The Trials of Peter Barrett: A Microhistory of Dysfunction in the Irish Criminal Justice System

31 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2018

See all articles by Niamh Howlin

Niamh Howlin

University College Dublin (UCD) - College of Business and Law

Date Written: March 8, 2018


In 1869 an assassination attempt was made on Captain Thomas Eyre Lambert, a prominent Galway landowner. Lambert was returning home from visiting his brother, Giles, who resided at neighbouring Moor Park. He spotted a man lurking beneath some lime trees near the entrance to his house, Castle Lambert. He was fired at a number of times, and was eventually felled by a shot to the forehead. He staggered to the door of his house, later stating: ‘[w]hen I reached the hall door I knocked violently, my butler opened the door and I fell into his arms.’ He soon sent for his brother. Given a description of the assailant, Giles hastened to the Athenry constabulary station, a mile or two away, and relayed the information to acting constable John Griffith.

Sub-constable Edward Hayden was quickly dispatched, in plain-clothes, to take the midnight train to Oranmore, ten miles away, to try to apprehend the suspect. He returned around 5 a.m. the following morning with Peter Barrett in custody. He had spotted Barrett sleeping in his train compartment, and he matched the description provided by Giles Lambert. On being asked a few questions by sub-constable Hayden, his answers were ‘both evasive and contradictory’, and he was arrested. Barrett appeared to match the description given by Lambert: ‘I described the assassin as a man of slight figure dressed in dark clothes sharp features with not much hair on his face darkish complexion’. Furthermore, Lambert said he told his brother that ‘if Peter Barrett was in the country he was the man.’ Lambert, as will be seen, had reason to suspect that Barrett might have had a motive for the assault.

Barrett was committed for trial at the next assize in August. On the face of it, it had the appearance of a relatively straightforward case destined for a quick resolution. However, this was not to be. What ensued was three trials, a change of venue to Dublin, allegations of jury intimidation, extensive press coverage around the United Kingdom, enormous expense and, ultimately, an acquittal.

Keywords: Irish Criminal Justice System, Trial, Acquittal, Peter Barrett, Jury Intimidation, Captain Thomas Eyre Lambert, Ireland, Dublin, UK

Suggested Citation

Howlin, Niamh, The Trials of Peter Barrett: A Microhistory of Dysfunction in the Irish Criminal Justice System (March 8, 2018). UCD Working Papers in Law, Criminology & Socio-Legal Studies Research Paper No. 0218, Available at SSRN: or

Niamh Howlin (Contact Author)

University College Dublin (UCD) - College of Business and Law ( email )



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