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Chief Baron Christopher Palles.

Christopher Palles (25 December 1831 – 14 February 1920), was an Irish barrister, Solicitor-General, Attorney-General and a judge for over 40 years. His biographer V.T.H. Delany describes him as "the greatest of the Irish judges".[1] He served as the last Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer from 1874 until his retirement from the bench in 1916.


Early lifeEdit

Palles was born on Christmas Day 1831 at Mount Palles, near Mountnugent, in south County Cavan, Ireland. He was the third son of Andrew Christopher Palles (1801-1880), a solicitor, and his wife Eleanor Mary Palles (née Plunkett) (1801-1877).[2] Another son was Andrew Christopher Palles, who became an architect.[3] Palles's ancestors (the earliest known version of the surname is de Palatio) were of Italian origin, and came to Ireland in the late fifteenth century in the entourage of their relative Ottaviano Spinelli de Palatio, who was Archbishop of Armagh from 1478 to 1513. Palles was educated at Clongowes Wood College and Trinity College, Dublin, from where he graduated in 1852, having been a non-Foundation Scholar (Catholics were not allowed be full 'Scholars of the House') in Mathematics and Physics. He subsequently attended King's Inns and Gray's Inn in London.[4]

Personal lifeEdit

Palles married Ellen Doyle in a Catholic ceremony in Dublin in 1862[5] and they had one son, also named Christopher (1863-1953). The family lived in Mountjoy Square in Dublin, then moved out to Mountanville in Clonskeagh to a site subsequently named "Knockrabo", where they cultivated a peach orchard, and to 28 Fitzwilliam Place where a town-brick neo-gothic oratory was added (and can still be seen from Leeson Street).According to his biographer, the founding meeting of the Clongowes Union was held in Palles' house in Fitzwilliam Place, with Palles presiding.

Palles's family life was not altogether happy: his wife's health was never good, and their son, as his father's will shows, needed special care throughout his very long life. Ellen Palles died in 1887.

His older brother Andrew Palles (1829-1900), who was also educated at Clongowes Wood School and Trinity College, Dublin, was a civil engineer who later became the Chief Baron's Registrar. Andrew's daughter, Elizabeth, moved in with her uncle after Mrs Palles's death and managed the household for the rest of his life.

Career as a barrister 1853-1874Edit

Palles was called to the Irish Bar in 1853. He became Doctor of Laws and Queen's Counsel (Q.C.) in 1865.

He was the Solicitor General from February to November 1872.[6] He was appointed Attorney General in that year and made a member of the Privy Council. He unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary constituency of Londonderry in 1872, much to the annoyance of the Government, which normally relied on the Irish Attorney General to defend its Irish policies from the floor of the House of Commons. His political positions included support for non-denominational university education.[4]

Chief Baron, 1874-1916Edit

In 1874 he was appointed to the bench, becoming Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer.[6] In 1898 the Exchequer division was merged in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland. From that time the Chief Baron sat as one of the judges of the Queen's Bench division, and also as a judge of appeal. As a result of that merger, he was known as "last of the Chief Barons". During his 40 years on the Bench he gained a reputation for eminence which has never been equalled by any other Irish judge.

In his lifetime he was considered the greatest Irish judge of his age; and he has been so regarded ever since, though his few critics attacked his tendency to decide cases on technical points rather than on the merits. Although more than 80 men held that office, V.T.H. Delaney in his biography of Palles said: "In Ireland there is only one Chief Baron". Alexander Sullivan, with his long experience of both Irish and English judges, ranked him one of the four greatest judges he had known to sit on either the Irish or the English bench.

Maurice Healy in his memoir The Old Munster Circuit paints an affectionate picture of Chief Baron Palles as an awe-inspiring but kindly old judge; describing his manner and reputation as striking terror into young barristers, yet "we were all devoted to him". Despite his stern appearance, he had a sense of humour. Delaney records the story of a nervous Queen's Counsel who blurted out that his junior counsel did not want the judge to see a certain document : Palles, much amused, replied: "Mr O'Brien, you must never do anything of which your junior would not approve". His (judicial) portrait (1903) by Sir Hubert von Herkomer hangs in Trinity College and a copy still hangs in the Bencher's Room in the King's Inns.

In 1897 he heard the much publicised case of French v West Clare Railway Co. This was the West Clare Railway Company's unsuccessful appeal against an award of damages in favour of the famous songwriter Percy French, who sued for loss of earnings after his train arrived at Kilkee more than four hours late, causing him to miss a performance. The case did not raise any important point of law, but is still remembered as the basis for French's celebrated song Are Ye Right There Michael, which ridiculed the railway company's poor timekeeping and general inefficiency.

Palles was named in the Irish Universities Act 1908, s. 6, as one of the founding Commissioners of the National University of Ireland[7] and was chairperson of the Dublin Commissioners established under the Act. In that role, he was involved in making the first appointments of professors and lecturers in the new colleges.[8] He became a founding member of the Governing Body of University College Dublin (UCD) on its establishment in 1909.[9]

Retirement and deathEdit

Chief Baron Palles retired from the bench, due to age and increasing ill-health, in 1916, by letter to Prime Minister H.H. Asquith who replied that for many years to come the words of "Palles CB" would be cited with approval, a prophecy which proved to be true.

Palles died in Dublin in 1920 and is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.[10]


Palles CB has left a significant and unsurpassed legacy in jurisprudence. As of 2017, over 1,000 judgments over a period of 143 years[11] either consist of or cite his decisions, from his first reported case in Brew v. Conole (1874) 9 I.R. C.L. 151 to Kerins v. McGuinness [2017] IEHC 34.

His judgments are commonly cited to this day; in 1960 Delaney wrote that judges were still regularly asking "what did Palles have to say on the point?" Examples include the following:

  • McGrath v. Bourne (1876) I.R. 10 C.L. 160 was considered in Rossiter (A Minor) v. Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council [2001] IESC 85[12] and Gough v. Neary [2003] IESC 39.[13]
  • R v. Faullkner (1877) 13 Cox C.C. 550 was cited in D.P.P. v. Smith [1961] AC 290 to support an objective test for mens rea in murder. The Chief Baron said (at 561) "In my judgment the law imputes to a person who wilfully commits a criminal act an intention to do everything which is the probable consequence of the act constituting the corpus delicti which actually ensues."[14]
  • Hegarty v Shine (1878) 4 LR Ir 288 was cited by the President of the High Court in Anderson v Cooke [2005] IEHC 221.[15]
  • Stephenson v. Weir (1879) 4 LR. Ir. 369 was referred to in December 2006 in Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland v. Hanley [2006] IEHC 405.[16]
  • Dillon v. O'Brien and Davis (1887) 20 LR IR 300 has been cited in Braddish v. DPP [2001] IESC 45[17] and McGrath v. DPP & Bowes v. DPP [2003] IESC 9.[18]
  • Bell v. the Great Northern Railway Company of Ireland (1890) 26 LR Ir 428 was cited in Fletcher v. Commissioner of Public Works in Ireland [2003] IESC 13.[19] and more recently in D.J. v. Minister for Health [2017] IEHC 114
  • Herron v. Rathmines and Rathgar Improvement Commissioners (1890) 27 LR Ir 179 was referred to in Crilly & Farrington v. Eastern Health Board [2001] IESC 60.[20]
  • National Bank v. Cullen [1894] 2 I.R. 683, a case in which Palles C.B. was a member of the Irish Court of Appeal, was cited in Smyth v. Tunney [2004] IESC 24.
  • Palles C.B.'s analysis in Crowley v O’Sullivan [1900] 2 I.R. 477 of the case law relating to the part performance doctrine under the Statute of Frauds was mentioned in Dakota Packaging Ltd v. AHP Manufacturing BV Trading As Wyeth Medica Ltd [2004] IESC 102.[21]
  • Williamson v. Rover Cycle Company (1901) 2 IR 615 was discussed by the Supreme Court in O'Mahony v. Tyndale [2001] IESC 62.[22]
  • Palles C.B.'s "[f]amous" definition of "public bar" (deriving from Quinn v. Bourke [1906] 2 I.R. 94 at 97) was cited in Ampleforth Ltd t/a The Fitzwilliam Hotel v. Cherating Ltd [2003] IESC 27.
  • Keogh v. Dental Hospital [1910] I.R. at p. 166 was cited in Byrne & Anor v Radio Telefís Éireann [2006] IEHC 71.
  • Cox v. Dublin City Distillery (No. 2) [1915] 1 IR 345 was mentioned in Carroll v. The Law Society of Ireland [2003] IESC 1.[23]
  • On 18 March 2005, two judges of the High Court cited judgments of Palles C.B., in Mitchell v Ireland [2005] IEHC 102 (Cox v. Dublin City Distillery (No. 2) [1915] 1 I.R. 345)[24] and Honniball v. Cunningham [2005] IEHC 91 (McDonagh v. Davis [1875] I.R. 9 CL 300) respectively.[25]

A biography by V.T.H. Delany was published in 1960: Christopher Palles Lord Chief Baron of Her Majesty's Court of Exchequer in Ireland 1874-1916. His Life and Times (Dublin: Allen Figgis & Co., Ltd., 1960).[26]

His papers are held in UCD, a college he helped establish.[4] The Palles Collection was donated to UCD in 1921 and for many years formed the basis of UCD's Law Library.

In November 2018, the Palles Society for Private Law was established, named in honour of Palles CB.[27]


  1. ^ Delany, V.T.H. (1960). Christopher Palles. Dublin: Allen Figgis & Co. Ltd. p. ix.
  2. ^ Oxford DNB accessed 24 June 2008
  3. ^ "PALLES, ANDREW christopher - Dictionary of Irish Architects". Retrieved 27 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ The Cork Examiner report at the time indicates that the wedding was in the Catholic Church at Clonsilla:
  6. ^ a b "Christopher Palles". Dictionary of Ulster Biography. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Osborough, W.N (2011). "The Law School's Early Professoriate". Irish Jurist (1966-). 46: 1–12. JSTOR 44027085.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ See
  12. ^ Rossiter (A Minor) v. Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council at
  13. ^ Gough v. Neary & anor at
  14. ^ Turner, J.W.C. (2013). Kenny's Outlines of Criminal Law. CUP. p. 232. ISBN 978-1107675919.
  15. ^ Anderson v Cooke & Anor at
  16. ^ Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland v. Hanley at
  17. ^ Braddish v. D.P.P. & anor at
  18. ^ McGrath v. DPP & Bowes v. DPP at
  19. ^ Fletcher v. Commissioner of Public Works in Ireland at
  20. ^ Crilly & Farrington v. Eastern Health Board & ors at
  21. ^ Dakota Packaging Ltd v. AHP Manufacturing BV Trading As Wyeth Medica Ltd at
  22. ^ O'Mahony v. Tyndale & anor at
  23. ^ Carroll & anor v. Ryan & ors, Carroll v. The Law Society of Ireland at
  24. ^ Mitchell v Ireland & Ors at
  25. ^ Honniball v. Cunningham at
  26. ^ Reviewed at
  27. ^ "Palles Society for Private Law". Retrieved 26 November 2018.

External linksEdit