The Irish Bar and Bench at Home, 1784-1890

Wilmot Harrison’s 1890 book, ‘Memorable Dublin Houses: A Handy and Descriptive Guide,’ includes much interesting information about town residences of the Irish bar and bench in the early and middle parts of the 19th century.

First up is 14 Harcourt Street, home of barrister and raconteur Jonah Barrington, whose memoirs can be read in full here. Barrington later moved to 42 Merrion Square before financial irregularities forced him to retire to Versailles, France.

Up the street at 17 Harcourt Street was Clonmel House, the residence of John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmel, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland 1784-1798. Scott sported a permatan – something less fashionable then than now – and the well-known nightclub down the street at 29-30 Harcourt Street references his resulting nickname of Copper Faced Jack.

As the 19th century progressed, the area around Merrion Square replaced that around Mountjoy as the place of residence for the Bar to aspire to. Daniel O’Connell lived at 58 Merrion Square South, where he could be seen through his parlour window standing at his brief-strewn desk, working late. No executive chair for Dan!

Ely Place, round the corner, had been popular with eminent members of the Bar and Bench from a very early stage. Ireland’s greatest advocate, the self-made John Philpot Curran, Master of the Rolls in Ireland 1806-1814, lived at No 4 – a better-sounding address than his previous residence, Hog Hill!

Next door, at No 5, was the townhouse of the silver-tongued Charles Kendal Bushe, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, 1822-41. In 1885, his equally persuasive grandson Seymour was to shock Dublin when he eloped from the same street.

John Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, 1789-1802, lived at No 6. It was here that a colleague, Richard Power, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, came to kill him in 1794; fortunately, Fitzgibbon was out at the time.

Those rebellious Junior Counsel, the Sheares brothers, lived just around the corner at 128 Lower Baggot Street prior to their arrest and execution in 1798.

Jane Austen’s former beau, Tom Lefroy, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, 1852-66, favoured Lower Leeson Street, ending his days in the bosom of his family at No 18 (later the Convent of the Sacred Heart).

Another great memoirist of the Irish Bar, Richard Lalor Sheil, lived at 23 Holles Street.

Though no illustration of it is shown, the book also references the house of John Toler, Lord Norbury, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, 1800-1827, at 3 Great Denmark Street, now the Olivier Cornet Gallery. Rumour has it that he still haunts his old place. Who knows? Perhaps they all do.

Almost all of the lawyers mentioned in this post were among the very top fee earners in their profession. Most also enjoyed substantial private incomes. The majority of 19th century Irish lawyers did not own or rent city mansions. Whilst many were comfortably off, a not inconsiderable percentage experienced financial difficulties in the course of their careers, with some living throughout in reduced and even pitiful circumstances. Looking forward to sharing details of less palatial legal residences in a future post!

In the meantime, here is a list of other legal addresses mentioned in Harrison’s book:

5 Leinster Street, where the unfortunate Lord Kilwarden, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland from 1798 until murdered in the Emmet rebellion, was brought to die in July 1803.

54 Merrion Square South, townhouse of Francis Blackburne, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, 1866-67.

3 Ely Place, home of Barry Yelverton, Lord Avonmore, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer 1783-1805, whose fault as a judge was that he jumped too quickly to conclusions.

5 Fitzwilliam Square, home of Edward Pennefather, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, 1842-46.

18 Stephen’s Green, residence of bare-knuckle boxing aficionado William Cunningham Plunket, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, 1835-41.

31 and 33 Stephen’s Green, homes of Attorney-General William Saurin, who took charge of the Bar Militia during the 1798 Rebellion.

29 Lower Leeson Street, home of the now forgotten Peter Burrowes, ‘the Goldsmith of the Irish Bar.’

2 Mountjoy Square, residence of smell-sensitive James Whiteside, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, 1866-76.

38 Mountjoy Square, home of the humourist Baron Dowse, another barrister who forced his way to eminence by merit.

Full book available to read here.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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