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Holmes, Robert (1765-1859) (DNB00)

HOLMES, ROBERT (1765–1859), Irish lawyer, whose father was settled at Belfast, was born during a visit of his parents to Dublin in 1765, entered Trinity College in 1782, and graduated B.A. in 1787. He at first devoted himself to medicine, but he soon turned his attention to the law. In 1795 he was called to the bar, and married Mary Emma, daughter of Dr. Robert Emmet. She died of a brain fever after hearing of the execution of her brother Robert [q. v.] in 1803. In 1798 Holmes, during a parade of the lawyers corps of yeomanry, of which he was a member, threw down his arms on learning that the corps was to be placed under the military authorities, dreading lest he might have to act against the populace. To one Joy, a barrister, who had used insulting language to him respecting this circumstance, he sent a challenge, for which he suffered three months' imprisonment. In 1799 he published a satirical pamphlet on the projected act of union, entitled ‘A Demonstration of the Necessity of the Legislative Union of Great Britain and Ireland.’ With the rising of his brother-in-law, Emmet, on 23 July 1803, he had no connection, although he was arrested on suspicion and imprisoned for some months. This retarded his advancement, but his legal ability soon asserted itself. He declined to receive any favours from the government, refusing in succession the offices of crown prosecutor, king's counsel, and solicitor-general, and to the last he remained a member of the outer bar. Nevertheless he had for many years the largest practice of any member of the Irish courts, and was listened to with the greatest attention by the judges, although he was not always very civil to them. His great learning is conspicuous in his law arguments, which form a valuable set of articles in the ‘Irish Law Reports.’ He was also in great repute in cases submitted for his opinion. He was a powerful and impressive advocate, and several of his speeches to juries are fine specimens of forensic eloquence, notably his speeches in Watson v. Dill, in defence of the ‘Nation’ newspaper, and his oration on behalf of John Mitchel, tried for treason-felony on 24 May 1848. During the course of his practice he made over 100,000l. He published ‘An Address to the Yeomanry of Ireland, demonstrating the Necessity of their declaring their Opinions upon Political Subjects,’ and in 1847 ‘The Case of Ireland stated,’ an able work on the repeal of the union. When his age prevented his continuing on circuit, the members of the north-east bar presented him with an address, and placed his bust in the bar mess-room. After his retirement in 1852 he resided in London with his only child Elizabeth, wife of George William Lenox-Conyngham, chief clerk of the foreign office. Holmes died at 37 Eaton Place, Belgrave Square, London, on 30 Nov. 1859.

[O'Flanagan's Irish Bar, 1879, pp. 273–87; Dublin University Mag. January 1848, pp. 122–133, with portrait; Webb's Compendium of Biography, 1878, p. 253; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xii. 188; information from Mrs. Lenox-Conyngham.]

G. C. B.