The courts of petty sessions were local courts that dealt with minor cases, both criminal and civil. They are an invaluable resource for local historians as they offer a glimpse of the social landscape in Limerick at this time, as well as giving a voice/platform to the ordinary person who is otherwise omitted from the “public record” of the contemporary printed media. Here is a list of the more interesting cases I have stumbled upon in the Limerick Leader and the Limerick Chronicle newspapers (1912-1914) as well as some from other counties that caught my eye. The tone of the reporting is interesting and in many cases there is laughter in the court room at some of the evidence given. Did individuals attend the petty sessions as a form of entertainment? The contrast between the sentencing is telling. Petty crime often resulted in a prison sentence whereas something like the negligent management of a factory (which could lead to death) resulted in a token fine.
- Croom Petty Sessions: Ann Meehan, convicted on a charge of assault, was stated to have 600 convictions recorded against her. She is 77 years of age, and was alleged to have been drinking whiskey since she was 17. The police said the Cork jail authorities refused to keep her on a former occasion; and the Chairman of the Court said she would not be kept in a Home. She would not remain in a Workhouse and she could not be sent to a Lunatic Asylum. It was decided, in the Chairman’s words, “To try the jail again.” (03/1912)
- City Petty Sessions: Bridget Morrissey imprisoned for a month for stealing two pairs of boots. James McCarthy fined 5s for assaulting his wife. (03/1912)
- Bruree Petty Sessions: Three boys from the village of Bruree were brought before the court on suspicion of being “dangerous, quarrelsome and scandalous..they are night-walkers who sleep in the day and go abroad at night; likely to disturb the peace, are idle, vagabond and persons of evil fame.” They were accused of assaulting a young girl by putting a rope around her and of throwing a man’s donkey-cart into the river. When the Judge asked why was there none of the injured parties in court, the prosecutor replied “they may be called informers then, you know the country as well as I do.” The case was dismissed and the boys got off with a curfew warning.
- Special Court in Glin: Mary Neville, with a child in her arms, was charged with being drunk and incapable, and was sent to Tralee Prison for one month’s hard labour. Her three children were conveyed to the Listowel Workhouse. (03/1912)
- City Petty Sessions: An old man named John Daly was charged with throwing a stone at a window in Messrs. Todd’s establishment. It transpired that he didn’t intend to break the window but threw the stone at some boys that were annoying him. The charge was withdrawn. (04/1912)
- City Petty Sessions: A man was fined for stealing flowers from the garden of Mr. McIntyre. He admitted to “having a few drinks taken.” Also charged with horticultural theft were two men who stole a quantity of cabbage and rhubarb from John Collins’ garden on Prospect Hill. (06/1912)
- Corofin Petty Sessions (Co. Clare): A man has been fined 10s for making an old age pension claim even though he is currently in employment. (06/1912)
- Kilmallock Petty Sessions: James Bond, the “Captain of the Tinkers” is fined for being cruel to a number of Donkeys. (07/1912)
- City Petty Sessions: Patrick Gavan, described as a tramp with 90 previous convictions, attempted suicide by jumping into the Abbey River with the prefatory remark “here goes.” Evidence was given that while in hospital he lamented that “he was sorry he was not drowned, as he was tired of his life.” (10/1912)
- City Petty Sessions: For having assaulted his daughter, Patrick O’Dwyer, Market Lane, was sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour. (10/1912)
- City Petty Sessions: John Collins was fined 5s for loitering in the street outside St. Joseph’s Church. Judge Roche said that the practice of loitering “was becoming intolerable, and a great obstruction to passers by.” (11/1912)
- City Petty Sessions: Mary Magner was sentenced to seven days in jail for assaulting an elderly woman by hitting her on the head with an oil can. (11/1912)
- City Petty Sessions: A young man named Corcoran was find 1s for cycling on the footpath ad verbally abusing a woman who told him to cycle on the road. (11/1912)
- Kilrush Petty Sessions: Two workhouse inmates were sentenced to one month in prison for refusing to attend Divine Service. (02/1913)
- City Petty Sessions: An old offender known locally as ‘Jack Tar’ was charged with being drunk and riotous. He was fined 40s. (01/1913)
- Kildare Petty Sessions: John Kelly, Ballysax, was fined 2s. 6d. for having no lights on his cart after sunset. The defendant said the light went out when his cart jolted over some stones. He addressed the bench.. “One thing is this. Ye won’t be half as busy at all events, when we get Home Rule.” (02/1913)
- City Petty Sessions: A number of boys were fined 1s each for hurling and footballing on the streets. This judgement was in response to a number of accidents where children were knocked down by horses and carts while playing in the street. (03/1913)
- City Petty Sessions: Bridget Murphy was sentenced to two months in prison for begging. (06/1913)
- City Petty Sessions: “Four young fellows” were accused of setting fire to a letter box on William Street. John O’Brien (one of the accused) admitted to putting a note “Votes for Women” inside the letter box to try and “get the incident mentioned in the press.” The Mayor attributed the actions of these boys “to the fanatic action of the suffragettes who are trying to burn the world” *laughter in court* (05/1913)
- City Petty Sessions: Patrick Doyle described as a “gambler frequenting races” was fined 20s for being drunk and “assaulting his wife in the street.” (05/1913)
- City Petty Sessions: Walter Hurley was fined 20s for causing an obstruction on Denmark Street, by “fighting a man named Michael Murphy.” Walter Hurley was also fined a further 20s for “shouting in the street” the following day. (05/1913)
- City Petty Sessions: Two youths (Patrick Neiland & John Hogan) found guilty of larceny were sent to St. Conleth’s Reformatory School (05/1913). Sean Bourke (from Limerick) recounts his experience in St. Conleth’s Reformatory School in 1947…
- City Petty Sessions: Mary Benson was sentenced to two months in prison for robbing a pair of boots from a 4 year old boy. The boy’s name is Patrick Lynch (he has only one arm), and he was playing with his friend on Parnell Street when the accused took his boots. Sgt. Kelly claimed that this style of robbery was common in Limerick at this time. Mrs. Lynch stated that this was the 3rd time her children were victims of this type of crime. (05/1913)
- Aberystwyth Petty Sessions (Wales): John Finn from Limerick was sent to jail for a week for “begging for alms.” (03/1909)
City Petty Sessions: John Connolly was charged with being drunk, disorderly and using bad language. In his defence he said that he “went into a shop to get ‘three star whiskey’ and not getting that article he kicked up a shindy.” The defendant was fined 20s. But Sgt. McCarthy asked the Judge to have him committed to jail “and not give him time to pay the fine.” (07/1913)
- Kilmallock Petty Sessions: Margaret Ward, who was stated to be now in Tipperary, was fined 5s for being drunk while in charge of a child. (08/1913)
- City Petty Sessions: Thomas McMahon, an elderly newsvender and Michael Lynch, a car driver, were both fined for drunkenness. (09/1913)
- Boyle Petty Sessions (Co. Roscommon): Judge Wakely addressed the witness, Mrs. Rock.
Judge: “You are a fine-looking old woman.”
Mrs. Rock rejoined “Do you know what I said to myself when I came into Court?”
“No” replied the Judge.
“Well” she went on “I said to myself you are the finest looking man I ever saw.”
“You make me blush” said the Judge.
Mrs. Rock went on to say that she was 73 years of age and never saw a Judge before. (10/1913)
- City Petty Sessions: John Regan, a soldier on furlough, was fined 5s for seven days of drunkenness. (01/1914)
- Killaloe Petty Sessions: a “tramp tinker” was fined for having no lights on his carriage. Some of Magistrates present took this opportunity to air their views about “tinkers” and “tramps” Mr. Lefroy blamed the lack of restrictions on the “movement of tramps” for spreading the foot and mouth disease. The Chairman stated that “travelling tinkers cause more trouble than anyone else, their real object is to go into country places where there are unprotected women and frighten them into giving them alms.” District Inspector McClelland asked those present to bring forward specific cases in relation to their comments, but none were forthcoming. (02/1914)
- City Petty Sessions: Thomas Manifold, a hackney car driver, was fined 6d. for failing to report an outbreak of parasitic mange. (03/1914)
- City Petty Sessions: Mary McGuane and Christina Franklin were sentenced to a month in prison for stealing a bag of coal. (04/1914)
- City Petty Sessions: Russell and Sons, millers, were fined 5s for failing to protect 50ft of shafting in their mill. The Inspector told the Judge that “all the fatal accidents in the district were due to employees being caught in unprotected belting.” (04/1914)
- City Petty Sessions: Two boys, named Denis Ryan and James Moloney, were charged with stealing a hen belonging to Ms. Ellen Morrisson. (05/1914)