Henry Brenan, Crown Solicitor, King’s County 1916


The crown solicitor, as the title suggests, represented the government much as the state solicitor does today.  It was, and is, the practice to appoint a legal representative in each county to whom the garda refer their cases for prosecution.  The document shown here was Brenan’s appointment on 27 July 1916. Brenan was saved by a few months in having to act against those concerned in the Tullamore Incident (released June 1916).


712 Henry F Brenan 1912

Richard Fitzwilliam Barry who was appointed in January 1893 preceded Brenan. Barry was admitted a solicitor in 1887 and was descended from an old Catholic family in County Cork and appears to have been practising in Birr prior to the death of John Julian.[1] On Barry’s death in June 1916 he was succeeded by Henry F. Brenan of the firm of Hoey & Denning, Tullamore. Brenan, then aged 30, was the only Tullamore-based solicitor to hold the office of crown solicitor and sessional crown solicitor and resigned the position, which paid £400 per year, in October 1921.[2] The Brenan appointment was a departure from precedent and a sign of the times. The position of crown solicitor had up to that point always been held by a unionist. The Midland Tribune speculated prior to his appointment that a Protestant would not be appointed. But just as with the supreme court bench and the lower levels of the judiciary so too with the administrative officers of the courts. McBride quotes from the Irish Catholic of 1909 to illustrate the position before the changes pushed through by Birrell and the Liberal government. The distribution of administrative positions by religion in 1909 was as follows: county court judges and recorders, twelve Protestants and five Catholics; resident magistrates, forty three Protestants and twenty two Catholics; crown solicitors, twelve Protestants and ten Catholics; clerks of the crown and peace, nineteen Protestants and twelve Catholics; sessional crown solicitors, twenty four Protestants and eight Catholics; district court probate registrars, ten Protestants and one Catholic.[3]


043690 Letter of Henry F. Brennan 01

Henry Francis Brenan was born in Dublin of a County Kilkenny family from Eden Hall, Ballyragget and qualified a solicitor in 1907. He was the son of a solicitor and was apprenticed to R. M. McNamara, a Dublin solicitor. After upwards of three years with McNamara, Mr Brenan came to Tullamore in 1910. In 1914 he became a partner with George Hoey in the firm of Hoey & Denning, Tullamore. James A. Denning had been appointed a taxing master in 1914 and Hoey was getting on in years so that Brenan was in effect running the firm. Brenan wrote in support of his application to the then attorney general, James H. Campbell, KC, MP (later Lord Glenavy) in June 1916 advising that he had appeared in all the principal criminal cases in the county in the past six years. These cases included the defence of four prisoners charged with murder and manslaughter. ‘Since the National Health Insurance Act became law in 1911 my firm has acted as local solicitors for the insurance commissioners, and I have conducted many prosecutions for the Commissioners in this county’. Brenan was then thirty years of age and a graduate of Trinity College with nine years experience as a solicitor. His main competitor for the position was William A FitzR Barry, the son of Richard Fitzwilliam Barry but he was 22 and qualified only two years. Others who may have been interested in the appointment were James Mitchell of Birr, Lewis Goodbody of Tullamore and J. J. Kennedy of Birr.[4] Brenan went on to say that Tullamore was the county capital and assize town and that Birr ‘where the late Mr Barry resided although distant only 23 miles is extremely inaccessible by rail’. His testimonials included the master of the rolls and former attorney general, Charles Andrew O’Connor who knew him since his student days.[5] Brenan was duly appointed on 27 July 1916 to hold the combined offices of crown solicitor and sessional crown solicitor at a salary of £250 per year inclusive of all duties and expenses including the winter assizes held in Dublin with retirement fixed at 70. The fees were a lot less than they had been in the 1840s.

Brenan’s resignation as crown solicitor before the Treaty was under duress from the IRA or it may have been self-serving in that he was under pressure to give up the town clerkship of Tullamore Urban District Council if he did not resign the crown solicitorship. This arose out of a Dáil Eireann letter to the council and, after mid-1920, Sinn Féin instructions to all councils not to co-operate with British institutions of government. He later told Kevin O’Higgins, then minister for justice, that his resignation had cost him compensation for loss of office.[6] James Mitchell of Birr was appointed in 1921 to succeed Brenan. Mitchell’s father and grandfather had been the sessional solicitors and James Mitchell was the last to hold the office. He is unlikely to have had much to do given that the Free State was established the following year. At Birr quarter sessions before Judge Fleming in May 1921 there was no criminal business notwithstanding the troubled state of the country. The position was almost the same in October 1921 with only two criminal cases but many malicious injury claims.[7] In January 1923 the office of crown solicitor was abolished and in its place a state solicitor appointed whose duties would be more comprehensive than that of their predecessors. A fixed salary rather than a per item of fees basis would continue to apply.[8]


[1] ILT & SJ, 25 June 1916, Midland Tribune 1 July 1916.

[2] Midland Tribune, 22 October 1921.

[3] Lawrence W. McBride, The greening of Dublin castle: the transformation of bureaucratic and judicial personnel in Ireland, 1892-1922 (Washington, 1991), p. 190 quoting the Irish Catholic  of 19 Nov. 1909

[4] Midland Tribune, 1 July 1916 contained speculation as to likely candidates for the position.

[5] From copies of the original correspondence in Hoey & Denning archive, Tullamore. O’Connor was appointed to the supreme court in 1924 and resigned the following year.

[6] Leinster Leader, 19 August 1916 and Midland Tribune, 22 October 1921; letter from Brenan to Higgins, of 15 April 1926, copy in Hoey & Denning archive.

[7] King’s County Chronicle, 2 June 1921 and 6 October 1921.

[8] ILT & SJ, 13 Jan. 1923.