Saturday 20 January 2018

A skilled gentleman with the common touch

Peter Smithwick
Peter Smithwick


Judge Peter Smithwick's damning findings in relation to garda collusion in the murders of two RUC officers came after a painstaking inquiry which was the pinnacle of a stellar career in Irish law marked by hard work.

Known for his sartorial elegance, Judge Smithwick is a gentleman of the old school, known for his immaculate manner, with shoes polished to a high gleam, and who was regularly seen travelling on the train from Kilkenny to Dublin wearing a bowler hat and pinstripe suit.

After alighting at Heuston Station he took the short stroll to the Four Courts every day to dispense justice in the busiest court in the land – the Dublin District Court.

He grew up in beautiful Kilcreene Lodge in Kilkenny and apparently saw Jimmy Cagney dancing on the parquet floor of the drawing room. Cagney was the most important actor of his generation and a good friend of the Smithwick brewing family.

His father, Walter, ran Smithwick's in St Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny, until the operation was bought by Guinness, which is now Diageo.

Walter was a much-loved Kilkenny man and famous for translating the ancient book of Kilkenny, the Liber Primus Kilkenniensis, from Latin to English. A solicitor by profession, his soirees and garden parties at Kilcreene were highlights of Kilkenny's social calendar.

Judge Smithwick followed in his father's footsteps, and was educated at UCD and admitted as a solicitor in 1958. He began his successful legal career as a solicitor in Inistioge in Co Kilkenny.

He was also involved in the brewing business, and again followed in his father's footsteps when, after 35 years at the helm of the brewery, Walter retired.

Judge Smithwick took over as director and became the ninth generation of the Smithwick family to be associated with brewing in Kilkenny.

He was guest of honour at celebrations to mark 300 years of the brewery at a knees-up which included a concert by the Saw Doctors for around 400 people three years ago.

He is also said to have inherited Kilcreene Lodge, the stunning country home where he had an idyllic childhood. However, later his travelling to Dublin for work interfered with his plans to live there, and it is believed that he sold the house around 1990.

The lake at Kilcreene was originally a mill stream and put in around 1871 with water diverted from the Breagagh, and water from the lake was used in the house in bygone times.

Legal friends were quick to refer in generous terms to Judge Smithwick's common touch when he took the decision to retire as President of the District Court back in 2005, and for the purpose of chairing the tribunal of inquiry into the murder in 1989 of two senior RUC officers.

Then Chairman of the Bar Council Hugh Mohan said Judge Smithwick had presided over "the busiest court" which "had the most direct effect on the ordinary people of Ireland".

He was commended for his "even-handedness, integrity and skill" during his 17-year career in the District Court when he "sat every day dealing with all types of cases the length and breadth of the land".

He will, however, be remembered for calling for a ban on lap dancing. He was quoted as saying, "I do not approve of lap dancing and it is my view it is not public dancing. I disapprove of it and it should be stopped."

He is also associated with a crackdown on late night drinking in the capital, and at a time when there was concern that pubs were exploiting a loophole in the law which said they could serve drink as long as they served a "substantial meal".

He was appointed President of the District Court amid some controversy, when Fine Gael raised the issue of him having been a former director of elections for Fianna Fail in Kilkenny. Judge Smithwick was appointed President of the District Court after three months on the bench.

Sunday Independent

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