Athlone solicitor Gráinne O’Neill (42 ) has become the youngest judge in the State after her appointment to the District Court panel this week (April 16 ).
Her elevation was magnanimously welcomed by colleague Mr Mark Cooney - with whom she apprenticed - in the District Court on Wednesday as he offered his congratulations to “Judge-to-be O’Neill”.
Ms O’Neill was nominated alongside Ms Marian O’Leary (59 ), a former nurse from Kanturk, Co Cork, to fill the vacancies which arose from the retirement of Judge Clare Leonard last October and the elevation to the Circuit Court of Judge Catherine Murphy in December.
“I was absolutely delighted when I heard about the elevation of Ms O’Neill... it is historic to be so young, and she will have a long, long time on the bench,” said Judge Seamus Hughes.
He was not slow to note that, along with the recent appointments of Judges Mitchell and Geraghty, Ms O’Neill’s elevation made Court District 9 (Athlone, Mullingar, and Longford ) the most prolific provider of new judges in the country.
With some tongue in cheek, he pointed out that all of this occurred since he began his tenure three years ago, and that: “she thrived under my tutelage”.
He continued: “Despite the lack of a ministerial position in the District, I’m highly confident there will be further appointments here”.
He became more serious when referring to Ms O’Neill’s “strength, her depth of character, and courage” when struck with a serious illness two years ago.
“She continued to work on a daily basis as if she wasn’t carrying any burden. Truly, I am delighted with this appointment,” said the judge.
Her friend Cllr Gabrielle McFadden described Ms O’Neill as: “A trojan worker for the party who will be wonderfully suitable for this”.
“I believe she will be excellent at this job. She is fair, level-headed, fantastic with words, very logical, and will be an amazing judge. The bench’s gain will be our loss,” said Cllr McFadden.
Gráinne O’Neill grew up on Retreat Road, the daughter of retired army officer Terry, and the late Dr Ursula O’Neill.
She attended the Bower, before going to University College Galway where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1991 and a law degree four years later, before qualifying as a solicitor in 1999.
From 2000 to 2007, Ms O’Neill worked with the Free Legal Advice Centres, and throughout her career has given her expertise to the local branch of the Rape Crisis Centre where she sits on the board.