No Catholic Testament in the Four Courts, 1919

From the Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 6 December 1919:

“In the King’s Bench Division – Probate, before Mr Justice Kenny, in the matter of the goods of Denis Dwyer, Deceased, the Rev James O’Sullivan, PP, attended, under an order of the Court, in order to give evidence as to his knowledge of the existence of the will of the deceased.

Mr Justice Kenny asked Mr Fitzgerald, cross-examining Father O’Sullivan, whether he wished a shorthand note to be taken of the evidence.

Mr Fitzgerald replied in the affirmative.

It was then stated that the official shorthand writer was not present (being officially engaged in another court) and the Reporter representing the Freeman’s Journal, who was the only journalist present, was asked if he would take the necessary shorthand notes.  The reporter expressed his willingness, and he rose from his place under the Registrar’s desk for the purpose of being sworn.

The Registrar handed him a book.  The reporter asked was it a Catholic Testament.  The Registrar replied that it was not.  The reporter expressed his desire to be sworn on a Catholic Testament; and the Registrar handed him another book.  The reporter on opening it discovered that it was not a Catholic Testament; and he declined to be sworn on it.  Then the Registrar informed Mr Justice Kenny of the situation.

Mr Justice Kenny suggested that possibly Father O’Sullivan, who was seated in the witness box, might have a Catholic testament in his possession.

Father O’Sullivan stated that he had only his Breviary.

Mr Justice Kenny suggested that other apartments in the Four Courts should be searched with a view to the discovery of a Catholic Testament, and presumably this suggestion was followed.  He also suggested that the official shorthand-writer should be sent for.  It was stated in court, though not publicly, that the search throughout the Four Courts for a Catholic Testament proved unavailing; and the Crier, who was sent for the official shorthand-writer, returned with the information that he would not be disengaged for a quarter of an hour.

Mr Justice Kenny suggested that a messenger should be sent to the Catholic Presbytery, Halston Street, with a view to getting a Catholic Testament there.

Ultimately the official shorthand-writer, who is a Protestant, arrived and was sworn and took a shorthand note of Father O’Sullivan’s evidence.”

The lack of any Catholic testament in the Four Courts arose once again in the King’s Bench in Michaelmas Term, 1921.   According to the Kilkenny Moderator of 5 November, when Mr T.J. Fleming was about to be sworn on the jury in a Probate suit, he found that the bible handed to him had been issued by the Hibernian Bible Society and did not bear the Catholic imprimatur.  He informed Mr Justice Pim that he preferred to be sworn on a Catholic testament. There was none in court and Mr Justice Pim sent for one.  While waiting for it, Mr Fleming said he was willing to affirm and that solution of the difficulty was accepted by the judge.  Mrs Flood and Mr P.J. Kenny, two other jurors, followed the example of Mr Fleming.  Other jurors were sworn in the customary way. It was stated that this was at least the third time this had happened.

The next day’s case before Mr Justice Pim involved a personal injuries claim against the Master of the Coombe Hospital arising out of a motor crash at Merrion Square the previous May.  This time, the Dublin Evening Telegraph was pleased to report that

“[f]or the first time probably in the history of the Four Courts, a Catholic lay witness coming to the witness box to be sworn found a Catholic Testament awaiting him.  Mr Thomas Fanning’s manly protest of yesterday has been speedily effectual.  Mr Justice Pim, a member, by the way of the Society of Friends, saw to it.”

The same paper described the arrival of a Catholic Testament in the Four Courts as even more interesting than “the recent incident of the call of two Irish ladies to the Irish Bar in the Court of Appeal.”

Changing times indeed!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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