Sir Walter Boyd, 1st Baronet

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Sir Walter Boyd, 1st Baronet (28 January 1833 -25 June 1918) was an Irish judge and member of the Privy Council of Ireland. After serving for many years as the Irish Bankruptcy judge, he was transferred to the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland.[1] His friend Maurice Healy describes him with great respect and affection in his memoir The Old Munster Circuit.


He was born at what is now Walworth Road in Portobello, Dublin, the fourth son of Walter Boyd and Jane Macrory of Castledawson, County Londonderry.[2] He was educated at the University of Dublin where he took his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1855 and Doctor of Laws in 1864.[3] He entered Lincoln's Inn in 1854 and was called to the Irish Bar in 1856. He took silk in 1877 and became Queen's Advocate for Ireland the following year. In politics he was a staunch Unionist.

He did not enjoy a great reputation as a lawyer but, following the tradition set by Daniel O'Connell, was noted for fearlessness in Court. Maurice Healy recalls a well-known story that Mr Justice O'Brien angrily asked: where was Dr Boyd's[4] respect for the Court? Boyd replied that the Court was receiving the exact degree of respect it deserved.[5]


In 1885 he was appointed the Irish Bankruptcy judge.[6] Healy thought that the job suited him well: while he was not an especially good lawyer, he had great common sense, and an ability to detect any form of commercial dishonesty. He was also, according to Healy, a man of great physical courage, an important consideration at a time when agrarian unrest meant that his life might be threatened.[7] He had a remarkable gift for detecting fraud; unfortunately, in Healy's view, experience led him to assume that almost all human beings are dishonest, and although he did not lose his essential kindness or good humour, he became something of a cynic.

In 1897 the reorganisation of the High Court led to his transfer to the King's Bench Division.[8] The universal affection and respect in which the Bar held him meant that he could rely on the support of counsel on both sides to overcome any deficiencies in his own knowledge of the law.[9] He was also fortunate that the quality of his judicial colleagues was very high; and when sitting with more learned judges like Christopher Palles would defer to their greater expertise. He dealt with little crime until his last few years, when he acquired a reputation for imposing exceptionally severe sentences.[10]

His short judgement in the probate case, Crofts v Beamish,[11] where three High Court judges were unable to agree on the interpretation of a will, gives a flavour of his robust style and forceful personality. Boyd admitted frankly that he had no idea what the testator meant. "I do not think he himself knew what he meant. More extraordinary words I have never come across."

Last years[edit]

Boyd retired in 1916, and was created a Baronet, and a member of the Irish Privy Council.[12] He lived near Howth, where he pursued his great love, sailing, into extreme old age. He died on 25 June 1918.


In 1862 he married Anne Catherine Anderson.[13] They had six children, including Sir Walter Boyd, 2nd Baronet, Colonel Henry Boyd, and Dr. Cecil Boyd.[14]


The best picture we have of Boyd's character is by Maurice Healy; despite a considerable age difference it seems that a warm friendship existed between the two men. In The Old Munster Circuit Healy recalls Boyd as " a warrior" : a man of boundless vitality and humour, as a judge lacking the legal eminence of some of his colleagues, but possessing great common sense, a shrewd if somewhat cynical knowledge of human nature, and a strong sense of justice. Despite his faults and prejudices Healy notes that he was "beloved by all".[15]

A sketch by Thomas Bodkin shows Boyd as a gaunt elderly man with a flowing white beard.


  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol. 2 p.380
  2. ^ Ball p.380
  3. ^ Ball p.380
  4. ^ A reference to his Doctorate in law, not a medical degree.
  5. ^ Healy, Maurice The Old Munster Circuit 1939 Mercier Press Reissue 1979 p.32
  6. ^ Ball p.380
  7. ^ Healy pp.30-31
  8. ^ Ball p.380
  9. ^ Healy p.31
  10. ^ Healy pp.78-9
  11. ^ [1905] 2 I.R. 345
  12. ^ Ball p.380
  13. ^ Mosley ed. Burke's Peerage 107th Edition 2003 Vol.1 p.468
  14. ^ Burke's Peerage p.468
  15. ^ Healy pp.30-31