Richard Dowse

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Richard Dowse
Richard Dowse, Vanity Fair, 1871-03-25,crop.jpg
Caricature by Ape published in Vanity Fair in 1871.
Member of the United Kingdom Parliament
for Londonderry City
In office
Preceded by Lord Claud Hamilton
Succeeded by Charles Edward Lewis

Richard Dowse PC (1824 – 14 March 1890) was an Irish politician, barrister and judge, reputed to be the wittiest orator of his time.


He was born in Dungannon, County Tyrone, eldest son of William Dowse and Maria Donaldson.[1] He was educated at the Royal School Dungannon and the University of Dublin, entered Lincoln's Inn in 1849 and was called to the Irish Bar in 1852. After practicing for some years on the North-West Circuit, he became Queen's Counsel in 1863 and Third Serjeant in 1867.[2]

Later career[edit]

He was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Londonderry City at the 1868 general election. He was appointed a Baron of the Court of Exchequer (Ireland) in 1872, having served as Attorney-General and Solicitor-General for Ireland [3] Dowse resided at 38 Mountjoy Square in Dublin's north city centre.

He died suddenly while holding the assizes in Tralee, County Kerry in March 1890.[4]


On 29 December 1852, he married Catherine, daughter of George Moore of Clones. She died in 1874.[5]


He was considered one of the finest and wittiest Parliamentary speakers of the age,[6] and had the ability to crush an opposing speaker. When John Thomas Ball, a future Lord Chancellor of Ireland, asked for the date of a certain event, Dowse replied gravely that he did not have the precise date, but thought it was about the time when Ball changed his political allegiance in the hope of getting into the House of Commons.[7]

By comparison with his political speeches, his judgements are generally considered dull, and to have little value as precedents. He never had much reputation as a lawyer, although he had the virtues of common sense, clarity and simplicity. Delaney refers to a complex habeas corpus application which Dowse disposed of by saying simply "I'm afraid the prisoner must remain in gaol',[4] and he occasionally showed a touch of his celebrated humour in his judgements.

Maurice Healy tells the story of a later judge who refused to follow a judgement of Dowse, saying unkindly that "the learned Baron was always better known for his wit than his law". Counsel then embarrassed the judge by pointing out that the House of Lords had given a similar judgement.[8]


His obituary notice in The Times of 15 March 1890, read

On his retirement from the House of Commons, Punch magazine published a warm tribute to a man whose humour had been "like an oasis in the desert".[11]

Elrington Ball described him as a man who combined great wit with incisive intelligence and a knowledge of the world.[12]


  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol. 2 p. 369
  2. ^ Ball p. 369
  3. ^ "States and Regents of the World — Ireland". Archived from the original on 30 July 2009. Retrieved 7 September 2008. 
  4. ^ a b Delaney p.91
  5. ^  Falkiner, Cæsar Litton (1901). "Dowse, Richard". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement​. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  6. ^ Delaney, V.T.H Christopher Palles Allen Figgis and Co 1960 p.90
  7. ^ Delaney p.41
  8. ^ Healy, Maurice The Old Munster Circuit Michael Joseph Ltd. 1939 Mercier Press reprint pp.121-2
  9. ^ Breathnach, Seamus. "Irish American Murders". Retrieved 7 September 2008. 
  10. ^ "Archiseek Dublin Tour". Retrieved 7 September 2008. 
  11. ^ Delaney p.90
  12. ^ Ball p.305

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Lord Claud Hamilton
Member of Parliament for Londonderry City
1868 – 1872
Succeeded by
Charles Edward Lewis
Legal offices
Preceded by
Charles Robert Barry
Solicitor General for Ireland
Succeeded by
Christopher Palles
Attorney General for Ireland