A Barrister’s Mysterious Death, 1844

Mist on Moylussa Mountain, Lough Derg,’ by Grace Mary Trench, via Whytes

From the Tipperary Vindicator, October 1844:


It is with feelings of intense sorrow we announce the death of this gentleman. His loss is a public one. It is one which, we fear, it will be difficult to supply. The detail of his melancholy fate – having met death by drowning on Saturday – appear in another part of our columns. The learned and lamented gentleman had not been long attached to this circuit; but, short as was the time, we never remember an advocate who won more of confidence at the hands of the people, or, who, we verily believe, deserved a larger share of popular respect and attachment. Without casting censure on those who went before him, or who were with him in that peculiar walk of forensic exercise, in which he was singularly successful – that of a criminal lawyer – we may with truth aver such a man as Mr Walsh was sadly wanted on this circuit; and that his withdrawal under any circumstances, but particularly under the afflicting circumstances of his untimely fate is a public calamity. Since Mr Hatchell left the outer bar we have had no one to compare to him in the qualities which constitute the criminal advocate but Mr Walsh. The loss, then, of Mr Walsh is a grievous one. His sympathies were with the people. He was bold, and sanguine, and tenacious. He had the moral courage to speak what he thought, and what his case demanded; and to the crime manufacturers of this locality, who first drive the people to desperation and then hunt them down by the bloodhounds of the law, he was a decided and a bitter foe.

The melancholy circumstances of his death remind us of the last day he spent here. It was a day of relaxation after the heavy business of the assizes. At the request of one who was desirous of showing him the romantic scenery of our neighbourhood, he and three others, one a barrister, one an attorney, and the third a journalist, proceeded to Lough Darrig [now Lough Derg]. The day was beautifully fine; but nothing, for a long time, could induce Mr Walsh to venture on the lake. He expressed his utmost horror of water; after some entreaties, however, in which all his companions joined, he agreed to enter a small boat which lay on the margin of the lake; but the party had not proceeded far out when he intimated a desire to return, and it was not till a large boat was procured that he would remain on the water, but even then with some apparent reluctance. He did, however, remain out for a few hours. The party crossed the lake, went ashore on the Galway side, enjoyed the magnificent scenery of the Shannon, and Mr Walsh rejoiced in the evening that he had not allowed his prejudices to overcome him, and that he had seen what he had frequently heard of, the almost enchanting beauty of this neighbourhood.”

Viewed in light of the above, the circumstances of Mr Walsh’s subsequent demise, as reported in the Cork Examiner, 23 October 1844, appear somewhat eerie:


We have the painful duty to announced the sudden and melancholy death, by drowning, of John Walsh, Esq, of Lower Dominick-street, which disastrous event took place upon Saturday last adjoining Tolka Park, Finglas, between two and three o’clock in the afternoon. It appears that the unfortunate gentleman, having disposed of his business for the day in the Insolvent and in other public courts, returned home, when, having got his favourite dogs, he proceeded alone to take a walk in the country as he was constantly in the habit of doing. He was observed going along the canal shortly before two o’clock, and before three was seen at the Finglas quarry, where the lamentable accident took place, which, as well as we could collect, must have occurred as follows, although the exact circumstances surrounding the event are as yet, and are likely to remain, unknown.

It is supposed that the deceased had thrown a stick into the water for one of his dogs to follow, and was reaching over the bank to get it again with his umbrella, when he over balanced himself, and was precipitated in head foremost. Other reports state that he had a cord or chain attached to the collar of one of the animals, a dog of remarkable size and strength, which suddenly jumped into the water, dragging the deceased along with him; however, the truth of this statement is not at all confirmed, for we could not ascertain, although we made particular inquiries, that either of the dogs were seen in the water or had the appearance of being recently wet. The unfortunate gentleman had sixteen pounds and a very valuable watch, together with keys and other articles, upon his person, which remains in the possession of the coroner at present.”

A submerged quarry in 19th century Finglas, from the Dublin City Digital Archive

Inquest reports describe poor Mr Walsh as having been identified by his hat and umbrella, on which his name and place of residence was engraved. Ironically, the dogs accompanying Mr Walsh – Newfoundlands – were of a breed noted for their endeavours in saving persons from drowning.

A Newfoundland dog rescuing a child, via Ebay

But the story was not over. According to the Tipperary Vindicator, of 2 November 1844:

“Mr Meredith, attorney, appeared before his worship, and intimating that he acted on behalf of Major Louis Walsh, also in attendance, whom he affirmed to be the only brother of the late lamented Counsellor Walsh, made the following statement:- His client had returned from England on Saturday, in order to get possession of his deceased’s brother’s house and furniture in Dominick Street, to which he was entitled. He found it occupied by a lady named O’Kelly, together with two children, who were reputed to be that of the deceased gentleman, and was received by them without any denial of the pretensions he made to relationship with the former owner of the house. Mr John Walsh had not during his lifetime stated that he had a brother, and he (Mr Meredith) had advised his client that it would be proper for him to remain in the house, in order to secure ultimately the possession of it; but it so happened that he had been induced to quit the house, and after which he had not been able to gain admittance. During the previous night he (Mr Meredith) heard that the furniture was being removed from the house, whereupon he immediately gave instructions to a police inspector to hinder the proceeding if possible. At six o’clock that morning a float had been brought to the door, and his (Mr Meredith’s) client, who was on the spot, not offering opposition to the removal of the furniture, the police made no interference in the matter, and consequently a good deal of property had been removed by Mrs O’K., and taken to a house in Anne Street, where it was there stored. His (Mr Meredith’s) application was that informations for robbery should be taken against Mrs O’Kelly, by whom a caveat had been entered against administration, in which she caused herself to be termed the natural and lawful aunt of the deceased.

Mr Studdert – You want us to act upon the assumption that your client’s story is true?

Mr Meredith said there was a person of respectability, named Askens, present, who had been in the habit of receiving money from Mr John Walsh during his lifetime, and transmitting it to his brother – the person before the bench – who lived in England at that period, and that he would have his evidence.

Charles Askens, of No. 17 Christchurch-place, was then sworn, and deposed that he knew the said Mr Walsh; knew that the person before the bench had always been recognised as Mr John Walsh’s brother; never heard otherwise than that he was his legitimate brother.

Mr Studdert said he should refuse the application for informations; but would allow Mr Meredith a summons against the parties in possession of the house in question, for illegally removing the furniture, so that they might have an opportunity of speaking for themselves, and in the meantime further information respecting Mr Meredith’s client could be sought for.

Major Louis Walsh’s subsequent application to summons Mrs O’Kelly was dismissed by another magistrate, Dr Kelly, who was not satisfied that he was John Walsh’s bona fide heir at law. A report in the Kerry Evening Post of 6 November 1844 noted that ‘Major’ was only a Christian name of Louis Walsh and not a title of station in the army.

Meanwhile, a note in the Limerick Reporter described John Walsh as a zealous and eloquent advocate, with an excellent reputation as a criminal lawyer, whose practice was becoming every day more extensive, and whose professional emoluments, particularly during the last three years of his life, must have been very great. It also stated that he was formerly a very leading member of the Trades’ Union, and subsequently edited a weekly paper called the People; during that period he suffered six months’ imprisonment for an imputed political offence but latterly he took no part in politics.

Though perhaps politics had not done with Mr Walsh? The below advertisement appeared in the newspapers not long after his death.

Did Mr Walsh’s excitement at his belated discovery of the beauties of rivers and lakes lead him to be careless in his perambulations along the Tolka? Was he really done to death by the Newfoundland dogs so beloved of Irish lawyers? Or was some river sprite waiting to seal his fate all his life? Could he have been the victim of a conspiracy to acquire his large estate? Or perhaps killed because his legal skill and moral courage made him too dangerous to many?

The possibilities are manifold, but there is, however, one moral to this story – hesitate next time you well-meaningly try to help a colleague overcome a phobia!

2 thoughts on “A Barrister’s Mysterious Death, 1844”

  1. Hello, hopefully this finds you well. I do enjoy your blog.

    I’m unable to find the Richard Dunn series that was posted some last year. Have these been removed? If so, I was wondering if you still had the citations used to access the info, specifically the first post chronicling the 1836 incident.

    Best regards,

    1. Dan, the posts are now back up, you will find them if you search for ‘Richard Dunn’ in the search box, Ruth

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