The Square Hall Scandal, 1947

From the Evening Herald, 9 August 1947:


In the interior of the famous building on Inns Quay there is a corridor leading to the law library. The Library is strictly reserved for the gentlemen of the law, but in the corridor their clients are graciously permitted to hold converse with the wearers of wig and gown.   Even when they are not attired in working costume, it is always easy to distinguish the barristers by the nonchalant grace with which they lean against the wall, smoking.   It is a great place for smoking, which, so far as possible, is enjoyed as close as possible to the numerous notices stating: SMOKING STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

Outside the Courts and the Law Library this corridor is the most distinctly populated portion of the building.   There are other parts of the building where you may wander lonesome during a normal session asking yourself if there is anybody at home.  For some time before the beginning of the Long Vacation, nine or ten days ago, observant limbs of the law had noticed a steady deterioration in the appearance of the corridor.   At first it was thought that this might be due to a falling off in the quality of the clientele and the fear was expressed that members of the profession were not as particular as they used to be.  Later on, however, as the accumulation of cigarette butts, discarded empties and used matches thrust itself more forcibly on the observation, it was felt that there must be another explanation.  There was.

The painful scene of dirt and littered untidiness, believe it or not, was due to a dispute between the Department of Justice and the Board of Works.  It was a fine example of Bureaucracy at its richest and fruitiest.  Some twenty or twenty-five years ago, the Department of Justice loaned a cleaner to the Board of Works.  Part of this cleaner’s job was to look after the Conference Corridor and see that it was kept in a condition worthy of its high occasions.  The job was well done, and everybody was satisfied until just before this year’s Long Vacation.  Then somebody in the Department – presumably doing research work – discovered that the Board of Works never had paid back the borrowed cleaner.  

The shock of the discovery is said to have had a very serious effect upon some of the more sensitive civil servants – made them almost uncivil.  The Department appears to have got its back up.  It insisted on the return of the cleaner.  So the cleaner disappeared, and the Conference Corridor rapidly fell into such a disreputable condition that one well-known barrister threatened to bring down his own housekeeper.

About two weeks ago a ghastly discovery was made amongst the heaps of litter in the corridor.  This was a bone stripped bare of meat. The ghastly suspicion that it was all that was left of some bygone legal luminary happily was speedily dissipated by medical evidence to the effect that it was not human.  An alternative theory that it had originally belonged to one of the prehistoric animals that roamed the Liffey Basin before the Ford of the Hurdles was thought of, but did not hold water as the bone was not fossilized. The restaurant denied all responsibility, and in some quarters it was felt that it must have formed part of the surreptitious lunch of a briefless barrister. 

Before the Long Vacation emptied the Four Courts, however, the legal profession in unofficial council assembled, had come to the conclusion that it was a far more important bone. They decided that it was the original bone of contention.”

They must have been right, because, since the bone’s removal, the Square Hall and corridor outside the Law Library in the Four Courts, used for client consultations and settlements, has remained in pristine condition!

Portion of an impeccably clean Square Hall today.

The above was one of the few scandals relating to the Square Hall not to feature the MacDermott legal family, in-laws of Charles Stuart Parnell. In 1891, Parnell’s nephew, Alfred MacDermott Junior, when a student at Trinity College, notoriously horsewhipped Tim Healy KC just off the Hall for remarks passed about Kitty O’Shea at a public meeting. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, only a few years later Alfred’s solicitor father had to be restrained from interrupting the annual start-of-term judicial procession taking place in the vicinity.

The corridor on the opposite side of the Square Hall from the Law Library, leading to the main building, was also the subject of Law Library complaints when first installed, as it was open in nature and did not contain a covering shielding barristers from the wind and rain on their journey from the main building to the extension at the rear where the Law Library now stands; this was subsequently remedied.

The Square Hall featured yet again in the news in 1937, when Con Curran, registrar and friend of Joyce, was photographed in the course of cutting the ribbon on the new revolving doors installed to provide access from it to the adjacent yard These revolving doors remain in place and in excellent condition today – testimony to the craftsmanship of their manufacturers, cabinetmakers Messrs TR Scott & Co, 33 Upper Abbey Street.

Thankfully, the remark about briefless barristers not being able to afford a restaurant meal, and having to partake surreptitiously of a packed lunch in whatever corner of the corridors was unobserved at the time, while accurate in the past, no longer holds true today – for the past few years, the Law Library has had excellent kitchen facilities within its curtilage!

Had the bone found been human, it would not have been the first such item to have turned up in the Four Courts – click here to read about several skeletal surprises in the vicinity of the West Wing and why there may be yet more discoveries of human remains to come!

Map Credit

Slightly crooked photo by blog author, 7 October 2021.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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