Wednesday 7 December 2016

Obituary: Maurice Gaffney

The barrister, who colleagues referred to as the 'Father of the Bar', was a great criminal lawyer

Published 13/11/2016 | 02:30

LEGAL EAGLE: Ireland’s oldest practising barrister Maurice Gaffney, pictured at the Irish Law Awards three years ago with Miriam O’Callaghan, was recognised for his contribution to law
LEGAL EAGLE: Ireland’s oldest practising barrister Maurice Gaffney, pictured at the Irish Law Awards three years ago with Miriam O’Callaghan, was recognised for his contribution to law

Maurice Gaffney SC, who practised at the Irish Bar for 62 years and was described as a "wonderful colleague and a marvellous gentleman", was still practising law until shortly before his death at the age of 100.

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Even more remarkable is that the law was his second career as he had already qualified as a teacher and worked in Limerick and Dublin for over a decade before, as he said himself, "coming late to the legal profession".

Despite this late calling, he was for many years 'Father of the Bar', attending the Four Courts every day and taking part in the social side of the King's Inns, which he said was a "home from home".

Maurice Gaffney was born in Co Meath in October 1916, where his father was a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

Shortly afterwards, the family moved to Dublin and the young Maurice grew up in Aughrim Street, Stoneybatter, and a large house in Gardiner Street, before settling in Finglas.

He attended University College Dublin, where he graduated with a BA in Economics in 1939. He joined the Jesuit order and stayed for a number of years, before falling ill and leaving.

He returned to UCD and attained his HDip in 1943. He then taught for five years at Glenstal Abbey in Co Limerick and in a school in James's Street in central Dublin while studying law at night.

His older brother, Dr Jim Gaffney, a well-known Dublin pathologist, was part of an Irish Red Cross mission which operated a hospital in the devastated town of Saint-Lo in Normandy at the end of the World War II.

Playwright Samuel Beckett, who had returned to Ireland at the end of the war, went back to France as a volunteer in the hospital. Jim Gaffney was tragically killed in the first Aer Lingus plane crash near Snowdonia in Wales on January 10, 1952, and Maurice "was really very good to his family", according to a colleague.

Maurice Gaffney was called to the Bar in 1954. Fluent in English and Irish, he recalled later that at the time the law was a small community of 250 barristers - perhaps there was a great deal less litigation, but it certainly meant there was plenty of work.

He was "a very effective prosecutor" for a number of years before becoming an expert in conveyance and property law, landlord and tenant law and employment law.

In that capacity, he served a term as chairman of the Employment Appeals Tribunal. He was appointed a Senior Counsel in 1970.

"I enjoyed it and I would be lost without it," he said at the age of 98, describing his affiliation with the Four Courts and the Law Library.

He said that while many professions were "collegiate", the law had a culture that "few could match" in that regard.

As well as a busy career as a practising barrister, he enjoyed a game of golf and walked a lot, something which he said contributed to his longevity. "Otherwise I waste time looking at the television like so many others," he self-deprecatingly told one interviewer.

His wife, Leonie, had been a younger colleague when they were studying for the Bar, before emigrating to the United States to train as a librarian.

He proposed to her when she was home on holiday and the couple married and lived at Willow Bank in Dun Laoghaire and had two children, John and Patricia.

Maurice Gaffney was involved in a number of landmark cases including the DPP v O'Shea, which established a legal precedent that jury decisions could be over-turned in the appeal courts.

He was also involved as senior legal adviser to former senator and pro-life campaigner Des Hanafin when the Tipperary Fianna Fail fundraiser challenged the result of the Divorce Referendum.

Receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 at the age of 97, Maurice Gaffney was described as a man "with a twinkle in the eye" and a "mentor to younger colleagues and a beacon to us all".

Asked by presenter Miriam O'Callaghan the secret of his longevity, he replied "the company of young people".

He was also true to his word when he said that he enjoyed the law so much "I am going to stick at it for another while".

Maurice Gaffney died at St Vincent's Hospital on November 3. He is survived by his wife and children.

Sunday Independent

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