Retired 9 KBW tenant Florence (Florrie) O’Donoghue passes away
The well known and well liked Irishman from County Kerry who joined 9KBW in autumn 2001, upon the dissolution of his previous Chambers at 2 Mitre Court Buildings (Gray) arrived with many decades of experience at the English and Irish Bars and as a highly respected member of the Western Circuit and the Inner Temple.
He lived in Winchester (when telephoned at home he had an endearing habit of answering the telephone “Hello, Winchester” in his characteristic baritone voice with moderate Irish accent) but continued to commute regularly to London well into his more senior years. He had practised predominantly on the Western Circuit in general common law.
A devout Catholic, he had a niche practice in ecclesiastical law and appeared in the Consistory courts, as well as the highest Church of England appellate court. One of his most famous cases was when he represented a Church of England vicar who wanted to install a copy of a Polish Catholic icon in his church. Eventually he lost, by a majority.
Before practising at the Bar he had taught in a prep school. As his career advanced, he was able to use his pastoral skills within the realms of the law, taking a deep interest in the welfare of students of his Inn, and always willing to draw on his many years of experience to advise colleagues.
A great raconteur of anecdotes about Irish and English court cases, he was widely read in English and Irish literature and would frequently make use of literary references when addressing juries.
The reading, reviewing and writing of legal literature was another of the many facets of Florrie’s life, including the scholarly (writing articles on topics such as the law relating to imputations on the character of prosecution witnesses).
The writing of obituaries for lawyers and judges he had known was increasingly a task he took to in later years, including one that particularly stands out for its title: “The day the barrister nearly shot the judge in a divorce case at Winchester Assizes” (The barrister’s client was challenging the contention by his wife that he had attempted to shoot her with a revolver, and the barrister concerned, Terence Read, urged upon the judge, Lord Merriman, that the rusty old piece in question could not possibly go off. He pointed the weapon at the judge, pulled the trigger, resulting in a loud bang and a hole in the wall very near to where the by now somewhat unnerved judge had been sitting).
His kindness in chambers was well remembered. For example, upon retirement, his act of asking that one member of chambers have his desk and for the contribution of a couple of good bottles of whisky in the desk drawer to a very welcome home in the clerks’ room.
Many members of Chambers remember Florrie for a phrase he would frequently use when describing the rank of a judge at a past point in time e.g. “Lord Justice Smith – or Mr Justice Smith – as he then was”.
At this difficult time our thoughts are with his family and friends. Our lives were the richer for his presence and the poorer for his absence. A great character, gentleman and friend – as he then was.
Andrew Dickens and Julian Jones, 9 King’s Bench Walk