Limerick solicitor who represented city’s gang members

Obituary: John Devane was a controversial outsider in legal circles and beyond

John Devane leaving the High Court. Photograph: Patrick Cummins/Collins Courts

John Devane leaving the High Court. Photograph: Patrick Cummins/Collins Courts

 

The death has taken place of Limerick solicitor John Devane, a controversial lawyer who represented some of his city’s most dangerous criminals and who himself once faced charges for assaulting a colleague.

Devane, who was just 54, was found dead by his wife at home in Blackwater, Ardnacrusha, Co Clare. He had been unwell for some time, although he had returned to work in the Limerick District Court more recently.

The solicitor represented all sides in the murderous Limerick feud that left up to 20 men dead between the late 1990s and mid-2000s. At one stage it was reported that he was trying to mediate between the two sides.

The father of two represented the notorious Dundon-McCarthy criminal gang as well as members of the Keane gang, the Collopy criminal family and the Ryan-McCarthy crime gang.

In 2006, following a raid on his offices by the Criminal Assets Bureau, Devane said the gardaí were not happy with his success as a defence lawyer. Garda sources said that in fact the raid was part of an ongoing investigation into the activities of an individual in the Limerick area.

Devane was from Janesboro in Limerick. He wrote a memoir, Nobody Heard Me Cry, in which he detailed how his widowed mother struggled to raise his family and that he was the victim of sexual abuse as an eight-year-old and became involved in prostitution in his early teens. He said he began to drink and struggled with alcoholism for the rest of his life.

Devane went to University College Cork as a mature student, and qualified as a solicitor. He developed his own practice in Limerick, worked alone, and was a prominent criminal legal aid solicitor. He also represented clients in the redress and Army deafness scheme, and once said on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show that he was going to sue the State for multiple clients for the “slopping out” regime that existed in some prisons. This never occurred.

He ran as an unsuccessful Independent candidate in the 2007 general election in the Limerick East constituency. He said he wanted to “get in and stir the shit”.

In 2012 a District Court judge found that Devane had assaulted a colleague, John Herbert, outside the courthouse building. Devane had denied the charge. However Judge Patrick Clyne dismissed the case in return for Devane making a donation to the St Vincent de Paul.

It followed an earlier case, which had been dismissed, involving another charge of Devane assaulting Herbert during a row of alleged “client-poaching” that had also erupted at the courthouse.

Law and gardaí

Devane was not a popular figure among Limerick’s legal fraternity, nor was he popular with gardaí.

In August 2016 he gave a lengthy interview to the Limerick Leader in which he spoke about developing osteomyelitis, or poisoning of the bone, in his leg, and being hospitalised for a lengthy period. He also underwent an operation that left him being confined to a wheelchair for a time.

Devane said himself in media interviews that he was not popular. “You can’t muzzle me, I don’t tow the line, I don’t join cliques and I don’t play golf. I’m sorry, I just didn’t come from that side of the track”, he told the Limerick Leader in an interview.

“At least 75 per cent of the practitioners in the District Court would walk past me on the streets, walk past me in court and ignore me,” he said.

However in the wake of his death earlier this week, Judge Marian O’Leary told Limerick District Court she was “deeply saddened and shocked” by Devane’s passing and said his health problems of recent years “never prevented him for ensuring that all his clients were fully represented at all times in court.”

Stephanie Power, president of the Limerick Bar Association, described Devane as “a man of the people, for the people”.

“I think it’s safe to say we’re unlikely to come across a character as colourful as John any time in the near future.”

He is survived by his wife, Julieann, daughters Jemma and Jessica, brother Michael, and sisters Máire, Áine, Joan and Paula.