaelic League. He organised entertainments for the members, and it was at one of the concerts that he first met the plaintiff. He was struck with her singing, as she had a remarkably fine voice. He recommended her to train for competition at the Oireachtas, and she said that she could not afford to take singing lessons. When he went to Kilkenny he was engaged to be married to a lady in Dublin.
Mr Molony – That’s not evidence.
The defendant – I mention it to show that I had no designs upon the plaintiff.
Mr Justice Wright – Is that the lady you are married to?
The defendant – No. (Laughter). The engagement was broken off, but not by me.
The defendant went on to say that he lent the plaintiff the money with which to take singing lessons, the condition being that she would repay him when she won a prize or received payment for singing. He suggested that he should give her lessons at her father’s house, but as her people objected to his coming to the house, she came to his, along with two other girls, in order to prevent the people from talking. His mother objected to the plaintiff at length and turned her out.
While the lessons were going on, the plaintiff frequently absented herself, and he used to write to her to inquire the cause. She came up to sing at the Oireachtas, and she won first prize. He accompanied her to Dublin from Kilkenny on that occasion and was elated at the prospect of getting his money back. On another occasion he accompanied her to Manchester, where she sang, and he got the fee which she earned there from the secretary of the concert. If he had not spoken to him about it, he supposed he would have got nothing.
The singing lessons were resumed, but after his mother turned her out of the house he determined to break with her altogether. A little later, however, they met, and had a walk together, and the plaintiff asked him for a ring. When he saw what her object was, he determined to speak to her no more, and he did everything he could to show her that he had no desire for any further acquaintance with her.
Mr Justice Wright – When she asked you for the ring you must have been surprised. What did you say? The defendant – Well, I was taken aback. (Laughter).
Mr Justice Wright – What did you say?
The defendant – I let her have the weight of my tongue.
Cross-examined by Mr Molony KC – Did you love Maggie Delaney?
The defendant – Most decidedly not.
Mr Molony – You did not love her at any time?
The defendant – Never.
Mr Moloney – Did you write the letter (produced)?
The defendant – It is remarkably like my writing (Laughter). I won’t swear that it is, and I won’t swear that it is not.
A Juror – Is the composition of it like what you would write?
The defendant – Most decidedly not (Loud laughter).
Mr Justice Wright – Do you suggest that the plaintiff, who is a very clever girl, forged these letters?
The defendant – I don’t suggest anything.
Mr Molony – Did you make her presents of music?
The defendant – Yes.
Mr Molony – Is the writing in the music books (produced) yours?
The defendant – It is like it; I won’t say it is or it is not.
Mr Molony – Did you give her a fur boa and gloves?
The defendant – I never gave her any presents but the music.
Mr Molony – Will you produce the 24 letters you got from the plaintiff?
The defendant – There never were any such letters.
Mr Molony – You got letters from this girl?
The defendant – Yes, but I destroyed them immediately. They were about the music classes.
Mr Molony – Have you ever kissed this girl?
The defendant – I don’t remember ever having done it. I have kissed many girls (Loud laughter).
Mr Molony – Do Excise officers kiss so many girls that they cannot remember them all?
The defendant – I don’t understand the question.
Mr Gibson (for the plaintiff) – My friend suggests that ‘tasting’ is part of an Excise officer’s duty (Laughter).
Mr Molony – You never kissed a girl by accident?
The defendant – No.
Mr Molony – You kissed girls because you intended to so so?
The defendant – Well, I don’t suppose I intended to give them a bear’s hug. (Loud laughter).
This closed the case for the defence.
The plaintiff, recalled, said there was no vestige of truth in the statement that the money paid for music lessons was a loan.
The defendant said he had got no money with the lady he married, and he would have had counsel engaged to conduct his case but for the fact that he was too poor. He had a salary of 115 pounds per year and out of that he had only 91 pounds to live on and keep a wife and an invalid father.
Mr Gibson asked not for exemplary damages, but damages which they would be likely to recover, and which would show that the jury believed the plaintiff.
The jury retired at 4.25 p.m., and after twenty minutes absence returned into court.
The foreman said they had agreed on the first question as to the promise but could not agree on the damages.
Mr Justice Wright – Think it over again, gentlemen.
A juror – Can you give us any assistance?
Mr Justice Wright – Generally speaking, you are bound to take into account the means of the defendant and the position the plaintiff has lost. I think your damages, having regard to what you have found, should be real, but not ruinous – what you think is a real amount, but not too small, because that would be a suggestion that there was some reason why this many should not marry the girl. So far as she is concerned, I am sure it is the view of all of us that she will leave court without the slightest imputation or slur or suggestion upon her character.
A juror – I look upon him as a perjurer.
Mr Justice Wright – I am not disposed to say that I dissent, but at the same time, gentlemen, do not ruin this man and his wife, but give substantial but not ruinous damages.
In reply to a juror, Mr Justice Wright said it would become a matter afterwards as to whether the damages would be paid in instalments.
The jury again retired.
At ten minutes past 5 the jury again returned into Court finding for the plaintiff with £200 damages.