Shouldering Guns Like Gentlemen: Irish Lawyers to the Front, 1914-18

From the Dublin Evening Telegraph, 1 May 1915:


Enthusiastic Send off

The departure of the 7th Batt. Royal Dublin Fusiliers, known as the ‘Pals’ Battalion, was responsible for remarkable scenes of enthusiasm in Dublin.

Crowds lined the whole route, and the windows along the streets were filled with cheering spectators.  Practically all classes of the community are represented in the Battalion, which had a large number of professional men, barristers, solicitors, civil servants, bank officials, merchants and traders’ sons, as well as artisans and labourers… About three o’clock in the afternoon, the Battalion was paraded at the Royal Barracks, the square of which was crowded with the friends and relatives of the departing troops.  Played by the band of the 12th Lancers, and the pipers of the Officers’ Training Corps, Trinity college, the battalion left the barracks amid a prolonged outburst of cheering.  With bayonets fixed, and carrying on their tips Irish flags, Union Jacks, and small flags of the Allies, the troops swung along the street with splendid soldierly bearing.  Continuous cheering followed their progress, to which the troops frequently responded similarly.  Outside the Four Courts a large crowd, representative of the legal profession and the courts officials, had assembled, A number of the judges were also present, and, as the battalion passed, judges, barristers and solicitors all cheered vigorously, and there was enthusiastic waving of silk hats, the judges taking as energetic a part in the demonstration as the others.  The barristers and solicitors, of whom there were a large number in the ranks, received a special ovation at this point.  Many of them had abandoned excellent prospects to respond to the call to arms, and their colleagues showed their appreciation by singling them out for an especially enthusiastic demonstration.”

July 1914 was not a good month for the Irish Bar. On the 22nd of the month, Pierce Gun O’Mahony BL, son of The O’Mahony of Kerry, was found dead in the trout-filled lake at his family home, Grange Con House, West Wicklow.  Mr O’Mahony had not drowned. He had shot himself dead with a gun which he had taken out to fire at pigeons or rabbits. An inquest held on 28 July 1914 returned a verdict of accidental death.  The same day, Austro-Hungary, using the June assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as a pretext, declared war on Serbia.  The First World War had begun.

The scene of Mr O’Mahony BL’s death today, via Coonan Property

Some weeks later, on 7 September 1914, Mr Stephen Catterson Smith BL, keeper of the records in the Land Registry Office, and son and grandson of noted artists of the same name, was found dead in the laundry room of his house at 42 Stephen’s Green East. A six-chamber revolver, with one chamber discharged, was found close to his body.  His housekeeper, Mrs Alice Reid, stated that Mr Smith had been suffering from indigestion and sleeplessness for some time past.  This time, the verdict was one of suicide while temporarily insane.

Rugby player and Munster Circuit barrister Poole H Hickman BL, from the Dublin Daily Express, via the British Newspaper Archives. Hickman was one of the original 5 barristers to join the 7th Pals Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers shortly after the outbreak of war.

On 16 September 1914, the Daily Express reported that five Dublin barristers had joined the ranks of the 7th Pals Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and would leave that day for the Curragh for training.  They were Professor E Julian, of Trinity College Dublin; P Hickman, Hon Secretary and Treasurer of the Munster Circuit; H Tierney, of the same circuit; and Messrs T Hughes and CG Place, barristers-at-law.   The Express subsequently went down to visit the new recruits at the Curragh, where their quarters consisted of five airy rooms with a billiard room, canteen and smoking-room, shared with a group of enthusiastic rugby players, one of whom described himself to the Express as being ‘as keen as mustard to get to the front, to see as much of the gun as possible.’  

A photograph of Professor Ernest Julian, another one of the original ‘Pals 5,’ published in the Dublin Daily Express, via the British Newspaper Archives

By the start of the new term on 26 October 1914, the war was depleting not only the personnel of the bar itself but also the staffs of the various official departments in the Four Courts. North-East Circuit barrister WW MacKeown BL had been gazetted to a lieutenancy in the 4th Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers.  Robin Cullinan BL, TJ Atkinson BL, Godfrey Place BL, DM Wilson KC and JE Proctor BL had all been given commissions in various regiments, along with Mr CCB Clarke, Assistant Registrar in Bankruptcy, and Mr F Bailey, of the Probate Office. Other enthusiastic barristers had joined the ranks as ‘tommies,’ something which the Express described as ‘a fine tribute to their courage and patriotism.’  Judges were allowing enlisted barristers to plead in khaki in lieu of the usual wig and gown, and there was even concern about possible detriment to legal services resulting from the anticipated reduction in lawyers, though, as the Evening Irish Times remarked, ‘there will not be many complaints – least of all from existing junior barristers – if we see a falling off in the number of calls to the Bar during the next year or two.’

On 27 October 1914,  the Times carried a story headlined ‘Barristers’ Roll of Honour’ listing the names and ranks of the members of the Bar mentioned above and also including the additional names of W Dickie KC, WM Crozier BL, ECL Farren BL, GBJ Smyth BL, JF Teeling BL (already a prisoner of war), JB Lee BL and the famous golfer barrister Lionel Munn.

Valour was the virtue of the moment, never more so than in Lord Chief Justice Molony’s start-of-term eulogy to his recently deceased predecessor, Peter O’Brien, a man who he described as ‘an Irishman to the backbone, a typical Irishman, possessed in a high degree of that high quality associated with our race – that courage.’  The late Lord Chief Justice, in his prosecuting days known as ‘the Packer’ due to his uncanny ability to select juries to get the result he wanted, was rumoured to have survived several assassination attempts.

In case anyone was not on message, the Express of 13 October 1914 informed its readers about a new pamphlet by Mr Joseph A Rice, barrister, emphasising the need for recruits, explaining the position in relation to the Militia Act and showing by statistics that plenty of men of recruiting age were available and that, without doubt, if they were not forthcoming, the Government would exercise the powers vested in them to get them.

Law Books go out of date quickly – no point in hanging on to them until the war is over! From the Dublin Daily Express, 21 November 1916, via the British Newspaper Archives

In December 1914, the General Council of the Bar of Ireland published the following resolution:

“That with a view to preserving so far as possible the practice of barristers who are unable to attend to their business owing to their serving in his Majesty’s Forces or otherwise in connection with the war, solicitors are asked to adopt the following procedure in every case in which a solicitor would normally have employed a barrister so serving:

The solicitor to continue to place the name of the barrister so serving on such briefs and papers

The solicitor to deliver such briefs and papers together with the fee marked thereon to such barrister as he may in his own discretion from time to time select, and to invite such barrister to hold the brief or attend to the papers so delivered to him on behalf of the barrister whose name is placed on it

That, with a view to preserving so far as possible the practice of every barrister who is unable to attend to his business owing to his serving in his Majesty’s forces or otherwise in connection with the war (hereinafter designated as AB) the Bar Council recommends: –

That all barristers should make it a point of honour to do what they can to ensure that AB may get back his practice intact when he resumes work at the ba

That all barristers, whether senior or junior to AB, should so far as is reasonably practicable do the work of AB;

That every barrister doing the work for AB should after his signature to any pleadings or other documents add (‘For AB now serving in his Majesty’s Forces (or as the case may be) and if holding a brief should state to the Court for whom he is holding such brief and for what reason.

A recommendation only, but one described by the Express as certain to be universally implemented, loyalty to fellow barristers being a salient characteristic of the Irish bar, with nothing being more censured by its members than an attempt by crooked means to sneak into another’s practice. 

Also published in the Express was a list of serving barristers, including, in addition to those already mentioned, G O’Grady BL, API Samuels BL, AR Moore BL, JHF Leland BL, HK Purcell BL, HJ McCormick BL, SS John BL, G McCarthy BL, HO Holmes BL, WA Lipsett BL, G Plunkett BL, M Fitzgibbon BL and RJH Shaw BL.  The list failed to include JH Edgar BL, FH Lewin BL and HM O’Connor BL, who had also joined up by this time.  It was, however, long enough to subtly remind barristers young enough to enlist of what the Express deemed to be their duty.  

A typical notice of enlistment. Happily, Mr Weir Johnston BL survived the war.

Enlistment continued throughout December 1914, with C Arnold BL and W Johnson BL both receiving commissions, the latter being described as the 33rd member of the Irish Bar to join the Army.  In January 1914, it was reported that WD Harbinson BL had also accepted a commission.

About the same time, the first reports of deaths started to come in. On 31 December 1914, news was received that Capt RC Orr, a solicitor formerly practising at Ballymena, had been killed in action in France. March 1915 marked the death in action of another rising young solicitor, Lt B Fottrell, and the first barrister casualty, Lt AR Moore, injured by shrapnel. Noting that ‘the casualty lists of the last few days have shown with bitter emphasis that Ireland is indeed at war,’ the Express of 20 March 1915 wrote that

[t]he Irish Bar, always public spirited, has set a fine example to the public in answering the country’s call.  In the Law Library hangs a list – incomplete – of the members on active service numbering fifty-nines- which is over one-fifth of the average number daily attending the library.   When we remember how many practising barristers over military age are, or are otherwise prevented from serving, it is no small achievement that twenty per cent of the practising member of the Bar have gone.  And they are, by no means, of the briefless order, having resigned good practices and better prospects for the chance of a bullet and a nameless grave in Flanders.’

In the last week of March 1915, an article ‘The Irish Bar and the War,’ appeared in a number of national and local newspapers. It drew attention to the rapid promotion received by four of the original five barrister volunteers, P Hickman, T Hughes, E Julian and CG Place, each promoted to Captain in different regiments.  There once again followed a full list of those serving, this time including the Circuit to which each enlisted man had belonged prior to leaving the bar.

Too long to reproduce in full here, this is the first part of the article ‘The Irish Bar and the War’ which appeared in a number of national and local newspapers in March 1915.

A few days later, the same newspapers carried an advertisement for the 7th Leinster Cadet Company, saying that it consisted of educated men, approved for admission, with non-commissioned officers from their own number only, and that its members – specifically stated as including barristers – would be considered with a view to commissions in other divisions. 

By now, the Fermanagh Times was estimating the number of barristers serving at 65 and the Irish Independent at 50.  The Independent broke down the percentages circuit by circuit.  The North-West Circuit, at 14 out of 50, had the highest percentage of barristers serving, but the Munster Circuit, at 17 out of 50, had the largest number.  Connaught had 5 out of 38 barristers serving, Leinster had 3 out of 45, and the North-East a mere 7 of 196 (this later changed radically, with many additional barristers enlisting from the North-East Circuit, possibly because of its judges – more below).   The best Irish legal record was that of the Kerry Sessional Bar which had numbered 11 at the outbreak of war.  7 of these were now with the colours while 3 others were over military age.

A further enlistment was reported on the 28 April 1915 – GH Brett BL had joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.  By 30 April, the press were reporting that there were over 70 members of the bar with his Majesty’s forces, with several additions to the casualty list.   2nd Lt STL Maunder BL had been wounded in the foot and on the breast in a narrow escape from death, a bible which he had in his pocket having exhausted the force of the bullet.   It was also noted that Tim Healy KC and his brother Maurice Healy BL both had sons in service – Mr Joe Healy – a well-known motor cyclist – and Mr Maurice Healy Junior, who had recently received a commission.

Canadian troops at the Second Battle of Ypres, 22 April to 22 May 1915, by Richard Jack

So far, the Bar had been spared any deaths.  Things changed in May 1915 when it was confirmed that Pte WA Lipsett BL had been killed the previous month leading a hand grenade charge at Ypres. ‘Billy’ Lipsett’s unassuming good nature had made him a popular figure among other barristers in the Law Library, especially his former brethren on circuit.   He had practised on the North-West Circuit for a number of years before leaving in 1913 to take up a legal position in Canada, and had returned as a member of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Judge Cooke, in Ballyshannon Sessions Court, expressed profound sorrow for the death of Pte Lipsett, a barrister who had so often practiced before him, whom he described as having earned undying fame by his death in the defence of his country.  The judge also expressed sympathy for Pte Lipsett’s brother Lewis, also a member of the Irish Bar, now a lieutenant and serving in France, and hoped that the deceased’s example would spur on those who lagged behind.  By now, 17 members of the North-West Circuit were in uniform, with W Doherty BL  soon to make it 18.

A photograph of County Court Judge John Cooke KC, published in the Londonderry Sentinel on his death in December 1930, via the British Newspaper Archive.

Judge Cooke was not alone in singing the virtues of enlistment to protect the country from invasion by an army memorably described by his colleague Judge Brown in open court as ‘the hellish hordes of Potsdam.’ On 20 May 1915, Judge Wakely told the Roscommon Grand Jury that its members should help to have it realised that young men must go to the front to save their country from the abominations suffered elsewhere under the Germans, saying that he had offered his own services to the military, but, as he was too old, he had not been accepted. On 11 June 1915, Judge Craig told jurors at the Belfast Quarter Sessions that ‘[t]he question presents itself to me and to every man who is heard, and who has a spirit in him – what are you doing for your country? What am I doing for my country when these men are giving life and limb for it? I am an old man, No one would expect me to fight, and it would be very little use if I tried it but by the spirit that is in me if I were a young man I would enlist today,’ – a declaration described by one reporter as touching such a responsive chord in the hearts of those present that the building reverberated with applause and a sense of enthusiasm prevailed that was as inspiring as it was unique.  

Call day at the Four Courts on 9 June 1915 was overshadowed by the news that Sub-Lt Gerald Plunkett BL had died at the Dardanelles.   Less than a week previously, Rathmines and Rathgar Town Council had resolved not to accept Plunkett’s resignation tendered on enlistment, but to keep his membership open until his return.  The Council’s next meeting on 19 June 1915 was to pass a resolution expressing its deep regret at Sub-Lt Plunkett’s death and its sympathy for his family.

Sub-Lt Gerald Plunkett BL- the first, but sadly not the last, Irish barrister to die at the Dardanelles.

Shortly afterwards, there was another death, that of James Anderson BL, Professor of Jurisprudence and Roman Law at University College Galway, who had been appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College Dublin in June 1914. 35-year-old Anderson, a brilliant lawyer practising on the Connaught Circuit and briefed in almost all the intricate cases in the Record Court, Assizes and Quarter Sessions, had desperately wished to enlist but had been repeatedly turned down due to heart issues.  In the early summer of 1915, following a further unsuccessful attempt to enlist, he travelled to London to see if there was any war work available for him to do there.  Rejected yet again, he caught influenza while in London and died shortly after his return home.

The tragic circumstances of Anderson’s death were noted at the opening of the Galway Quarter Sessions on 26 June 1915.  PJB Daly, speaking on behalf of the Galway solicitors, described him as a most honourable gentleman and a painstaking advocate.  FJ McCormack BL, on behalf of the Connaught Circuit, told the court that in the whole course of the time he had known the deceased, he had never said or thought anything about anyone else which was not kind.

 A ‘Tribute from a Catholic Friend,’ published the same week in the Galway Express, said that it was an open secret that Professor Anderson was sorely troubled by the thought that he was forced to live ingloriously at home, and could not offer his life freely for his country at risk from the atrocities which German devils and the cruellest fiends ever vomited out of hell had inflicted already on the helpless Belgian and French women and children they ever had in their power.  The writer of the ‘Tribute’ noted that the professor had left school at 15 and had obtained his university education by rigorous denial, simple living, and strenuous work, and that, though a Presbyterian, he had respected the convictions of others, loved his countrymen of every class and creed and wanted Irishmen of every shade of opinion to unite in working for their beloved country.  He had been most popular with the students of Galway and had on many occasions proved their true friend.

The title page from Farran’s Land Purchase book, the full text of which is available online here.

A few days later, another death, another tragic headline: ‘Barrister Soldier Missing.’  Capt ECL Farran BL, co-author of ‘The Irish Land Acts,’ now in the Royal Irish Rifles, had been shot on 16 June 1915 while crawling through an enemy ditch. His body was never recovered; leave to presume death was given in a court application eighteen months later.

In Arduis Fidelis’, by Gilbert Rogers, 1919, via the Boston Globe. The bodies of many of the Irish lawyers who died in the war were never recovered.

On 28 June 1915 the Derry Journal carried a story about the proposed National Register, in which every man would have to state whether they were prepared to enlist if called upon and, if not, whether they were prepared to do other war work and leave their present residence and go elsewhere to do it if required.  Readers were told that, among other things, the Register would enable Government to see total available fighting men and call on them if required.

Some happier news came with the announcement that 2nd Lt JR Moore BL and 2nd Lt H McCormack BL had both been awarded the Military Cross.  McCormick, well-known in pre-war Dublin hockey and tennis circles, had shown conspicuous gallantry during the second battle of Ypres by personally assisting in the removal of the wounded and moving a machine gun under heavy fire and while suffering from the effects of gas.   In November 1915, another Military Cross would be awarded to 2nd Lt Samuel Spedding John BL, called to the Irish Bar as recently as June 1914, who had crawled out under heavy fire and assisted to bring in a wounded officer and twenty men.

Barrister enlistment continued throughout the summer of 1915.  Those who joined up included JF Miley BL, son of the Registrar of Friendly Societies in Ireland, and C Roche BL, son of a former President of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland.   The Strabane Chronicle reported that that a remarkable feature of the Summer Assizes in Tyrone was that there were very few barristers in attendance, the number being only one third of those noticed on previous occasions.  At the Galway Assizes, Mr Justice Boyd complained about the low number of volunteers in the county, saying that he failed to understand, why, having regard to the high rate of enlistment among its respectable inhabitants, ordinary persons had not likewise come forward.  Those who had failed to do so were slackers, wanting in nerve, wanting in thought, and were bringing disgrace on the country and would not like to find themselves, after the war, branded with the name of cowards.  Though without doubt carried out with the intention of assisting them, Judge Boyd’s recruitment efforts caused some dissatisfaction among the military authorities, who felt that he had provided unnecessary information to the enemy. This did not, however, preclude him from being appointed a baronet on his retirement the following year.

Mr Justice Boyd, from the Daily Mirror, via the British Newspaper Archive. He was appointed a baronet on his retirement in 1916.

On 10 August 1915, the Belfast Newsletter reported that the Irish Law Times, which had earlier published a list of barristers serving, had now published a list of members of the judiciary and the Irish bar whose sons were evening or had died in action in the present war.  Those mentioned on the list included Mr Justice Boyd himself (2 sons), Lord Chief Justice Molony (1 son), Mr Justice Kenny (2 sons), Mr Justice Ross (1 son) and Mr Justice Wylie (3 sons).

In the meantime, the Pals Battalion, which had departed Dublin so gloriously in May, had completed its training at Basingstoke and, on 19 July 1915, embarked with the rest of the 10th Division for the east. In the early morning of 7 August 1915, they landed at Suvla Bay in the thick of murderous fire, to meet an attack at Chocolate Hill, so called because of its colour.  Capt Ernst Julian BL died on 8 August 1915 from wounds received in the attack.  Capt Robin Cullinan was killed on the same day, leading his men under heavy fire.

The Pals leaving Dublin, May 1915, via Picclick

Also at Suvla were Lt Joseph Bagnall Lee BL, author of a book on the Town Tenants (Ireland) Act, 1906, and 2nd Lt JHF Leland BL, a former Scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, both serving with other companies. Lee was killed the day of the Pals’ arrival; Leland three days later.  The next two weeks saw the deaths of former rugby player and honorary secretary and treasurer of the Munster Circuit Capt Poole H Hickman BL and 2nd Lts R Stanton, WR Richards and JV Dunn, LCpl HS Findlater and Cpl JG Persse, solicitors, as well as solicitors’ apprentices Lt SL Tolerton, 2nd Lts JH Shute, PJ Furlong and MJ Fitzgibbon, Sgt AC Crookshank and Pte JD Davidson. A superb and gripping account of the tragedy of the Pals and the Dardanelles is given by David Nolan SC in a lecture available at this link. Well worth watching!

Troops Landing on C Beach, Suvla Bay, 7 August 1915′ by Norman Wilkinson, via Roundtree Tryon Galleries

Capt Julian, a noted rower and would-be mountaineer, had preceded Anderson as Reid Professor of Criminal Law in Trinity College Dublin.  The Express journalist who had visited Julian and Hickman in the Curragh in September 1914, an old student of Julian’s, wrote movingly that the last time he saw his former professor, he had been inspecting the oiling of men’s boots.  It seemed, he said, such a strange contrast to see the lawyer and the university professor taking up a pair of Tommy’s boots and showing him how to oil them, ‘but that was Julian’s way.  He was thorough in everything… throughout his life he abhorred publicity and never courted popularity, but there was no man more truly beloved by his friends or more admired and respected by all who came in contact with him. From the time he obtained his commission he always endeavoured to promote the well-being and comfort of the men under him. In his last letter written on his way to the Dardanelles he showed that, to his mind the most important characteristic of the liner in which he sailed was the excellence of the accommodation provided for the men.’

Painting by R Drummond Fish of the Pals at Suvla Bay, one of the illustrations from ‘The Pals at Suvla Bay’, by Henry Hanna (1917), via RTE

The same writer was also effusive in his praise of former rugby player Hickman, saying that he had at least been spared his chief horror – coming back badly maimed.  Prior to his death, Poole Hickman had provided newspapers with an account of the battle of Chocolate Hill where ‘even the dirtiest water was greedily drunk, the sun’s rays beat pitilessly down all day long, and one of the worst features were unburied bodies and flies, more gruesome than this pen could depict,’ describing days without sleep, without food, with snipers ‘up trees, in furze and in every conceivable hiding place,’ even dressed in green to better resemble the trees in which they were concealed.  A description of Hickman’s own death was published in the Belfast Telegraph of 15 October 1914:  ‘Cheering, leading the first line, he raced towards the Turkish trenches.  None came back.’  Reading the above, it is hard to disagree with the view stated in the Express that  ‘I do not think that anybody could read without pride the stories that are now coming through of the wonderful charge of the 10th division at Suvla.’

An obituary for Capt Poole Hickman BL published in the Dublin Daily Express, 30 August 1915, via the British Newspaper Archive

Undeterred by the catastrophe of Suvla, recruitment continued apace. On 17 August 1915, the Irish Independent reported that, due to the need for officers, places for Irishmen anxious to obtain commissions in the army and who were not members of existing Irish training corps were to be made available in the Inns of Court Officers’ Training corps, normally reserved for barristers, student barristers and public schoolmen. Arrangements had been made for men to be interviewed by a selection board sitting in the Land Judge’s Court, Four Courts at noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  Members of the board included Mr Justice Ross and James Sealy BL.   Meanwhile, William McAfee BL received a commission, and JB Burke BL, Crown Counsel for County Roscommon, volunteered for service with the RAMC.

Later that month, the Dublin Daily Express reported on what it described as an ‘enthusiastic’ recruiting meeting at Skerries, presided over by Lord Chief Justice Molony, with the bands of the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers playing patriotic selections by way of accompaniment.  The Lord Chief Justice told the crowd that they had all reached a crisis in the war, with many men falling in the defence of Irish homes, and that the time had now come to ask those at home to fill up the gaps made by their heroic deaths and to do what was in their power to achieve a lasting and victorious peace.  The end was not yet in sight, and they had to battle with a relentless foe, who had departed from all the sacred principles of humanity and all the ordinary usages of law.  They were face to face with a foe who knew no law, who stood for no justice, and it was their fixed determination to conquer him, for they would never allow it to be said that they had allowed Irish soldiers to die in vain by apathy.

Enthusiastic recruiter Maurice Healy Junior, as depicted on the cover of his book ‘The Old Munster Circuit,’ available to read in full here. Healy’s book contains accounts of a number of his colleagues killed in the war, including Poole Hickman.

The meeting was also addressed by Lt Maurice Healy, who said that there were some young men who did not want to go to the front and that ‘a certain party of men’ had come forward and supplied them with plausible arguments for staying at home.  Healy went on to say that 92 out of 400 practising barristers had volunteered, and last week 5 of his friends had died, for what – Was it for France or Belgium? No, but to keep the Germans from Ireland, and yet they in Skerries could keep on playing golf and cricket and would not go into training and help the fighting men. If they joined the army and got a proper training with modern rifles, they would be in a better position to take part in a fight after the war if such a thing was necessary.  That would be much better than playing at soldiers!

On 29 July 1915 Mr John Gore, solicitor, had interrupted a meeting of the Provincial Bank of Ireland to demand an explanation as to why its employee JP Coghlan, a newly qualified barrister, had been informed by the Bank that if he joined the army it could not undertake to reinstate him on return, saying that he could hardly imagine conduct more prejudicial to recruiting.  On 21 October 1915,  Coghlan, now a 2nd Lieutenant, in his inaugural address as auditor of the Law Students Debating Society, impeached Germany military for its high crimes, misdemeanours and ruthless disregard for international law.  Lord Chancellor O’Brien, giving his vote of thanks, pointed to the large number of members of the bar serving the army as a glorious record.  Mr Justice Ross said that there was no man who loved clean fighting more than the Irishman. Lord Chief Justice Molony, also present at Lt Coghlan’s inaugural address, said that it laid with every Irishman to put his strength into the struggle.

2nd Lt JP Coghlan BL, auditor of the Law Students Debating Society, as published in the Irish Independent, October 1915, via the British Newspaper Archives

On 6 November 1915, another recruiting meeting was held at Swords.  Attendance was good despite the fact that the clouds were low and threatening and the afternoon was such as to make the fireside the most comfortable place.  Headed by Drum Major De Courcy Miller, whirling his silver headed staff in proper martial style, the pipes of the Dublin University OTC entered the village playing ‘Let Erin remember,’ with a ‘well-known’ Dublin barrister ‘handling the big drum and flourishing the drumsticks in the spectacular manner which is the privilege of military drummers, his tiger-skin apron and college blue tassels of the pipes giving a touch of colour welcome in the mass of khaki.’

The same week, the death had been announced of Ellard E Brady, solicitor, son of James Brady, also a solicitor, who had joined the Leinster Regiment with a younger brother a few weeks previously. Brady had contracted a fatal illness while training at Aldershot.  A third brother, Matthew, whose lungs had been already weakened by gas exposure, contracted a chill at Ellard’s funeral and also died. 

From the Dublin Daily Express, 2 July 1917. Unlike law books, wigs do not go out of date. Could this barrister have died in the war?

On 11 November 1915, the luggage of Lt Cecil Stacpoole Kenny BL was found unclaimed on board the Holyhead steamer from Dublin.  Lieut. Kenny, described by the Express as ‘a very estimable and promising young barrister’ had been on his way back to Ireland for a visit after military training in England.  No trace of him could be found and only the worst could be assumed as to his fate.

On 26 November 1915, the half-yearly meeting of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland took place in the hall of the Solicitors’ Building in the Four Courts.  The President of the society, Arthur E Bradley, told members that Irish solicitors of military age had responded well to the call and that there were now 80 practising solicitors and 59 apprentices serving with the colours; of these, 6 Irish solicitors and 3 apprentices had laid down their lives for their country (in fact, more than 4 solicitors’ apprentices had now been killed).

On 6 December 1915, the ‘splendid sportsman’ Capt FH Lewin BL – once upon a time fined for having driven his motor car through Dublin city centre at the impressively high speed of 29 miles per hour – succumbed to injuries incurred when a hand grenade burst prematurely in bomb throwing practice.  On 10th December 1915 Capt RBB Burgess BL, one of the best rugby players in Ireland, ‘a man of fine physique and of frank and cheerful temper,  great speed, and a deadly tackler, an Irish soldier and gentleman of the best type,’ died when a shell burst as he was cycling through the fields of France.   

A small, sad death notice for Herbert Tierney BL, the third of the original 5 barrister Pals to be killed.

Death followed death throughout 1916.  Boer War veteran 2nd Lt JR Shaw BL, son of the late Judge Shaw, was killed during a night reconnaissance in front of the trenches on 22 February.  Two days later, Belfast barrister 2nd Lt JH Edgar BL was also killed in action.   9 April 1916 saw the death of 25-year-old 2nd Lt. HS Tierney, ‘a young man of splendid physique and a fine type of Irishman, a popular and promising member of the Munster circuit whose career in the army was marked by many acts of gallantry and bravery.’  Tierney had been one of the initial group of barristers to join the Pals battalion.  The majority of this group were now deceased.

On 2 March 1916 the Irish Law Times published a War Supplement containing lists of Irish barristers and barristers’ sons, Irish solicitors and solicitors’ sons and solicitors’ apprentices who had joined up. Included was  a letter of appreciation from Lord Chancellor O’Brien for what he described as a splendid response on the part of the legal profession to the call of their country.  The Supplement recorded 124 barristers as having enlisted, 80 of whom had been practising immediately before the War.  Of these there were 24 each from the Munster and Northeast Circuits, 18 from the Northwest, 7 from Leinster and 6 from Connaught.  10 barristers had been killed. Lt JF Teeling BL was still a prisoner of war.  174 solicitors and solicitors’ apprentices were serving, nine of whom had died.  Numerous barristers’ sons, solicitors’ sons and judges’ sons had also enlisted.

Attack of the Ulster Division at Thiepval, by JP Beadle. Many of the Irish barristers who died at the Somme were from Ulster.

The deaths continued through the spring and summer of 1916, many of them at the Battle of the Somme. Capt JCB Proctor BL and Lt WM Crozier BL were both killed on the first day of the battle.  Crozier was a former Trinity Scholar; Proctor an ardent Unionist from Limavady, whose care and concern for his men of the same town was such as to cause a striking demonstration of grief among their families on hearing the news of his death.   Others who died at the Somme were 2nd Lieut AR Moore BL, first barrister casualty of the war and subsequent recipient of the Military Cross, solicitors Maj Thomas J Atkinson, Capt WA Smiles and Lt Louis Barron and apprentices Lt TOJ Kavanagh and 2nd Lt PJ Furlong. 

Mr Justice Ross, who headed the Irish selection board for the Inns of Court Training Corps, at a Dublin Castle levee in 1911, wearing his robes as a member of the Privy Council in Ireland. In 1919, he was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He was also created a baronet the same year.

Back home, Ireland was reeling from the shock of the Easter Rising of 1916.  Opening the Tyrone Assizes, Mr Justice Ross said that he was glad to know that a considerable number of Tyrone men of military age, in fact all of them, were at the front where every gentleman ought to be, adding that nearly every barrister of military age on the North-West Circuit had got a commission and gone to the front and three of them had already nobly died.  

In Waterford, a barrister appeared in khaki at the Waterford Assizes – perhaps Lt JP Coghlan BL, former auditor of the Law Students Debating Society, whose legal experience was growing apace; in June 1916 he successfully defended a private court-martialled for murder.  With death everywhere at home and abroad, the decision of the next auditor of the LSDS to deliver his inaugural address on the influence of literature on legislation must have come as a welcome relief to those attending.  The July publication of Henry Hanna’s memorial volume ‘The Pals at Suvla Bay,’ brought back memories of those colleagues dead in the Dardanelles.  One of the survivors, Lt JW Doherty, spoke at a recruiting meeting in Leinster Square the same month. 

Lt Thomas Kettle BL, recruiting in Drogheda, as published in the Larne Times, 27 March 1915, via the British Newspaper Archive.

On 9 September 1916, Lt Tom Kettle BL, a poet and professor at University College Dublin, married to the sister-in-law of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, a civilian notoriously executed by British military during the Easter Rising, was killed leading his men at Ginchy.   Kettle, a former MP for East Tyrone, had been heavily involved in the previous year’s recruiting campaign, and news of his death featured not only in Irish, but also in English newspapers.  Under the heading ‘A Brilliant Hero’ the ‘Evening News’ described him as having ‘brought to his native wit the aid of a mind richly stored by academic learning.’  The Star noted that Kettle had made over 200 recruiting speeches in the month following the outbreak of the war, which were probably the best in point of wit made during the campaign. Kettle’s poem about the war, ‘A Song of the Irish Armies’, from which the title of this post is taken, may be read here.

Capt Arthur Samuels BL, from the Irish Independent, 28 September 1916, via the British Newspaper Archives.

Others killed in September 1916 were Capt API Samuels BL, solicitors 2nd Lt SC Webb and Cpl W Whaley and apprentice Lt JKM Greer.  Samuels, a former auditor of the Trinity College Dublin Historical Society, was described by a fellow officer as ‘a man of real capacity and intellect, and always such an interesting fellow to talk to or discuss with… I am honestly not exaggerating when I say that in my opinion Ireland has lost one of its most promising men in Arthur Samuels.  He was a hero, and in his own battalion one of the most popular as well as most efficient officers.’  Wounded on 29 June 1916, Samuels had returned to duty on 7 July, despite having a piece of shrapnel in his back, and was sent back to hospital on 15 August before later returning to duty and his death. Judge Cooke at Donegal Crown Sessions noted him as the fifth member of the North-West Circuit who had laid down his life for his country.  The formerly bellicose judge sounded tired as he said that the list of dead was ever lengthening, and he could not speak of them all.

Arthur Samuels KC, as a Bencher of Gray’s Inn, from the Daily Mirror, 14 March 1919, via the British Newspaper Archive. Most of the Irish barristers who died were the sons of highly successful professional men with much enthusiasm for the war effort.

 In January 1916, Samuels’ father Arthur Samuels KC had written to the Times saying that it was a degradation to the imperial standing of the Irish people that compulsion could not be applied to the unmarried Irish shirker.  By September, not all of his colleagues felt the same way.  Another Irish barrister (name undisclosed) wrote to the newspaper counselling against conscription.

On 27November 1916, Law Society President Charles St George Orpen, speaking at the Society’s half-yearly meeting in the Four Courts, sadly told members that they were still under the shadow of the great war, days of anxiety sorry and stress, and that it was hard – he confessed that he found it almost impossible – to think of anything ese.  Death, he said, had been amongst their brethren.  113 solicitors and seventy-one apprentices had joined the army and 12 solicitors, and 6 apprentices had given their life.  He was proud of these men and the distinctions that had been won: 1 DSO, 5 military crosses and a distinguished conduct medal.

Lt Martin Lillis BL, as depicted on a memorial scroll issued to his family, via Whytes

More deaths continued into 1917: newly qualified barrister and member of the Royal Flying Corps Lt Martin Lillis BL, and solicitors’ apprentices 2nd Lts Ivan Garvey and AM Turnbull.  On 2 February 1917, JK Currie, solicitor, emotionally interrupted proceedings at Ballymena Sessions Court to announce that news of the demise of former local solicitor 2nd Lt JS Boal had just been received by telegram. Judge Orr, presiding, said that he regretted very much to hear of the death in action of this very brilliant young gentleman.

The railway tunnel between Dalkey and Killiney, the scene of Lt Brett’s death, today, via Wikimedia Commons.

23-year-old 2nd Lt Jasper T Brett, also a solicitor, did not die in action.  On the 4th February 1917 his body was found in the railway tunnel between Dalkey and Killiney in Dublin.  Lt Brett, who had previously tried to throw himself overboard on a boat from Malta, had only recently arrived home from a hospital for officers mentally affected by the war.  He left behind in his bedroom a note with the following message ‘The Water was ever my bete noir,’ followed by a wish that all should think of him as he once was, and the words ‘Thy will be done.’   In accordance with good solicitor practice, a informal will was appended.  At a subsequent inquest held at Dalkey railway station, it was heard that Lt Brett, a well known Irish international rugby footballer, had been in the fighting at Suvla with the Pals, and had lost nearly all his friends in action.  The coroner said it was a sad ending for one who had served his country and served it well.

Lt CA MacCarthy BL, just one of a number of enlisted barristers and solicitors to die by drowning during the war.

The summer brought more deaths: barristers Maj WHK Redmond BL, MP, Lt CA McCarthy BL (missing, believed drowned at sea), Lt FEB Falkiner solicitor (who had previously received the Military Cross), and solicitors’ apprentices 2nd Lt VC Byrne, 2nd Lt AN Callaghan and 2nd Lt RK Pollin. Another officer fatality was Capt Hubert M O’Connor BL, a well-known and popular member of the Irish bar, previously awarded the Military Cross for going out three times under heavy shellfire to arrange for carrying in of the wounded.  Writing to O’Connor’s family, his colonel described him as ‘a shining example to one and all, while being carried on a stretcher he was again hit in the leg, but was most cheerful, and only wanted to know how his officers and men were.’  O’Connor died in hospital the next day.   In addition to the above,  ER Meredith BL, son of the late Master of the Rolls in Ireland and chauffeur with the British Red Cross, contracted dysentery shortly after his arrival in Italy, and died after a few days’ illness. 

Capt Hubert M O’Connor BL, from the Irish Independent, 24 August 1916, via the British Newspaper Archive

Despite this, there were some who still professed to see the bright side of the War.  Dr Mahaffy, Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, extolled the benefits of conscription in an interview with the New York Sun, saying that it would teach Irish boys the lessons coming from observation of the world; they would learn what an English farm was like and what a French school was like.  Dr Mahaffy’s own son, an English barrister of 43 – beyond the age limit, as he pointed out – had been shot through the jaw. 

Provost John Pentland Mahaffy, via Wikipedia

Not everyone shared Provost Mahaffy’s view on the benefits of military service – something which became painfully apparent on 16 May 1917 when the members of the Incorporated Law Society gathered for their half-yearly meeting.  Opening the meeting, Law Society President John W Richards regretted that the hopes of peace which expressed at the previous year’s meeting had not been realised, saying that, since the war began, 118 Irish solicitors and 76 apprentices of solicitors had joined in his Majesty’s forces with 14 solicitors and 8 apprentices having given up their lives.    

Solicitor Maj TJ Akinson, who died on the Somme alongside other Irish lawyers, as published in the Larne Times, 15 July 1916, via the British Newspaper Archive

Business then turned to a proposed resolution by Mr Lane Joynt that, notwithstanding the exclusion of Ireland from the Military Services Act, a resolution should be passed that it was the duty of every member of the profession and their assistants of military age to offer their services and that the Bar Council should be asked to pass a similar resolution in reference to the Bar of Ireland – something which resulted in vociferous and mostly hostile debate.  Some solicitors tactfully suggested that it was hardly necessary to move Mr Lane Joynt’s proposal as the response of the profession had already been extremely generous.  Others more contentiously asserted that the motion should be postponed until the British Government apply in practical form its principles of freedom for small nationalities to Ireland.  The proposal was eventually passed in the form of a recognition of the services rendered by the solicitors’ profession and their apprentices, and an expression that with the military age extended to 50 years a larger number would offer their services.

Lt AGF Simms, solicitor, who died in action in 1918, as published in the Irish Independent, 9 February 1918, via the British Newspaper Archive.

By the last year of the war, feelings had hardened further, with six Irish KCs signing a protest against conscription; there were subsequent allegations that they had been penalised in terms of work as a result.   On 16 May 1918, Mr John Foley, solicitor, submitted for consideration at the half-yearly meeting of the Law Society a resolution that in the opinion of that Society the application of the Military Service Act to Ireland was detrimental to the well-being of the profession.  The new President of the Society, Mr William V Seddall, promptly ruled the proposed resolution out of order as a contravention of the Defence of the Realm Act.

 It was noted that no fewer than 139 Irish solicitors and apprentices had joined up and no fewer than 30 had been killed or died on active service.  There were still some deaths to come: solicitor Lts AGF Simms, RT Scallan and WH Sanderson, and apprentices Capt HM Baillie, 2nd Lts D O’Rourke and HI Mahaffy (no relation to the Provost) and Lt MR Russell. Capt GBH Smyth BL, from Banbridge, was unfortunate enough to be killed in action on 22 October 1918; the war ended on 11 November.

This story of the Bar and the Great War began with two barrister deaths unrecorded on any Roll of Honour, It ends with a final barrister death likewise unrecorded.  On 3 February 1920, a year, two months and 23 days after the armistice agreement between Germany and the Allies had been signed, Aedan Cox BL, former Junior Crown Prosecutor for the County of Leitrim, and brother of the founder of Arthur Cox & Co, was found dead in bed in the Union Hotel, Belfast, with a wound in his forehead and a revolver clutched in his right hand.   During the war he had sustained wounds which resulted in the loss of his right leg and had subsequently received an appointment under the Ministry for Pensions. 

On the evening of Mr Cox’s death, he had returned to his hotel about ten o’clock after dining with some military friends, retiring shortly afterwards.  Later, he was supplied with cigarettes by the hotel ‘boots’ with whom he had a brief, jocular chat.  In the early hours of the morning, the ‘boots’ was again called to the room; it appears Mr Cox was not sleeping too well.  In the morning, after receiving no answer to his knocks, the ‘boots’ entered the room and found him deceased.  

Aedan and Arthur Cox as boys, via UCD Library.
Aedan is on the right and Arthur on the left.

Nor was Mr Cox the only serving lawyer to commit suicide in the years immediately after the war. On 26 August 1920, Mr Robert Ross McCulloch, a 29-year-old solicitor practising in Derry, also committed suicide by shooting himself. During the war Mr Ross had been wounded while serving with the Motor Machine Gun service. Suffering severely from shell shock, he had been demobilised in 1917 with his memory for some months a blank, and his life for a considerable time despaired of. In the past year his symptoms had recurred. The Coroner, Dr Morrison, said that he had a son who had served in the army as a doctor during the war, and had explained to him the various symptoms. He said that for a time he himself had been unable to understand how a man having been discharged and perhaps a year or so at home and at work should say that he felt unfit. He had thought that in some cases possibly the man was ‘scheming,’ but his son, with his superior knowledge of the cases, pointed out that this was an extraordinary disease, and that a person apparently healthy might be mentally upset, and so baffle medical men. It was a tragic ending to a promising life. Another person present at the inquest said that he had known the deceased from boyhood, and he was an ideal and popular young man.

In February 1924, Dublin solicitor George T Roe shot himself through the head at his residence, 30 Northumberland Avenue. During the war he had served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Graves Registration Unit, and since he came home he had suffered from the effects of shell shock. He lived in a boarding house with his aged mother and sister, and that morning the Sheriff’s Officer Mr Scully and a detective had called to the house for the purposes of effecting his arrest for contempt of an order of the court. He came downstairs in his pyjamas, and asked Mr Scully what was the nature of his business. When the latter informed him that he had come from the Superior Court with a warrant for his arrest for contempt of an order of the court, he said with the utmost composure ‘I know about all that, I cannot fix it up now, but I will do so if you permit me to go before Lord Justice Moloney.’

He was then allowed to proceed upstairs to take leave of his mother, when about three minutes later a light revolver shot was heard, and Miss Roe rushed from the room in which her brother was, crying in great distress ‘Get a doctor quick, he has shot himself.’ When Mr Scully rushed upstairs he found Mr Roe in a kneeling position on the floor with his head resting on the bed clutching a pistol in his right hand, his finger being on the trigger. His head was slightly turned on one side and the blood was gushing from his mouth. A deeply affecting scene followed when his 90-year-old mother, weeping bitterly, knelt at the body of her son and stroked his hair.

Sir Thomas Molony, formerly Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, at the Inaugural Dinner of the Legion of Ireland, founded to promote goodwill between Irishmen and Great Britain, Claridges, 1931, from the Sketch via the British Newspaper Archive.

I have not been able to find any details of the alleged contempt of court on the part of Mr Roe which provoked Mr Scully’s fatal visit. Was it in relation to proceedings before Lord Chief Justice Molony, who had been so assiduous in his recruiting endeavours? Or did Mr Roe merely wish to speak with the Lord Chief Justice because he felt that, having so strongly encouraged (one might even say, demanded) enlistment, Molony would naturally be sympathetic to and understanding of the consequences which service had inflicted on those who dutifully complied with his request?

One suspects that the above are only a small fraction of legal survivors whose lives were foreshortened by war injuries both physical and mental. In August 1923 the death was announced of 30-year-old Donal J Galvin, city solicitor, of Cork. It was stated that shortly after the outbreak of war he volunteered for service, and received a commission, being later given the rank of captain, and that he was seriously wounded. His brother Barry was appointed city solicitor in his place.

The first page of the Law Library of Ireland’s painfully moving online tribute to Irish barristers who died in the First World War.

Further details of each of the Irish barristers who died in the First World War are set out in the wonderful online exhibition (link above) provided by Law Library staff members to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice. The Incorporated Law Society of Ireland also has an online Roll of Honour providing further details regarding solicitors and apprentices killed. A superb book by the late Anthony P Quinn BL, ‘Wigs and Guns: Irish barristers in the Great War,’ has also been published by Four Courts Press – more details here.

With a few exceptions, most of the Irish barristers killed in the First World War had been active in practice in the Law Library immediately before the war’s outbreak.  The majority were of Dublin origin, and largely, though by no means exclusively, Protestant.  Most had fathers in the professions, sons of eminent solicitors, KCs and medical men being particularly well represented.  Many had distinguished academic and sporting backgrounds.  Interestingly, the death rate among enlisted barristers from Ulster appears to have been lower than that among those from Dublin. Publication of one’s enlistment in the newspaper tended to be a particularly bad omen with regard to survival.

Indeed, the profile of a typical barrister who died in the Great War – an academically distinguished, sport-loving, Dubliner with a high-achieving parent – reflects the profile of the typical professional who joined the Pals battalion so tragically decimated at the Dardanelles.  These were men who, had they survived, might have played a significant role in the development of the Irish Bar.  Their deaths – and the subsequent separation of the Northern and Southern Bars in 1924 – led to a shift in power to a new generation of Bar leaders not necessarily from the old legal families in prominence before the War.

Permanent physical and mental wounds aside, how did war survivors fare in this changed environment?  We shall see. For now, little remains to be said, other than to honour the courage and self-sacrifice of the fallen.  And this.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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