Gallant Liffey Rescue by Solicitor, 1872

From the Freeman’s Journal, 12 August 1872:

“At about 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon a man, who apparently was under the influence of drink, leaped across the boundary wall into the Liffey, nearly opposite the Four Courts. His position was extremely perilous as the tide was pretty full, and it seemed clear that unless prompt assistance were rendered he would have been drowned. An outside car which was passing was stopped and the reins procured, and a couple of gentlemen bravely leaped into the water to the assistance of the unfortunate man. After considerable difficulty they succeeded in keeping him afloat until some members of the fire brigade arrived with a buoy. Three of the brigade men went into the water, and after a great deal of trouble dragged him out.. One of the gentleman who rendered good service in the rescue was Mr J Whyte, from the chambers of Messrs Fay and McGough, nearly opposite the scene of the occurrence.

The mid-afternoon Dublin quays need both people and vehicles, if only to act as windbreaks against the cruel breeze. Any barrister who has ever gone into work after lunchtime on weekends or public holidays knows the appearance of bleak desolation borne by Inns Quay at such times. The preponderance of Saturday-afternoon Liffey-jumpers in the newspaper archive indicates that its 19th century aspect was little different.

On a different weekend, in 1833, between three and four p.m., a woman, also intoxicated, managed to get down to the verge of the river opposite the Four Courts and throw herself in. Fortunately, the tide was out, and a man managed to get down from the quay with a rope and haul her up, despite considerable opposition. In so doing, he also lifted her depression; and once fully restored to animation she walked off, apparently with very little intention of returning to the same course again.

The siren song of the Liffey was heard most acutely by those suffering from intoxication or mental frailty. On another Saturday, in January 1827, an elderly gentleman and his niece were walking on Merchant’s Quay when the gentleman (prone to occasional fits of insanity caused by a wound previously received in the head) plunged over the wall. He was rescued, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, by a young gentleman called Kearick – the second life preserved in a similar manner by the same intrepid individual.

A post about persons trying to drown themselves might not seem very cheerful, but it is both uplifting and inspiring to see how ready 19th century Dubliners were to come to the aid of those in distress. When, in 1856, another unfortunate woman tried to drown herself after having received a letter conveying the sad tidings of her husband’s death in the Crimea. she did so in the vicinity of Joseph Gorman, boat proprietor, who had in the past six years rescued seventeen people from drowning in the Liffey; she proved the eighteenth. Most unfairly, Mr Gorman’s application for a medal from the Royal Humane Society was subsequently refused, as its premia did not extend to rescues out of England.

One person who presumably ended up in the Liffey by accident, rather than design was 20-month-old John Chillingworth who fell 50 feet from the wall at Inns Quay in 1953 and was lucky enough to be rescued by a youth from Kimmage.

Not all jumpers were saved. In 1833, Edward Morgan, occasionally of unsound mind, interrupted his purchase of some apples to get up on the parapet of Whitworth (now O’Donovan Rossa) bridge at Chancery Place, then leapt into the river and was only once or twice afterwards seen rolling down the stream. In true Dublin tradition, three spirited young lads immediately stripped and swam in after him, but could not find his body; fortunately they survived.

And now there follows the saddest Whitworth Bridge tragedy of all. It was on Christmas Day, 1824 and started innocuously. The hat of a person passing over the bridge was blown into the river; he offered a reward; two young men got into a yawl for the purposes of recovering the hat, but their boat drifted downriver and attempts were made to drag it back up by a bow rope attached to the painter; it broke, and the boat went partly down by the bow, resulting in the loss of both their lives. All over a hat!

The above puts in context the bravery of the unknown Mr Whyte, allowing Irish solicitors to congratulate themselves on having had at least one member of the profession who performed heroically when called upon to do so. It also, incidentally, demonstrates an unintended side-benefit of law offices being open on Saturday afternoon – there was always someone around to assist in a river rescue!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

2 thoughts on “Gallant Liffey Rescue by Solicitor, 1872”

  1. Your pen picture of earlier times, together with those wonderful illustrations, give us a moving glimpse into old Dublin. Not unlike today fear, squalor and deprivation stalked the city quays. But courage, humour and good cheer did not die.

    When Dublin City Corporation erected its new head-quarters on Wood Quay, it added to the doom and gloom along the Liffey, a sad reflection of Dublin’s Viking past buried beneath.

    Keep up the good work Ruth!

    The Elder Lemon

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