William Downes, 1st Baron Downes

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Lord Downes by Hugh Douglas Hamilton.

William Downes, 1st Baron Downes PC (1751 – 3 March 1826) was one of the leading Irish judges of his time.

Downes was the only son of Robert Downes of Donnybrook and his wife Elizabeth Twigge; he was a grandson of Dive Downes, Bishop of Cork and Ross. He graduated from the University of Dublin, was called to the Bar in 1776 and was elected a member of the Irish House of Commons for Donegal Borough in 1790. He was appointed a judge of the Court of King's Bench in 1792; on the murder of Lord Kilwarden in 1803, Downes succeeded him as Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland.

Downes was regarded as "the acknowledged father of the law"; according to Elrington Ball, after the murder of Kilwarden it was generally agreed that only Downes was fit to succeed him.[1] He was one of the few judges whom Daniel O'Connell could not intimidate. At the trial of John Magee for seditious libel in 1813, O'Connell's conduct of the defence was so intemperate that someone said he should have been prevented from speaking; Downes said drily that he regretted not having prevented O'Connell from practicing law in the first place.[2] On the other hand, Downes did let O'Connell speak at great length, and was severely criticised by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Sir Robert Peel, for so doing.[3]

He retired in 1822; despite his age and childlessness he accepted a peerage as Baron Downes, of Aghanville in the King's County, with a special remainder to his cousin Ulysses Burgh, who succeeded him as second and last Baron Downes.

When he died he was buried in St Anne's Church, Dublin next to his friend and colleague William Tankerville Chamberlain.[4]


  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 London John Murray 1926
  2. ^ Geoghegan, Patrick M. King Dan- the rise of Daniel O'Connell Gill and Macmillan Dublin 2008 p.136
  3. ^ O'Faoláin, Sean King of the Beggars - a life of Daniel O'Connell Alan Figgis 1970 p.179
  4. ^ Catalogue Note by the portrait of William Downes
Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
Henry Hatton
Sir John Evans-Freke, Bt
Member of Parliament for Donegal Borough
With: Humphrey Butler
Succeeded by
Humphrey Butler
William Keller
Legal offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Kilwarden
Lord Chief Justice of Ireland
Succeeded by
Charles Kendal Bushe
Peerage of Ireland
New creation Baron Downes
Succeeded by
Ulysses Burgh