George Gavan Duffy
George Gavan Duffy was an Irish
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...



George Gavan Duffy was born in Rock Ferry
Rock Ferry
Rock Ferry is an area of Birkenhead on the Wirral Peninsula, England. Administratively it is a ward of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. Before local government reorganisation on 1 April 1974, it was part of the county of Cheshire...

, Cheshire
Cheshire is a ceremonial county in North West England. Cheshire's county town is the city of Chester, although its largest town is Warrington. Other major towns include Widnes, Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Macclesfield, Winsford, Northwich, and Wilmslow...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 in 1882, the son of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy
Charles Gavan Duffy
Additional Reading*, Allen & Unwin, 1973.*John Mitchel, A Cause Too Many, Aidan Hegarty, Camlane Press.*Thomas Davis, The Thinker and Teacher, Arthur Griffith, M.H. Gill & Son 1922....

 and his third wife, Louise. His half-brother Sir Frank Gavan Duffy
Frank Gavan Duffy
Sir Frank Gavan Duffy, KCMG, PC, QC , Australian judge, was the fourth Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, sitting on the bench of the High Court from 1913 to 1935.-Early life:...

 (1852–1936) was the fourth Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia
High Court of Australia
The High Court of Australia is the supreme court in the Australian court hierarchy and the final court of appeal in Australia. It has both original and appellate jurisdiction, has the power of judicial review over laws passed by the Parliament of Australia and the parliaments of the States, and...

, sitting on the bench of the High Court from 1913 to 1935.

Early career

Gavan Duffy qualified as a solicitor and practised in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. He defended Sir Roger Casement
Roger Casement
Roger David Casement —Sir Roger Casement CMG between 1911 and shortly before his execution for treason, when he was stripped of his British honours—was an Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary, and nationalist....

 at his trial for high treason
High treason
High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps...

 after the Easter Rising
Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in the First World War...

. Although the case was unsuccessful and Casement executed, the trial had an enormous effect on Gavan Duffy and in 1917, when he was called to the Irish Bar, he came to live in Dublin, where he became immersed in Irish political life.

Recognition efforts

During the 1918 Westminster Election, he was elected as a Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 for South County Dublin
South Dublin (UK Parliament constituency)
South Dublin was a county constituency in Ireland from 1885 to 1922. It elected one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, using the first past the post voting system....

. He was sent to Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 to join Seán T. O'Kelly
Sean T. O'Kelly
Seán Thomas O'Kelly was the second President of Ireland . He was a member of Dáil Éireann from 1918 until his election as President. During this time he served as Minister for Local Government and Minister for Finance...

 as an envoy of the self-declared Irish Republic
Irish Republic
The Irish Republic was a revolutionary state that declared its independence from Great Britain in January 1919. It established a legislature , a government , a court system and a police force...

. Gavan Duffy published articles and pamphlets urging recognition of Ireland as a sovereign nation at the Paris Peace Conference
Paris Peace Conference, 1919
The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities...

, which caused increasing embarrassment to the French establishment, who believed his publications were damaging Franco-British relations.

Gavan Duffy and O'Kelly had the great problem of seeking France's help against Britain when the treaties ending the First World War had not yet been signed; Britain had been France's main ally for most of the war, in which France had suffered enormous losses. In January 1919 the Sinn Féin-affiliated Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army
The Irish Republican Army was an Irish republican revolutionary military organisation. It was descended from the Irish Volunteers, an organisation established on 25 November 1913 that staged the Easter Rising in April 1916...

 had also started the Irish War of Independence against Britain, and the new Dáil had declared independence from the United Kingdom. Further, the British position was that it was preparing a revised system of Irish Home Rule which would be effected after the Peace Conference, and that it had tried to solve the Irish Question at the Irish Convention
Irish Convention
The Irish Convention was an assembly which sat in Dublin, Ireland from July 1917 until March 1918 to address the Irish Question and other constitutional problems relating to an early enactment of self-government for Ireland, to debate its wider future, discuss and come to an understanding on...

 in 1917, which Sinn Féin had boycotted. Sinn Féin had joined in the campaign against conscription in 1918 and applauded the 1916 Easter Rising
Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in the First World War...


In consequence all the Allies of World War I
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 saw the Sinn Féin movement as more or less hostile. A final letter of June 1919 demanding recognition and addressed to the French prime minister Georges Clemenceau
Georges Clemenceau
Georges Benjamin Clemenceau was a French statesman, physician and journalist. He served as the Prime Minister of France from 1906 to 1909, and again from 1917 to 1920. For nearly the final year of World War I he led France, and was one of the major voices behind the Treaty of Versailles at the...

, the chairman of the Peace Conference, was not replied to.

Finally, after publishing a letter he had sent to Clemenceau in protest against the former mistreatment of Terence MacSwiney
Terence MacSwiney
Terence Joseph MacSwiney was an Irish playwright, author and politician. He was elected as Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence in 1920. He was arrested by the British on charges of sedition and imprisoned in Brixton prison in England...

 in prison in 1917, Gavan Duffy was banished from Paris. He then went to Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 and from there travelled through Europe on behalf of the Ministry of the Irish Republic
Irish Republic
The Irish Republic was a revolutionary state that declared its independence from Great Britain in January 1919. It established a legislature , a government , a court system and a police force...

, without securing its recognition.

Anglo-Irish Treaty

When Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera was one of the dominant political figures in twentieth century Ireland, serving as head of government of the Irish Free State and head of government and head of state of Ireland...

 chose his plenipotentiaries to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Treaty
Anglo-Irish Treaty
The Anglo-Irish Treaty , officially called the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, was a treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and representatives of the secessionist Irish Republic that concluded the Irish War of...

 in 1921 Gavan Duffy was chosen due mainly to his legal expertise. He protested against signing the Treaty but did so reluctantly, becoming the last person to sign. During the debates which followed in Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann is the lower house, but principal chamber, of the Oireachtas , which also includes the President of Ireland and Seanad Éireann . It is directly elected at least once in every five years under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote...

, Gavan Duffy stated that he would recommend the Treaty reluctantly but sincerely as he saw no alternative for the achievement of independence. He also placed the onus on the people who were responsible for drafting the Constitution of the Irish Free State to frame it in accordance with the terms of the Treaty. He disagreed, however, with Griffith’s decision to show the draft constitution to Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

 who immediately ordered that references to the King had to be inserted as well as an Oath of Allegiance.

On 21 December 1921 he gave his main reason for supporting the treaty, the impact of renewed war on the people, concluding:
"You may gamble on the prospects of a renewal of that horrible war, which I for one have only seen from afar, but which I know those who have so nobly withstood do not wish to see begun again without a clear prospect of getting further than they are to-day. We are told that this is a surrender of principle. If that be so, we must be asked to believe that every one of those who have gone before us in previous fights, and who in the end have had to lay down their arms or surrender in order to avert a greater evil to the people, have likewise been guilty of a breach of principle. I do not think an argument of that kind will get you much further. No! The solid principle, the solid basis upon which every honest man ought to make up his mind on this issue, may be summed up in the principle that we all claimed when it was first enunciated by the President, the principle of government by the consent of the governed. I say that no serious person here, whatever his feelings, knowing as he must what the people of this country think of the matter, will be doing his duty if, under these circumstances, he refuses to ratify the Treaty. Ratify it with the most dignified protest you can, ratify because you cannot do otherwise, but ratify it in the interests of the people you must."


This prompted him to resign but he was compelled to remain in office, serving as Minister for Foreign Affairs
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Ireland)
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is the senior minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Government of Ireland. Its headquarters are at Iveagh House, on St Stephen's Green in Dublin; "Iveagh House" is often used as a metonym for the department as a whole.The current...

 from January 1922 to July 1922. On the outbreak of the Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

 he resigned when the Provisional Government refused to effect a court order for habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

 in favour of George Plunkett (a son of Count Plunkett
George Noble Plunkett
George Noble Plunkett or Count Plunkett was a biographer and Irish nationalist, and father of Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916....

), who was detained without charge.

His tenure in office was cut short by his decision to resign again when the Executive Council of the Irish Free State
Executive Council of the Irish Free State
The Executive Council was the cabinet and de facto executive branch of government of the 1922–1937 Irish Free State. Formally, the role of the Executive Council was to "aid and advise" the Governor-General who would exercise the executive authority on behalf of the King...

 abolished the Republican Courts and executed his good friend Erskine Childers
Robert Erskine Childers
Robert Erskine Childers DSC , universally known as Erskine Childers, was the author of the influential novel Riddle of the Sands and an Irish nationalist who smuggled guns to Ireland in his sailing yacht Asgard. He was executed by the authorities of the nascent Irish Free State during the Irish...

. He stood in the 1923 general election
Irish general election, 1923
The Irish general election of 1923 was held on 27 August 1923. The newly elected members of the 4th Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 19 September when the new President of the Executive Council and Executive Council of the Irish Free State were appointed. The election was held just after the end...

 as an independent candidate but failed to be re-elected.

Barrister and Judge

Gavan Duffy returned to the Irish Bar and built up a large practice and was engaged in some notable constitutional cases such as the Land Annuities controversy in which he claimed that the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 could not be bound either in honour or in law to hand over annuities to Britain. He was appointed Senior Counsel
Senior Counsel
The title of Senior Counsel or State Counsel is given to a senior barrister or advocate in some countries, typically equivalent to the title "Queen's Counsel" used in Commonwealth Realms...

 in 1930 and Judge of the High Court in 1936. He acted as an unofficial legal advisor to de Valera during the drafting of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland
Constitution of Ireland
The Constitution of Ireland is the fundamental law of the Irish state. The constitution falls broadly within the liberal democratic tradition. It establishes an independent state based on a system of representative democracy and guarantees certain fundamental rights, along with a popularly elected...

 and was consulted on many issues pertaining to it. He was also a member of the commission to set up the second house of the Oireachtas
The Oireachtas , sometimes referred to as Oireachtas Éireann, is the "national parliament" or legislature of Ireland. The Oireachtas consists of:*The President of Ireland*The two Houses of the Oireachtas :**Dáil Éireann...

, Seanad Éireann
Seanad Éireann
Seanad Éireann is the upper house of the Oireachtas , which also comprises the President of Ireland and Dáil Éireann . It is commonly called the Seanad or Senate and its members Senators or Seanadóirí . Unlike Dáil Éireann, it is not directly elected but consists of a mixture of members chosen by...

, in 1937.

In 1946, at the height of his legal career, he was appointed President of the High Court, a position he held for the rest of his life. His most controversial judgement was in the Tilson case heard in 1950, where he applied the Ne Temere
Ne Temere
Ne Temere was a decree of the Roman Catholic Congregation of the Council regulating the canon law of the Church about marriage for practising Roman Catholics....

decree to the letter because the 1937 Irish Constitution gave the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland a "special position". The Supreme Court of Ireland then agreed with his judgement, but Gavan Duffy has been criticized since then for his rigid and intolerant opinion.

Gavan Duffy died at his home in Bushy Park Road, Terenure
Terenure is a mainly residential suburb of Dublin, Ireland, largely in the administrative area of Dublin City Council but with parts in the administrative county of South Dublin County .-Location and transport:...

, on 10 June 1951.

External links

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