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The Henn Family of Paradise, County Clare, Ireland

Part 3: ‘The Irish Bar’, Chapter XIX

‘The Irish Bar, comprising anecdotes, bon-mots and biographical sketches of the bench and Bar of Ireland’ by J. Roderick O’Flanagan Barrister-at-Law.
London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, Crown Buildings, 188 Fleet Street, 1879.

Chapter XIX: The Henn Family

Some families adopt special callings as a sort of hereditary preference. Thus we find, for generations, some devoting their sons chiefly to the Church, or the medical profession, the army, or navy, or the law. To this latter avocation the family of Henn, of Paradise, in the County of Clare, have given many most distinguished members.

The earliest legal scion of this house I can trace was Henry Hene (as the name was then written). His patent as Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer in Ireland bears date the 10th March, 1679. Since the year 1673 he had been one of the puisne barons, with, in 1676 a grant of a Justiceship of the Court of Common Pleas.

On the accession of James II a number of changes took place on the Irish Bench, and, in 1687, Chief Baron Hene was removed, and replaced by a very eminent Irish lawyer, Sir Stephen Rice, who was appointed Lord Chief Baron. This station, however, he was only allowed to retain for three years, for, on the accession of William and Mary, he, in turn, was displaced in favour of Sir John Hely.

A descendant of Chief Baron Hene, William Henn, was appointed one of the Judges of the King’s Bench of Ireland on 1st August, 1767. Some amusing anecdotes are related of him by Sir Jonah Barrington, but not being very authentic are not worth transcribing. He resigned his seat on the bench in 1790, and his son, also named William Henn, became a Master in Chancery. This office was afterwards conferred on the son of Master Henn, William the third, upon the death of his father in 1822. This last-named William was maternally descended from the Lovetts of Lipscombe Park, Buckinghamshire, his mother being sister of Sir Jonathan Lovett, Bart.

Two sons of this marriage became very prominent at the Irish Bar, William and Jonathan. William, the elder, was called to the Bar in 1808. He went on the Munster Circuit, and continued to practise until he was appointed, as I have stated, Master in Chancery and elected a Bencher of the King’s Inn in 1822. He was well qualified for his judicial station. He discharged its very important duties with marked ability and unremitting attention. Always courteous in manner, patient and kind in conduct, he earned and retained to the last, the esteem of both branches of his profession and the confidence of the public. He continued in office until his death, which was very sudden. On Saturday, 7th March, 1857, he sat and transacted business as usual. He entertained a party of friends at dinner that day, and retired to rest about twelve o’clock. Early on Sunday morning he complained of difficulty in breathing, and his medical adviser, Dr. Smyley, was sent for. Remedies were tried ineffectually, for the malady increased and during the day the patient grew worse. Towards evening he was speechless and sank so rapidly that by midnight Master Henn was no more. He had reached his seventy-third year of active, useful life.

Jonathan Henn, Q.C.
His brother Jonathan’s career was even more distinguished, and, though he never attained exalted rank in his profession, everyone admitted that this was entirely owing to himself. The highest prize in the legal lottery was his, but he would not draw it forth. As a lawyer he stood in the foremost place. He had mastered all the great principles of British law almost intuitively, for, as long as I knew him, he certainly was constitutionally averse to drudgery. He did not care for practice if it involved much labour. His voice was harmonious and well modulated. No harsh or discordant tones marred the effect of his speeches, and what noble speeches they were! On occasions of more than normal importance, such as in actions for libel, breach of promise of marriage, assault &c., his passions were stirred and his energies aroused. Where character had to be shielded or vice rebuked of feelings to be enlisted in the cause of his client, he showed the vast superiority of his genius and excellence over all his brethren at the Bar. We had many able men on our Munster Circuit at the time to which I refer –Sergeant Jackson, David R. Pigot, Q.C., George Bennett, Q.C., Harry Cooper, Q.C., - but Jonathan Henn soared above them all, as an eagle over crows. He was a very giant, while they were so many pigmies when compared with him. Jonathan Henn, when addressing the Court or jury, was brief and terse. What he had to say to the Court was put in the shortest and most lucid form. When he addressed the jury, he did so in the clearest and most forcible light. He never talked for talking sake; when he stated his case, he sat down.

Jonathan was a most zealous disciple of Isaak Walton, and enjoyed the sport of fishing with the greatest zest. I have been informed by his nephew, Mr. Richard Griffith, of Millicent, County Cork [Note: presumably a son of Walter Hussey-Griffith who married Jonathan’s young sister Jane in 1826], that his uncle was for some time at the school of the Rev. Gilbert Austin at Lucan, near the river Liffey, and there he imbibed his taste for fishing, which never deserted him throughout his life. The late Duke of Leinster, Lord William Fitzgerald, and the late Judge Crampton, were pupils of Rev. Mr. Austin, but not contemporaries of Jonathan Henn [pencil margin note by T.R.H.: “The Duke was – he told me so himself”]. Crampton was subsequently Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and some schoolboy rhymes inform us where he received his education:-

“Come let us sing of Crampton Phil
He went to school to Austin Gil.”

Though Jonathan Henn went through Trinity College, Dublin, I have not been able to discover that he distinguished himself there in any remarkable way. His nephew Mr. Griffith, informed me: “When in College, instead of reading for honours, Henn spent his time chiefly in reading Shakespeare, but, notwithstanding this, carried off several premiums, though he had not obtained a high place at entrance.”

His nephew also mentioned that - “Having asked Jonathan some question of Latin Grammar, which my uncle was not sure about, he said, ‘He had studied the ‘Eton’ grammar, and ‘eaten’ grammar was soon forgotten.”

His progress at the Bar was slow. He was called in Trinity Term, 1811, and during the first ten years he did not, he said, “make as much as would powder his wig, and he paid his circuit expenses by whist playing”, of which he was very fond. As his brother William had joined the Munster, Jonathan selected the Connaught Circuit. Perhaps no greater proof can be given of the strange freaks of fortune at the Bar, than the fact that circuit after circuit dragged its weary round without Jonathan Henn’s masterly skill as an orator and advocate having been discovered. There is, indeed, an anecdote related that possibly may be true. A Galway attorney [pencil margin note by T.R.H.: “Mayo – Kelly of Castlebar”] went to his lodgings early one morning with a brief. The servant showed the attorney to Mr. Henn’s sitting-room, adjoining his bedroom, but Mr. Henn had not left his bed. In fact he had to be roused from a deep sleep to be told an attorney wished to see him. Thinking it a practical joke, played by one of the wags of the Connaught Circuit, Mr. Henn declined to get up, and when the servant said, “The attorney wanted particularly to see the counsellor,” Mr. Henn petulantly told her, “Tell the Attorney to go and be d---d, and take his brief to the d---l.” The attorney left in a huff, and, if he did not follow the drowsy counsel’s directions, he took the brief to some more amenable barrister and so Jonathan lost a chance on the Connaught Circuit. When his elder brother William became Master in Chancery in 1824, Jonathan exchanged the Connaught for the Munster Circuit. It was a fortunate change for him. Whether the ability and courteous manners of Mr. William Henn induced the attorneys of Munster to place confidence in brother Jonathan, I cannot say; but he soon obtained considerable practice, and never was a more gifted advocate employed. I had abundant opportunities, during a period of twelve years, of estimating his great legal attainments, and can safely affirm that a more able and eloquent advocate I never heard.

Someone in the presence of Jonathan Henn proposed the riddle, “Why should the captain of a ship never be at a loss for an egg?” The riddle was a new one to all present, and Henn was the only person who solved it. “Because he can always lay-to” (lay two). He was asked, “How came you, Jonathan, to guess that?” To which he promptly replied, “Who had a better right to guess it than a Hen?”.

Jonathan was counsel of a Mr. Leader of the County of Cork and portrayed the injury his client suffered in such pathetic words as caused the plaintiff to shed tears. On being asked, what had occurred to make him cry? “Oh,” he said, “though I knew I was wronged, I did not know to what extent I was injured until Mr. Henn stated my case.”

In the case of Mr. Butt v Mr. Jackson, Mr. Henn, Q.C., was counsel for the defendant, who had sent Mr. Butt a hostile message and Mr. Henn’s address to the Court of Queen’s Bench was so admirable that, when he concluded, a burst of applause rang through the Court. M. Brereton, Q.C., brother-in-law of the defendant, turning to Mr. Griffith, said, “I had rather Jackson had gone to gaol for a year, than that Jonathan Henn had not delivered that speech.” I remember when Mr. Blackburne (late Attorney-General, afterwards Lord Justice, and twice Lord Chancellor) [Note: Thomas Rice Henn of the 8th Generation married his daughter Jane Isabella] attended a special counsel during the Cork Assizes. Mr. Henn, who was counsel for the other side, thus commenced his speech to the jury, “Little, gentlemen, can my poor client compete with the galaxy of talent arrayed against him on the other side, including, if a theatrical phrase might be indulged in, a star of the first magnitude, or rather, I might say (the Ministry had just resigned), a comet which had lost its tail.” (Laughter). When Blackburne returned to Dublin he said, “He was sent down to Cork to be laughed at by Jonathan Henn.”

When the Government prosecutions of 1843 were in preparation, O’Connell was so impressed with the importance of securing Jonathan Henn’s advocacy before any other counsel, that he at once requested he should be retained for the defense [Note: The trial in 1844 of Daniel O’Connell, regarded as the greatest leader of Catholic Ireland, was a cause célébre of its day]. The traversers were very near being deprived of his services, for the Government, fully aware of his value, were at first inclined to refuse granting him the licence which, as one of Her Majesty’s Counsel, was necessary should be granted, but ultimately yielded. His address to the jury on this occasion, which I heard, was fully equal to his greatest efforts.

The Government were not again late with their retainer. When John Mitchel was tried, Mr. Henn was arrayed for the Crown, and replied to the masterly and singularly eloquent address made on behalf of the traverser by the veteran leader of the Bar, Robert Holmes [Note: Jonathan’s youngest sister Jane married Robert Holmes – see 8th Generation]. The powerful speech of Mr. Holmes on that occasion afforded me the best and only means of judging how very excellent must have been the speeches of the old Irish Bar. Butt described Mr. Henn’s speech on that occasion as a model speech for a Crown prosecutor – powerful, calm, and dignified – and when he ceased Sir Colman O’Loghlen, who was also one of the counsel for Mitchel, could not repress his admiration for his co-circuitor, but clapping Jonathan on the back exclaimed, “Munster for ever!”

It was Henn’s speech which effectually brought back the minds of the jury upon that trial. They were completely carried away by the impetuous lava stream of burning eloquence from Mr. Holmes. Had not Mr. Henn reasoned with them, they had brought in Mitchel “Not guilty.” In fact they thought it a mere waste of time to address them, as their minds were made up. They were impatient of delay, but when they heard the calm and judicial accents of Jonathan Henn, gradually, and almost imperceptibly, the attention of each grew more and more fixed, and finally was entirely changed by his profound statement of the law and the breach of it on the part of the accused. Greatly to the disgust of the disaffected party in Ireland, the jury found the prisoner guilty; and in reference to the charge of the learned judge, and the speech of the prosecution, the wags said, “Judge Moore spoke to evidence, but Jonathan Henn charged the jury.”

He made many puns on his name. When late in life he was asked “if he took much walking exercise?” “I did formerly,” he replied, “but now I am chiefly a sitting hen.” Having missed him from our Circuit, when next we met in the Four Courts, in Dublin, I said, “Why were you not with us at the last Assizes?” “Because,” he replied, “I had to attend my Sessions in Donegal, and you see I could not be in two places at once, although I am a bird.”

I could not fail to mark his great superiority to those of his contemporaries with whom I was acquainted. His reasoning powers were of the highest order, and brought forward with wonderful tact and skill. No weak or untenable points appeared, all was compact and methodically arranged. He grappled boldly with the case of his adversary. There was no skirmishing, no cutting off in detail. It was a treat to me to watch him conduct a case; the cool and gentlemanly bearing impressed the juries in his favour before he uttered a word, and when he spoke it seemed impossible to imagine he could be counsel on the wrong side. There was a dignified calmness about him when stating his client’s case, he put forth his claim with such force and clearness, and with such apparent conscientiousness as if it was impossible for a jury to find otherwise than for him. And when he came to describe the injustice of his adversary, then his fine figure seemed to dilate, and the majestic tones of the orator glowed with indignation. His full, rich voice, was always well attuned to the subject, and always commanded respect and attention. Having retired from practice at the imperative demand of age, he continued to reside at his house in Merrion Street, Dublin, until his death in 1874.

A son of Master Henn, and nephew of Jonathan, Thomas Rice Henn, Q.C.*, is now County Court Judge of Galway, and worthily represents the personal and professional fame of the Henn family.

*The copy of the book from which the above is reprinted bears his signature: T. Rice Henn, 5th February, 1879. And in his hand-writing the words: Quoram pars magna fui!
(All the deeds of woe mine eyes beheld, and those whereof I was no small part!
(Virgil’s Aeneid))

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