The Barrister’s Boots That Went to Mass and Came Back Lucky, 1910-1991

From the Irish Press, 18 January 1940:

“Mr. Albert Wood, SC, who has been retained to lead in the appeals of Peter Barnes and James Richards, before the Court of Criminal Appeal, London, from their convictions on the charge of the murder of a girl shop assistant who was fatally injured in an explosion at Broadgate, Coventry, will travel to London next weekend.  Mr. Wood will be accompanied by Mr. Con Lehane, solicitor, of the firm of Lehane and Hogan, Dublin, who, acting on behalf of relatives of Messrs. Barnes and Richards, retained Mr. Wood’s services in connection with the appeal.

The grounds of appeal in both cases set out that the trial judge’s refusal to grant applications for the trial of Messrs. Barnes and Richards separately from that of two women jointly charged, gravely prejudiced the men’s own trials and caused embarrassment; that the judge’s refusal to withdraw the women’s case from the jury at the close of the case for the prosecution prevented justice being done in the cases of the appellant, and that the judge failed to direct the jury that the evidence of the women jointly charged required corroboration.

In the grounds of appeal in the case of Barnes, it is set out among other matters, that the judge failed to point out to the jury that Barnes’ statement that he was not and never had been a member of the IRA was unchallenged; that Barnes visits to Coventry had no relation to any IRA activity and that he had no knowledge of any proposed explosions, and that the judge failed to direct the jury that they must dissociation their minds from the prejudice which the charges entailed and in fact told them that they were incapable of any such prejudice.”

The explosion occurred in Broadgate, Coventry, at 2.30 p.m. on the afternoon of 25 August, resulting in the deaths of five people, with 450 others injured, 12 of them seriously.

There was some interest in the English newspapers regarding the appearance of an Irish barrister before the English Court of Appeal.  According to the Bradford Observer,

“Mr. Wood was exercising a legal right left intact by the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He had had no legal connection with the English bar since 1922.”

A report in the Londonderry Sentinel indicates that Wood’s formal instructions came from Coventry solicitor Walter John Mealand, who had represented the accused at their trial.

A photograph of Albert Wood KC, from the Daily Mirror, 7 July 1936, via British Newspaper Archives.

A more soleful take on Wood’s involvement in the case may be found in Gertrude Gaffney’s ‘Your World’ column in the Irish Independent, 19 January 1940:

The Barrister’s Boots That Went to Mass

“[Regarding] Mr. Albert Wood’s engagement to appear for the defence in the Coventry trial. The best story I have heard about Mr. Wood was told to me by one of his colleagues many years ago.

Under the old regime Mr. Wood was engaged for the defence in a murder trial which was to take place at a provincial Assizes. He and his colleague had arrived at the local hotel on Saturday and on Sunday morning, the colleague, unable to get his own boots in time for Mass, went off wearing Mr. Wood’s boots, while Mr. Wood, not being a Catholic, was in a position to remain comfortably in bed.  Mr. Wood appeared at the murder trial the next day wearing the boots that had been to Mass, and won the case for the defence. 

The story goes that the boots were carefully preserved and henceforth woman when Mr. Woods was appearing for the defence in a murder trial, and that always when he was wearing the boots he won the case.

I suppose it would be easy enough to check up on this story without consulting the subject, but it would be a pity if the result of the check spoiled a good yarn. I have been wondering what the length of life of a pair of carefully preserved boots is.”

Those lucky boots must have worn out or been passed on by 1940, as Barnes and Richards’ appeal was ultimately dismissed by the Court of Criminal Appeal on 23 January.  Despite representations by, among others, Eamon de Valera, they were executed on 7 February.

Albert Wood of the lucky boots died not long after in 1941. His last reported appearance in court was in February 1940, representing Thomas McCurtain, the son of the former Lord Mayor of Cork, charged with the murder of a Free State detective.   The trial had been adjourned on several occasions to facilitate Wood appearing in the Barnes and Richards appeal.

Other cases in which Wood appeared during his long and impressive career included the following:

-James Larkin’s 1927 injunction proceedings in the Dublin High Court, described by Mr Justice Meredith as ‘an action involving the right of the citizen to walk in the streets of Dublin unmolested and without interference by the police.’ Wood appeared for Larkin, but the lucky boots must have been at the cobbler; the application was refused.

-The trial of Thomas Hough for allegedly having entered Portland House, an orphanage for Protestant children in Tipperary, and destroyed it by fire.  The lucky boots were still doing their job and the accused was found not guilty.

The bankruptcy proceedings of sculptor Jerome Connor in the Dublin Bankruptcy Court, in which Wood asked Connor to admit that he had ‘a worldwide reputation, almost’.  Connor, well able for him, replied, ‘I cannot measure that.’

-The Grange Golf Club case of 1938, in which a golfer, hit on the forehead and rendered unconscious by an ill-aimed shot from another member of the club, sued the latter for damages. Wood, for the plaintiff, argued that ‘a golf ball propelled through the air with force was a dangerous missile, and the man who struck the ball was in the same position as a man with a motor car.  He must keep a proper lookout for everything.’ The claim failed, but then boots and golf are irreconcilable.

-The libel action brought by Mr Henry Morris Sinclair, jeweler and antique dealer, against Oliver St John Gogarty in respect of his book ‘As I was going down Sackville Street.’  Wood represented Sinclair with great success, obtaining a boot-stomping award of £900 damages and costs.

– The Croker hearing in the American Consulate, Dublin, at which Wood represented the Croker children.  At this hearing Wood annoyed American counsel BF Pay, representing Mrs. Croker, to the extent that Bay threatened to slap Wood’s face. By Irish Bar standards, this was a result.

A patron of the arts, in 1921 Wood paid for eight men of the Cork (No 2) Brigade Flying Column to travel to Dublin to sit for the painting Men of the South’ by Sean Keating.  Among the men in the painting was Sean Moylan, Commander Brigade of the IRA, a man with more reason than most to be grateful to those lucky boots – Wood had previously represented him on a charge of possession of arms and levying war against the Crown, an offence carrying a capital penalty.  

Moylan was later to describe Wood, an Englishman from Norwich, as

‘a man of considerable presence, beautifully dressed and groomed with an accent that seemed to be the quintessence of Oxford.’

Wood’s son Ernest (who appeared with him as junior in some of his cases) likewise went on to a distinguished career at the Irish Bar, almost as if (perhaps he had!) been passed on those oh-so- lucky boots.

Ernest Wood SC, as depicted by Sean Keating, in a sketch appearing in the Sunday Tribune, 8 September 1991.

Following Ernest Wood’s death, barrister and journalist Ulick O’Connor wrote of him in the Sunday Tribune of 8 September 1991:

“When one was a young barrister and spent a lot of time chatting in the Law Library coffee room, what Ernest Wood had said in court on the previous day would be a frequent topic of conversation.  His handling of a witness in cross examination, his replies to judges, his oratorical feats addressing juries would be recounted, to pass into legal lore.  When the news would get around the Library that Ernest was about to close a jury case you could see the place emptying as his peers went out to watch him in one of his remarkable performances.  The court would become almost a theatre when he was on his feet, in which he both acted and wrote his own plays, but always within the strict parameters and convention of the profession… he had a resonant baritone voice and perfect elocutionary enunciation, so that every word snapped out as if it had been carefully prepared the instant before to do the exact job it was intended to do.  He had every vocal register, soft, sarcastic, savage… his opening sentence could make the jury sit up and known they were in for a rare experience.  Once he began with ‘You will hear, gentlemen of the jury, a witness whom I think will impress you as one of the foulest pieces of wreckage which the tides of war have washed up on the Irish shore.’  Yet, on the other hand, when it seemed he should go for the jugular, he would pull back and use the art of cross examination with exquisite understatement.” 

An ‘eminent senior judge’ quoted in the O’Connor article, described the younger Wood as

“The quintessential barrister.  He didn’t give a damn about anybody but his client.  He thought there should be a natural enmity between a barrister and a judge.  He had in fact contempt for barristers who played golf or otherwise socialized with judges.  He taught us all what it was to be a barrister and the price of standing up for a client against a judge.”

The article concludes with the following thought-provoking paragraph:

One carries in one’s mind the memory of that voice in full oratorical cry, the rhythms spontaneously evoked and subtly sprung to hold the jury’s attention, the wide vivid eyes sweeping the court.  It was a style of forensic eloquence, whose fame was legendary in these islands in direct line from Curran, O’Connell, Seymour Bushe, Butt and others and would still have been in existence when Ernest first came to the Bar.  Were we listening to a dying fall, the end of a tradition? [T]he orator’s art, unlike the writer’s, is a transient one and lives on only in the minds of those who have heard the speaker himself.  Can it be transmitted to posterity? Perhaps only an echo.  But that should not deter us from trying to convey to others the excitement generated when Ernest Wood stood on his feet in a court room to exercise the full power and prerogative of his profession.”

Are there any Ernest Woods, Currans, O’Connells, Bushes or Butts at the Irish Bar today?  And, if not, why not, and if not, should there be?

Are Irish barristers of today falling short in the exercise of the full power and prerogative of their profession?

If only it was all as simple as lending your boots to a Catholic colleague to put on for Mass!

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