Sligo Champion

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Hugh bows out after 19 years as State Solicitor

Warm Court tributes to a much respected legal figure of County Sligo who is retiring

Warm and moving tributes were paid to retiring State Solicitor for County Sligo Hugh Sheridan at the recent sittings of the Circuit Court in Sligo.

They were led by Judge Keenan Johnson who described Mr Sheridan (61) as having an innate sense of generosity and kindness and his legacy in this respect was something which he and his family could be justifiably proud of.

The pre-Christmas sitting of the court marked Mr Sheridan's last as State Solicitor, a position he was appointed to in 1998 when he succeeded Mr Tom Tighe of Ballymote.

Judge Johnson noted that both he and Mr Sheridan had received their solicitor parchments on the same day in October 1982 and that the future State Solicitor was then apprenticed to the late Paddy Kelly of Kilkenny who later became a District Court judge.

"During his apprenticeship, Hugh appeared on numerous occasions before my late father who was the presiding District Judge at the time in the Kilkenny/Waterford district. In his renowned diplomatic and tactful fashion, Hugh never hesitated in expressing in a forthright manner his views on what he thought of decisions made by my father. However, it has to be said that all of his commentary was given in a jocular and lighthearted way.

"Hugh comes from a fine legal pedigree in that his father, Dermot who is now 90 years of age and enjoying his retirement, was an eminent judge of the Circuit Court presiding over the South Eastern Circuit prior to his appointment as President of the Circuit Court.

"When Hugh qualified he initially worked in Mullaney Solicitors and thereafter C.E. Callan and Co Solicitors in Boyle. During that time Hugh acted for many farmer clients and indeed he and I crossed swords on many occasions.

"While Hugh was born and reared in Dublin where he distinguished himself as a prominent member of the FCA, he became an adopted Sligoman when he met the love of his life, Ann and they were married. They were blessed with one daughter, Julie who is now following in her dad's footsteps and is in the process of qualifying as a solicitor and I would like to wish her well in her future career.

"In his role as State Solicitor Hugh was charged with the prosecution of all serious criminal matters in Sligo. In undertaking that task he performed it with efficiency, courtesy and most importantly, humanity.

"Hugh always dealt with matters in a fair and proper fashion and paid due respect not only to the court but to all litigants including victims and the accused.

"These are important traits in a State Solicitor as they promote respect for the rule of law. The role of the State Solicitor is not an easy one and requires a person with aptitude, conviction and ability.

"Fortunately, Hugh was well endowed with all of those characteristics and accordingly performed his role in an exemplary fashion. The person who succeeds Hugh will have big shoes to fill and high standards to maintain.

"Hugh is fortunate in that due to prudent management and planning he is now in a position to retire at the relatively youthful age of 61 years.

"I understand that it is his intention to do some consultancy work when he retires. However, I have no doubt that his other interests such as hillwalking and the Volkswagen camper van club will now get the added attention that they deserve. His trademark VW Beetle will be a noted absentee from the front of the courthouse following his retirement.

"I would like to wish Hugh and Ann a long, happy, healthy and productive retirement. It is nothing less than they deserve," said Judge Johnson.

On behalf of the Sligo Solicitors Association, Mr Michael Quigley said it was the passing of a chapter and he recalled how after qualifying Mr Sheridan had joined Mullaney Solicitors having left the south to come north and it was a case "of their loss and our gain."

"And, it was in Sligo where Hugh dug the foundations of a long career," said Mr Quigley, who added that he had to step into Mr Sheridan's shoes after he left and that he was a difficult act to follow.

Mr Quigley recalled how Mr Sheridan set up his own practice in Chapel Street in 1989 and succeeding Mr Tighe as State Solicitor in 1998.

"He was unfailingly professional and humane in the discharge of his duties and in his dealings," said Mr Quigley, adding that Mr Sheridan would be missed. Mr Sheridan had the satisfaction that his daughter Julie had embarked on a career in the legal profession.

Ms Dara Foynes BL, on behalf of the Midland Bar, said Mr Sheridan was retiring on his own terms and it now seemed fashionable to be retiring at an early age.

She said there was much to admire about Mr Sheridan. Apart from his ties which were extraordinary and his orange coloured Beetle, he was simply "made of the right stuff."

"He has huge integrity, a strong sense of justice and is extremely compassionate with a clear grasp of legal issues which were noted in his covering letters," she said.

Ms Foynes, who is the prosecuting barrister for Sligo, said she had a lot in common with Mr Sheridan. They were both natives of Dublin, had a great love of the Shannon and boating and also of the West of Ireland.

Superintendent Mary Murray said she got to know Mr Sheridan well over the past seven and a half years in her role as District Officer. She found him to be most efficient and kind and thanked him for his considered advice.

Solicitor, Michele O'Boyle, on behalf of the Law Society said her relationship with Mr Sheridan stretched back over very many years, long before she qualified as a solicitor.

"In fact, I think Hugh takes some credit for setting the seed for my sister Dervilla and I embarking upon a legal career. Little did I know then, that I would be in the privileged position to pay tribute to him today. Hugh is recognised by his colleagues as a practitioner of exceptional ability and skill with a profound sense of justice and, at all times, he was and remains dedicated in the pursuit of that justice.

"He was a very valued and influential member of the criminal Law Committee of The Law Society for a number of years and currently is a consultant to that Committee where he is unstinting with his time and generous with his abundance of knowledge.

"On a personal level, he is gracious to litigants and colleagues alike, at all times courteous and without doubt he is universally liked.

"As I reflect on what has been said this morning by others, it has given me a new appreciation for just how much of a difference not just a good State Solicitor but a great State Solicitor can make to our profession and to the public, to whom we owe a duty.

"Hugh, as you reflect today over the 30 years or so that you have spent as a successful practicing solicitor and, latterly as State Solicitor and, on the many lawyers and litigants you have met along that journey, and the enduring friendships you have inevitably forged, I hope that you have a real appreciation of just how many lives you have touched and how many minds you have sharpened and how you have influenced for the greater good the shape of our profession.

"By your enormous contribution, you have enriched our profession immeasurably. You have enriched our lives as our friend and, You have challenged us by example to become better lawyers and better people," she said.

Assistant Editor of The Sligo Champion Paul Deering also paid tribute to Mr Sheridan on his own behalf and that of the newspaper. He spoke of how he got to know Mr Sheridan soon after he returned to Sligo in 1990 when he took up employment with The Sligo Champion.

"I got to know Mr Sheridan some 27 years ago and |I have to say he's been a true friend of mine ever since. I'll certainly miss him as a friend but also too in his professional capacity for the kindness and courtesy afforded me, assisting me whenever he could."

On behalf of the Courts Service, Padraic O'Grady said he had known Mr Sheridan since 1980 and described him as having "a certain style" and how he was practically adopted by the Circuit Court as an additional member of staff when he was appointed State Solicitor.

He said he and his staff always got well with Mr Sheridan and the quality of the books of evidence he prepared were exceptional.

In response, Mr Sheridan thanked everyone for their kind remarks. He said that it had been an honour and privilege to serve as State Solicitor for the past 19 years, working on behalf of the Attorney General initially and latterly at the behest of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Gardaí.

He said that at the end of the day his job was to produce a book of evidence for presentation to the Circuit Court and a jury and he had the co-operation of many along the way in that process.

He said he would like to think that he was fair and diligent in his role and it wasn't always about winning cases or conviction people.

"If a defendant got off I always had a smile because it showed the system worked," he said.

Mr Sheridan also pointed out that before he became State Solicitor he also had 17 years in the role of a defending solicitor and said he had made many good friends amongst the defendants he represented.

He thanked the Gardaí for their assistance and co-operation and said he would not have been able function without this.

"The more I saw of the Gardaí and the role they perform the more I see their job as a vocation. I always found them great to deal with and I will miss them in my capacity as State prosecutor," he said.

He thanked Judge Johnson for his tribute and also mentioned other members of the judiciary he had appeared before including Judge Oliver McGuinness, Judge Jimmy Gilvarry, Judge Kevin Kilrane, Judge Conal Gibbons and Judges Anthony Hunt and Anthony Kennedy of the Circuit Court.

"They shaped me into the person I became. I would also like to mention my predecessor Tommy Tighe who gave me an excellent blueprint of procedure," he said.

Mr. Sheridan also thanked his colleagues and the courts service staff. He thanked Ms Foynes for the gift of a set of cuff links with the Sligo crest.

"I'm lost for words. It's been a good 19 years and I'm going to miss it but it's time to move on," he said. He added that he had plans for his retirement and that he wasn't "going to disappear".

Sligo Champion