Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Monahan, James Henry

MONAHAN, JAMES HENRY (1804–1878), Irish judge, eldest son of Michael Monahan of Heathlawn, near Portumna, in Galway,byhis marriage with Mary, daughter of Stephen Bloomfield of Eyrecourt in the same county, was born at Portumna in 1804. He was educated at the endowed school of Banagher in the King's County, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated in 1823, being first in science, and taking the gold medal. Entering the King's Inns, Dublin, in Easter term 1823, and Gray's Inn in Hilary term 1826, he was called to the Irish bar in Easter term 1828, and joined the Connaught circuit. In Dublin Monahan's success was at first slow, and his practice mainly on the chancery side, but on circuit he rapidly came to the front, and soon acquired the principal business there. In 1840 he was appointed Q.C., and from that time until he became a judge was one of the recognised leaders in the court of chancery. He practised also on the common law side, and was one of the counsel for the defendants in the trial of Daniel O'Connell (' the Liberator ') and others for conspiracy in 1844.

On the formation of Lord John Russell's government, in 1846, Monahan was appointed solicitor-general for Ireland, and in the following year was elected a bencher of the King's Inns. At a by-election, in February 1847, he was returned for Galway Borough, after a severe contest, by a majority of four votes, but at the general election in August of that year the opposition of the Young Ireland party to the government prevented his re-election. In December 1847 he became attorney-general for Ireland, and in 1848 he was sworn of the Irish privy council. As attorney-general he conducted in 1848 the prosecutions arising out of the revolutionary movement of that year, including those of Smith O'Brien, Meagher and McManus at Clonmel, and of Gavan Duffy, Martin, and Mitchel in Dublin. He was accused of jury-packing by excluding catholics from the jury-box. In his speech in Mitchel's trial he warmly repudiated the charge, referred to the fact that he was himself a catholic, and stated that his instructions to the crown solicitor were to exclude no one on account of his religion, but only those, whatever their religion, who he believed would not give an impartial verdict (Report of Trial of John Mitchel, pp. 32-3, Dublin, 1848). In October 1850 Monahan was appointed chief justice of the common pleas in succession to Doherty. He held that office till January 1876, when he resigned owing to failing health. In 1867 he presided at the special commission for the trial of the Fenian prisoners at Cork and Limerick. He was an able and conscientious judge, uniting a comprehensive knowledge of law with strong, practical common-sense. He possessed the confidence alike of the bar and the public. The university of Dublin conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. in 1860, and placed him upon the senate. In 1861 he was appointed a commissioner of national education. He died on 8 Dec. 1878 at his residence, 5 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin. In 1833 he married Fanny, daughter of Nicholas Harrington of Dublin; two sons (James Henry, called to the Irish bar 1856, Q.C. 1868; Henry, registrar of the consolidated nisi prius court) and four daughters survived him.

[Ann. Reg. 1878; Times, 13 Jan. 1876; Irish Times, 10 Dec. 1878; Report of Trial of William Smith O'Brien, Dublin, 1849; Report of Proceedings under the Treason Felony Act, Dublin, 1848; Four Years of Irish History, by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy; information from family.]

J. D. F.