John Edward Walsh (1816-1869)

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 4, edited by T. P. O'Connor

Mr. Walsh was well known as a keen but moderate politician, a sound lawyer, and a profound judge; but it will be new to most people that he was in early life an ardent littérateur.

John Edward Walsh was the son of the Rev. Dr. Walsh, vicar of Finglass, and was born in the parish of his father on November 12, 1816. He had a distinguished career in college, and was one of the most prominent members of the College Historical Society. He was called to the bar in 1839. For some years, however, he had scarcely any practice, and thus was afforded leisure for literary exertion. He produced a work on the duties of justices of the peace, which became a textbook. In the Dublin University Magazine he found a medium for articles on subjects of more general interest; and his sketches of Irish life in the olden time are among the most interesting articles in the earlier years of the periodical. Those essays were collected, and published in 1847 under the title Ireland Sixty Years Ago. The work is very entertaining, and gives an excellent idea of the strange manners and customs of our countrymen about the time when Castlereagh was passing the Union, and Sir Jonah Barrington was collecting the materials for his memoirs. It has passed through several editions, and its title, owing to the lapse of time, has had to undergo an alteration. It is now known as Ireland Ninety Years Ago.

As the years went on business began to come in on Mr. Walsh, and in the end he was one of the most largely employed counsel at the equity bar. Legal occupation excluded literary activity; and from this time forward his career belongs no longer to the literary chronicler. Suffice it to say, that in 1857 he became a queen's counsel; in 1866, attorney-general; and towards the close of the same year was raised to the bench as Master of the Rolls. In his new position he acquired the reputation of being an excellent judge; and, still in the prime of life, he had the right to look forward to many years' enjoyment of his dignified position. But while returning from a continental tour he was suddenly taken ill in Paris, and after a few days' suffering passed away on Oct. 17, 1869, in his fifty-second year. This sudden termination to the promising career of a man so universally respected and so deeply liked caused regret among all classes. For some time before his death he had been contemplating a biography of Lord-chancellor Clare; but he had not got beyond the collection of the materials.