Coyne v Tweedy

Judgment Date07 May 1896
Date28 February 1896
Docket Number(1895. No. 8146.)
CourtQueen's Bench Division (Ireland)
Tweedy (1).

Q. B. Div.


(1895. No. 8146.)













Peace officer — Duty to preserve the peace — Acts committed in the execution of such duty.

In 1891 the parish of Killannin, of which the plaintiff was then priest, was transferred from the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Tuam to the diocese of Galway. The plaintiff, who disputed the right of his superiors to make such transfer without his consent, appealed to Rome; and went to Rome, and there remained from 1891 to 1894 prosecuting his appeal. He returned unsuccessful to Killannin in January, 1894, and found that in the meanwhile another clergyman (C.) had been appointed parish priest in his stead by the Bishop of Galway, and had been performing the duties of that office. On Saturday, the 9th February, the plaintiff, with a large body of parishioners, his sympathisers, took and held possession of the parish chapel.

On the following (Sunday) morning the defendant, a district inspector of constabulary, proceeded, in obedience to instructions from headquarters, to the chapel, and took command of a body of constables, who had been sent there at an earlier hour. Shortly after his arrival C., with another large body of the parishioners, appeared on the scene. C. stated that he was the parish priest, and asked the defendant to break open the chapel door, or to assist him in gaining admission. The defendant refused to do so, and awaited events. C.'s party opened the door with a sledge-hammer, and C. and some of his followers entered the sacristy. The defendant and some constables entered after them. An excited altercation ensued between the plaintiff and C., the latter demanding to pass from the sacristy into the chapel, while the plaintiff opposed his right to do so. In the end the plaintiff pushed C. roughly back; a rush was immediately made at the plaintiff, and a general riot would have resulted, had not the defendant (who till then had remained a passive spectator) interfered, with the object of preventing the impending riot, and removed the plaintiff from the chapel precincts. In an action for assault and trespass, the jury found that such removal was reasonable and necessary to prevent a breach of the peace:—

Held, on new trial motion, by the Queen's Bench Division, and, on appeal, by the Court of Appeal, that, even assuming the plaintiff to have been legally in possession of the chapel, the defendant had done nothing exceeding his duty as a peace officer, that the finding of the jury was reasonable, and that the action was untenable.

New Trial Motion in an action for assault and trespass.

In 1875 the plaintiff was appointed parish priest of Killannin in the county of Galway and Arch-diocese of Tuam by Dr. Mao Hale, the Archbishop of the diocese, where he remained until 1891. Dr. Mac Hale died in 1882, and Dr. M'Evilly succeeded him. On the 1st January, 1891, the plaintiff received a document dated the 30th December, 1890, from Dr. M'Evilly, communicating a decision of the Holy See dated the 13th December, 1890, that Killannin had been separated from Tuam and annexed to the diocese of Galway. On the 4th January, 1891, the plaintiff called on Dr. M'Cormack, the Bishop of Galway, and objected to the parish being transferred without his consent, and announced his intention of appealing to Rome against the transfer. It was agreed that Dr. M'Cormack should send a priest to take charge of the parish during the plaintiff's absence, and accordingly the Rev. Father Kieran came to the parish. On the 17th January, 1891, the plaintiff went to Rome, where he remained until January 1894, having during this period prosecuted his appeal, but without success. In the meanwhile the chapel door was nailed up on Easter Sunday, 1891, and remained closed until October, 1893. By a decree of the Propaganda dated the 21st May, 1894, the plaintiff was suspended from acting as parish priest of Killannin. The letter of suspension from the Bishop of Galway was handed to the plaintiff on the 9th July, 1894, but he refused to receive it, as he stated that it did not come from his own bishop. On the 2nd September, 1893, Father Conroy was appointed parish priest of Killannin by collation. On the 29th June, 1894, the plaintiff returned to Ireland, and found Father Conroy in occupation of the chapel. On the 9th February, 1895, the plaintiff went to the chapel accompanied by a large number of his parishioners; the door was only slightly fastened, and one of the parishioners having pushed it in, they all entered. They put on their own locks and bolts, and remained there most of the day. On Sunday, the 10th February, 1895, the plaintiff went to the chapel a few minutes before 8 o'clock in the morning, and entered the chapel by the sacristy door. The chapel was then nearly full, but the people were peaceable. The plaintiff commenced to prepare to say Mass; he went to the High Altar, and prepared the chalice and vestments, and returned to the sacristy for the purpose of vesting; the door from the chapel to the sacristy was open; that from the sacristy to the outside was closed, and locked. The plaintiff deposed that when about to vest, he heard an alarm, and looking through the sacristy window saw a force of 50 or 60 police approaching. They marched by the chapel, and to the outer door of the sacristy. Some one outside called to open the door, and immediately afterwards it was broken in by a sledge. Three or four police came in at once, and the defendant, a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary with them; the defendant ordered the police to remove the plaintiff. The plaintiff protested, stating that he was parish priest, and offered to produce documents to prove his title to the office. The defendant refused to look at the documents, and ordered the police again to remove the plaintiff, which they did.

The evidence given by the defendant conflicted to some extent with that given by the plaintiff. He was stationed at Spiddal, in the county of Galway about twenty miles from Killannin, and on the evening of the 9th February he received a telegram, in consequence of which he proceeded the following morning to Killannin, where he was met by 32 constables. He marched the men up to the chapel, and found the doors on the north-east sides barricaded, but the chapel was full of people. Father Conroy then appeared, accompanied by about 100 people. A conversation then took place between the defendant and Father Conroy, in which the latter stated that he was parish priest, that he had come to perform service in his chapel, that he desired to enter, and that Father Coyne's followers were inside. He invited the defendant to gain admission for him, but the defendant refused; he then asked the defendant if the defendant would protect him if he entered the chapel; and the defendant said that if he entered, the defendant would not allow any one to assault him. Father Conroy then rapped at the sacristy door, and demanded admission, and the door not being opened he directed one of his men to break it open. The door was broken with a sledge-hammer, and Father Conroy and five of his followers entered; the defendant and four constables also entered. The plaintiff was standing at the door leading from the sacristy into the chapel. The plaintiff and Father

Conroy then commenced arguing as to which of them had the right to officiate, and a number of their followers were close round, many of whom were armed with sticks, and all of them excited and showing signs of violence. Father Conroy asked the defendant to remove the plaintiff, which he refused to do. Father Conroy then tried to pass the plaintiff so as to enter the chapel; the plaintiff put out his hand and shoved Father Conroy with so much force that he came back against the defendant. There was then a distinct rush made at the plaintiff, but the defendant stepped between the plaintiff and the crowd, and one of the police did so too, and the other constables went to the door to keep back the crowd. The defendant asked the plaintiff to leave, which the plaintiff refused, and then the defendant placed his hand on the plaintiff's arm, and a constable placed his hand on the plaintiff's other arm and removed him.

The Lord Chief Baron, before whom the action was tried, left two questions to the jury.—1. Was what was done to the plaintiff by the defendant and by the constable acting under his directions on the 10th February, 1895, reasonable and necessary to prevent a breach of the peace? 2. Was the plaintiff possessed of the church of Killannin at the time of the acts complained of? The jury answered the first question in the affirmative, and the second in the negative. On these findings the Lord Chief Baron entered judgment for the defendant.

The plaintiff now moved for a new trial on the ground of misdirection.

Cur. adv. vult.

Drummond, Q.C., Taylor, Q.C., and Ennis, for the plaintiff.

The Rt. Hon. The Macdermot, Q.C., Sullivan, Q.C, and Hume, for the defendant.

Sir P. O'Brien, L. C. J.:—

This case, the trial of which before the Lord Chief Baron occupied several days, and the argument in reference to which before us occupied a considerable time, ultimately resolved itself into a very narrow compass. The sole question ultimately debated before us was whether the defendant Tweedy, who admittedly assaulted the plaintiff in the manner and under the circumstances I shall hereafter indicate, established a justification for so doing by reference to the doctrine which was applied, and received authoritative recognition, in the well-known case of O'Kelly v. Harvey (1). That case affirmed the proposition, that if the removal of a person from any given position is necessary to prevent a breach of the peace, a magistrate or peace...

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