Eliza O'Reilly v James O'Reilly.

Day Three.


We give to-day Friday’s proceedings in the interesting lunacy case, which pressure on space precluded us from giving in Saturday’s publication. We also give a report of the conclusion of the case on Saturday. The interest taken in it appears to have increased.

Mr. Hynes, solicitor, was recalled, and in answer to a juror, stated that Mr.O’Reilly was perfectly competent to manage his own affairs. He is at present in possession of some of his rents, and he has never misspent them. His great cause of complaint was, that his former agent did not give him his rents, but handed them over to his sister. I believe he is perfectly able to arrange his own affairs, but whether he might relapse into drink or not I cannot undertake to say. Mr. Gregory, his present agent, is a strict teetotaller. Mr. O’Reily was perfectly cognisant of all the proceedings which were going on in chancery.

To Mr. Sidney- In a letter addressed to he expressed a wish to have Mr. Brewster retained. Mr Brewster had been retained against him in the proceedings in chancery.

Dr. Wallace, examined by Dr. Battersby, Q.C.- I am surgeon to the county jail in Trim, and have had considerable experience of cases of lunacy in the jail; at the request of Mr. Hynes I examined Mr. O’Reilly, and conversed with him; from those conversations I failed to discover in him any mental incapacity, and I believe him perfectly competent to manage his own affairs.

Cross-examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C.- On the first visit I paid him, I found him in bed, and he complained of suffering from a bilious attack; yesterday week I saw him again; I spoke to him about his health, and he told me his kidneys had been effected (sic); he told me the names of some persons who had given evidence against him before the Chancellor; I was not aware of how his affairs had been managed for the last eight years; he did not allude to any of the delusions which was supposed to be labouring, but his conversation was coherent and rational.

To Dr. Battersby, Q.C.- He appeared to be a person of considerable intelligence.


To the Commissioner- I knew as a matter of fact he had not practised his profession since 1852; before his illness he was a man of great intelligence and professional skill; I never spoke to a more rational man.

Clement Hamerton examined by Mr. Curran- I am a physician,residing at Anthelstown near Navan; I have had considerable practice; I examined Mr. O’Reilly in the month of May last at his sister’s house in Academy-street, in Navan; when I saw him he was in bed; I conversed with him for nearly an hour upon the state of the country; about the profession, and various other subjects; on the 5th August I had another interview with him; I inquired of him was he aware of my former visit to him, and he said he was ; he was aware of the parties who were to appear against him to get up the present commission to make out he was insane, and he complained that it was a most monstrous proceeding, he had a distinct recollection of the former conversations I had with him, and he denied he was of intemperate habits; I asked him what the meaning of his crowing like a cock, and he explained that he lived opposite the academy, and used to make a noise like a cock crowing, to amuse the boys, and the crowed back in reply; from the conversations I have had with him, I came to the conclusion that he is of sound mind, and perfectly capable of managing his own affairs.

Cross-examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C. He told me his property was going to ruin, and I don’t consider it a proof of irrationality for a man to change his agent under such circumstances; I myself would not make Mr.Gregory my agent in preference to Mr. Ford; he did not tell me he had executed three wills, and had made Mr. Gregory, the publican, the custodee of one of them, leaving all his property to Mr. O’Gorman, and the Rev. Mr. Power; he stated that Mr. Gregory was a most respectable man, and had the confidence of many persons; the fact of his crowing to please the boys may be evidence of eccentricity, but not insanity; I tried him with the figures, and asked him what the population before the panic, and he said that there were eight millions at Tara, and that we could not muster six million now; I considered that there was some evidence of reason and power of comparison; I did not ask him if he had executed any deeds, nor whether he had burned one of the wills; he spoke a good deal of the change in the country, by emigration, and he said it had materially improved his profession; he also said that, for the benefit of his health, he intended to go to America, via Galway; I consider that no proof of insanity, as the voyage would undoubtedly be beneficial to him.

To the Commissioner- Before my second interview with him, I made myself acquainted with the previous history of his case; I was aware he had been a solicitor in extensive practice, and I believe he had ceased to practice in consequence of illness and being intemperate.

To a Juror-He is now labouring under no delusion, and if he had the management of his property, I am convinced he would manage it providently and carefully. He would not take £30 from a tenant when he should get £35. (Laughter.)

Elizabeth Doake, examined by Mr. Curran- I am a widow residing in Navan; about two years ago Mr. O’Reilly lodged in my house, and he conducted himself in a gentlemanlike manner, but when he would take a tumbler of punch he was very harty. (Laughter.)

Cross-examined by Mr. Sidney- He is a very sensible man; I keep a public house and sell good whisky, and when you taste it, sir, you will know it good. (Laughter.)

Mr. Hartcourt Lightbourne, J.P. examined by Mr. Battersby, Q.C. – I am a magistrate in the town of Trim, and was chairman of the Town Commissioners for seven years; I have known Mr. O’Reilly intimately for a period of 30 years; I was in his company on Thursday evening last, and if I met him yesterday as a stranger, I would say he was the most rational man I ever met in my life; he was as clear in his intellect as ever I saw him, and when I told him there was applause in court at the close of his counsel’s speech, he said he was glad to hear there was good feeling towards him amongst the people, and said that bad feeling against him only existed amongst those who were interested in obtaining possession of his property.

Cross-examined by Dr. Ball, Q.C.- On two occasions he asked me to lend him half a crown, and as an old friend I did so; I never was paid it back; he spoke about the Dublin election, and being concerned for O’Connell, who offered to draw a cheque for £105 for him, which he refused; he also said that O’Connell wanted to push him out, and that he broke his umbrella. (laughter.)

Noah Birch, examined by Mr. Curran- I am engaged in the wool trade, in Navan, and have known Mr. O’Reilly; he frequently conversed with me about the gentlemen’s places where I went to purchase wool; his conversation was most rational, particularly within the last two years.

Cross-examined by Mr. Sidney- I always considered him a sensible, rational man; I know Mr. Gregory, but I am seldom in his company; he often allowed me to store wool in an outhouse of his.

Miss O’Reilly, the petitioner, was re-called, and stated that she never left her brother without sufficient clothing; he pawned some of his dress, and she released them afterwards.

To Dr. Battersby- The sums which I paid for clothes are included in the accounts against him.

To the Commissioner- My brother-in-law, Mr. Murphy, received Mr. O’Reilly’s rents, and gave some small sums for pocket money; knew him frequently to lose small sums of money, at least he lost it in the procurement of drink; he knew what the amount of his rents was when he would be told but not otherwise; he appeared to be satisfied that I bought everything he required; he frequently complained he was not well treated.

This closed the evidence on both sides.

At this stage of the proceedings, Mr. O’Reilly, the alleged lunatic, entered the court, and took his seat beside his legal advisor. The gentleman appeared perfectly collected and entered freely into conversation with his legal advisers.

The Court was then cleared, no person remaining in court, save the Commissioner, jury, and counsel on both sides. The solicitors were also excluded.

Mr. O’Reilly was under examination for about two hours and a-half, and on his reappearance from court was greeted with a cheer. He still retained a calm collected demeanour.

When the public were readmitted.

Mr. J.A Curran proceeded to address the jury on behalf of the alleged lunatic. He said that from what had taken place during the preceding two hours no person could entertain a doubt that Mr. James O’Reilly was a sane man, and capable of managing his own affairs. Every man had a perfect right to do what he pleased with his own property when the law permitted him. The question in the case was simply whether Mr. O’Reilly was of unsound mind, and legally incompetent for the management of his affairs. The law merely required them as jurors to apply the test of common sense to the mental condition of the individual. He asked them could they under the sacred obligation of their oaths, after the ordeal through which his client had passed, deprive him of his civil existence, and pronounce him incapable of managing himself and his property. The petitioner had got all his property into her power, and she wished to have the uncontrolled possession of it, for O’Reilly would soon be forgotten, and his dissolution would, perhaps relieve her of all further concern. He considered it would be almost better for him to be consigned to the scaffold than have a verdict of insanity pronounced against him; for, by such a verdict, he would virtually be deprived of civil life. If the petitioner were to be believed, her brother’s mental faculties were utterly prostrated. She had got his property, and she also wished to put him beyond the possibility of making any disposition of it. It was to be hoped the law would protect him, and defeat the machinations of his oppressors. He asked them did they believe, as rational beings, that if Mr. O’Reilly had died after he had made the will in favour of Mr. Ford and others, was it likely that those gentleman would come forward and say he was insane? It was not likely they would. Those who gave evidence against him were manifestly interested parties, and no reliance could be placed upon such testimony. It was insufficient to convict any man of insanity. The petitioner deposed that her brother was perfectly childish, and she undertook to swear that up to the present hour his mental condition had not improved, but the jury, from what they had seen of him, should come to another conclusion. He asked them could they say that during the two hours he was under examination, he was incoherent for ten minutes, or that his mind was a blank. The motives were sufficiently strong, no doubt, to induce the parties to hunt down the unfortunate man, for if he were insane, the debt of £500, which the petitioner owed him, could scarcely be recovered. The jury would either restore him by their verdict to his legitimate rights, or deprive him of his liberty, and virtually of his life. Was the fact of his crowing in imitation of a cock, and being of a jocular disposition, sufficient to entail upon him such frightful consequences? Defective memory was no was no criterion of weakness of mind, for men of fast intelligence and acuteness very often had defective memories. The circumstance of Mr. O’Reilly ceasing to practice his profession since 1852, was owing to physical problems. When he recovered in a couple of years after he found his business was scattered amongst others, having means left to support him quietly, he did not think it worthwhile to resume his practice. Because he did not do so, was he to be pronounced insane? Could any sound-minded man say for one moment that, because he had no need to practise, that he was incapable and of unsound mind? His examination showed he had no inducement to commence his labours again, and collect the clients whose business he had lost by illness. He had a perfect right to appoint any man whom he pleased to collect his rents, and there was nothing inconsistent in such an act. It was his undoubted privilege, so long and he enjoyed his liberty and freedom, to appoint Mr. Gregory his agent. The question in the case was not whether his property was safer in the hands of Mr. Ford or Mr. Gregory. It was as safe in the hands of one as the other. Mr. Ford had annoyed him by charging him a large bill of costs, and by paying over his rents to his sister and not to himself; that was sufficient grounds to induce a man of Mr. O’Reilly’s sensitive disposition to take the agency from Mr. Ford, and to give it to a man in whom he had as much confidence, who would pay the rents over to himself; it was a melancholy thing to see his property, which he had acquired by hard labour, engulphed and swallowed up in the costs of such an afflicting proceeding as a commission to inquire into his state of mind. When the costs of that expensive proceeding were paid, it was not likely Mr. O’Reilly would have much remaining to deposit in the Hibernian Bank. There was no society for him in Navan, and he was driven to amuse himself as best he could. All the little incidents of his life, crowing in imitation of a cock, and cheering as the train passed, etc., were brought forward to establish a case of insanity against him. There was not a particle of evidence in the case to show he ever had done violence to any one, or foolishly squandered his money. Because he had spoken of taking mills, and building houses a jury of his own countrymen were called upon to pronounce him insane. If that were sufficient to establish insanity, the lunatic asylums would soon be full, and no man would be safe. Dr. Hamerton, a man incapable of being influenced, proved beyond all question that Mr. O’Reilly was sound and insensible. After such unbiased and independent testimony could they convict him. There was nothing in the case to warrant them in convicting him for their verdict, if adverse, would be a conviction, and the deepest wound which could be inflicted on any human being. It would deprive him of all social comfort, and he might drag out a life in sorrow and suffering, with few to sympathise with him. Delirium, resulting from excessive drinking, did not constitute insanity. Conscious that such indulgence was injurious to him he abstained from it and came into court as sensible and rational as any man by possibility could be. He (Mr. Curran) had known him for many years, and revered him. When a very young man at the bar, he had given him briefs, and befriended him at a time when he had but few friends. He naturally felt the deepest interest in his behalf, and he hoped the designs of his enemies would be frustrated. It was an affair of life and death to his client, for, if there was a verdict against him, it could not fail to hasten his dissolution. He would ask again, from the searching examination through which Mr. O’Reilly had gone, was there one in court who could say he did not know his own affairs, and was fully capable of managing them? If the petitioner was to be believed, he was a perfect infant, totally prostrate in intellect and faculties of conception. They had seen him examined with an ability and ingenuity by a member of the jury, which would do credit to a nisi prius advocate; and could they believe after that ordeal that he was a child without mind, and utterly prostrate in intellect. He was quite aware of the drift of the searching examination which he was subjected to, and his replies showed extraordinary acuteness of intellect, and that he was in the full possession of mental faculties. It was but fair to put it to their common sense and understanding, that if any one of them were placed upon the table, and twelve gentlemen allowed to question and cross-question them, would they be able at the moment to give answers as accurate and correct as Mr. O’Reilly had given? He spoke for himself, and he very much doubted if he would be able. If his memory was a little defective there was nothing in that to warrant them in saying he had not capacity to manage his own affairs. It was alleged he knew nothing about figures, because, forsooth, he could not tell what Dr. Nicholls had given for his property. Dr. Nicholls was mistaken in his conception as to that, for Mr. O’Reilly’s examination did not show him to be a man devoid of calculating powers – quite the reverse. The simple question for them was, whether he had sufficient capacity to manage his own affairs, and they had nothing to say to what night occur hereafter. His solicitor would pledge his professional character and honour as a gentleman, that the care and management of Mr. O’Reilly’s property should be placed in such hands, and taken care of, as that no detriment could possibly happen to him, or a shilling of it. Mr. Hynes was a gentleman of high honour and integrity, on whose word reliance could be placed, and his guarantee was sufficient. In the accounts £52 a-year was charged for Mr. O’Reilly’s board and lodging; and for a period of six or seven years, the whole amount put down for clothes for him was £24 14s., and the actual amount of cash placed in his hands during that long period, amounted to £3 odd. He was, consequently, left in a distressed condition, and was frequently obliged to borrow a penny to buy bread and milk , as deposed by a most respectable witness, Mr. Peter O’ Gorman, With base facts, was it a sign of insanity in him to say that he was defrauded, and would compel the parties to account; and it was not until he filed his declaration for the purpose that the idea suggested itself of making out that he was insane. One of the grounds of insanity alleged against him was that he spoke disrespectfully of the priests. He  so because he took a great interest in the election, and was angry with them because some supported Henry Grattan, and others, Lucas. In commenting on the evidence, Mr. Curran said he would place the evidence of Mr. Hynes in opposition to all the other testimony which had been adduced. He was a man of great penetration of mind, and having received instructions from Mr. O’Reilly, and having been in his company both day and night, he swore that he was as sane a man, and as well able to conduct his business, as any other gentleman in the county Meath. Mr. Hynes had given his pledge and word of honour as to that, and they should act upon it. Mr. Peter O’Gorman a respectable solicitor, his intimate friend, and associate for many years, had given similar evidence, and could they in the face of the evidence, most overwhelmingly, pronounce him insane? If they did find such a verdict, his dissolution would soon follow, and as he went along the streets he would be scoffed and mocked as a lunatic. He would implore them to hesitate before they came to a decision which would be attended with so much calamity to a fellow-creature. They should disregard the statements of counsel in the case, and act according to their consciences, and in God’s name he would commit the case to their charge. At the conclusion of the learned counsel’s address, which lasted for three hours, and of which the above is a mere abstract, there was loud applause in court.

Click below for Day 4.

Day 4.