Senior legal figure Frank Callanan dies aged 65

Barrister recently acted for State in opposing Ryanair challenge to Covid travel advice

Frank Callanan SC, one of the most senior and best-known figures at the Irish Bar, has died aged 65.

Mr Callanan, of Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, died suddenly on Sunday morning following a medical emergency when he was at his home with his wife, Bridget, his family said.

His death comes just days after that of his father, Fionnbar, a retired solicitor and photojournalist, who died on Friday and whose funeral is on Monday. His mother, Margaret, died two years ago.

Mr Callanan was a graduate of University College Dublin (UCD) and also attended the King's Inns and the College of Europe in Bruges. He was a former auditor of UCD's Literary & Historical society and wrote a history of the society.


He was called to the Bar in 1979 and became a senior counsel in 1998. His practice was in civil law and he was involved in many high-profile cases, including employment cases. He represented the Equality Authority in its unsuccessful challenge to Portmarnock Golf Club's exclusion of women as full members and more recently acted for the State in successfully opposing Ryanair's challenge to the Government's Covid-19 travel advice.

He was part of the legal team that acted for Digital Rights Ireland in a case that resulted in a landmark judgment from the European Court of Justice striking down a directive on data retention.

Mr Callanan is among several counsel representing various survivors of the mother and baby homes over their treatment and was also instructed by the Free Legal Advice Centres last year to represent a man with an intellectual disability who challenged the constitutionality of the High Court's wardship jurisdiction. He represented key witness James Gogarty at the planning tribunal.

Joycean authority

Mr Callanan had strong Fine Gael connections, was a trustee of the party and was regarded at stages of his career as a contender for the position of attorney general. He was a historian and wrote a number of books, including a narrative of the last year of Charles Stewart Parnell's life. He was also an authority on James Joyce.

Bar Council chairwoman Maura McNally said Mr Callanan was "an icon" of the Bar. Two other well-known members, Jerry Healy SC and Diarmaid (Willie) Fawsitt, also died recently. On behalf of the Bar, she expressed condolences to all their families.

Former minister for justice Michael McDowell, a close colleague of Mr Callanan’s, said he was shocked and saddened to hear of his death, which was “a terrible loss to the administration of justice in Ireland”.

Eilis Barry, CEO of the Free Legal Advice Centres, said Mr Callanan's death marked "a huge loss to the Bar and to the political, social and cultural world".

“He embodied the very best of the Bar. He always abided by the cab rank rule and never turned anyone away. As a result, he acted in the most difficult of cases on behalf of people who would otherwise not be represented.”

Mr Callanan is survived by his wife, Bridget; sisters Claire, Jean and Sara; and brothers Paul and Richard.

Fine Gael TD and former minister for justice Charlie Flanagan said Mr Callanan was “an erudite and scholarly man whose death will be acutely felt in legal, political and academic circles”.

“Frank was a committed Fine Gael activist since Liam Cosgrave was leader and loyally served in many key back room positions,” he said.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times