The district court was cleared for the last time in Ballyhaunis on Tuesday. Before lunchtime Judge Mary Devins heard an application for a search warrant, and when she finished considering that application the administration of justice in the east Mayo town concluded for the final time after 139 years.
The purpose built courthouse which has been in operation on the Main Street in Ballyhaunis had been hearing cases since 1874, and when caretaker Mike Griffin locked the doors on December 3 for the final time, the old building would never hear local criminal cases, family law matters, or legal applications again.
Before the business of the final day’s sitting, Judge Devins was joined at the judge’s bench by her predecessor in the area, retired Judge Bernard Brennan, who reminisced about his time serving the people of Ballyhaunis and the wider area.
Judge Brennan recounted and remembered a number of people who had worked with him in the court from the legal profession, the gardai, the court service officials, the press, and the ordinary court users who came before him for myriad reasons over his years sitting on the bench. He said, “This district court brings back a lot of happy memories for me. Many people sat before me and told their stories, some accurately, some half true, others less than truthful and others hardly believable.” He also told the court that “in the district court there were always the gawkers down the back who’d come in to see what was going on, and they’d go away after the court and go down the town and discuss, just how wrong the decisions were”.
Solicitor Evan O’Dwyer thanked Judge Brennan and said, “I’ve finally got to fulfil a lifelong ambition of mine to appear before you here today.” O’Dwyer went to say what a sad day it was for the town and for the administration of justice on a local level and commented that “the court service funeral cortege has made 10 stops so far around Mayo in recent years”. O’Dwyer then pointed out that come next year, there would be no district court to the south of Castlebar before Galway city and to the east of it as far as Castlerea. Talking about the history of the court in Ballyhaunis, he told the court that up until 1957 the district court clerk worked in the loft above the courthouse typing out summonses on an old typewriter that was still to be found in the loft to this day, and a number of files still remained there that would now be scooped up by the OPW and put in the back of a van and with it a part of the town’s history.
Fellow solicitor John Dillion-Leetch echoed his colleague’s thoughts and expressed his own sadness at the closure of a courthouse where three generations of his family had practised law since 1889. He also commented that people in Ballyhaunis will now be expected to appear in court in Castlebar at 10.30am and if they have to use public transport the first train into Castlebar doesn’t arrive until half an hour after the court sits.
Judge Mary Devins spoke of her disappointment in the inexorable and disproportionate number of closures of courthouses in county Mayo, given the fact that the county is the second biggest in size in the country. She also commented that while there were once 19 courthouses administering justice in Mayo, there are now only four remaining in the county once Swinford closes its doors today also for the last time (Friday, December 6 ).