Leonard McNally, Barrister Lyricist, 1787-9

Irish barristers often have many unexpected talents – and Leonard McNally BL was no exception.

Not only did ‘McNally the Incorruptible’ purport to act as defence counsel for Irish barrister revolutionaries Robert Emmet (above) and the Sheares Brothers while simultaneously informing on them to the authorities, but he was also a songwriter on the side.

McNally (above, at Emmet trial) was in fact the unlikely protagonist of one of the Bar of Ireland’s legendary love affairs – a romance which graced the English stage in epic musical form for many years thereafter.

Fifteen years before the Emmet Rebellion, McNally, then a Dublin grocer’s son newly qualified as a barrister, had fallen in love with Frances L’Anson, of Hill House, Richmond, Yorkshire (portrait here) and written a song about her called ‘The Lass of Richmond Hill.’ First performed publicly at Vauxhall Gardens in 1789, and written some years previously, the song became one of the most popular of the time, and was said to be a favourite of George III.

Those playing down the song’s Irish connection have argued that the music accompanying these lyrics was composed by an Englishman, James Hook, but credit must be given to McNally for introducing into the English language the phrase ‘rose without a thorn’.

A less romantic side of the McNally/L’Anson relationship is that Dublin legal society of the time regarded them as a particularly smelly couple – neither being fastidious in matters of washing, or indeed dress, it was regarded as unwise to ask them to dinner without the windows being fully open!

McNally’s early, unexpected, prowess in the world of musical theatre is intriguing, to say the least. Why not read about his subsequent history, expertly detailed by Adrian Hardiman and Eoin O’Connor BL, while listening to Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill?

Image Credits: (first) (second)

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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