The humour of the Irish Bench—A circus at Bombay—Mr. Justice Lawson—The theft of a pig—“Reasonably suspected”—A prima facie case for the prosecution—The defence—The judge’s charge—The scope of a judge’s duties in Ireland—Collaring a prisoner—A gross contempt of court—How the contempt was purged—The riotous city—The reporter as a war correspondent—“Good mixed shooting”—The tram-car driver cautioned—The “loot” mistaken for a violin—The arrest in the cemetery—Pommelling a policeman—A treat not to be shared—A case of discipline—The German infantry—A real grievance—“Palmam qui meruit ferat.”

THERE is plenty of light as well as gloom to be found in the law courts, especially in Ireland. Until recently, the Irish Bench included many humorists. Perhaps the last of the race was Mr. Baron Dowse. Reporters were constantly giving me accounts of the brilliant sallies of this judge; but I must confess it seemed to me that most of the examples which I heard were susceptible of being regarded as evidence of the judge’s good memory rather than of his original powers.

Upon one occasion, he complained of the misprints in newspapers, and stated that some time before, he had made the quotation in court, “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay,” but the report of the case in the newspaper attributed to him the statement, “Better fifty years of Europe than a circus at Bombay.”

He omitted giving the name of the paper that had so ill-treated him and Lord Tennyson. He had not been a judge for fifteen years without becoming acquainted with the rudiments of story-telling.

Mr. Justice Lawson was another Irish judge with a strong vein of humour which he sometimes repressed, for I do not think that he took any great pleasure in listening to that hearty, spontaneous, and genial outburst of laughter that greets every attempt at humour on the part of a judge. It is a nasty thing to say, but I do believe that he now and again doubted the sincerity of the appreciation of even the junior counsel. A reporter who was present at one Cork Assizes when Lawson was at his best, told me a story of his charge to a jury which conveys a very good idea of what his style of humour was.

A man was indicted for stealing a pig—an animal common in some parts of Ireland. He was found driving it along, with no more than the normal amount of difficulty which such an operation involves; and on being spoken to by the sergeant of constabulary, he stated that he had bought the pig in a neighbouring town, and that he had paid a certain specified sum for it. On the same evening, however, a report reached the police barrack that a pig, the description of which corresponded with the recollection which the sergeant retained of the one which he had seen some hours before, had been stolen from its home in the neighbourhood. The owner was brought face to face with the animal that the sergeant had met, and it was identified as the one that had been stolen. The man in whose possession the pig was found was again very frank in stating where he had bought it; but his second account of the transaction was not on all fours with his first, and the person from whom he said he had purchased it, denied all knowledge of the sale—in fact, he was able to show that he was at Waterford at the time he was alleged to be disposing of it.

All these facts were clearly proved; and no attempt was made to controvert them in the defence. The counsel for the prisoner admitted that the police had a good prima facie case for the arrest of his client; there were, undoubtedly, some grounds for suspecting that the animal had disappeared from the custody of its owner through the instrumentality of the prisoner; but he felt sure that when the jury had heard the witnesses for the defence, they would admit that it was utterly impossible to conceive the notion that he had had anything whatever to do with the matter.

The parish priest was the first witness called, and he stated that he had known the prisoner for several years, and had always regarded him as a thrifty, sober, hard-working man, adding that he was most regular in his attendance to his religious duties. Then the episcopal clergyman was examined, and stated that the prisoner was an excellent father and a capital gardener; he also knew something about the care of poultry. Several of the prisoner’s neighbours testified to his respectability and his readiness to oblige them, even at considerable personal inconvenience.

After the usual speeches, the judge summed up as follows:—

“Gentlemen of the jury, you have heard the evidence in the case, and it’s not for me to say that any of it is false. The police sergeant met the prisoner driving the stolen pig, and the prisoner gave two different accounts as to how it had come into his possession, but neither of these accounts could be said to have a particle of truth in it. On the other hand, however, you have heard the evidence of the two clergymen, to whom the prisoner was well known. Nothing could be more satisfactory than the character they gave him. Then you heard the evidence given by the neighbours of the prisoner, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that nothing could be more gratifying than the way they all spoke of his neighbourly qualities. Now, gentlemen, although no attempt whatever has been made by the defence to meet the evidence given for the prosecution, yet I feel it necessary to say that it is utterly impossible that you should ignore the testimony given as to the character of the prisoner by so many witnesses of unimpeachable integrity; therefore, gentlemen, I think that the only conclusion you can come to is that the pig was stolen by the prisoner and that he is the most amiable man in the County Cork.”

Mr. Justice Lawson used to boast that he was the only judge on the Bench who had ever arrested a man with his own hand. The circumstances connected with this remarkable incident were related to me by a reporter who was present in the court when the judge made the arrest.

The locale was the court-house of an assize town in the South of Ireland. For several days the Crown had failed to obtain a conviction, although in the majority of the cases the evidence was practically conclusive; and as each prisoner was either sent back or set free, the crowds of sympathisers made an uproar that all the ushers in attendance were powerless to suppress. On the fourth day the judge, at the opening of the court, called for the County Inspector of Constabulary, and, when the officer was brought from the billiard-room of the club, and bustled in, all sabre and salute, the judge, in his quiet way, remarked to him, “I’m sorry for troubling you, sir, but I just wished to say that as the court has been turned into a bear-garden for some hours during the past three days, I intend to hold you responsible for the maintenance of perfect order to-day. Your duty is to arrest every man, woman, or child that makes any demonstration of satisfaction or dissatisfaction at the result of the hearing of a case, and to put them in the dock, and give evidence as to their contempt of court. I’ll deal with them after that.” The officer went down, and orders were given to his men, of whom there were about fifty in the court, to arrest any one expressing his feelings. The first prisoner to be tried was a man named O’Halloran, and his case excited a great deal of interest. The court was crowded to a point of suffocation while the judge was summing up, which he did with a directness that left nothing to be desired. In five minutes the jury had returned a verdict of “Not Guilty.” At that instant a wild “Hurroo!” rang through the court. It came from a youth who had climbed a pillar at a distance of about a yard from the Bench. In a moment the judge had put out his hand and grasped the fellow by the collar; and then, of course, the policemen crushed through the crowd, and about a dozen of them seized the prehensible legs of the prisoner Stylites.

“One of you will be ample,” said the judge. “Don’t pull the boy to pieces; let him down gently.”

This operation was carried out, and the excitable youth was placed in the dock, whence the prisoner just tried had stepped.

“Now,” said the judge, “I’m going to make an example of you. You heard what I said to the Inspector of Constabulary, and yet I arrested you with my own hand in the very act of committing a gross contempt of court. I’ll make an example of you for the benefit of others. What’s your name?”

“O’Halloran, yer honour,” said the trembling youth.

“Isn’t that the name of the prisoner who has just been tried?” said the judge.

“It is, my lord,” replied the registrar.

“Is the last prisoner any relation of yours?” the judge asked of the youth in the dock.

“He’s me brother, yer honour,” was the reply.

“Release the boy, and go on with the business of the court,” said the judge.

I chanced to be in Belfast at the time of the riots in 1886, and my experience of the incidents of every day and every night led me to believe that British troops have been engaged in some campaigns that were a good deal less risky to war correspondents than the riots were to the local newspaper reporters. Six of them were more or less severely wounded in the course of a week. I found it necessary, more than once, to go through the localities of the disturbances, and I must confess that I was always glad when I found myself out of the line of fire. I am strongly of the opinion that the reporters should have been paid at the ratio of war correspondents at that time. When they engaged themselves they could not have contemplated the possibility of being forced daily for several weeks to stand up before a fusilade of stones weighing a pound or so each, and Martini-Henry bullets, with an occasional iron “nut” thrown in to make up weight, as it were. In the words of the estate agents’ advertisements, there was a great deal of “good mixed shooting” in the streets almost nightly for a month.

Several ludicrous incidents took place while the town was crowded with constabulary who had been brought hastily from the country districts. A reporter told me that he was the witness of an earnest remonstrance on the part of a young policeman with a tram-car driver, whom he advised to take his “waggon” down some of the side streets, in order to escape the angry crowd that had assembled farther up the road. Upon another occasion, a grocer’s shop had been looted by the mob at night, and a man had been fortunate enough to secure a fine ham which he was endeavouring, but with very partial success, to secrete beneath his coat. A whole ham takes a good deal of secreting. The police had orders to clear the street, and they were endeavouring to obey these orders. The man with the ham received a push on his shoulder, and the policeman by whom it was dealt, shouted out in a fine, rich Southern brogue (abhorred in Belfast), “Git along wid ye, now thin, you and yer violin. Is this any toime for ye to be after lookin’ to foind an awjence? Ye’ll get that violin broke, so ye will.”

The man was only too glad to hurry on with his “Strad.” of fifteen pounds’ weight, mild-cured. He did not wait to explain that there is a difference between the viol and “loot.”

One of the country policemen made an arrest of a man whom he saw in the act of throwing a stone, and the next day he gave his evidence at the Police Court very clearly. He had ascertained that the scene of the arrest was York Street, and he said so; but the street is about a mile long, and the magistrate wished to know at what part of it the incident had occurred.

“It was just outside the cimitery, yer wash’p,” replied the man.

“The cemetery?” said the magistrate. “But there’s no cemetery in York Street.”

“Oh, yes, yer wash’p—there’s a foine cimitery there,” said the policeman. “It was was just outside the cimitery I arrested the prisoner.”

“It’s the first I’ve heard of a cemetery in that neighbourhood,” said the Bench. “Don’t you think the constable is mistaken, sergeant?”

The sergeant put a few questions to the witness, and asked him how he knew that the place was a cemetery.

“Why, how would anybody know a cimitery except by the tombstones?” said the witness. “I didn’t go for to dig up a corp or two, but there was the foinest array of tombstones I ever clapt oyes on.”

“It’s the stonecutter’s yard the man means,” came a voice from the body of the court; and in another moment there was a roar of laughter from all present.

The arrest had been made outside a stonecutter’s railed yard, and the strange policeman had taken the numerous specimens of the proprietor’s craft, which were standing around in various stages of progress, for the bona fide furnishing of a graveyard.

He was scarcely to be blamed for his error.

I believe that it was during these riots the story originated—it is now pretty well known, I think—of the man who had caught a policeman, and was holding his head down while he battered him, when a brother rowdy rushed up, crying,—

“Who have you there, Bill?”

“A policeman.”

“Hold on, and let me have a thump at him.”

“Git along out of this, and find a policeman for yourself!”

Having referred to the Royal Irish Constabulary, I may not perhaps be regarded as more than usually discursive if I add my expression of admiration for this splendid Force to the many pages of commendation which it has received from time to time from those whose opinion carries weight with it—which mine does not. The men are the flower of the people of Ireland. They have a sense of discipline—it has not to be impressed upon them by an occasional “fortnight’s C.B.” Upon one occasion, I was the witness of the extent to which this innate sense of discipline will stretch without the breaking strain being reached. One of the most distinguished officers in the Force was parading about one hundred men armed with the usual carbine—the handiest of weapons—and with swords fixed. He was mounted on a charger with some blood in it—you would not find the same man astride of anything else—and for several days it had been looking down the muzzles of the rifles of a couple of regiments of autumn manoeuvrers who had been engaged in a sham fight in the Park; but it had never shown the least uneasiness, even when the Field Artillery set about the congenial task of annihilating a skeleton enemy. It stood patiently while the constabulary “ported,” “carried,” and “shouldered”; but so soon as the order to “present” was given, a gleam of sunlight glanced down the long line of fixed swords, and that twinkle was just what an Irish charger, born and bred among the fogs of the Atlantic seaboard, could not stand. It whirled round, and went at full gallop across the springy turf, then suddenly stopped, sending its rider about twenty yards ahead upon his hands and knees. After this feat, it allowed itself to be quietly captured by the mounted orderly who had galloped after it. The orderly dismounted from his horse, and passed it on to the officer, who galloped back to the long line of men standing at the “present” just as they had been before he had left them so hurriedly. They received the order to “shoulder” without emotion, and then the parade went on as if nothing had happened. Subsequently, the officer remounted his own charger—which had been led up, and had offered an ample apology—and in course of time he again gave the order to “present.” The horse’s ears went back, but it did not move a hoof. After the “shoulder” and “port” the officer made the men “charge swords,” and did not halt them until they were within a yard of the horse’s head. The manouvre had no effect upon the animal.

I could not help contrasting the discipline shown by the Irish Constabulary upon this occasion with the bearing of a company of a regiment of German Infantry, who were being paraded in the Thiergarten at Berlin, when I was riding there one day. The captain and lieutenant had strolled away from the men, leaving them standing, not “at ease,” but at “attention”—I think the officers were making sure that the carriage of the Crown Prince was not coming in their direction. But before two minutes had passed the men were standing as easy as could well be, chatting together, and suggesting that the officers were awaiting the approach of certain young ladies, about whose personal traits and whose profession they were by no means reticent. Of course, when the officers turned, the men stood at “attention”; but I trotted on to where I lived In Den Zelten, feeling that there was but little sense of discipline in the German Army—so readily does a young man arrive at a grossly erroneous conclusion through generalising from a single instance.

It is difficult to understand how it comes that the splendid services of the Royal Irish Constabulary have not been recognised by the State. I have known officers who served on the staff during the Egyptian campaign, but who confessed to me that they never heard a shot fired except for saluting purposes, and yet they wore three decorations for this campaign. Surely those Irish Constabulary officers, who have discharged the most perilous duties from time to time, as well as daily duties requiring the exercise of tact, discretion, judgment, and patience, are at least as deserving of a medal as those soldiers who obtained the maximum of reward at the minimum of risk in Egypt, South Africa, or Ashantee. The decoration of the Volunteers was a graceful recognition of the spirit that binds together these citizen soldiers. Surely the services of some members of the Irish Constabulary should be similarly recognised. This is a genuine Irish grievance, and it is one that could be redressed much more easily than the majority of the ills that the Irish people are heir to. A vote for a thousand pounds would purchase the requisite number of medals or stars or crosses—perhaps all three might be provided out of such a fund—for those members of the Force who have distinguished themselves. The right adjudication of the rewards presents no difficulty, owing to the “record” system which prevails in the Force.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook