Ignatius O'Brien, 1st Baron Shandon
Ignatius John O'Brien, 1st Baron Shandon PC, QC (31 July 1857 – 10 September 1930), known as Sir Ignatius O'Brien, Bt, between 1916 and 1918, was an Irish lawyer and politician. He served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland between 1913 and 1918.
O'Brien was born in Cork, the son of Mark Joseph O'Brien and Jane, daughter of William Dunne. He was educated at the Vincentian School there and, at the age of 16, entered the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin but left after two years due to family circumstances. He worked as a junior reporter for Saunders Newsletter, a Dublin Conservative daily newspaper and then for Freeman's Journal while studying part time for the Bar. Called to the Irish Bar, King's Inn, in 1881, O'Brien was slow to build a practice and continued to support himself through freelance journalism, within three years he had established a small practice on the Munster circuit.
In 1887 O'Brien became involved in the case of Canon Keller which was to establish his legal career and reputation. Keller, who was the parish priest of Youghal, was called to give evidence in the Bankruptcy Court regarding the financial circumstances of some of his Parishioners involved in the "Plan of Campaign" rent strikes. Keller refused to answer questions of the grounds that he had obtained this information in his capacity as a confessor, and that breaching the seal of the confessional contravened Catholic Canon law. As a result Keller was imprisoned for contempt of court. O'Brien argued in support of a writ of habeas corpus. Although unsuccessful in the Court of Queen's Bench (Ireland), his argument prevailed in the Irish Court of Appeal.
Later legal and political career
Propelled by the reputation he won in the Keller case, O'Brien gave up circuit court work and concentrated on Chancery and Bankruptcy matters and became a leading authority on bankruptcy law. He was called to the Inner Bar as an Irish Queen's Counsel in 1899, became a bencher of King's Inns in 1907 and was appointed Serjeant at Law (then the highest rank for an Irish barrister) in 1910. A supporter of Home Rule and the Liberal Party, O'Brien campaigned on behalf of Liberal candidates but did not stand for parliament himself. In 1911 he was appointed Solicitor General for Ireland in H. H. Asquith's Liberal administration and advanced to Attorney General in 1912, becoming a member of the Irish Privy Council in the same year. In 1913 the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland fell vacant and O'Brien, as Attorney General, was entitled to claim the position. As a judge he does not seem to have been particularly successful; his pompous manner led to unkind comparison with a bullfrog; more seriously there were frequent complaints that his constant interruptions made it almost impossible for counsel to present their case.
O'Brien's tenure as Lord Chancellor was only secure as long as the Liberal Party remained in government at Westminster. In 1915 the Asquith Government was forced to resign and enter into a wartime coalition with the Conservative Party. British Conservatives sought to replace O'Brien with his Unionist rival James Campbell. Out of consideration for Irish Nationalist opinion, O'Brien remained in office and was created a Baronet, of Ardtona in the Parish of Dundrum in the County of Dublin, in 1916. By 1918 however, Conservative and Unionist opinion was ascendant and O'Brien was replaced as Lord Chancellor by Campbell. He received a peerage as a consolation and became Baron Shandon, of the City of Cork.
A constitutional nationalist who supported home rule without breaking the imperial link with Great Britain, O'Brien was opposed to the aims and methods of Sinn Féin. After an IRA raid on his home, he left Ireland for good, settling in the Isle of Wight. Although sceptical of the House of Lords, O'Brien found the peers agreeable and became reconciled with its largely hereditary nature. His participation in the House of Lords was usually limited to matters effecting Ireland or issues on which he had legal expertise. He took an active part in the debates and negotiations surrounding the Government of Ireland Act 1920.
Lord Shandon married Anne, daughter of John Talbot Scallan, a prominent Dublin solicitor, in 1886. She died in February 1929. Their marriage was childless so when O'Brien died in London the following year, aged 73, his peerage became extinct.
- thepeerage.com Ignatius John O'Brien, 1st and last Baron Shandon
- The London Gazette: . 22 February 1916.
- The London Gazette: . 12 July 1918.
Charles Andrew O'Connor
|Solicitor General for Ireland
Thomas Francis Molony
Charles Andrew O'Connor
|Attorney General for Ireland
Thomas Francis Molony
Redmond John Barry
|Lord Chancellor of Ireland
Sir James Campbell
|Peerage of the United Kingdom|
|New creation||Baron Shandon