The judicial aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising was one of the grimmer episodes in British legal history. But the proceedings produced at least one moment of levity. On 5 May 1916 a 27-year-old Dublin solicitor named William Corrigan found himself up before the notorious Brigadier General Blackader (pictured) on a capital charge of taking part in rebellion ‘with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy’.
Like most of the accused in the court martials hastily trumped up under the Defence of the Realm Act, Corrigan did not have representation. As he was dressed in his Volunteer uniform and had a fresh head wound, his prospects did not look good. However the prosecuting barrister, William Wylie KC, surprised the court by making an impassioned speech in Corrigan’s defence.
While the prisoner was in the cells awaiting the verdict, Blackader asked what was going on. Wylie explained that he had recently been instructed by Corrigan in a Dublin case and received a cheque for five guineas – which had not yet been cashed.
‘All right, Wylie,’ Blackader replied, ‘your five guineas is safe. We will recommend a reprieve.’ Sure enough, Corrigan’s death sentence was commuted to five years in prison. According to Easter Rising 1916: The Trials by Seán Enright (Irish Academic Press), Corrigan was able to resume his career after being amnestied in 1917. ‘Although taking part in a rebellion might attract a death sentence, if the prisoner survived there was no bar to legal practice.’