Popular Killarney Solicitor Disappears after Derby Win, Turns Up Decades Later in South Africa, 1886-1906

From the Kerry Evening Post, 19 June 1886:

The public who are conversant with the facts of the sudden and mysterious disappearance in London of Mr Alfred M Bernard, Solicitor, of Sheheree, near Killarney, where he was on official business, entertain the gravest apprehension that he met with foul play, and, indeed, everything surrounding the circumstances point to this end.  His immediate friends, however, look upon the affair in a totally different light, believing that he must only be ill in London; but, if this was so, it is difficult to comprehend why he should leave his friends in a fortnight’s suspense and not make them cognisant of his whereabouts. 

Mr Bernard left Killarney about five weeks ago for London via Dublin on official business.  Mr Bernard was very fond of sport and very successful in betting.  He went to the Derby and the Oaks, where he won a considerable sum of money in betting.  He met another solicitor from Killarney and a Dublin bookmaker; one bookmaker, who was an intimate friend of Mr Bernard, remarked to him that he did very well at the Derby, meaning that he had won money.  He also told him that if he had any loose money, he had better put it out of the way, because he saw two fellows dogging him during the day.  Mr Bernard said he was cognisant of that, stating the same two answering the bookmaker’s description brushed across him several times at the Derby. 

At 7.20 p.m. on the 31st May Mr Bernard left the Arundel Hotel in a ‘hansom cab’ for Euston Station to join the mail train, to arrive in the Irish metropolis that night.  Since he entered the cab he has not been heard nor seen of, nor his luggage, nor the cabman who drove him, notwithstanding that a staff of the most competent detectives have made the most minute inquiries, but all to no avail.  In business Mr Bernard was very successful.  He belonged to an aristocratic Catholic family of the name in the neighbourhood of Killarney, and he was very popular.  He was about 29 years of age, and was engaged to a young lady of Dublin.”

The elusive Mr Bernard resurfaces twenty years later, in this article from the Dublin Evening Telegraph, 21 August 1906:

“In the King’s Bench today, Mrs Alice Russell, of Charleville, Cork, sister of Mr Alfred Morrough Barnard, applied to take out letters of administration in his estate.  Mr Bernard had lived at Killarney until 1886 when he left the country and went to South Africa.  His family heard nothing from him until two years ago, when they learned that a Mr Arthur Morrough Barclay had died in South Africa.   Counsel read an affidavit from a gentleman named Cook, who was well acquainted with Mr Barclay, in which he stated that from words he previously dropped he deduced he came from Cork or Kerry, but was reticent about his previous history. 

Mr Morrough Bernard had died suddenly while bathing and death had been certified as due to natural causes.  In support of the application, Counsel produced a ring and breastpin which Mr Russell identified as the property of her brother. There was also the portrait of a lady to whom Mr Bernard had been engaged, and on the whole of the circumstances Mr Bernard’s acquaintances believed him to be dead.  The assets are about £2,200.”

What was the motivation for Mr Bernard’s disappearance? Was it financial irregularities (there were subsequent proceedings arising out of his administration of a relative’s estate) or his impending nuptials that made him flee so strangely?

If the latter, he may have made the right decision. No one could possibly have wanted a reprise of what happened in October 1872 when Hubert de Burgh, barrister, slashed his throat with a razor at his Ranelagh residence on his wedding morning as his ‘young, beautiful and amiable’ bride awaited his arrival at church (he survived, only to have an action for breach of promise brought against him by a no-longer-amiable intended). It could be difficult breaking off an engagement in those days!

I hope Mr Bernard’s unnamed fiancée got on with her life after his disappearance and did not wait around!

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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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