Along for the Ride, Pre-Railway

From the Connaught Telegraph, 14 March 1914, this interesting account of the periodic sittings of the Courts of Assizes, which, until their abolition in 1924, had jurisdiction outside Dublin over the most serious criminal offences:

The arrival of the train by which their lordships and the members of the circuit travel in modern times, is always eagerly awaited by a large majority of the people living within the radius of the assize area…  The High Sheriff of the County, with the Sub-Sheriff, the County and District Inspectors of Police, a strong force of the Constabulary and a mounted military escort meet the judges at the train and forming themselves into a bodyguard accompany them to court…

But the pomp and circumstance of the present day, and the fuss and bustle that marks a judge’s entry into an Irish Assize town, fades into insignificance when compared with a similar event in olden days

As it was not looked on as quite proper or professional for Judge or barrister to travel by the mail coach, which in bygone days ran at regular intervals between the metropolis and most of the assize centres, bench and bar usually covered the journey from assize town to assize town on horseback. 

Each barrister had in those good old times a servant, mounted and in picturesque livery in attendance on him.  His Circuit-library and robes were safely stowed away in the latter’s saddle bags while a  couple of huge leathern bottles of claret dangled at the horse’s flanks. At the barrister’s saddle bow there usually hung a brace of loaded horse pistols, ever ready at a moment’s notice to spit forth their deadly fire, if attacked by the gentlemen of the highway, or his honour, if wounded by a real or imaginary insult.

At an appointed hour the Bar was collected, the High Sheriff, with a score of halbertmen, foregathered outside the Judge’s lodgings to wait the appearance of his lordship, who at a given signal took his place at the head of the party. With a blast from a bugle the picturesque cavalcade swept along at a brisk trot, the Sheriff and his men keeping a respectable distance behind the Bar, while a squadron of dragoons brought up the rear.

Not all members of the legal caravan were there for business purposes…

The judges not infrequently fetched their wives along with them, the latter being snubly seated on pillions behind their dignified spouses.

One has to marvel at the devotion of these ladies, bumping gamely backwards through the damp and cold of an Irish spring and autumn for the sole purpose of providing home comforts to Justice.

Hopefully their dedication to their wifely duties did not go unappreciated!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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