William MacMahon

Last updated

Sir William MacMahon, 1st Baronet (1776–1837) was an Irish barrister and judge of the early nineteenth century. He was a member of a Limerick family which became politically prominent through their influence with the Prince Regent, later King George IV. He was the first of the McMahon Baronets of Dublin.



He was born in Limerick, son of John MacMahon, comptroller of the port of Limerick, and his second wife, Mary Stackpoole, daughter of James Stackpoole, a merchant; his father's relatively low social standing was something of a handicap to his career. Born a Roman Catholic, he converted to the Church of Ireland for career purposes. He is not thought to have supported Catholic Emancipation, and later quarrelled with Richard Lalor Sheil, who was a relative by marriage, on the subject. He was educated at Trinity College Dublin, and called to the Bar in 1799, practising on the Munster circuit. He was made Third Serjeant-at-law in 1806, Second Serjeant in 1813 and King's Counsel in 1807. Despite what was called his "spluttering" manner, and a tendency to verbal gaffes, he built up a very large practice, second only to that of Daniel O'Connell, [1] whom he remembered with gratitude for having befriended him, at a time when most other barristers looked down on him as the son of a minor official.

Family and political connections

Bushy Park House, Dublin, family home of William's second wife, Charlotte Shaw Bushy Park House at night.jpg
Bushy Park House, Dublin, family home of William's second wife, Charlotte Shaw

William married firstly Frances Burston, daughter of Beresford Burston K.C., who died in 1813; and secondly Charlotte Shaw, daughter of Sir Robert Shaw, 1st Baronet of Bushy Park, Dublin and his first wife Maria Wilkinson. Of his ten children, who included his heir Sir Beresford Burston MacMahon, 2nd Baronet, the most notable was his third son Charles MacMahon (1824–1891) who had a distinguished career in Australia as a politician, and who was the second Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police from 1854 to 1858. Charles MacMahon was also Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Assembly between 1871 and 1877. [2]

Although William married into two prominent Dublin families, the Burstons and the Shaws of Bushy Park, [3] his most valued relative was undoubtedly his much older half-brother, Sir John McMahon, 1st Baronet (1754–1817) who in 1811 was appointed private secretary to the Prince Regent, later King George IV, and who in the remaining six years of his life had great influence over the Prince. He was thus able to obtain favours for his family: William noted cynically that barristers who had previously despised his family's lowly origins now began fawning on him. [4] When John Philpot Curran retired as Master of the Rolls in Ireland John was able to obtain the office for William, who was only 37; this is said to be one of the few occasions when the British Royal family has directly intervened in a judicial appointment. William, like his brother, became a baronet. From 1811 he lived at Fortfield House, Terenure, County Dublin, which had been built in 1805 by Barry Yelverton, 1st Viscount Avonmore.

William had another brother Sir Thomas McMahon, 2nd Baronet, who succeeded to John's title by special remainder, and at least one sister, Mrs. O'Halloran. Her daughter, whose first name is apparently forgotten, was the first wife of the writer and politician Richard Lalor Sheil. William opposed the marriage due to what he regarded as Sheil's extreme nationalist and pro-Catholic opinions. Mrs. Sheil died in childbirth in 1822, leaving a son who died young.

The distinguished army officer Sir Edward Grogan, 2nd Baronet (1873-1927) was William's great-grandson, his mother being Charlotte MacMahon, a daughter of Sir Beresford MacMahon.

Sir John McMahon, 1st Baronet- he was William's half-brother and benefactor Sir John McMahon, Bt.jpg
Sir John McMahon, 1st Baronet- he was William's half-brother and benefactor

Judicial career and reputation

In previous centuries the office of Master of the Rolls in Ireland had been a notorious sinecure for politicians, who were not necessarily lawyers, or even Irish. However, the appointment of Sir Michael Smith in 1801 had been made in an effort to turn the office into a full-time judicial position which would attract first-class lawyers. Given William's youth, and the blatant nepotism involved in his appointment, it might have been expected to cause controversy. In fact, according to Elrington Ball, there was no protest and the appointment worked out far better than had been feared: William had a reputation for integrity, was popular and hospitable, and a fairly good lawyer. [5] An obituary notice published soon after his death in January 1837 bears Ball's assessment out: MacMahon was praised for integrity and lack of political prejudice and as an exceptionally painstaking and conscientious judge; while the writer admitted that William was very slow in giving judgment, this was attributed to his desire to ensure that justice was done. [6] In 1827 he clashed publicly with the new Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Anthony Hart, about his right to appoint his own secretary, but the misunderstanding was quickly resolved.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Lalor Sheil</span> Irish politician, writer and orator

Richard Lalor Sheil, Irish politician, writer and orator, was born at Drumdowney, Slieverue, County Kilkenny, Ireland. The family was temporarily domiciled at Drumdowney while their new mansion at Bellevue, near Waterford, was under construction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Attorney-General for Ireland</span> Senior legal officer in Ireland prior to 1921

The Attorney-General for Ireland was an Irish and then United Kingdom government office-holder. He was senior in rank to the Solicitor-General for Ireland: both advised the Crown on Irish legal matters. With the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the duties of the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General for Ireland were taken over by the Attorney General of Ireland. The office of Solicitor-General for Ireland was abolished at the same time for reasons of economy. This led to repeated complaints from the first Attorney General of Ireland, Hugh Kennedy, about the "immense volume of work" which he was now forced to deal with single-handedly.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir John McMahon, 1st Baronet</span> Irish-born politician

Colonel Sir John McMahon, 1st Baronet was an Irish-born politician and Private Secretary to the Sovereign 1811–1817.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir Robert Shaw, 1st Baronet</span> Irish politician

Sir Robert Shaw, 1st Baronet of Bushy Park, Dublin was a Tory UK Member of Parliament who represented Dublin City from 1804 to 1826.

There have been two baronetcies created for members of the McMahon family, both in the Baronetage of the United Kingdom, and belonging to different branches of the same family. One creation is extant as of 2007.

Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas McMahon, 2nd Baronet (1779–1860) was a British Army officer.

Stephen Woulfe was an Irish barrister and Whig politician. He served as Solicitor-General for Ireland in 1836 and as Attorney-General for Ireland in 1838. He was the first Roman Catholic to be appointed Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer. He died young, due to a combination of chronic ill-health and overwork.

Sir Edward Grogan, 1st Baronet was an Irish Conservative Party politician.

Charles Osborne, MP, was an Irish politician and judge.

Edward Pennefather PC, KC was an Irish barrister, Law Officer and judge of the Victorian era, who held office as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Kendal Bushe</span> Irish lawyer and judge (1767–1843)

Charles Kendal Bushe, was an Irish lawyer and judge. Known as "silver-tongued Bushe" because of his eloquence, he was Solicitor-General for Ireland from 1805 to 1822 and Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench for Ireland from 1822 to 1841.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Smith (judge)</span> Irish judge

Sir Michael Smith, 1st Baronet (1740–1808) was an Irish judge. He was the founder of a judicial dynasty, several of whose members were noted for eccentricity. He was also the first of the Cusack-Smith baronets of Tuam.

John Richards PC was an Irish lawyer and judge.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Wilson Greene</span> Irish barrister and judge (1791–1861)

Richard Wilson Greene PC, KC (1791–1861) was an Irish barrister and judge.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Walter Hussey Burgh</span> Irish politician, barrister, and judge (1742–83)

Walter Hussey Burgh SL was an Irish statesman, barrister and judge who sat in the Irish House of Commons, served as Prime Serjeant and Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer (1782–83). He was considered to be one of the most outstanding orators of his time.

Sir Edward Sullivan, 1st Baronet, PC (Ire) was an Irish lawyer, and a Liberal Member of Parliament for Mallow, 1865–1870 in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He was also Solicitor General for Ireland, 1865–1866, Attorney General for Ireland, 1868, Master of the Rolls in Ireland, 1870. Created a baronet, 29 December 1881, from 1883 to 1885 he was Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

Sir John Barnewall (c.1635-c.1705) was an Irish landowner, barrister and judge, who held several judicial offices, including that of Recorder of Dublin 1687-9.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Burton (judge)</span> English-born barrister and judge

Charles Burton was an English-born barrister and judge who spent most of his professional career in Ireland.

Sir John Lyndon was an Irish judge and politician of the seventeenth century. He was the first holder of the office of Third Serjeant-at-law, which was created especially for him, apparently as a "consolation prize" for not being made a High Court judge the first time he sought that office.

Robert Dixon (1685-1732) was an Irish barrister, judge and politician who served very briefly as a justice of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland).


  1. Geoghegan, Patrick M. King Dan- the rise of Daniel O'Connell Gill and Macmillan Dublin 2008 pp.72-3
  2. Rigg, James McMullen (1893). "MacMahon, William"  . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 35. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. The most famous member of the Shaw family of Bushy Park was the playwright George Bernard Shaw
  4. Geoghegan pp.72-3
  5. Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926
  6. Gentleman's Magazine April 1837
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Dublin)
Succeeded by
Beresford McMahon