Timothy Sullivan (Irish judge)

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Timothy Sullivan (1874–1949) was Chief Justice of Ireland from 1936 to 1946.

He was born in Dublin, the third son of Timothy Daniel Sullivan, a prominent Home Rule MP and Lord Mayor of Dublin. Through his sister Anne who married Dr. Thomas Higgins he was the uncle of Kevin O'Higgins and great-uncle of another Chief Justice, Tom O'Higgins . His aunt had married Timothy Michael Healy, the first Governor-General of the Irish Free State, and Sullivan in turn married their daughter.[1] He was called to the Bar in 1895.

His strongly nationalist background made him acceptable to the new Government of the Irish Free State as a member of the new judiciary and accordingly in 1924 he was appointed President of the High Court; in 1936 on the death of Hugh Kennedy he was appointed Chief Justice and served until he reached retirement age in 1946.

His most notable judgment was the upholding by the Supreme Court in 1940 of the Constitutionality of the Offences Against the State ( Amendment ) Bill which allowed for indefinite detention of suspected IRA members. An apparently casual remark of Sullivan that he was giving judgment "for the majority" caused controversy and led to the Second Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland 1941 providing for a single judgment only in such cases. There was further controversy in the 1960s when an academic claimed that Sullivan had "packed" the Court in favour of the Government by persuading James Creed Meredith to step down in favour of Conor Maguire.The claim seems to be unfounded: Sullivan was a firm believer in judicial independence, and in any case by 1940 any political sympathies he had were with the Opposition, not the Government.[2]

His cousin Maurice Healy in his celebrated memoir "The Old Munster Circuit" [3] portrays Timothy as a kindly, serious young man; Mr. Justice MacKenzie in his memoirs " Lawful Occasions " [4] recalled the much older Sullivan, then Chief Justice, as "an old-fashioned Irish gentleman, quiet living".

In 1913 Sullivan married his cousin Maeve Healy, daughter of Timothy Healy. Maeve was an artist who painted the well-known portrait of her husband in his judicial robes.[5] They had no children.


  1. ^ Ferguson, Kenneth ed. King's Inns Barristers 1868-1968 Kings Inns Dublin 2005
  2. ^ Hogan, Gerard (2000) " The Supreme Court and the reference of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill 1940, Irish Jurist 35:257
  3. ^ Michael Joseph Ltd. London 1939
  4. ^ Mercier Press Dublin 1991
  5. ^ Ferguson Kings Inns Barristers 1868-1968
Legal offices
Preceded by
Hugh Kennedy
Chief Justice of Ireland
Succeeded by
Conor Maguire