Irish Barrister and Historian Falls Victim to the Alps, 1908

Turner’s Aiguillette from the Valley of the Cluse, 1802. It was on this peak that Irish barrister Caesar Litton Falkiner (below) perished a century later. Image via Meisterdrucke

From the Irish Independent, 11 August 1908:

“The news which flashed over the wires on Thursday night telling us that death had cut short the many activities of Caesar Litton Falkiner, brought to every student of Irish history and biography the keenest feelings of regret.  As a writer on the history of his country he had given promise of rising to the highest place, and it is marvellous, notwithstanding the engagements of his official life as an Assistant Legal Land Commissioner, what an amount of literary work he had done of recent years.

An accident, a fatal slip while on a brief holiday in the French Alps, has deprived us of him.  From letters which reached Dublin to-day, it appears that on Wednesday morning he went out from the hotel at Trelichant, intending to take an easy walk, and expecting to be back in a few hours; but evidently, he missed his way, and his body was found next morning at the foot of a precipice some distance from the path which he ought to have followed.


From his school days, when the daily newspaper was to him a necessity of life, Falkiner’s thoughts and actions were inspired by love of literature.  Too conscientious to neglect his other duties, in the slightest degree, his ardour in the service of letters led him to disregard ordinary comfort and repose, and it was in the evening when his official work was over, on his vacations, and even when travelling in trains, that his writing was done…

At the time of his death, he was engaged on an edition of ‘Swift’s Letters,’ to be published as a companion series to Temple Scott’s edition of Swift’s works and was editing Moore’s poems for the Clarendon Press.

When writing of subjects on which men most differ it was Falkiner’s aim that no word which could cause pain should escape him, and that every honest conviction of his opponents should be respected. In literature, as well as in all other occupations, Falkiner’s acts of friendship were unbounded and unceasing.  With men engaged in similar work he was ever ready to carry on correspondence, and his generosity in spending time to hep others was a very striking trait of his character.

His example remains with us.”

According to the Kerry Evening Post, Mr. Falkiner’s death occurred while making ascent at the Aiguillette peak in the Aiguilles Rouges range of the French Alps near Chamonix.   He had slipped on a rock and fallen over a precipice.  He was 45 years of age.

The Dublin Daily Express described the death as having added ‘one more to the toll of victims which the Alps each year claims of those who seek holiday and recreation amongst its fascinating and dangerous peaks.’

Caesar, of Mount Mapas, Killiney, was a son of the late Sir Frederick Falkiner, Recorder of Dublin, who had died earlier that year, in Madeira, and whose role in Green Street Courthouse was regarded as significant enough to justify his inclusion in ‘Our Judges,’ published by Dublin Society in 1889-90.

Caesar was survived by his wife, the former Henrietta Deane, daughter of architect Sir Thomas Newenham Deane, and two daughters, Dorothy and Irene.  The trio, immortalised in paintings by Walter Francis Osborne, remained active in Dublin Castle society for some years following Caesar’s death; after the First World War they lived abroad.  The Falkiner family papers, including a number of photographic albums available to view online, are with the National Library of Ireland.

Henrietta Falkiner, by Walter Osborne. Image via Limerick City Gallery.
Dorothy and Irene Falkiner, by Walter Osborne.
An early fund-raising campaign by Dorothy, reported in the Gentlewoman

Caesar’s Essays Relating to Ireland may be read here.

The Alps seems an unlikely place for a barrister to die but in fact mountaineering was a popular and dangerous sport among barristers around the turn of the twentieth century; there were a number of deaths in this way among English barristers also. 

The Long Vacation could be hazardous!


Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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