Eliza O’Reilly v James O’Reilly

Commission de Lunatico Inquirendo 1860

The Irish Times started publication in 1859 and in July 1860 it reported that “A Commission de Lunatico Inquirendo is being tried, with all due formality, and, doubtless, with the usual costs, in the classic town of Navan”.  This means - A Commision to Inquire into the State of Mind. The terms Lunatic and Lunatic Asylums remained in use in law until 1945.  Mullingar Lunatic Asylum became Mullingar Mental Hospital and Ardee Lunatic Asylum became Ardee Mental Hospital.  They later became Psychiatric Hospitals.  The Irish Times had a few readers around Navan because in the previous year some locals had been mentioned in the social and personal news:

George A. Pollock, Oatlands, Navan.

George Thunder, Kingston Lodge, Navan.

Mrs. Garnett, Arch Hall, Navan.

William S. Garnett, Navan.

Colonel Henry Percival de Bathe, Knightstown, Navan.

Captain and Mrs. Ramadge, Gravelmount, Navan.


On the 7th July 1860 the following court report appeared:

In re James Reilly, an alleged lunatic.

Mr. Brewster Q.C. with whom was Mr. Sherlock Q.C. applied on the part of Miss Eliza O’Reilly, that a commission de lunatico inquirendo should issue to ascertain the state of mind of Mr. James O’Reilly, the alleged lunatic.  The petition, which was presented by the alleged lunatic’s sister, stated that Mr. O’Reilly was a solicitor in the county Meath; that in 1852 he was attacked with a fit of apoplexy: that his intellect was so much impaired that he was utterly incapable of managing his own affairs, which had been under the control of other parties for several years.  It stated that he suffered from almost total loss of memory, and laboured under various delusions.  His property amounted to £140 a year, derived from land and houses in Navan and Athboy.

Mr. Sullivan Q.C. with whom was Mr. O’Driscoll, resisted the application on the part of Mr. J.D. Hinds solicitor for the alleged lunatic.  Mr. Hinds made an affidavit, which was supported by others, in which he stated that Mr. O’Reilly was perfectly sane, and in full possession of his mental faculties.  Letters recently written by the alleged lunatic were read, which, it was contended, proved that he was quite capable of transacting his own business, and it was argued that no case had been made to justify the issuing of a commission.

The Chancellor allowed the case to stand for further affidavits on both sides.

Eliza O’Reilly and James Reilly sister and brother were niece and nephew of Rev. Eugene O’ Reilly Parish Priest, Navan who died 12th December 1852 aged 84 years.

The Inquiry began on the 30 August 1860 in the Courthouse in Ludlow Street, Navan. The Irish Times published an editorial on the inquiry. This gives a summary and makes it easier to understand the proceedings.

A commission de Lunatico Inquirendo is being tried, with all due formality, and, doubtless, with the usual costs, in the classic town of Navan. The circumstances of the case are extraordinary.  Mr. James Reilly is a solicitor, well known and respected in the county of Meath.  He possesses property to the amount of £150 a year, and a security, by judgment, for £500, with some arrears of interest.  The petitioner who procured the commission is no other than his sister, Miss Eliza O’Reilly, who never accused him of lunacy during the six years which he lived with her.  The object sought is of course, the legal one - to secure proper treatment for the lunatic, and the protection of his property.  As the Chancellor directed a Commission to be held, a prima faciecase of lunacy has been established to his satisfaction, and Mr. Francis Brady has been sent down to Navan satisfactorily.  Mr. O’ Reilly it appears, enjoyed a very extensive practice in Navan.  In 1852 he was attacked by disease of the spine, which, it is supposed, had a temporary effect upon his brain.  He ceased to practice between 1852 and 1857.  He resided with his brother-in-law, Mr. Murphy, and the sister who petitions.  Some feeling against Mr. Murphy entered his mind about the year 1857, and he transferred his agency from that gentleman to a person named Gregory, a grocer in the town of Navan.

The “proofs“ of the alleged lunatic are certainly curious.  He cheered the train sometimes when it passed under his windows, or saluted the passengers by crowing.  Nay, he actually asked occasionally for refreshment.  He spoke of laying down plans for buildings, and of purchasing land.  Are these proofs of lunacy?  Some unpleasant family circumstances came out on the cross examination of the petitioner.  She is indebted to the alleged lunatic in a sum of £500, and on the 28 of May last he filed a declaration of the debt, and was met early in June by her affidavits charging him with insanity.  It is notable that for six years he was treated as a thoroughly rational being: he was asked to sign warrants of attorney and a bill for £100 by the sister and brother-in-law.  One physician proved that his mental power had recovered after the cessation of his disease, yet the moment the unfortunate gentleman takes legal proceedings to recover a debt due to him by his sister, he is asserted to be lunatic, and a commission is issued against him.

We cannot comment on this case until the decision of the jury is given, except to remark that this Commission will, in any case, cost Mr. O’Reilly some four or five hundred pounds.  Whether he be found sane or insane, his property, amounting to but £150 a year, will be mulcted in costs.  The expense, too, must be increased by the holding of the Commission in Navan.  It costs something to send to that locality a Commissioner in Lunacy and a bar of lawyers.  The ends of justice, we suppose would have been fulfilled if the case had been heard in the Court of Chancery in Dublin.  Navan is not a place where proper publicity for such a trial can be readily procured.  We heard of this strange case by the merest accident, and are thus enabled to furnish a special report. They who are interested in the reform of the laws relating to lunatics would never think of searching for such suggestive evidence in the sessions court of a county town.

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Day 1.