Lawyer who was not afraid to take on difficult cases

Ciaran McAnally, who died last week, was the solicitor who brought the first case against Ireland to the European Court of Human…

Ciaran McAnally, who died last week, was the solicitor who brought the first case against Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights. The Lawless case was a challenge to the government policy of interning people in the Curragh without trial arising out of the IRA Border campaign in the 1950s.

Gerry Lawless was 16 when he was interned in 1957. Ciaran McAnally took his case on a pro bono basis, challenging the legality of his detention first in the Irish courts, and eventually in Strasbourg, where it was heard in 1961. The government defence was that an emergency threatened the life of the nation. Although McAnally brought forward evidence that there was no such emergency, the court ruled that the government was entitled to take the measures it did.

It was a Pyrrhic victory, however, as the evidence surrounding the "emergency" was embarrassing, and the Curragh internment camp was closed shortly afterwards.

"He was always willing to take on difficult cases and stick with them,"according to a barrister who worked with him in the 1970s. "He was never afraid to take cases of principle to court."


One such was a challenge to the lack of Irish programmes on RTÉ, taken by Cait Bean ui Cadhain, who was refusing to pay her television licence, and which McAnally took all the way to the Supreme Court. It did not succeed, but it promoted the campaign for Raidio na Gaeltachta and later TG4.

Other cases that attracted attention involved less fundamental principles. He successfully defended Kevin Myers, now columnist at this paper and then a leading student activist, when he was charged with possession of an offensive weapon at an anti-apartheid demonstration against the South African rugby team, the Springboks, during their controversial tour of Ireland in the early 1970s.

"Myers was arrested allegedly with a piece of wire in his hand that the guards said had the ends protruding through his fingers as a weapon," recalls a journalist who covered the case in the District Court. Myers, who insists he was framed by gardaí, was acquitted, in part, the journalist recalls, because of a bravura display by McAnally.

"He had an astonishingly encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish history and a very clear understanding of Irish law," said an English solicitor who befriended him in the mid-1970s. "He had an ability to explain complex issues in a way which allowed people without his intellectual abilities to understand them. He also had a lovely sense of humour."

Although he represented a number of republicans in the 1970s he was a convinced pacifist. "He had an absolute horror of violence and war, at an intellectual level," according to a priest friend. "He was a marvellously intelligent man."

He was a convinced Catholic, but often critical of the church authorities. He was a friend of Archbishop Roberts of Bombay, who resigned in order to force the Vatican to appoint an Indian archbishop, and of the professor of moral theology in Maynooth, Father Enda McDonagh.

Ciaran McAnally was one of three sons born into a bank manager's family in Buncrana in 1924. His brother, Ray, became a celebrated actor, and his other brother, Jim, a photojournalist working with Time-Life and other international publications.

He went to school in St Columb's, Derry, Newbridge as a boarder, and then St Eunan's in Letterkenny. He was apprenticed as a solicitor in Derry and then studied law in UCD. He joined P.C. Moore solicitors in Dublin, but soon set up as a sole practitioner.

He married Mary Kehoe, who predeceased him, in 1952 and they had three daughters, Barbara, Mairín and Eimear. He enjoyed hill-walking and mountaineering and was a founder of the Irish Mountaineering Club. He also collected antiquarian books. In his later years, when his health was failing, his main passions were his grandchildren and his garden.

He is survived by his sister, Imelda, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren.

Ciaran McAnally: born January 25th, 1924; died February 23rd, 2004