Hugh Kennedy

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For other people named Hugh Kennedy, see Hugh Kennedy (disambiguation).
Hugh Kennedy

Hugh Kennedy (11 July 1879 – 1 December 1936) was the only Attorney General of Southern Ireland and the first Attorney General of the Irish Free State, and later the first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State. As a member of the Irish Free State Constitution Commission, he was also one of the constitutional architects of the Irish Free State. He was also elected to the 4th Dáil.[1]

Early life[edit]

Hugh Kennedy was born in Dublin in 1879, son of the prominent surgeon Hugh Boyle Kennedy. His younger sister was the journalist Mary Olivia Kennedy. He studied for the examinations of the Royal University while a student at University College Dublin and King's Inns, Dublin, and was called to the Bar in 1902. He was appointed King's Counsel in 1920 and became a Bencher of King's Inns in 1922.

During 1920 and 1921 Hugh Kennedy was a senior legal adviser to the representatives of Dáil Éireann during the negotiations for the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He was highly regarded as a lawyer by Michael Collins, who later regretted that Kennedy had not been part of the delegation sent to London in 1921 to negotiate the terms of the Treaty.[2]

Attorney General[edit]

The Constitution Committee meeting at the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Hugh Kennedy is seated third from the right.

On 31 January 1922 Kennedy became Attorney General of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State. Later that year he was appointed by the Provisional Government to the Irish Free State Constitution Commission to draft the Constitution of the Irish Free State. The Irish Free State was established on 6 December 1922, and the functions of the Provisional Government were transferred to the Executive Council of the Irish Free State. Kennedy was appointed Attorney General of the Irish Free State on 7 December 1922.

In 1923 he was appointed to the Judiciary Commission by the Government of the Irish Free State, on a reference from the Government to establish a new system for the administration of justice in accordance with the Constitution of the Irish Free State. The Judiciary Commission was chaired by Lord Glenavy, who had also been the last Lord Chancellor of Ireland. It drafted the Courts of Justice Act 1924 for a new system of courts, including a High Court and a Supreme Court, and provided for the abolition, inter alia, of the Irish Court of Appeal and the Irish High Court of Justice. Most of the judges were not reappointed to the new courts. Kennedy personally oversaw the selection of the new judges, and made impressive efforts to select them on merit alone.[3] The result were not always happy: his diary, of which some extracts have been published, reveal the increasingly unhappy atmosphere on he Supreme Court itself, due to frequent clashes between Kennedy and his colleague Gerald Fitzgibbon, since the two men proved to be so different in temperament and political outlook that they found it almost impossible to work together harmoniously.[4]

He was also a delegate of the Irish Free State to the Fourth Assembly of the League of Nations between 3–29 September 1923.


He was elected to Dáil Éireann on 27 October 1923 as a Cumann na nGaedheal TD at the by-election for the Dublin South constituency.[5] He was the first person to be elected in a by-election to Dáil Éireann. He resigned his seat when he was appointed Chief Justice.

Chief Justice[edit]

On 5 June 1924 he was appointed Chief Justice, thereby becoming the first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State. He is also the youngest person appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: when he was appointed he was 44 years old. Although the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal had been abolished and replaced by the High Court and the Supreme Court respectively, one of his first acts was to issue a practice note that the wearing of wigs and robes would continue in the new courts.[citation needed] This practice is still continued in trials and appeals in the High Court and the Supreme Court (except in certain matters).[citation needed] He held the position of Chief Justice until his death on 12 December 1936.


  1. ^ "Mr. Hugh Kennedy". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Forrester, Margery Michael Collins 2nd edition Gill and Macmillan 1989 p.282
  3. ^ Hogan, Gerard V. Chief Justice Kennedy and Sir James O'Connor's application Irish Jurist Vol. 23 p.144
  4. ^ Hogan p.156
  5. ^ "Hugh Kennedy". Retrieved 7 May 2012. 

External links[edit]

Legal offices
New office Attorney General of Ireland
Succeeded by
John O'Byrne
New office Chief Justice of Ireland
Succeeded by
Timothy Sullivan