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Water in Ireland has been a highly contentious issue over the past few years. Threats of court summonses and even jail time blighted those who refused to bow to water charges but, in Georgian Dublin water was used to get one person out of jail: Henry Barry, the 4th Baron of Santry, more commonly known as Lord Santry.
Born September 3rd 1710 in Dublin, Barry had the reputation of a reckless and rakish nobleman. He was well known to cause controversy in 18th century Dublin and one such controversy almost cost him his title, and his life.
Lord Santry was a member of the notorious Hellfire Club, a collective of crass characters and baneful behaviour. Apparently at one meeting of the Hellfire Club ‘in Saul’s Court, Fishamble St’ Lord Santry ‘compelled an unfortunate man to swallow brandy until his throat filled to over flow, when a lighted match was applied and the sufferer slowly blazed into eternity.’*
The facts of this gruesome tale are rather sketchy and if it did happen then Santry was not brought to account for it. However, he would have to answer for his actions on the night of August 9th 1738.
While drinking and carousing with fellow hellfire hellraisers in a tavern at Palmerstown, Lord Santry became increasingly violent as he became increasingly intoxicated. Santry started a fight with one of his drinking buddies and challenged him to a duel but his would-be opponent laughed him off. This enraged Santry who then stumbled his way in to the kitchen of the tavern and found Laughlin Murphy. Santry took out his sword and ran it straight through the unfortunate Mr Murphy who was an employee of the tavern.
Lord Santry’s defence claimed Mr Murphy had not died from the stab wound inflicted by the noble man, instead they claimed he died from a rat bite.
The 29 year old aristocrat tried to bribe the owner of the tavern with £4 and a few threatening words before he fled the scene of the crime.
Laughlin Murphy lingered for six weeks before he succumbed to eventual death. Santrys murder victim left behind a wife and young children and this caused public reaction to call for the arrest of the violent nobleman
Lord Santry was arrested and sent for trial but he demanded a trial by his peers as it was a privilege of peerage. Santry presumed this trial would end quickly and the result would see him walk free but, he was very wrong.
On April 27th 1739, 23 peers sat as judges with Lord Wyndham presiding over the trial at the Irish houses of parliament on College Green. Lord Santry’s defence claimed Mr Murphy had not died from the stab wound inflicted by the noble man, instead they claimed he died from a rat bite.
Santry’s highly fictitious defence could not stand up against the prosecution which was led by the solicitor General for Ireland, John Bowes and the attorney general for Ireland, Robert Jocelyn.
To Santry’s horror the jury found him guilty and he was stripped of his title and estate. As the verdict was guilty and the crime was murder, Lord Wyndham had no choice but hand down the death penalty. The only legal way Santry could escape the hangman’s noose was to get a pardon from King George II. Santry’s family and the few friends he had left launched a campaign to receive royal mercy for the murderer.
The Duke of Devonshire, who was the then Lord lieutenant of Ireland, lobbied extensively on Santry’s behalf for a full royal pardon, claiming that the life of a noble was worth more than the life of a mere tavern barman.
While pleas of mercy seemed to be falling on deaf ears, Lord Santry and his supporters came up with a cunning plan to save his neck. Santry’s uncle, Sir Compton Domville owned the land where Dublin’s main source of drinking water, the River Dodder flowed through.
Domville threatened to divert the river on his estate at Templeogue and deny Dublin’s citizens their main water supply if his nephew was not granted a pardon.
The threat sent waves of panic throughout the pale and on June 17th 1740 Lord Santry was granted a royal pardon.
The nobleman was granted back his title and estate and in 1741 he went to England where he met the king to thank him in person. Santry remained in England where he died on March 22nd 1751 in Nottingham at the age of 41, and was later buried there in St Nicholas church cemetery.
Upon his death the barony of Santry died with him when the title became extinct. However, a memorial to the disgraced peer can be found in the local graveyard of Santry today and the River Dodder still flows free.
* ‘The Sham Squire and Informers of 1798’ – William J Fitzpatrick