Sailing Fatalities among the Irish Bar, 1872-1907

From the Belfast News-Letter, 21 July 1898:

Kingstown regatta opened today in ideal weather – bright sunshine and a fair sailing breeze… Sympathy was felt for Mr Justice Boyd, whose fine yacht, Thalia, was competing, while he himself, anxious to be on board, had to sit administering justice in the Four Courts… between four executive creditors and a claimant as to the title of certain goods seized.”

Yachting, a very popular summer pastime for the Irish Bar, often proved perilous. On the 3rd June 1872, Daniel O’Connell, grandson of the great O’Connell, was drowned at Kingstown after his small boat was upset in a squall.

A further tragedy occurred off the Pigeon House, Dublin, in 1907, when Mr Michael Joseph Dunn KC, who had left Kingstown with his nephew with the intention of sailing to Dublin, failed to arrive. His son James, who had just missed the departure of the yacht, subsequently found the body of his father in about two feet of water beside the Fort. Life was not quite extinct, but before assistance could be brought Mr Dunn expired.

The yacht was subsequently found drifting in the vicinity, and on board the vessel was the lifeless body of Mr Dunn’s nephew. It was surmised the yacht capsized on the Shelly Banks and that after struggling in the water for some time the men succeeded in righting her. It was thought that after this the younger man climbed aboard and subsequently succumbed from exhaustion, while the older man was washed away.

Heartbreakingly, it transpired that despite the men’s cries for help having been repeatedly heard earlier that evening, the Coastguard Station, concerned about the extent of its jurisdiction, had refused to send out a lifeboat. Ironically, the person best placed to advise on the jurisdictional issue was Mr Dunn himself, not only an enthusiastic amateur sailor (and Temperance advocate) but an expert in admiralty, maritime and shipping law. His last words were ‘I am exhausted’. Very sad.

The Pigeon House had earlier been the scene of another legal drowning in the last decade of the 18th century when the ‘very learned, very rich and very ostentatious,’ Baron Power of the Exchequer avoided imminent prosecution for embezzlement by walking into the sea carrying an umbrella. His body was washed up some time later. One hopes that this death did not put a curse on the place for future lawyers.

Perhaps be careful next time you are down at the Pigeon-House?!

Image Credit (left) (top right) (bottom right)

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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