James Creed Meredith

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For the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi, see James Meredith.

James Creed Meredith K.C., LL.D. (28 November 1875 – 14 August 1942) was an Irish nationalist of the early 20th century, who upheld Brehon Law. He was President of the Supreme Court of the Irish Republic, Chief Judicial Commissioner of Ireland and a Judge of the High Court and the Supreme Court of Ireland. He was selected by the League of Nations to oversee the Saar Valley Plebiscite and was a Senator of the National University of Ireland. He was also a noted scholar, philosopher and author, whose 1911 translation of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement is still widely used by students today. In 1896, he won the British championship for the Quarter mile race. He is the grandfather of the bronze casting sculptor Rowan Gillespie.

Early life[edit]

James Creed Meredith was the son of Sir James Creed Meredith and Ellen Graves Meredith (1848–1919), his father's third wife and the daughter of his father's first cousin, Rev. Richard Graves Meredith (1810–1871), of Timoleague, Co. Cork, the elder brother of Sir William Collis Meredith and Edmund Allen Meredith. James was a nephew of Sir Edward Newenham Meredith (1776-1865), 9th Bt., and a brother of the Ven. Ralph Creed Meredith and Llewellyn Meredith (1883–1967), a judge in New Zealand. He was a cousin, Richard Edmund Meredith, Master of the Rolls in Ireland.

Meredith was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, from which he received a master's degree. In 1896, whilst a student at Trinity, he became the British Quarter Mile Champion, running the distance in 52 seconds and beating Fitzherbert of Cambridge, the holder of the championship. Coincidentally, his future brother-in-law, Howard Meredith Percy (1879–1902), won for Canada the inter-collegiate championship in the half-mile and mile runs when at McGill University. Following university, Meredith embarked upon a legal career, becoming a barrister.

Career[edit]

In 1914, Meredith had approached Sir Thomas Myles to use his yacht, the Chotah, to land guns for the Irish Volunteers at Kilcoole. Meredith himself helped out aboard the Chotah during the operation with his friends Robert Erskine Childers and Edward Conor Marshall O'Brien. Meredith was unusual amongst Protestants and graduates of Trinity College Dublin of his era, in that he was an active supporter of Sinn Féin and the revolutionary Dáil government between 1919 and 1922. He served as the President of the Dáil Supreme Court from 1920–22.

Though a republican – with a small 'r' – Meredith became a pacifist and a member of the Irish Proportional Representation Society. He was a founding member of the United Irish League along with fellow pacifist and writer Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, the painter Dermod O'Brien, William O'Brien M.P. and Michael Davitt.

In 1917 Meredith campaigned with George William Russell and Sir Horace Plunkett for the establishment of the Irish Convention in an attempt to find a way around the Unionist stonewall against self-government.

After Sinn Féin's landslide victory in 1918 and the unilateral declaration of independence, the Dáil appointed Meredith to chair a committee of lawyers to draw up a constitution for the newly declared Irish Republic, working closely with his cousin, Arthur Francis Carew Meredith K.C. Two years later the new Dáil Courts system was set up to replace the English-law based court system, and Meredith was appointed President of the Irish Supreme Court over Arthur Cleary because of the fact that he was by then a King's Counsel (a senior barrister).[1]

At the conclusion of the War of Independence some Dáil deputies argued that elements of the Brehon law should be incorporated into the legal system of the new State. Meredith was among those who supported this view. In 1920, on an appeal by a deserted wife and child, seeking compensation or support from her husband, Meredith pronounced that English Law was retrograde in this matter and that he would give his judgment in accordance with the spirit of Brehon Law. He awarded the woman compensation and thus became the last known Irish judge to make an appeal to the ancient Irish law system.

His citing of the Brehon law might have had far reaching implications for women's rights in Ireland. However, Laurence Ginnell and most of the judiciary who supported this initiative of reviving aspects of Brehon Law took the Republican side in the subsequent Civil War (1922–23), and so the project came to nothing. The new Irish State re-accepted English Statute and Common Law while suppressing the nascent Irish system.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the civil war and the collapse of the Republic, the newly established Irish Free State did not abandon Meredith's talents. He was appointed Chief Judicial Commissioner of Ireland on 14 August 1923, served on the High Court from 1924 to 1937 and then on the Supreme Court of Ireland until his death. He was elected to the Senate of the National University of Ireland, a position he also held until his death. In 1934 he was asked by the League of Nations to oversee the Saar valley plebiscite on the French/German frontier, and in 1937 he returned to the Supreme Court of Ireland.

Mrs Lorraine Creed Meredith[edit]

In 1908, at St. George's Church, Montreal, Meredith married Lorraine Seymour Percy, the daughter of Charles Percy (1852–1918) of Weredale Park, Montreal, 'one of the great railway geniuses of his era', and a niece of Arthur Trefusis Heneage Williams. Mr Percy was "a great family man, devoted to cultivated society and an admirier of fine arts, particularly music, and a lover of nature and his family fireside." Percy had come from England to Canada in 1876 at the bequest of the Chicago and Grand Trunk Railway Company to be their treasurer, later becoming a director of the Central Vermont Railway.

Lorraine's mother, Annie Redmond Meredith (1849–1930), was a daughter of Henry Howard Meredith (1815–1892) of Rosebank House, Port Hope, Ontario. She was a first cousin of James Creed Meredith's mother, and a niece of the already mentioned Edmund Allen Meredith and William Collis Meredith. Mrs Annie (Meredith) Percy was a talented artist and "a woman of rare culture and charm, artistic in taste, and noted for her charitable works and activities associated with the Church of England, of which she was a communicant since childhood".

Lorraine Meredith was herself a great patron of various Irish artists and poets. She was particularly close to the painter Grace Henry, the wife of the better known Paul Henry. Grace Henry's biographer described the two women as "slightly silly and full of fun". The two often travelled and painted together, and when Mrs Henry died in 1953, it was Mrs Meredith – then living in Cyprus – who paid for her funeral. Mrs Meredith kept close ties with her Canadian relations and frequently took her two daughters (Moira and Brenda) to stay with them, particularly at the country home in Livingston County, Michigan of her uncle, Howard Graves Meredith (1856–1934), described by Lord Birkenhead as "a great character, and one of the most attractive and warm-hearted men I have ever met".

Their daughter Moira's son is Rowan Gillespie, the Irish bronze casting sculptor, whose latest work Proclamation is a memorial to the signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and, according to his biographer Roger Kohn, to his grandfather's dream of a Utopian society.

Philosophy and writings[edit]

Meredith was remembered as a kind, intelligent and philosophical man. A polymath, he held doctorates in literature and law. He wrote a successful play and five books, most notable of which was his 1911 translation of 'Kant's Critique of Aesthetic Judgement', still widely used today by English speaking scholars of Immanuel Kant. In the analytical index of his famous translation, Meredith asked a pertinent question concerning Irish history and society, "What do you call a pretty girl in Ireland?", furnishing his own characteristic response: "A tourist.""

The Merediths' Dublin house, Hopeton, was a centre for well-known poets, writers and artists of the time, and they also kept a country residence, Albert House, at Dalkey. Never one to follow the crowd, he became a Quaker in later life and after his death, 14 August 1942, was buried at the Friend's Temple Hill Cemetery, Blackrock, Dublin.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kotsonouris (a) 35

Works[edit]

References[edit]

  • Ferguson, Kenneth (ed): King's Inns Barristers 1868–2004 :Dublin: 2005: pp253–54
  • Kotsonouris, Mary: Retreat from Revolution- The Dáil Courts, 1920–24:Dublin: 1994
  • Kotsonouris, Mary The Winding-up of the Dáil Courts, 1922–1925 – An obvious duty :Dublin: 2004

External links[edit]