Public servant with the law on his side


Liam Lysaght, who died last Saturday, August 28th, aged 87, was one of those professional civil servants who built the modern Irish state and who did so quietly and diligently.

His period as Chief State Solicitor during the demanding years 1970 to 1978 marked the culmination of a long career as a public servant.

He also made his mark in sports - rugby and golf specifically - and was a dedicated husband and father.

He grew up on the South Circular Road in Kilmainham although his family roots were in Cork. His father, William, who worked for Arthur Guinness & Co, was from Fermoy and his mother, Margaret (nee O'Mahony) was from Mallow.

Born in August, 1913, Liam Joseph Lysaght was the fourth of seven children, two boys and five girls.

He was educated by that institution which figures so often in the life stories of those who went on to achieve great success: the Christian Brothers School in Synge Street.

He left them, however, at the age of 15 to work in the office of solicitors Herbert Malley with the intention of doing an apprenticeship to become a solicitor. When he qualified he went to work for Little, O hUadhaigh and Proud. Soon after he left the private sector for the civil service, where he spent the remainder of his career. In the early 1940s he took part in an open competition for the recruitment of civil servants. A knowledge of Irish was essential and he went off to the Kerry Gaeltacht to improve his command of the language. It worked, and he got the job.

He spent some time as a solicitor at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs before entering the Chief State Solicitor's office where he spent most of his career.

He married May Doody in 1945, and they had four children, Liam, Geraldine, Mary and Barry. Eight years later, however, his first wife died.

He later married Helen Cummins, who survives him.

He was Chief State Solicitor at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland. The period saw appalling atrocities on both sides as well as the introduction of internment in Northern Ireland.

It was during his tenure that Ireland successfully referred a test case against Britain to the European Court of Human Rights alleging the torture of prisoners in Northern Ireland.

Outside his work, he led an active social life and was especially interested in sports where he was prepared to devote his energies to the hard slog of committee work. Rugby was one of his great passions. He was a life member and trustee of Bective Rangers Football Club where he also served as president.

He was president of the Leinster Branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union in 1956. He was also, for a period, a selector of the international rugby team.

He was fond of golf as well and was, for a time, president of Dun Laoghaire Golf Club.

His interests did not stop at the law and sport: he was a member of Bohemians too - not the football club but the singing club, even though he did not regard himself as a singer.

Liam Lysaght was respected as a lawyer and a man of integrity. He was self-effacing, not an unusual attribute among those civil servants who built and maintained the democratic state we have today and, like many of them, he maintained always a good sense of humour.

Liam Lysaght: born 1913; died August 1999