Eliza O' Reilly v James O'Reilly

Day 1

The following is what was published in the Irish Times in 1860.  Evidence about the law of Lunacy at the time has been left out.  There is an edited version of the case in Navan, Its People and Its Past, Vol. 2; journal of the Navan and District Historical Society.

30 August 1860: From our own Reporter. Before Francis William Brady, Esq., and a Special Jury

In the matter of James O’Reilly, Esq., an alleged lunatic.

The commission in this case was directed by the Lord Chancellor to inquire into the state of mind of Mr O’Reilly, solicitor, Navan, to ascertain whether he is an idiot, or person of unsound mind, so as to be incapable of managing his own affairs, when he became so, and who are his heirs and next of kin.  The petitioner was Miss Eliza O’Reilly, of Navan, sister of the alleged lunatic.  His property amounted to close on £150 a year, besides a security by judgment for £500, with a large arrear of interest.  The case excited a great deal of interest, in consequence of the subject of the inquiry being a gentleman well known and respected in the county Meath.

Dr. Ball Q.C. and Mr. Sidney, instructed by Mr. James Wm. O’Reilly, Esq., appeared for the petitioner.  Dr. Battersby Q.C., and Mr John A. Curran, instructed by Mr. John Thomas Hynes, solicitor appeared on behalf of the alleged lunatic, to oppose the petitioner.

Mr. Ball Q.C., appeared for the petitioner, sister of Mr. James O’ Reilly, who had two sisters surviving, one of whom was Miss Eliza Anne O’Reilly the petitioner in the present case.

Mr. Ball opened his speech saying;

“The sovereign possessed an inherent authority to issue a commission to inquire into the state of mind of anyone supposed to be insane, and to subject such persons to proper treatment, and to protect their property until they had recovered.  Lunacy embraced a vast number of phases.”

Medical evidence on the law relating to lunacy in 1860 has been excluded.

The subject of the present inquiry was a solicitor of extensive practice in Navan.  In 1852 he had been attacked with an illness of the spine, which was connected with the brain.  Since that time he had never practised his profession.  Up to 1857 he resided in the house of his brother in law, Mr. Murphy, where his sister, the present petitioner, also resided.  Everything he required was done for him since 1852, his clothes purchased for him, and he was entirely, as it were, dependent upon them, not in a pecuniary point, as he had £150 a year house property, and a security by judgment for £500.  In 1857 he formed a great dislike for his brother in law Mr. Murphy.  He became irritable, and his mind began to show symptoms of decay.  Shortly after ceasing to reside with Mr. Murphy, he formed a dislike to a gentleman named Ford, and entertained great hostility to him, without any cause.  These dislikes had no foundation in fact.  He indulged in drink, and in pursuit of that indulgence he became acquainted with a publican named Gregory, in the town of Navan, whose whiskey he very much praised.  He made Mr. Gregory his agent, who now received his rent and managed his property.  His sister, finding the drink was operating on his brain, and that he was liable to imposition, brought the case before the Lord Chancellor.  She proceeded in May last, and laid the facts of the case before the Lord Chancellor, supported by several affidavits.  Since her return she was afraid to go near her brother, as he uttered some violent threats, and on a recent occasion he expressed a determination to shoot his sister.

His memory was exceedingly defective, as he had no recollection of dates or remarkable occurrences.  It was perfectly clear this arose from a growing weakness of mind, as hertofore he was a man remarkable for intelligence and acuteness.  He carried about with him most extraordinary memoranda, but it was perfectly possible that those who took an interest in his affairs deprived him of them, and tutored him for the investigation.  His conversation was generally disconnected, and he rambled in a most disturbed disquisition on the subject of a number of farms which he intended to take.  This state of things contrasted with his former character, and unquestionably went to prove imbecility of mind, if not insanity.  Medical evidence would be given in the case, but there was a diversity of opinion on that point.  While paying the greatest attention to the opinion of physicians, they should, nevertheless, not disregard other evidence in the case, which was not less important.  There was no doubt Mr. Reilly required protection for himself and property.  Nothing gave his sister greater pain than being obliged to apply for the commission, but it was imperative on her to bring forward the case to protect her brother from robbery and imposition.

Miss Eliza Anne O’Reilly, the petitioner, examined by Mr. Sidney.

I am a sister of the subject of the present investigation.  I have one sister, and no brother except Mr. James O’Reilly.  My sister is married to Mr. Murphy of Kingstown.  Up to the year 1852 my brother practised his profession as a solicitor.  In that year he was stopping in the Northumberland Hotel, where he took ill.  For some time prior to his illness I did not know where he was.  Subsequently I saw him in Navan, at the house of the Rev. Eugene O’Reilly. When I heard he was lying ill of paralysis of the spine, I visited him.  Prior to the illness he was quite able to attend to his business, and did so.  Subsequently I observed his mind appeared to be somewhat changed, and I saw that he was quite incapable of attending to his business.  Contrasting his manner then with what it was, I was convinced a perceptible change had taken place; during the illness he rambled a good deal in his conversation, and spoke of attending race courses.  By advice of Dr. Nicolls he was removed to Sandycove Castle, and subsequently left that, and went again to live in the house of Mr. Murphy at Brighton terrace, Sandycove.  About two years and a half ago he strayed away, and the detective police were looking for him.  He was brought back to Navan; he appeared unable to purchase his clothing, and was unable to attend to his domestic duties; during his illness he was not allowed to shave himself, but he did so after he recovered.  He had a great desire for putting up clothes lines in the garden, and when the train would be in sight he would shout and crow like a cock, take off his hat, and as the train approached used his arm as if he was playing the violin; [Note: The O’Reillys lived in Academy Street, Navan where the newly built railway bridge for the Drogheda to Navan railway crossed].  He also pretended he was playing the piano by working his fingers along the table.  His conversation was rambling, and he said the great bridge on the railway was constructed owing to his exertions.  I never knew him to be connected in any way with the building of that bridge; he waffled on Mr. Bolton about the election for Meath.

A gentleman named Spicer built a house in Navan, and Mr. Reilly said he assisted in building it.  He also said he placed a lady in the Baggot street convent.  The lady alluded to was in Baggot street Convent, but my brother knew nothing about the lady having been placed there, although he stated it was he who placed her there.  My brother, before his illness, was always talking about having taken land and going about looking after it, although he had not taken any.  A decided change took place in his memory, and he could not tell the day of the month nor the day of the week.  After he came to Navan I supported and maintained him, and received his rents.

Mr. Gregory of Navan is now receiving his rents, and has been receiving them for the last five or six months.  He alleged he was humbugged by Mr. Ford, and by me - that I received the rent and gave him none, and that Mr. Ford purchased cattle with the money.  Whenever he used to get money he would return very much intoxicated.  He was in the habit of absenting himself from home, but I was aware where he was going.  On one occasion he went to Kells, and before I found out where he was he was absent about two days.  Since Mr. Gregory commenced to receive rents for him he used to come home frequently in a state of intoxication.  I had two men watching him.  I have not been living in Navan for the last three months.  In consequence of his having Gregory the power to receive the rents I thought it time to look after his affairs.  His conduct was most irrational, for if there was a stone over the level on the road, he would insist on having it removed and if he met with a rut on the road, he would spend an hour filling it up with stones, lest anyone should fall into it.

Cross examined by Dr. Battersby, Q.C.:

My uncle, the Rev. Eugene O’Reilly, was very fond of my brother at one time.  He left me everything, and nothing to my brother.  The sum he left me was about £150 a year, subject to a debt of £500 which I was to pay my brother. On the 28th of May last, my brother filed a declaration of the debt against me, and subsequently in June I filed affidavits to establish his insanity.  Since his illness in 1852 he has improved in his bodily health, but in his mental health he has not improved.  He was then quite childish, and is so still.  During the time he was in that childish state I went to the Hibernian Bank and got £120 which was standing in his name.  I got the money out of the bank by power of attorney, which was drawn by Mr. Ford, and signed by my brother.  Under that power of attorney also I received his rents.  I cannot say where that power of attorney now is; I got it in 1853, and another in 1857.  The time I received the money from the bank I had the power of attorney.  With that money I paid some of my brother’s debts; by agreement I charged him a specific sum for his maintenance.

In 1855 Dr. Cusack attended him, and since 1857 no doctor attended him.  I applied to Dr. Hamerson to examine him before I applied for the commission as to the state of my brother’s mind.  There was no opinion from Dr. Hamerton laid before the Lord Chancellor.  There was a bill cashed in the Hibernian Bank on the 26 December 1851.  I got the money for it; an account of his money transactions was kept in this book (produced).  The of 26 December was for £100; my brother’s name, I think, was on the back of it.

My sister has no child, but my brother had one, for the maintenance of which I paid.  Before my brother’s illness he purchased some property, the rents of which I received.  I never received any rent from a tenant of my brother’s named O’Shaughnessy until I got the power of attorney.  I now claim that portion of the property and my brother also claims it as his.  My brother since 1852 is perfectly incapable of managing his own affairs but he could not instruct an attorney to bring an action.  He knows well how to make up an account, he is aware the house in Athboy, in which O’Shaughnessy resides, is his own.  He knows also he has a judgment for £500 on Rev. Eugene O’Reilly’s property.  I remember being processed by a physician for attendance on the Rev. Eugene O’Reilly. My brother was with me when I called at Mr. Hynes’ office in Dublin on the subject, and I won’t swear that I did not tell Mr. Hynes that my brother would attend to the matter.

To Mr. Sidney. -  I asked Mr. Hynes to act for me.  I would not have done so if I considered my brother capable of doing so.

To Dr. Battersby Q.C. - At the time I called on Mr. Hynes and asked him to interfere with my brother to settle the accounts between us.  Mr. Hynes was not solicitor for either of us.

To the Bench. - While labouring the effects of drink he would use his arm as if playing the violin, but he would sometimes do so when not labouring under the effects of drink.

Mr. Murphy, brother in law of the alleged lunatic, examined by Dr. Ball Q.C.  I reside in Kingstown [Note: now Dun Laoghaire] and am brother in law of Mr. James Reilly.  The immediate bad effects of his illness in 1852 continued for about a year afterwards.  After that illness he went to reside with me, and by advice of Mr. Nicholls, of Navan, he went to reside at Sandycove Castle, where he remained for about a month.  He came to me again, and did not cease to live with me until the year 1857.  During the period he resided with me I managed his affairs, but his sister, Miss O’Reilly, was accountable.  During that time he was quite incapable of managing his own affairs.  The bill for £100 which was cashed at the Hibernian Bank was for his sole benefit, and it was his own acceptance.  He spent his time profitlessly, and got drunk frequently.  When in Navan his conduct was wilder than when in Kingstown, as he had better facilities for going out to get drink.  His memory failed him very much.  In 1857 he left my house suddenly, and was three days absent when he was found by the police in Dublin.  I don’t  think he attends to any religious worship; I heard him say that he built a large mill in Navan, and also the railway bridge.

Cross examined by Mr. J.A. Curran - Mr. Reilly was a very clever man, and I cannot say whether he did not give directions in the building of Mr. Bolton’s house which he spoke of.  His mind after his illness became quite prostrate, and I don’t think he has since recovered his reason.  There were some debts to be paid for him, and Mr. Ford gave a power of attorney to change the £100 draft.  He signed the transfer himself, and the power of attorney was signed by the alleged lunatic outside Mr. Hayes, the stockbroker’s door. At the time he accepted the bill he was conscious of what he was doing but I cannot say whether he was of sound mind or not.  I kept the account of the disbursements of that money, which are correctly specified in the accounts furnished.  I made an affidavit in support of the application for the commission, in which I swore he was of unsound mind up to the period of 1857.  Of my own knowledge I know nothing of his state of mind since June 1857, nor do I know anything of the cause petition which he filed to compel his sister to account.

Mary Gibney, examined by Mr. Sidney - I have been housekeeper to the alleged lunatic’s sister for a period of twenty three years.  Mr. Reilly, since his illness, was very foolish in his conversation, and the greatest change in the world took place in his manner.  Since 1837 he did not do any business, but occupied his time going about looking for land.  He told me sometimes when he came home that he had been attending an auction, and that it did not  go off well.  Sometimes he asked for refreshment - (laughter) - everyday when he would return home he would tell me where he was.  I am aware that he does not go to any place of worship.  He crows with the cocks before he leaves his bed - (laughter) - and when outside would take off his hat, and cheer the train as it passed, and crow again.  He would also sing, and play an accompaniment with his stick on his arm.  He had a great dread of robbers breaking in, and before going to bed would fortify the house.  He slept with an iron bar under his pillow.  When I would be engaged hanging out clothes, he used to fix up the lines for me.  On one occasion he left the house with his sister’s dress thrown across his shoulders, and walked through the town with it on him.  When half drunk he was very violent in his manner, and on Saturday last he threatened to shoot me or have me transported.  He threatened to go up to Kingstown and horse whip Mr. Murphy all round the jetty.  I don’t know myself what day of the week this is; at dinner he never got anything to drink but water.  I drink porter myself, he got none of it.  He never shot anyone, and when he threatened to transport me I understood it was because of what I was going to swear.

To a Juror. - He has no sense at all - (laughter) - I did not see him under the influence of drink for the last month, though he has been living in the house with me.

Dr. Pim, examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C. – I am a physician residing in Dublin.  I saw Mr James Reilly in Navan at the request of his sister.  I saw him for about an hour and a half in the house of Mr. Timmons, on a Saturday, and again on Sunday.  I converse with him for the purpose of seeing whether he was labouring under the delusions which I had been informed he was.  I found he laboured under a delusion with reference to some imaginary negociations (sic) with Mrs. Pim, and when I asked him what the negociations were, he said he could not remember, but that she knew all.  He told me this country was in a state of ruin; we were conversing about the poor-law system, and I observed “that the tenant paid half,” when he drew out his pocket-book, apparently with the intention of writing down what I said, but he did not do so, and placed the book in his pocket again.  I thought his manner of doing so was remarkable.

Cross-examined by Mr. Curran- Mr. Reilly was acquainted with Mrs. Pim before her marriage, and there was nothing remarkable in his inquiring after her.  I was brought to examine at the instance of Miss Reilly, with the view of seeing he was a fit subject for a commission of lunacy.  I came to the conclusion he was labouring under a delusion in reference to negociations which he said he had with Mrs. Pim about some lease.  Miss O’ Reilly did not tell me that after dinner was the best time to see him.  I have attended upon lunatics, and two within the last year, and came to the conclusion they were lunatics.

Dr. Nichols, examined by Mr. Sidney - I attended Mr Reilly during his illness in 1852, for paralysis of the spine.  As a medical man it is my opinion it affected his brain.  The general opinion is that particular disease weakens and impairs the intellect.  I saw him on the 17th of the present month, but not professionally.  I conversed with him then.  And his conversation was very rational.  I wanted to impress on him the folly of having a court of inquiry, and told him it would be better to take the management of his affairs out of Gregory’s hands, and place it in the hands of his sister.  He replied that Mr. Gregory was a most respectable man, and that he had the fullest confidence in him.  He spoke about building a wall across the Boyne, for the purpose of preventing the water from coming in on his land; from the conversation I have had with him I am of the opinion he is capable of talking coherently but I believe him to be incapable of managing his own affairs.

Cross-examined by Dr. Battersby, Q.C. - He spoke rationally on various subjects for nearly three quarters of an hour.  I brought an action for attendance upon him.  I last prescribed for him about seven years ago.  His bodily health was then very much impaired, but it has since improved.  My evidence is that he is of weak mind, and incapable of managing his own affairs.  Being anxious to test him on his building propensities, I said to him in a field of mine, would it not be well if I built on it, and he said not, as drunken persons might come home at night and burn the houses, and what then would I have for my money – (laughter) –I replied, very true.  The life he had been leading I considered brought on his illness in 1852.

Wm. Carry, examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C. - I am acquainted with Mr. O’Reilly, the subject of the present investigation.  A field of his was flooded at one time, and he spoke of draining it by lowering the bed of the Boyne, and building a wall across it.  I heard him frequently imitating a cock, and cheering as the train passed.  Within the last ten days I heard him threaten to shoot his sister, and say that he would go up to Kingstown with a stick to beat his brother-in-law, Mr. Murphy, on the jetty.  A person might converse with him for a long time without knowing his state of mind.  Whenever he would meet me any place on the road he would ask where I had been working that day, and when I would tell him he would say that he recommended that to be done.

Cross-examined by Mr. Curran - I was in the Theatre Royal, and heard the boys crowing in the top gallery, I don’t usually crow myself.  It is not an uncommon thing for people in the country to say they would knock the brains out of a person.

Mr. Patrick Smith, examined by Mr. Sidney - I am a painter.  I know Mr. O’Reilly, and have been in the habit of painting houses for his sister.  From communications which I received from his sister I searched the town for him frequently, to bring him home when he would be intoxicated. (A noise here occurred in court, which some persons stated was the alleged lunatic. It was not the fact, as the gentleman was not present).  He was in the habit of nailing up the window sashes every night, lest robbers should get in.  I have known him to use violent language to his relatives.

Cross examined by Dr. Battersby, Q.C. - It is more than six months since I saw Mr. Reilly drunk.

Rev Patrick Farrell, cross-examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C. - I am a Roman Catholic clergyman, in the parish of Rosanarea, near Navan; I am acquainted with Mr. O’Reilly for sixteen years.  I recollect his illness in 1852, after which I perceived a change in his manner.  He was at death’s door for a long time, and he continued in that very delicate state for some weeks.  He recovered his bodily health, but it appears to me his mind was greatly impaired.  We were very good friends, and his manner in my company was rather restrained.  He did not keep up a conversation for more than ten or fifteen minutes in a rational manner, when he would commence to ramble.  He was very anxious to provide a house for me, as I had been in lodgings.  On one occasion he travelled down from Dublin with me, and took notes of each of the stations which he passed, lest he should pass the Navan station, although he knew the line perfectly well.  A man died some time ago in Navan, intestate, and Mr. Reilly told me that he drew up his will, although I knew myself that the man died intestate.

Cross-examined by Dr. Battersby, Q.C. - I am a friend of the petitioner, but I am also a friend of the alleged lunatic, and I consider I am doing a friendly act for him here.

Dr. Battersby - You are doing a friendly act for the petitioner.

Witness- Yes and for Mr. Reilly too.  The weakness of his intellect somewhat decreased as his bodily health improved.  On the last occasion I saw him he was in bed, and appeared to be somewhat intoxicated.  I have known him for a long time, and as a matter of fact I never knew him to do anything foolishly with his property; nor did I ever know him to do violence to any one.

The further hearing was adjourned at half-past five o’clock to this morning.

Click below for Day 2.

Day 2.