Mayo Courtship Ends in Substantial Award of Damages, 1925

From the Evening Herald (Dublin), 13 May 1925







A farmer of 42 years, who sent emissaries to arrange a marriage with a girl half his age, figured as defendant in a breach of promise action in Ballina Circuit Court. He was ordered to pay £220 damages.  

One of the witnesses made the interesting statement that nine-tenths of the marriages in Co Mayo are arranged by parties other than the principals.

The judge said it was the most extraordinary case of the kind he had ever heard of. ‘The defendant’s own public confession here in court,’ he declared, ‘is sufficient condemnation of him.

‘I have no hesitation in saying that the way this case has developed is the most extraordinary breach of promise action I have ever heard myself, or of which I have ever heard.’

This was the comment of Judge Wyse-Power at Ballina Circuit Court, giving judgment for £220 in breach of promise action, preferred by Miss O, a farmer’s daughter, against a farmer named Edward C.

The girl’s age was given as 21 and the defendant’s as 42.  The plaintiff was stylishly dressed and a pretty girl.  The parties were neighbours, said Mr Fitzgerald Kenny, who appeared for the plaintiff, and the claim was for £500 for damages for breach of promise of marriage.

In June 1923, the defendant sent two emissaries, one a man named Murphy, to the plaintiff, and the other his brother, Daniel C, to the father of the plaintiff, asking whether there would be a possibility of a marriage between himself and the plaintiff being arranged.

Towards the end of June defendant came to the plaintiff’s father’s house and asked if a marriage between Baby, the plaintiff’s pet name, and himself could be arranged.  The parents consented, and the question of the fortune was considered.  The plaintiff was to get a fortune of £150 down and £50 in 12 months’ time and the marriage was to take place in three weeks.

The defendant, who lived with his mother and his brother, Dan, told his mother 

‘I am going to bring down this girl before Christmas, and I hope you will like her,’ and the mother replied: ‘I wish you had brought her here long ago.’

When the three weeks had nearly elapsed the defendant showed the plaintiff a deed of conveyance of the farm from his mother and brother to him and told her they would go on their honeymoon for a week to Belmullet.  Defendant told her he wanted to build a room to his house, and would have to postpone the wedding.  

Up to that he had come frequently to the plaintiff’s father’s house, and was teaching her to play the melodeon.  A coolness arose, but there was no breaking off of friendly relations.  In September defendant came to the plaintiff’s house, and said he wished to have the date fixed for the marriage.  The plaintiff’s mother had a sore foot, and it was arranged the wedding should be put off until after Christmas.  They went into Ballina, and defendant bought the plaintiff a pair of gloves, which cost the substantial price of 17s.

Counsel went on to say that on February 10 plaintiff met the defendant on the road and he seduced her, and told her they would be married on February 17, but he did not keep his engagement, and little more than a month later he married another woman.   A baby girl was born to the plaintiff on November 21, 1921, and a cloud of disgrace was cast by the defendant over an honourable and respectable household.

John O, father of the plaintiff, told of the negotiations, and of his asking the defendant how much fortune he wanted.  Defendant said he would leave it to himself.  Witness offered £100, but his (witness’s) wife said he would give more, and he agreed to give £150 down and £50 in 12 months’ time, which satisfied the defendant, who said his brother Dan wanted £300 for his interest in the form, but that he would supplement the £200 by rearing a few pigs and cattle for Dan.

It was the custom in Co Mayo, witness said in answer to counsel, that nine-tenths of the marriages were arranged by parties other than the principals.

The plaintiff said when defendant left her father’s house after his first visit of arrangement, he came to her outside and said he had arranged a marriage.  ‘He asked me was I satisfied,’ she went on, ‘and I said I was.  He told me then to get something new, and he would bring me to Belmullet for a week after the marriage.’  She had known the defendant, she said, for years, and was fond of him.

‘Was there no more romance about it than that,’ questioned the Judge. ‘Did he kiss you?’

Plaintiff – No, my lord.

She met him again that evening, when there was a crowd present.

‘Love can make opportunities,’ said the Judge.  ‘Did he kiss you then?’

Plaintiff – No, my lord.

Continuing, she said the marriage was put off first until September, and then until Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, he took her to Ballina, and bought her a pair of gloves (the gloves, still new and unworn, were produced.)

Plaintiff gave evidence of the act of seduction.  

To Mr Kelly, she said she was not surprised that defendant did not kiss her after they became engaged, and she could not tell when he kissed her first.   She first heard of his intended marriage to Mary L, another neighbour, the night before he was married.

Defendant denied that he ever promised to marry the plaintiff or that he asked her to marry him, or asked her father to agree to their marriage.  He admitted he seduced her, but not under promise of marriage.  He had been keeping company with his present wife for 15 years, and the match with her was arranged a fortnight before the wedding.  Plaintiff’s father asked him to marry his daughter (the plaintiff) in 1922 and at Christmas 1923, saying he would be well off and not to marry the other girl, as she would have no money, and he told the father he did not know what he would do yet.

‘Are you ashamed of yourself for ruining this girl,’ asked Mr Kenny, and the defendant’s reply was ‘I don’t think so.’

Defendant’s wife gave evidence that he had been keeping company with her for 15 years and gave her a ring 5 years ago.   In January, 1921, he sent a man to her to arrange marriage, and they were married on March 15.

‘I don’t want to comment too strongly on the action of the defendant,’ said the judge at the conclusion of the case.  ‘I think his own public confession here in court is sufficient condemnation of him.  The damages must be such as will speak for themselves,’ and he made the decree for £220.

Was Mr C a rotten cad? Or were the O family lying through their teeth? Claims by girls allegedly seduced were a lucrative source of revenue for Irish barristers as late as the 1920s, but we find significantly less of them in the following decades, as ‘ruined’ women disappeared into the shadow of Magdalen homes, with their children adopted rather than, as in this case, kept in their mother’s family. Did Mr C step up to the plate in future years and assume parental responsibility for his son? Or did ‘Baby’ and her child use the money to emigrate to a new life in America? How did the new Mrs C feel about the whole thing? It would be fascinating to know!

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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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