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Judge Dismisses Compensation Case of Builder Claiming Malicious Burning of Houses During Strike – Limerick Gazette

Judge Dismisses Compensation Case of Builder Claiming Malicious Burning of Houses During Strike

At the Quarter Sessions on Saturday morning before His Honor Judge Adams, Patrick Kennedy, a builder, claimed £8,750 compensation for the alleged malicious burning of three houses which were in the course of construction at Ballinacurra on the 15th of June last. Mr A.M. Sullivan, B L (instructed by Mr J.W. Doyle), appeared for the applicant, and Mr M. Lynch, B L (instructed by Mr Leany), for the County Council, and Mr F. Doyle, I L (instructed by Mr Dundon), for the Limerick Borough Council.

Mr Sullivan said at the time of the occurrence, Mr Kennedy was engaged in building some houses at Ballinacurra. Two of these houses were completely destroyed, and a third house seriously damaged. Mr Kennedy, counsel continued, was a very large contractor in the city, and within recent years had built upwards of £30,000 worth of property for himself, and had discharged building contracts for about a similar amount. The applicant, with other city builders, had become somewhat unpopular some time before the burning, owing to his holding out against the carpenters in a strike which took place in the city. On the day of the burning, which was a Saturday, Mr Kennedy discharged four men who were not giving him satisfaction. Work ceased that day at 2 o’clock, and at 5 o’clock that day, Mr Kennedy visited the houses and inspected them thoroughly. There was nothing wrong with them. About twenty minutes past twelve on that night, the fire occurred, and the houses were burned. Counsel submitted there were no possible means by which the fire could have been caused except by some person who got into the houses with malicious or wanton intent.

Mr Doyle argued to show that the Borough Council, on the reading of the statute, should be dismissed from the claim, but His Honor ruled against him, stating the applicant had properly served the notices on both to allow his honourto apportion the damage, if any were granted.

Mr W. Brazier, County Council Clerk, in reply to His Honor, stated the valuation of the county was £468,590; and Mr Dundon, sub, gave the valuation of the city of Limerick as £67,000.

The further hearing of the case was adjourned till Monday morning.

At the sitting of the court on Monday morning, Mr P. Kennedy, the applicant, examined, stated he had carried out several important contracts amounting to about £60,000 in the city. There was a strike in the carpentry trade at the beginning of the year; witness formed one of the employers who held out against the carpenters and availed of what was called “blackleg labour”; the strike ended in February.

In reply to His Honor, witness said Mr Hayes, one of the builders concerned, was assaulted; he (witness) was not molested because he didn’t go out at night. His Honor then asked if one of the employers had to go about armed with a revolver.

Witness, continuing, said on Saturday, 14th June, he discharged three men, plasterers, from his employment, as he did not consider they were doing enough work; another left himself to attend the County Council election at Adare; this man, whose name was Healy, stayed away for eleven days, and witness would not take him back; the two houses which were completely burned were practically finished on the first top floors, with the exception of hanging the doors; there were shavings and other inflammable material in the houses; the houses burned were surrounded by walls; he suggested the person or persons who burned the houses got into them over the front wall, which was easy to climb; on the day before the burning, witness climbed over the wall at four o’clock and examined the houses carefully; everything was then safe, and he left the houses at a quarter to five; the nearest inhabited house was sixty yards away from the houses that were burned, and he did not think the fire could be caused by a spark from an adjoining house; he heard of the fire between one and two o’clock on Sunday morning, 15th June.

His Honor then inquired if the witness was a smoker, to which he replied that he was and that he was very careful about extinguishing matches.

In reply to Mr Lynch, witness produced his pipe. Counsel said his reason for asking for the pipe to be produced was to show that it did not carry a cover. Witness, continuing, said he got into the house by a gangway; there were grates in the houses, and from their appearance, it would seem that the grates were used by the men for cooking; he wished to explain that on the Saturday after seeing the burned houses, he visited some other houses, and while inside Healy, the man who had left his employment, came over the wall and in an abrupt manner asked witness “where was his shovel”; witness said he knew nothing about it; when outside Healy asked him for a “character,” which witness refused as the man was only a few weeks working with him.

Answering Mr Lynch, witness said he was aware that these houses were outside the night watchmen’s beat. He had been building houses for the last 20 years, and such a thing had never happened before. He did not think it could have been caused by tramps. By Mr Doyle—The three men plasterers he dismissed were not connected with the strike but might sympathize with it.

Re-examined by Mr Sullivan, witness said the houses were not insured and were a dead loss to him. By his Honor—He could have insured the houses for £2,000 but had deferred it for some reason or other. It was not a practice for tramps or bad characters to get into these houses during the night.

Michael Reddan, a carpenter in the employment of Mr Kennedy, deposed he was the last to leave the houses on the 14th of June last; everything was then right, and he had tidied up shavings and other things which were scattered about.

Mr Lynch—Were you one of the strikers?

Witness replied that he was.

His Honor—Did you defend him, Mr Lynch?

Mr Lynch—No, your Honor, but I prosecuted them (laughter), but they don’t blame me for that.

His Honor—Do you blame Mr Lynch for prosecuting you?

Witness—No, sir (laughter).

An old man named Patrick Goopan, employed by Mr Kennedy as a timekeeper, was called, and some amusement was caused in court by the difficulty of understanding the name of the witness, who said that he came from County Clare, and there were good names there (laughter). The place was all right when he left.

Mr Henry Russell, who lives in the adjoining terrace, stated the houses were all right and showed no sign of fire when he passed them on his way home the night of the fire at about half-past eleven; the fire brigade came there, but the hose was short.

Mr Daniel Hannan stated he resided in the locality and saw the houses burning; while standing in the crowd, he heard some person remarking that it was a shame to treat Mr Kennedy’s property in that way. Cross-examined by Mr Lynch, witness said he did not know who made the remark; he never mentioned that he had heard such a conversation to anyone until he deposed it here in evidence.

Other evidence was called to show that there was nothing wrong with the house before the fire broke out. Sergeant M’Gauran said the fire was reported to him by a constable at Boherbuoy station, who noticed it from the city; witness’s first idea on examining the burning, was that the fire had been caused by a spark from Mr Kennedy’s pipe; this would ignite the wood, which would smolder away until it burned a hole down through the house; but witness abandoned this theory when he ascertained that the workmen were in the habit of lighting sticks in the grates and cooking tea, etc.; on the morning of the 8th of August, witness entered the attic of one of the houses which were not injured by the fire; he found a number of half-burned sticks upon which had apparently been thrown; some of these sticks were underneath the grate and scattered over the floor, and there were indications that tea had been cooked; he found a similar state of things in the other rooms; Mr Kennedy told witness about Healy, and witness traced the latter who left Limerick on that evening at about six o’clock and had a drink in Mullins’s public house at Patrickswell, on his way to Clounanna; from his inquiries, witness was satisfied that Healy had remained at home from that time; Mr Kennedy told witness on the occasion that he had discharged three men because he had no work for them, but he did not think they had anything to do with it; all his suspicions appeared to be directed towards Healy; witness said he believed the fire was caused by his of sticks which were left smoldering in the houses.

Mrs. Elizabeth Freeth deposed she lived near the houses; on the Saturday of the burning, she saw Mr Kennedy on the scaffolding of one of the buildings; he appeared to be smoking a pipe.

By his Honor—Witness and her husband were aroused by the fire and remained for two hours watching it. His Honor—Everyone went to see the fire except Kennedy.

James Healy stated he had been engaged by Mr Kennedy for about three months as a laborer. He left his employment on the eve of the Adare election to vote.

His Honor—Was there much porter going in the election?

The witness—There was, your Honor (laughter).

His Honor—What side were you for?

Witness—Lord Dunraven.

In reply to counsel, witness stated he went home with another man on a car on the evening of the fire, about which he heard nothing until he saw it in a Limerick newspaper a couple of days after.

Michael O’Brien, who appeared to be half-witted, denied telling a person he met on the road the morning after the fire that he had slept in the house the night before and set fire to them accidentally.

Mr Kennedy, the applicant, re-examined by Mr Sullivan, said he saw no signs of charred sticks in the houses when he examined them on the day before the burning.

His Honor said in this case he had great sympathy with Mr Kennedy, a respectable citizen, who had suffered the terrible loss of £8,350 through this burning. But he should say that if gentlemen commit the grave error of leaving houses value thousands of pounds by the roadside with neither a watchman to guard them, and neglect to expend a few shillings in insuring them. It was a great disaster, but they should bear with their loss.

As the law stood, if Mr Kennedy could establish in evidence the case he had made there, that some person or persons having a grudge against him deliberately set fire to the houses then, he would succeed. If, on the other hand, a person went in there for shelter and through negligence, set fire to the place, that would not be wantonness, for wantonness involved something besides negligence. His Honor could not form any theory as to what caused the fire—it might have been caused in one of a half dozen different ways. It might have been a malicious act, or it might have been caused by a spark from Mr Kennedy’s pipe, or by the smoldering sticks referred to by this highly intelligent policeman, Sergeant M’Gauran, who had investigated the case. But it rested with the applicant in these cases to either prove malice or wantonness, or produce evidence rebutting the possibility of accident—this had not been done, and the carpenters’ strike had been over for some months, and they all knew that the anger of Irishmen was like a fire of straw and quickly died away. The carpenters did not appear to have been guilty of any act of violence. Under the circumstances, however much he regretted it, he should dismiss the action without costs.

Limerick Echo – Tuesday 07 October 1902