Judicial Coach Hijacked by Helpful Ennis Local, 1902

From the Westminster Gazette, 10 April 1902:

The Ennis representative of the Freeman’s Journal tells a delightful story of young Ireland.  At Ennis the Assizes were held by Lord Chief Justice O’Brien and Mr Justice Johnson.  At the Courthouse door there drew up in the usual course the High Sheriff’s carriage to bring home the judges, with the usual accompaniment of footmen, mounted escort, trumpeter and so on, ‘all very grand,’ as the story book says.

It unfortunately happened that the coachman was witness in an appeal case before Judge Johnson, and into that Court went the coachman, leaving his magnificent livery hat in the box, and the horses in charge of an Ennis street arab, whose costume was more ventilated than complete.  The Chief Justice rose rather early, was ushered out to his carriage, and took his seat without noticing that the coachman was not present.  The youth who was holding the horses was equal to the occasion.  He jumped up on the box, put on the coachman’s state hat, and drove up to the judge’s lodgings at a rapid gallop.  The trumpeter blew his trumpet, the escort drew their swords, the whole pageant was enacted. 

The Chief Justice could not understand the rapidity of the pace or the roars of laughter of the spectators, till, alighting, he saw the laughing youth of shreds and patches who was driver.  It is said the High Sheriff looked the next day as if he was having a bad time of it.

The sartorial inadequacy of his coachman may indeed have been the most painful element of the affair for Lord Chief Justice O’Brien, who had previously given voice to strongly expressed views on the degeneracy of white-waistcoat-wearing counsel. As a light luncher (two stewed apples and a quarter chicken, according to one account from 1907) he may have been looking forward to his dinner; hopefully his hosts were equal to the challenge of his early arrival.

The pageantry of Assizes, whereby High Court judges ventured out from Dublin a couple of times a year to hear cases in the provinces, was a long historical tradition and rival County Sheriffs competed with one another as regards the quality of judicial equipages and livery provided. I hope this Sheriff didn’t lose his job – and that one was found for the laughing youth who did indeed prove himself more than equal to the occasion!

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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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