The Principal Architect of the Irish Court System
“One of the Ablest Judges to have Graced the Irish Bench”
KENNEDY, Hugh [1879-1936], First Attorney General and first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State, a small Archive of documents, letters, drawings and photographs.
Hugh Kennedy was a contemporary of James Joyce at University College in Dublin, where he was editor of St. Stephen’s, the student magazine which published some of Joyce’s early work, and auditor of the L&H. He was called to the bar in 1902, and quickly established a reputation; by 1907 he had published a legal textbook. An Irish speaker, he was active in the Gaelic League, serving on a committee with such people as Pearse and Ceannt. He had strong national sympathies, and an unsigned work of 1910 listed below shows that he had no illusions about the British. He was legal adviser to the Department of Local Government in the first Dail, and to the Provisional Government established under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. He was a member of the committee which drafted the Constitution of the new state, and engaged in detailed negotiations with the British to secure their agreement to its terms. In this process he gained at least one notable success, over rights of appeal to the Privy Council in London (see Keane, D.I.B.).
He was briefly a TD for a Dublin constituency. In 1923 he was appointed Attorney-General, and when the new Irish courts system was established in 1924, Kennedy became the first Chief Justice, a position which he held until his death. He may fairly be described as the principal architect of the Irish courts system. He authored many significant judgements, and ‘has been generally regarded as one of the ablest judges to have graced the Irish bench since independence’ (Ronan Keane in D.I.B. – himself a former Chief Justice).
The principal collection of Kennedy’s legal papers is in UCD. The present archive consists of items which have remained in family hands, including letters to Mrs. Kennedy after his death.
- An important collection of coloured watercolour drawings of the green robes which Kennedy as Chief Justice proposed (at the suggestion of W.B. Yeats) for the new Irish Supreme Court, supposedly based on the robes worn by the Gaelic Brehons. According to Keane (D.I.B.), these designs were developed through discussion with Yeats, who was much interested in the outward symbols of the new State, and the drawings were executed by Yeats’ friend, the distinguished artist and designer Charles Shannon. There are three mounted drawings of designs for robes, each on card circa 37cms x 27cms, two designs for headgear, 27cms x 19cms, and one monochrome drawing of robes, probably a preliminary sketch. Although unsigned, these undoubtedly are Shannon’s original drawings, and are probably the only visual record of this project. The boards bear the stamp of The Ruskin Studio, VII New Court, [London] W.C. 2. The proposal was not welcomed by Kennedy’s colleagues, and when Yeats proposed a Senate motion on the issue, the division was lost by one vote. See Foster, W.B. Yeats, A Life, Vol. II p. 331.
The drawings are in immaculate condition, as fresh as the day they were painted.
- Five albums of letters, documents and photographs, as follows:
- Album 1. A collection of circa 40 mostly unmounted photographic prints, mostly 19cms x 24cms with some smaller, showing Kennedy (often with his wife Clare) at a variety of events through the 1920s and 1930s, illustrating the life of the elite in those years. These are mostly good quality professional. photographs. They are generally not captioned, but the principal participants are easily recognisable, including Kennedy, a small man who became increasingly corpulent with the passage of years and good dinners. A well-known photograph shows mourners at the funeral of Arthur Griffith, led by Eoin MacNeill, with Kennedy in the third rank. On the reverse is written, ‘This is when Uncle Hugh + others were locked up in the 4 Courts & the Castle in the ‘Troubled Times’. An Irish Times photo (1924, probably at an Aonach Tailteann event) shows the veteran American Fenian John Devoy seated beside two Oriental gentlemen, with the Chief Justice and his wife at the ends of the line. There are some curious photos of the elaborate costume worn by Mrs. Kennedy at a ‘Nine Arts’ Ball in 1925.; also a menu for a banquet for John McCormack during Aonach Tailteann 1925, signed by the singer.
- Albums 2, 3 and 4 contain a very wide variety of documents and letters dating from all periods of Kennedy’s life, not chronologically organised but including much interesting and some important material. They include:
- Manuscript in Hugh Kennedy’s hand `Claim for Compensation for Property Destroyed @ the Four Courts. One page quarto;
- Manuscript in Hugh Kennedy’s hand List of Books Purchased December 1927 to March, 1928. Seven pages quarto;
- Two invoices from Fred Hanna, Ltd., Booksellers, Nassau Street, dated 1 Oct 1929 and 3 Jan 1930;
- A selection of (empty) official envelopes, including one dated 29.12.22, headed ‘Fé Rún. For Minister Only’, addressed to ‘Dlí Oifigeach’, with official seal on reverse;
- A selection of calling cards, including Kennedy’s (in Irish, Aodh Ó Cinnéide), Douglas Hyde, with an inscription, Myles Dillon, John A. Murphy (Mrs. Kennedy’s father, inscribed reverse) etc.;
- A TLS appointing Kennedy a Vice-President of the Royal Irish Academy 1936;
- A printed Syllabus of Courses for the School of Irish Studies, Dublin 1905;