Hugh Holmes

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Not to be confused with Hugh Holmes (Virginia politician).

Hugh Holmes QC (17 February 1840 – 19 April 1916) was an Irish Conservative Party then after 1886 a Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) in the United Kingdom Parliament and subsequently a Judge of the High Court and Court of Appeal in Ireland.

Background and education[edit]

Holmes was born in Dungannon, County Tyrone, the son of William Holmes of Dungannon and Anne Maxwell. He attended Trinity College, Dublin. He was called to the English bar in 1864 and to the Irish Bar in 1865.

Legal and judicial career[edit]

Holmes became a Queen's Counsel (QC) in 1877. he was appointed Solicitor General for Ireland on 14 December 1878 and served until the Conservative government was defeated in 1880. He became Attorney General for Ireland 1885–1886 and 1886–1887. He was made a member of the Privy Council of Ireland on 2 July 1885. He was MP for Dublin University 1885–1887.

Holmes retired from the House of Commons when he was appointed a Judge in 1887. He was a Justice of the Common Pleas Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland until 1888 when he became a Justice of the Queen's Bench Division. He was promoted to be a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1897. Ill health caused his retirement in 1914.

He appeared to be a stern judge, who did not suffer fools gladly and often imposed exceptionally severe sentences in criminal cases. Although the story is often thought to be apocryphal, Maurice Healy maintained that Holmes did once sentence a man of great age to 15 years in prison, and on the prisoner pleading that he could not do 15 years, replied "Do as much of it as you can".[1] His judgments did however display some good humour and humanity, and the sentences he imposed were often less severe in practice than those he actually announced in Court.

The quality of his judgments was very high and Holmes, together with Christopher Palles and Gerald FitzGibbon, is credited with earning for the Irish Court of Appeal its reputation as perhaps the strongest tribunal in Irish legal history.[2] His retirement, followed by that of Palles, caused a loss of expertise in the Court of Appeal from which its reputation never recovered. Among his more celebrated remarks is that the Irish "have too much of a sense of humour to dance around a maypole".[3] His judgment in The SS Gairloch remains the authoritative statement in Irish law on the circumstances in which an appellate court can overturn findings of fact made by the trial judge.[4]


In 1869 Hugh Holmes married Olivia Moule of Elmley-Lovett, Worcestershire ; she died in 1901.[5] Their children included Hugh junior, Valentine (like his father a very successful barrister) and Violet, who married Sir Denis Henry, 1st Baronet, the first Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. His daughter Elizabeth married Harold Lawson Murphy


  1. ^ Maurice Healy The Old Munster Circuit Michael Joseph Ltd 1939
  2. ^ Delaney,V.T.H. Christopher Palles Alan Figgis and Co. 1960 p.158
  3. ^ Abercromby v Fermoy Town Commissioners [1900]1 I.R 302 at 314
  4. ^ Gairloch, the S.S. , Aberdeen Glenline Steamship Co. v Macken [1899] 2 I.R. 1
  5. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol. 2 p.377
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
David Plunket
Edward Gibson
Member of Parliament for Dublin University
With: David Plunket
Succeeded by
David Plunket
Dodgson Hamilton Madden
Legal offices
Preceded by
Gerald FitzGibbon
Solicitor-General for Ireland
Succeeded by
William Moore Johnson
Preceded by
Samuel Walker
Attorney-General for Ireland
Succeeded by
Samuel Walker
Preceded by
Samuel Walker
Attorney-General for Ireland
Succeeded by
John George Gibson