Ireland Old News

The Times
London, Middlesex, England
January 28, 1829



On Monday, the 19th instant, the following trial took place at the Cavan Quarter Sessions, before Mr. GUMLEY (Assistant-Barrister pro tempore) and a full bench of magistrates: –

The defendant was indicted for posting and publishing an address, issued by the Catholic Association to the Roman Catholics of Ulster, which the indictment charged as a seditious libel against the King's Government, tending to alienate the affections of the King's subjects, and to bring into contempt the administration of justice in the province of Ulster.

Mr SWANSEA and Mr. M'DERMOTT, solicitors, were employed to conduct the prosecution.

Mr. MURPHY, barrister, was brought down special on behalf of the defendant, accompanied by Mr. M. O'REILLY, solicitor.

The following is the portion of the address set forth in the indictment as libellous:--


"We, whose duty it is to watch over the Catholics of Ireland at large, feel ourselves bound to regard with a more anxious and tender concern our persecuted brethren in the north, and we have hitherto had occasion oftentimes to regret that a close union did not subsist between you and us.

"We are well aware, that whilst in the other provinces the weight of Catholic rank, property, and intelligence has served to counterbalance the ascendance of the few; in the north a numerous, crafty, and well-combined faction have long usurped all the functions of the Government, and have made the laws the instruments of their fraud and oppression, being themselves above all control. In the enjoyment of this privilege we have seen Orang-yeomen butcher the King's subjects with the arms which he had put into their hands – an Orange police connive at the crimes of their fraternity – Orange magistrates hesitate even to commit, and Orange juries empanelled by Orange sheriffs promptly vote the murderer guiltless, and convict of riot the wretched men who had escaped assassination.

Peers, governors of counties, sheriffs, magistrates, and clergymen, combined to rekindle the flame of discord with the avowed purpose of extinguishing it in blood."

When the case was called on, the CHAIRMAN inquired of Mr. Murphy (counsel for the defendant) if he was satisfied with the jury then in the box, which had tried the previous case.

Mr. MURPHY replied, that he was perfectly satisfied. However, there happened to be two Roman Catholics on the jury, in consequence of which the professional gentlemen employed to conduct the prosecution objected.

Mr. MURPHY then proposed to have the case tried by the first 12 men that should be called on the panel. This he considered a fair proposal, for he had no local knowledge of the jury.

The CHAIRMAN said he considered the proposal perfectly reasonable.

Notwithstanding this, it was rejected.

Mr. MURPHY then said – I now clearly perceive what is meant to be done. Although this is a political trial, it was my wish to conduct it with as little party prejudice as possible. But this I find impossible, as my two most reasonable and most equitable proposals have been rejected on the part of the Crown. It is now quite obvious that you want to pick a jury out of the panel to suit your own purposes. I therefore now challenge the whole array.

The CHAIRMAN. – Upon what grounds, Sir?

Mr. MURPHY. – Upon the ground of partiality in the Sheriff.

The CHAIRMAN. – What is the nature of the imputed partiality?

Mr. MURPHY. – The Sheriff is an Orangeman.

The CHAIRMAN. – I do not conceive this a good ground of challenge. Sitting here, I know nothing either of the Catholic Association, or of Orangemen. I shall therefore over-rule your objection; but you may, if you think proper, move in arrest of judgment.

Mr. MURPHY. – I am most happy, Sir, to hear you say you know nothing of Orangemen. They certainly, I must admit, are not a body known to the law; they are an illegal confederacy, living beyond the confines of the constitution. But still there can be no doubt of their existence; and here is a purely Protestant and Catholic case – the Catholic Association on the one hand, and the Orangemen on the other. Now I am prepared with witnesses to prove that the High Sheriff of this county is an Orangeman. In fact, his own body is a party in the cause. I therefore contend it is a good and valid ground for supposing partiality.

The CHAIRMAN refused to comply with the request.

The panel was then called over.

Mr. MURPHY asked some of the jurors, as they came to the book, if they were not Orangemen; but the Court did not consider their being so good ground of challenge.

The posting of the document in the market-place was then sought to be proved by a police-constable, who swore that he took down from the market-place the placard containing the alleged libel; and by a Mr. Sturdy, an innkeeper in the town of Ballycomell, who swore that he saw the defendant nail up a paper in the market-place, the heading of which corresponded with that produced to him. It appeared, on the cross-examination of both witnesses, that they had had a previous quarrel with the family of the defendant.

Mr. Sturdy, the innkeeper, was also called to sustain the inuendos, and swore that he believed the paper to have a seditious tendency.

He underwent a long cross-examination by Mr. MURPHY as to the grounds of his opinion, during the course of which he said he was not a profound philosopher, metaphysician, or politician: he was a good judge of a horse, but not of a libel. He would not undertake to say how many grains of violence would stir up discontent in the mind of a moderate man. He did no know what an Orange juror or an Orange magistrate meant. An Orangeman meant a loyal, good subject; and he could not tell if an Orange juror meant a man who brought his Orange prejudices into the jury-box; or if an Orange magistrate meant a man whose Orange prejudices hung about him when he ascended the justice seat. He admitted that it was upon his information this prosecution was founded; but he denied that he was an informer.

Mr. MURPHY then addressed the jury at considerable length. He commenced by complaining of the difficulty of the situation in which he stood. If a foreigner had landed upon our shores from the most distant region of the earth, the humane policy of our constitution had provided that half his jury should be foreigners. But here was a purely patty (Protestant and Catholic) trial and what did he find? The Judge who resided was a Protestant – the Jury who were to decide were Protestant – the magistrates who were to apportion the punishment were, to a man, Protestant – the sheriff who empanelled the jury was a Protestant; the very officers of the court were Protestant! – all, all were Protestant, except the unfortunate defendant and his feeble and inefficient advocate. He did not mention this as a subject of reproach to the jury; it was not their fault that not even one Catholic had been admitted into the jury-box, but it did rest with them to prove to the world that this startling and almost incredible anomaly in the administration of justice was only bad in theory, but did not impose the slightest practical disadvantage on the Roman Catholic who was subjected to the experiment. The learned gentleman then submitted that the proof of publication was insufficient; that it was absurd to call this paper a seditious libel on the Government, inasmuch as it breathed throughout a spirit of affectionate attachment to the Government, and inculcated tranquillity to the people. He further contended, that by no fair and honest construction could it be tortured into a libel on the administration of justice. It was neither a libel on the administration of justice generally, or on the magistrates of Ulster generally, unless the jury believed – what they could not believe – that all the magistrates of Ulster were Orangeman. The indictment could not be sustained, inasmuch as it was not sufficiently specific as to time, place, or persons; and he implored the jury to inspire confidence in the people by demonstrating that even in a violent party case, an exclusively Protestant jury would do justice to a Catholic.

The CHAIRMAN charged the jury with impartiality, and after an absence of an hour, they returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

The verdict was received by the Catholics with great delight, and excited in the minds of the Orangemen proportionate vexation. An intense sensation was produced in the town both by the trial and the result. Crowds of people continued to parade the streets for several hour, cheering round the hotel where Mr. Murphy was staying. The learned gentleman addressed them from the window, and entrusted them to return to their homes and not indulge in any feelings of triumph. If there had been a triumph at all, it was not that of sect, but of justice, and his Catholic countrymen should remember that that triumph was achieved by the impartiality of a Protestant Judge and the integrity of a Protestant jury.

Submitted by: County Cavan Newspaper Transcription Project

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