Dressed to Kilt, 1930

From the Irish Examiner, January 21, 1930:

A touch of novelty was given to the ceremony of calling a number of young gentlemen to the Bar in the Supreme Court this morning.  One of them appeared in kilts.  The regulation wig and gown did not harmonise with this costume, and an old Brehon might have been puzzled by the ‘tout ensemble’.  

The wearer’s name appeared in Irish in the list of candidates to be called, and as the Chief Justice always speaks the words of the formula appropriate to the occasion first in Irish, the ceremony in this particular instance could be described as 100 per cent Irish.  The kilted barrister is a son of Mr PT McGinley, a former President of the Gaelic League, and a most forward Language revivalist.”

Young Mr MacGinley (Dubhglas Mac Fhionnlaoich BL) went on to a distinguished career as a barrister arguing cases in Irish. A noted vocalist and Irish dancer, he participated in the Easter Rising as a St Enda’s student, interrupting his practice on the North-Western Circuit to serve in the Irish army during the Emergency, before becoming a District Court Justice.

An anonymous agony column advertisement from a Dublin newspaper in 1923 had previously teased the concept of a kilted barrister:

“For sale, cheap, barrister’s wig and gown, or will exchange for a saffron kilt or a copy of the Code Napoleon.”

Mr McGinley’s kilt was dark green, not saffron, and he wore it at all times in court pursuant to a ruling of Chief Justice Kennedy (presumably made at the time of his entrance to the Bar) that a barrister should always be permitted to wear the ancient national dress underneath their gown.

This led to some controversy in the letters page of the Irish Independent of July 1940, John T Purcell, Lymington, Hants suggesting that Irish national dress originally consisted not of a kilt at all, but of garments of skins, subsequently replaced by breeches, a cota and a mantle, fastened by a brooch or bodkin.

It would be interesting to find out if Chief Justice Kennedy’s ruling still applies!

Image Credit: Irish Press, April 25, 1935, with Mr McGinley in the middle.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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