The Gaelic Goetz: A Case of Self-Defense in Ireland

56 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2008 Last revised: 16 Nov 2008

Date Written: July 30, 2008


For two years, the name Padraig Nally was a household word in Ireland. Nally killed an intruder on his farm in a rural community by shooting him in the back as he was running away, already injured from a brutal beating. The intruder was a Traveller, an minority group in Ireland that is mistrusted and ostracized. The killing was so far from the paradigmatic self-defense claim that the trial judge refused to instruct the jury on a full justification defense. He was convicted of manslaughter under a doctrine in Ireland called "excessive force." After the appeals court reversed because this instruction was tantamount to a directed verdict of conviction, Nally was retried and acquitted. The verdict was praised by Nally's supporters who sympathized with his fear and reaction, and criticized by those who claimed the crime was rooted in bigotry and prejudice.

This case raises similar questions to the high profile U.S. case, People v. Goetz. Taking advantage of this familiar case, this article discusses Director of Public Prosecutions v. Nally as an example of a controversial self-defense claim that resulted in an acquittal despite powerful evidence to the contrary. It continues to discuss a doctrine of "excessive force" peculiar to Commonwealth countries, and now unique to Ireland that allows for a manslaughter conviction. The article suggests that juries acquit in cases involving lawful force that falls short of true justification because they are reluctant to punish overzealousness and bad judgment when responsive force is otherwise legitimate. Juries searching for compassionate alternatives find other ways of understanding the evidence. While a jury might still acquit a Nally or a Goetz because of the notoriety of their case, in the typical self-defense case, a manslaughter conviction based on excessive force presents an attractive option to an all-or-nothing approach. Excessive force mitigation is alive and well in Ireland, and, in a slightly revised version, finding a place in England also.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Self-Defense, Comparative Law, Transnational Law, Ireland, Trials

Suggested Citation

Caplow, Stacy, The Gaelic Goetz: A Case of Self-Defense in Ireland (July 30, 2008). Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 114. Available at SSRN:

Stacy Caplow (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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