Visiting English Barrister Mistakes Free State Detectives for Gunmen, 1923

From the Belfast News-Letter, 11 December 1923:


Described as a barrister, Frederick Ritters, London, was in the Dublin police courts yesterday charged with obstructing two detectives in the execution of their duty.

The two detectives were about to make an arrest in the dining room of the Royal Hibernian Hotel, Dawson Street, Dublin, when Ritter, it is alleged, went over and tried to prevent them from doing so.

Defendant, in court, said he thought the two detectives were gunmen, and that he and the man they were interrogating were going to be taken out and shot. He claimed he had a perfect right to ascertain who the two men were. They refused to show their warrant.

In reply to Mr Collins, the magistrate, defendant said he was a landholder in Ireland, but had no residence in the country.

Mr Collins – You are fined £3, and you have until four o’clock to pay.

Defendant (in surprise) – What! Fined £3 for defending my life!

Mr Collins – Yes, and you are lucky to get off so easy.”

Mr Ritter, who was indeed a barrister, with Londonderry connections on the maternal side, was probably over in Dublin for the hearing of a partnership case involving the Erne Fisheries, in which he was one of the plaintiffs.

A contemporaneous report in the Belfast Telegraph states that Mr Ritter had caught one of the detectives by the collar of their coat, saying ‘You are not going to bring that man out of here,’ and that he subsequently said to the man in custody, ‘Let us get a mallet and make a fight for it.’ It also quotes Mr Ritter as follows: ‘I thought we were going to be taken out and shot, and that it was a political matter. I had a perfect right to ascertain who the men were. I thought I was defending my life. I was excited, because I was convinced I was going to be shot.’

Not everyone agreed with the fine imposed on Mr Ritter. The Weekly Freeman’s Journal of 15 December 1923 carried a strong letter of protest entitled ‘Playing a Man’s Part.’ It complained about ‘the salutary awe of the police with which our countrymen would appear to be thoroughly infused,’ and expressed gratification that, though England might be torpid in the pursuit of principle, there yet lingered in the hearts of her sons a little common old fashioned courage.

The letter may have been written by an Anti-Treatyite, or maybe even by Mr Ritter himself, who was certainly far from torpid in opposing any perceived unlawful exercise of authority. In June 1906, when a Surrey policeman had attempted to stop Mrs Ritter from cycling without lights, Mr Ritter had ridden straight at him and shouted out, “I dare you to stop those ladies, you beast. You have no right and you know you have no right.” He then shouted to Mrs Ritter to cycle on, which she did – an impressive display of wifely obedience sadly not enough to save the marriage, which ended in 1912.

There seems to be a remarkable similarity between the two incidents, but it’s also possible that Mr Ritter was genuinely confused as to what exactly was going on in the Hibernian Hotel. December 1923 was less than two years after the establishment of the Irish Free State, which had of course resulted in a Civil War then only barely at an end.

Political transitions can be difficult for everyone!

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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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