Eliza O'Reilly v James O'Reilly.

The hearing of this interesting case was resumed yesterday morning in the Court house, Navan.

“William Ford, Esq., solicitor examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C (representing Eliza O’Reilly).-

I have been acting as agent for Mr. O’Reilly for two years; I am not acting for him now: I am acquainted with the family, and know the petitioner; during the time I was acting for him I had frequent interviews with him, and he did not appear capable of transacting business; the rents I collected I gave to Miss O’Reilly, his sister, in his presence; he never transacted business with me unless in the presence of his sister; he very often visited at my house, and I conversed in relation to his property; his language was coherent, but his memory was defective; I prepared a will for him- perhaps two; I drew one of them for the purpose of getting rid of him; I drew it up outside my house, standing on a ditch; by one of the wills he bequeathed all his property to a Rev. Mr. Power, (president of St. Finian’s Academy) and made me one of the residuary legatees; every day he was in the habit of calling on me although he had no business; during the period I was acting for him I never saw him doing any reasonable business, but he spoke a good deal about his rents; he generally was sober; when speaking of his sister his tone was hostile, but he spoke friendly of the Rev. Mr. Power to whom he proposed to leave his money; he dismissed me from the agency because I would give him none of his own money, but gave it to his sister.

Cross examined by Dr. Battersby, Q.C.  – I charged him costs to the extent of £173 for law proceedings; he was a party himself to the institution of these proceedings, and he was generally present at the transaction of business and took part in it; he attended before Master Henn and proved several sums due to him on his property; he attended with me as his solicitor, and was examined as a rational man; that was the 24th May, 1855; I cannot recollect in what year it was that I drew the wills for him, but it was during the period I was receiving his rents; I cannot say whether I drew the wills for him in sport or not; he was constantly calling on me complaining of not receiving his rents, and in the course of conversation he suggested I should draw a will for him, by which he said he would leave his sister nothing; I drew the will for him as I would for a child, to pacify him; at that time I don’t believe he knew what he was doing; I know a gentleman named James W Bourke; he was not present when I drew up the will on the ditch; the will is dated 19th October, 1858 ( The will was read, and to Mr. Peter O’Gorman and Mr. Wm. Ford, jun., it bequeathed a large portion of Mr. O’Reilly’s property; to his daughter £100, to be paid out of a bond for £500 in the hands of his sister; and to the Rev. Mr. Power £100; and appointing Mr. Wm. Ford, jun., sole executer. ) That will was afterwards executed, but I was not present at the execution; Mr. O’Reilly got it executed himself; Miss O’Reilly claimed the rent of Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s house, and Mr. James O’Reilly also claimed it on a prior title; he said he got it when a schoolboy from his grandfather; there is an item in my account for gruck rent, and he wrote after it “I pay no gruck rent;” his objection was well founded, and the mistake was afterwards rectified on his own objection; a letter dated 12th January, 1860, was read from the witness to the alleged lunatic, resigning his agency, and telling him there were some proceedings instituted against him, directing him to appoint another solicitor; at the time I so wrote to him I considered him a rational man; the power of attorney referred to was signed both by the alleged lunatic and his brother-in-law; I am aware of the amount of Mr. O’Reilly’s property; when he was examined before the Master, and made affidavits in the case, I considered him rational, otherwise I would not have allowed him to make affidavits; he was perfectly well aware of the amount of his rental, and he never complained of my retaining too much of it in liquidation of costs.

To Mr. Ball, Q.C. -  The second will I don’t think was ever executed; he wrote on the back of one of the wills, “ I cancel this as I have made another, and left it in the hands of Mr. Gregory.” This is dated 30th of January, 1859; the bill of costs was furnished for the purpose of taxation; the law proceedings for which the costs were incurred were for the recovery of a judgment and some debts.

To the Commissioner- I practised as a solicitor at sessions with Mr. O’Reilly, and we all considered him to be a clever, intelligent man at his business; his manner is now different from what it was; his conversation is incoherent; he cannot converse coherently on any subject for more than ten or fifteen minutes; recently I did not consider it safe to take an authority to collect his rents from him; he was not mentally competent to give an authority; I did not charge him in the bill of costs for drawing up the will, as I did not do it professionally for him; I drew it in accordance with the instructions which I received from him; he did not revoke the will in consequence of any falling-out he had with me; he appears to have revoked it in 1859, and he dismissed me from the agency in 1860.

James Ralph, examined by Mr. Sidney- I am a baker by trade, and have had frequent intercourse with the alleged lunatic; I have known him for twenty-five years; I have had frequent opportunities  of observing his manner, and it seemed very strange; he sometimes called into the bakery establishment and made strange suggestions; I have heard him speak of the clergy of the town in a most disrespectful manner; within the last three or four months he has been somewhat more circumspect; about eighteen months ago I saw him coming towards me, with a young tree on his shoulder, which he said would make a capital pike-handle, and that if the boys on Tara had such pike-handles they would not have been defeated in the manner they were; his language towards the clergy was rather of a scurrilous character; some seven or eight months ago he asked me to undertake his agency.

Cross-examined by Mr. Curran- I write a good hand and can keep accounts, and would not be unfit to discharge the duties of an agent; Mr. O’Reilly was a funny man, but I consider his carry the young tree a strange proceeding for a gentleman; he was in the habit of speaking bad of the clergy; I was not instructed for this investigation, but was subpoenaed in consequence of having lived opposite to him.

To the Commissioner- On one occasion I saw him punch his walking stick through the windows, but he was under the influence of liquor.

To a Juror- There is an evident improvement in him latterly, and he is more temperate, and generally more circumspect in his manner.

John Leonard, examined by Dr. Ball- I am a collector of poor-rates in Navan, and am acquainted with the subject of the present investigation; one day, at the Moate of Navan, he met me, and asked me to level the Moate, and said he would do it in twelve hours with a plough; “ Well, if it is so easy as that” said I, “ we may as well have an offer at it;” I said so just to pacify him; he was constantly talking about selling his land , and asked me would I buy  it, as he had notions of going to France; whenever I would meet him in the town, I endeavoured to avoid him, so as not to be annoyed with his nonsense; within a few years back I think he is losing his mind very much.

Cross-examined by Dr. Battersby, Q.C.- From his appearance I would say he is getting worse in his mind; I never saw him try to take down the Moate, throw his money away or endeavour to cut his throat. (Laughter)

James Reid, examined by Mr. Ball, Q.C.-  I was engaged by Miss O’Reilly to mind Mr. O’Reilly; after dinner when he would go out I was engaged witching him until he came back; he used to go about looking for whisky all through the town, but he always used to get it in Charley Gregory’s where there is the best of whisky, at least so Charly says-(laughter) – he was not aware that I had been watching him; in the street he made no noise, but when he would get to his own house he commenced to beat the girl; one evening he bundled all his clothes under his arm, and went off to Kells, and I after him; he refused to come back with me.

Cross-examined by Mr. Curran- Mr. O’Reilly was often drunk, and so was I, and on my oath I would like to be drunk now, but no man ever saw me beastly drunk.

Owen Farrelly, examined by Mr. Sidney- I am a dealer, and for the last twenty years I am acquainted with Mr. O’Reilly; He never spoke to me more than bidding me the time of day; I saw him carrying a large tree on one occasion; on another occasion I saw him digging up stones on the road with a spade, and I asked him what he was doing that for, and he said it was to prevent the women’s feet from being injured going to the well- (laughter)- I had conversation with Mr. Gregory on the subject.

What did he say to you?- (The evidence was objected to, and ruled by the Commissioner to be inadmissible).

Examination continued- About six months ago I saw him on the road to Kells with a bundle of clothes under his arm.

To Dr. Battersby-There were a number of stones sticking up on the road to the well which Mr. O’Reilly was removing.

Michael Cantwell, examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C.-  I am a watchman in Navan, and have seen Mr. O’Reilly frequently; I saw a man of the name of Roe watching him, and then Reid watched him; Mr. O’Reilly used to go into several houses in the town, and whenever he went Roe was after him; I often assisted Roe to bring Mr. O’Reilly home when he would be drunk; on one occasion I met him at four o’clock in the morning, and he said, “Go along, you fool! It is seven,” but I did not mind him as I knew what he was.

Cross-examined by Mr. Curran- That was the morning of the Duleek Sessions, and he was going there; he told me he was going out to meet a gentleman who was going to give him a seat on his car; he might have mistaken the hour.

Christopher Flood, examined by Mr. Sidney- I am a farmer residing in the neighbourhood, and have known Mr. O’Reilly for the past twenty years; I conversed, and he frequently asked me to buy land from him; I wished to avoid him, as I did not like to bother my head with him.

Patrick O’Reilly, examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C.- I am a farmer, residing near Dunshaughlin; I have known Mr. O’ Reilly for 30 years; since he retired from practice I have had conversations with him; the last time I saw him was about three months ago; he said Mr. Flood had taken all his property into his hands, and had given him nothing, and that the rents went to his sister; he complained that he got no whisky after dinner although he liked it; he was constantly asking me to take a farm of his; within the last eight years there is a very great change in his manner; during his practice as a solicitor I found him always attentive and clever; he told me he gave his business to Mr. Ford in consequence of his inability to transact it himself after his illness.

Cross-examined by Dr. Battersby, Q.C.-  I know many farmers in Meath labouring under a mania for taking land, (laughter.)

Mr. Francis Murphy, examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C.-  I have known Mr. James O’Reilly for 30 years; he frequently conversed with me, and of late years there is a great change in him; I consider his mind has been prostrated; at one time he wanted to get a farm from me to build a house on, and I said if he built it on Mr. Ford’s land I would have no objection to give him a few acres for planting; since the first complaint was made in Chancery for the institution of these proceedings he complained that I was a party to it, and had filed an affidavit to ground it; I told him he was mistaken, and he replied he had been informed that I had; he told me he intended to build a large mill, and carry on the cotton trade; I asked him where the money was to come from, and he said, “ Oh, there is no want of money,” he also said he intended to take tour through France, and he hoped the mill works would be completed on his return.

Cross-examined by Dr. Battersby, Q.C.- He gave me to understand he was not receiving his rents, and he complained of not being well fed; if anyone treated me in that way I would soon go to Mr. Hynes. (Laughter.)

This closed the petitioner’s case.

Dr. Battersby,  Q.C., then proceeded to address the jury on behalf of the alleged lunatic. He said that the surest way to make a man mad was to place him amongst the insane, and such was the effort made by those who sought to hunt his client to death. Mr. O’Reilly’s property was not large, but, nevertheless, an effort was made to take it out of his hands; but he hoped the sister who instituted such proceedings to deprive a brother of his property and liberty would be foiled in the attempt. If the sister did not owe her brother a large debt, he ventured to say there would have been no commission of lunacy, but the unfortunate man would have been allowed to pass his days unmolested. There were three periods in this case to which it was important to call attention. In 1852, there was no doubt but that Mr. O’Reilly was attacked with malignant disease, and if a commission were applied for at that period there could have been no legitimate opposition to it; but since then, day by day, he had recovered until his mental faculties were completely restored. He was always treated by those who were benefited by him as being perfectly sane, and it was only until he demanded the debt which his sister owed that the commission was sought for to establish insanity against him, and to deprive him of his liberty. The whole case was concocted to free the lady from her liability. While recovering from his illness, he spoke in a manner which some persons considered was silly, but was he, therefore, to be found by a jury of his countrymen as incapable of managing his affairs? There was no law so unjust, and he hoped the protection of the law would be thrown around his client, and shield him from those who had concocted the case against him. Lunacy was not to be established by a man talking in a silly manner, for if that were sufficient to establish such a charge, most men would be shut up in an asylum. The Rev. Mr. Farrell, although apparently not the friend of Mr.O’Reilly, nevertheless gave evidence most favourable to his case. He deposed that Mr. O’Reilly never did a foolish thing as regards his property, nor did violence to any one. Was a man who received such a character to be pronounced non compos, and shut up in a lunatic asylum.The case was full of evidence to show that he was perfectly rational and capable of managing his property. In 1853, when recovering from illness, he executed a power of attorney to enable his sister to obtain some money from the Hibernian Bank. That transaction showed the petitioner considered he was perfectly competent at the time to execute that power of attorney. He never attempted to do a dishonest act in his life, nor was his conduct marked by either violence or irrationality. The written documents in the case, which were unerring, proved incontestably the sanity of Mr. O’Reilly. His solicitor, Mr. Ford, undoubtedly considered him a sane man, and dealt with him as such, having acted as his solicitor, and produced him to give evidence, viva voce, before a Master in Chancery. The parties who were opposed to him sanctioned his proceedings, and treated him in every way as a rational man. Notwithstanding all that, Mr. Ford under to give it as his opinion that Mr. O’Reilly was childish. One of the delusions alleged against him was, that he claimed a house which his sister also claimed, although he had received the rents himself for 20 years. The house was given to him by his grandfather, and there was no title against him, except that his sister claimed it, having been willed it by her uncle, who himself had no claim to it. He had written a letter on the 3rd Nov., 1856, on the subject of his property, threatening to institute law proceedings against his sister for receiving his rents to the extent of £200 in cash. In that letter he directed his solicitor to caution the tenants so as to prevent further misapplication of the rents. That letter was the spontaneous effusion of Mr. O’Reilly’s mind, and should it be supposed that the writer of it was labouring under insanity? Miss O’ Reilly’s conduct towards her brother, did not show he was insane, when she endeavoured to induce him to go over the accounts of his property, and quietly settle them, when he said they were insufficient. One of the greatest illusions alleged against in relation to those accounts was, that he got £95 from his sister, which he never paid. He denied that he received, and there was no voucher shown for it. Mr. Ford drew up the will referred to, thinking it a property act, and Mr. O’Reilly having that will embodying his intentions, which he had maturely considered, got it subsequently written out in proper form, and had it executed. When he gave a legacy to his daughter by it, he discharged a sacred obligation which rested on him, and did nothing inconsistent. His request to the Rev. Mr. Power was also rational, for that gentleman was the president of the seminary in Navan, where he had been educated. Mr. Ford would never have drawn the will if he did not consider he was doing it for a rational man. In January 1860, Mr Reilly being dissatisfied   with Mr. Ford, thought proper to change his attorney. Mr. Ford wrote a letter to him in reply, which proved he considered he was dealing with a rational man, from the manner in which he addressed him. The observations which Mr. O’Reilly wrote across the disputed accounts were not observations which a lunatic would have been likely to write, for they evinced extraordinary acuteness and memory. When the petition was filed to compel the petitioner to account, then for the first time, it was alleged his client was a lunatic, and the commission was sought for. Every one of the lunacy papers were sent down and served on Mr. O’Reilly himself, although his solicitor, Mr. Hynes, was residing in Dublin. An interested party coming into court was generally listened with little attention, and should there be a verdict of insanity the petitioner would be the benefited party. It would be no great hard ship on the sister, who had plenty of property, to pay the debt which she honestly owed to her brother. A verdict in favour of his sanity would affect no one. If Mr. O’ Reilly was consigned to a lunatic asylum there he might remain until death, for it was clear the petitioner would take no further interest in him. She sent to Dr. Hamerton to certify for incapacity, but he refused to give it as he was of opinion Mr. O’Reilly was perfectly capable. That fact was at first suppressed  from the chancellor because Dr. Hamerton had given an honest opinion. The case should not be a conspiracy, but the good and bad ought equally to have been brought forward to obtain the judgment of the court upon it. Dr. Taylor, the eminent physician, in speaking of medical testimony in such cases said that one source of difficulty was that medical witnesses were allowed to be summoned by both parties, and the opinions given often neutralised each other. They were thereby converted into partisans, and were retained as much as if they were counsel. It often happened that a man with the purest intention would insensibly lean to the side on which he had been consulted. In fact, that medical testimony, if the solicitor went far enough, could be at graduated prices. He (Dr. Battersby) was pleading for the liberty and property of an individual who had nobody but his hired advocates to say a word for him. From 1856 to 1860, there was evidence to show he was seeking for an account, and receiving imperfect accounts from his sister. The commission was applied for by her, and, with those facts, was the medical evidence in the case sufficient to establish insanity? Mr. O’Reilly, admittedly, was a man of intemperate habits, but drunkenness, according to Dr. Taylor, was not a sufficient ground for imposition of restraint or interdiction by the law of England. Drunkenness did not constitute permanent incapacity. Mr. O’Reilly was at present pleading for his liberty and property. He was not a person of very high rank or fortune, but every man, however mistaken he might have been in his conduct, still had a right to claim from a jury as just a judgment as if he were the most immaculate character. No man could tell when unnatural relations might place him in the position in which it was sought to place his client, and it was to be hoped that a jury of his countrymen would protect him. If it was his right to spend the remainder of his days in freedom they should not deprive him of that right which God had given him. At the close of the learned gentleman’s address, of which the above is but an outline, there was loud applause in court.


The following evidence was then given for the defence:-

Mr. Peter O’Gorman, solicitor, examined by Mr. Curran- I reside in Dublin, and am acquainted with Mr. O’Reilly for 30 years; in 1852 he was suffering at the Northumberland Hotel from severe illness, and his sister removed him in a car, when he was in an exceedingly delicate condition, to Navan; at the time I thought the journey would have killed him; I did not see him again until ’56, when I saw him at Kingstown; he complained that he was badly treated, and that he been ordered a glass of wine by the doctor, and could not get it; he asked a good deal about his uncle’s will, and was surprised he was not mentioned in it; I never saw him drink to excess, and he often declined to drink a glass of wine; during the whole of 1856 he was in the habit of frequenting my house; in the latter end of that year he discovered that his shares in the Hibernian bank had been taken from him, and he felt very much annoyed; all the representations he made to me about the state of his property I found correct; I instituted law proceedings to obtain an account for him; he was a most rational man, and not intemperate when I knew him; in the early part of the present year I furnished my bill if costs; I billed him for £20 and he offered me £12; I was obliged to serve a writ on him; within the present year his health has visibly improved, and in reference to pecuniary matters he is particularly acute.


Cross-examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C.- He was very fond of living in hotels, and kept his office in Dominic-street; he was very much interested in Lucas’ election in ’52; he was two or three months ill in the hotel before any steps were taken by  his family to remove him; one or twice I saw him in other places in Kingstown, besides at my own house, and he was then temperate; I lost sight of him in 1857, and saw him very seldom until the other day; he complained to me that he was only allowed the price of a third-class ticket on the railway, and was sometimes obliged to borrow a few pence to make up the price of it; he talked repeatedly about a will, and said it was in favour of my family, which I was not aware of; the law proceedings were not carried out as the parties had agreed to account.


To Mr. Curran- I saw him in Master Henn’s office frequently attending to the case he had there; on any given subject he is as rational as any man, but his memory is a little defective.


Mr. John Thomas Hynes, solicitor, examined by Mr. Curran- I am acquainted with Mr. O’Reilly for the past 25 years, and have always found him very good company; he is witty and jovial; in the summer of 1856 I saw him at Dalkey, and I conversed with him; he frequently complained to me that he was not getting enough to eat, and that he was very badly treated; his clothing was very bad, particularly his shoes; he complained that he could get neither money nor accounts from his sister, and said that he did not like to break with them, and that he had appointed Mr. Ford as agent to collect his rents; Miss O’Reilly called on me about two years ago, and informed me her brother was taking proceedings against her for an account, and asked me to use my influence with him to prevent his doing so; I declined, as I was not acting for her brother, and I told her if she valued her brother more and money less, things would be in a better condition; I received from MR. O’Reilly several letters which will speak for themselves; from my communication with him I would say he is perfectly competent to manage his affairs; I have acted upon his advice since the commencement of this proceeding, and found his instructions and representations perfectly correct; he wrote several across accounts which he had received from his sister; on his instructions I prepared the petition to compel his sister satisfactorily to account; I knew nothing of his property until he instructed me.

Click below for Day 3.

Day 3.