Judicial Assassination Attempt at Corner of Leinster Street and Kildare Street Foiled by Observant Pensioner, 1882

From the Kirkaldy Times, 15 November 1882:

A daring attempt was made to assassinate Mr Justice Lawson on Saturday night, in Dublin.  He had an engagement to dine at the King’s Inn and left his house in Fitzwilliam Street for that purpose.  The guard by which the judge has recently been always accompanied consisted of two members of the B division in plain clothes, and two army pensioners also in mufti.  On reaching Leinster Street, the judge kept the house side, and the two policemen kept close behind him.  The pensioners, on the other hand, kept almost parallel with him on the College side of the street, and it was very fortunate that they did so. 

His lordship had got opposite the large bay window of the Kildare Street Club when one of the pensioners, named McDonnell, observed a man go hastily across the street towards the judge.  Mc Donnell, rushing across the thoroughfare, seized the man as he had his hand in his coat breast pocket, in the act of pulling out a seven chambered revolver, which he had grasped by the handle. The judge, who had remained conspicuously cool in demeanour, was a witness of the whole proceeding; but as a crowd began to collect, he went into the club, where he remained for some time, and afterwards proceeded to the King’s Inn, where he dined with the benchers. 

At College Street police station, two experienced members of that division at once recognised the accused as an old acquaintance, by reason of his Fenian associates, and seeing there was no use in further concealment, he admitted his name to be Patrick Delaney.”

The location of the above event was just outside what is today the Alliance Francaise at the corner of Leinster Street and Kildare Street.

Mr Justice Lawson – who subsequently felt obliged to appear at the Louth Assizes to disprove newspaper accounts that he had suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the attack – received so many messages of congratulation that he had to request that they cease in order to avoid drawing undue attention to the incident.

Delaney’s conviction for the attack was followed by a further trial and conviction for involvement in the Phoenix Park murders carried out earlier that year.   His choice of victim may not, however, have been purely political, Lawson having many years earlier sentenced him to five years’ penal servitude for a highway robbery of two ladies on the Rathmines road.    

Delaney – a somewhat mysterious character – subsequently turned State informant and was released from prison in 1889; nothing is known of his subsequent activities. Ironically his final words in the highway robbery trial had been ‘death to all informers.’ 

Charles McDonnell received a reward of £50 from the Lord Lieutenant for his work in preventing the assassination – a substantial, but hardly excessive sum, the value of a judge’s – or indeed any – life being of course immeasurable!

Image Credit: The Graphic, 18 November 1882.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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