Like Strokes of a Stick on a Carpet, 1891

From the Sligo Independent, 7 November 1891:

“An exciting incident occurred at the Four Courts yesterday afternoon, just before three o’clock… In the passage to the coffee room Mr MacDermott, son of Mr Alfred MacDermott, Solicitor, met Mr Timothy Healy, MP and QC and straightaway attacked him with a cutting whip, striking him repeatedly and knocking him down.  He then seized hold of him by the neck and shook him. 

The attention of a solicitor’s clerk, who was in the coffee-room at the time, was first attracted to the fracas by the cracks of a whip, which sounded like strokes of a stick on a carpet.  ‘Good Gracious!’ he said, ‘What are they beating carpets at this time of day for?

He and a friend then went out into the hall, and to their surprise saw Mr Healy with Mr MacDermott’s hand at his throat, and his assailant dragging him backwards and forward, all the time thrashing him with a whip. Mr Healy looked very pale, but made a stout effort to release himself.  The noise of the encounter quickly brought barristers and solicitors to the scene, and a policeman appeared. 

Mr MacDermott at once handed his card to the officer, who arrested him, but on Mr Healy stating that he would not prosecute, he was at once released.  Mr MacDermott strongly denied he was in liquor, and it is understood he had been waiting some hours for Mr Healy, whom, it is alleged, he determined to chastise for his Longford speech. The news was at once conveyed to the Judges, who were sitting at the time, and the occurrence was eagerly discussed.  Mr Healy retired to the library, and Mr MacDermott went home.

Speaking at the National League meeting yesterday afternoon, Dr Kenny MP referring to Mr Healy’s Longford speech on Sunday, said he stood there today to say that as an Irish man he thought every Irishman was ashamed of the language Mr Healy used to the widow of their dead chief.

He (Dr Kenny) called on his countrymen to repudiate in every way they could the language of Mr Healy and to show that the defenceless woman had some defenders among the chivalrous sons of Ireland, and hurl from public life any man who so degraded the National Cause by such conduct and language.”

MacDermott was a nephew of the recently deceased Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell.  Healy had given a speech in Longford the previous week describing Parnell’s widow Katherine, whom he had married following a scandalous divorce case, as a ‘convicted English prostitute.’

Healy was not the first Irish barrister to have been horsewhipped. In 1822 Mr Wallace KC, was met in Sackville Street on his way to court by a Captain McNamara, who struck him round the face and shoulders with a whip, which cut him and caused him to bleed.  Wallace had previously acted for a Mrs Calla in an action for breach of promise against McNamara, who subsequently fled the country after the Lord Chief Justice issued a warrant for his arrest. 

Barrister horsewhipping occurred in England too, the most notorious example being the young Duke of Sutherland’s 1862 Wimbledon Common attack on William Metcalfe. The cause was Metcalfe’s carriage-driving wife, whose vehicle had allegedly strayed onto the off-side. An early case of road rage?

The MacDermott family appear again in Four Courts lore in 1898, when Mr MacDermott Senior unsuccessfully sued a police constable for assault after being restrained from cutting through a judicial procession. He had a large stick with him at the time. Possibly the family reputation had made the policeman unduly cautious? 

For those interested in reading further on Healy, Parnell and the MacDermotts, a superb work by another member of the Law Library – ‘The Parnell Split 1890-91″, by Frank Callanan SC, provides all the background information required. Highly recommended!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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