A Rare Bird at the Four Courts, 1888

From the Irish Times, 24 May 1888:


Yesterday, for nearly three hours, the inhabitants, and those who could spare the time, were entertained by a most interesting and exciting chase after a large bird of varied plumage, which was observed in the River Liffey opposite the Four Courts.  It transpired that the bird had some days since wandered from its habitation in the Zoological Gardens, Phoenix Park, and a reward was offered for its recovery.  The bird, however, regardless of its plumage, had taken up its quarters in the Liffey and was sporting about for some time before attracting attention. Shortly after three o’clock, the large red beak and unusual size of the bird attracted the attention of some of the denizens of Cook Street who chanced to be sauntering along the banks of the river at Merchants’ Quay.  All kinds of inducements were held out by those on shore to entice the bird to leave its quarters, but without avail.  Finally two young men divested themselves of their upper garments and went in pursuit.  They waded half way through the oozing mud banks before getting to the stream, and coming up with the bird, which was almost within grasp, but as quickly disappeared beneath the water only to reappear at a considerable distance from the pursuers.  The chase was carried on for about three quarters of an hour from opposite the Four Courts up to Queen Street Bridge.  Two boats manned by three hands in each rowed in the pursuit, but with no success, and the chase was abandoned at half-past six o’clock.  The bird was then seen proceeding leisurely towards the King’s Bridge.”

The chase would have taken place just upriver from the bridge shown in the contemporaneous image above. A subsequent report in the Dublin Evening Mail of 30 May 1888, reports that the bird, a red-faced cormorant like the one above, had been secured at Chapelizod a few days later and returned to the care of Mr Snow, of Dublin Zoo.

The Zoological Gardens had featured in a famous trial in the Four Courts four years previously, when Gustavus Cornwall, head of the Post Office in Ireland, was charged with sodomy in relation to, among others, Malcolm Johnston, of the famous Johnston, Mooney and O’Brien bread family, and witnesses gave evidence of assignations taking place within Zoo precincts. Like the later Wilde trial, the Cornwall prosecution followed a disastrously unsuccessful defamation action; unlike Wilde, Cornwall was acquitted. David Boyle, a descendant of one of the parties implicated, has written a wonderful book about the scandal – well worth a read!

Perhaps the cormorant headed for the Courts as the next best thing to the Zoo, having regard to Chief Baron Palles’ many invectives during this period against noisy barristers turning his court into a ‘bear-garden.’

There remains, of course, the intriguing possibility that William Supple, Zoo-Keeper, of Liffey Street, Dublin, who died of a python bite at the Zoo in 1867, may have been one and the same as William Supple, Law Library staff member and later Keeper of the Rolls Court, defendant in an 1852 breach of promise action. More here!

Image Credits: (top)(middle)

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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