John Devane, centre, pictured with Anthony Kelly (left) and his brother Francis Kelly at Limerick Court in 2009 Picture: Press 22
JUDGE Marian O’Leary has led the tributes this morning to the high-profile criminal defence solicitor John Devane, who has died aged 54 following a long health battle.
Addressing Limerick District Court this Monday morning, Judge O’Leary said she was “deeply saddened and shocked” by the passing of Mr Devane.
She said his health battle “never prevented him for ensuring that all his clients were fully represented at all times in court.”
Stephanie Power, president of the Limerick Bar Association, said Mr Devane, a father of two, was “a man of the people, for the people.”
“He didn’t cherry-pick his clients or his cases. He acted in a number of high profile matters without fear or favour. He acted in his cases, as he did with his illness – with defiance to the last. I think it’s safe to say we’re unlikely to come across a character as colourful as John any time in the near future,” said Ms Power.
On behalf of the association, she offered her condolences to his wife Julie-Ann and his daughters Jessica and Gemma, extended family, colleagues and friends.
Garda Inspector John Moloney said over the last couple of months while his health was failing, he was “still 110% mentally, and was able to give as good as he got in court.”
A moment’s silence was observed in court, where Mr Devane had represented clients as recently as last week.
During a colourful and occasionally controversial 20-year career, he represented some of Limerick’s most notorious criminals, including gang rivals.
Due to a number of health battles, he was forced to take a three-month break in 2015.
He returned to court, assisted in a wheelchair by one of his clients, Vincent Collopy, of St Mary’s Park, who had been extradited from Bulgaria to face a charge of threatening to kill a State witness.
He also represented John Dundon, who was convicted of the murder of the innocent Garryowen rugby player Shane Geoghegan, 28, who was shot dead in a case of mistaken identity in Limerick on November 9, 2008.
From the Roxboro Road, Mr Devane frequently stated he did not fit the mould of the local legal clique, but he, nonetheless, remained immensely popular among his large client base.
“I don’t believe I’m accepted by the greater number of solicitors. You can’t muzzle me, I don’t tow the line, I don’t join cliques and I don’t play golf. I’m sorry, I just didn’t come from that side of the track - forgive me if I have sinned. But can it be held against me forever?” he told the Limerick Leader.
Mr Devane said that his fellow legal eagles reputedly disliked him to such an extent that they have allegedly “bullied” him, attempted to have him barred from the legal profession, and excluded him from Christmas parties and local law meetings.
“At least 75 per cent of the practitioners in the District Court would walk past me on the streets, walk past me in court and ignore me. If I was a quiet little boy and sat there at my desk and just stood up when I was spoken to everybody would be happy. I’m not like that, I’ve never been like that and I don’t intend to be like that,” he said.
He also became renowned for some of the defences he put forward in court on behalf of his clients, in urging judges to be as lenient as possible in their sentencing.
Among them was the Fiona Porter court case in 2008, where he insisted the reason his client was drink-driving – while serving a driving ban - was because she found her husband in bed with her mother.
It later transpired that her husband was actually behind bars in Limerick Prison when the alleged incident occurred.
His credibility was shaken by incidents such as calling a Judge Joseph Mangan in Ennis “a clown” and consequently being fined for contempt.
During one general election, he called on the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to fall on his sword at the Crescent shopping centre.
In his autobiography, Nobody Heard Me Cry, he said he was an unwanted child, to such an extent that the Charles Dickens character Oliver Twist “chimed with my life exactly.”
“I identified with this poor, unloved blond boy, hungry and in rags, who was bossed around by everyone and who asked innocently for more only to land himself in hot water,” he said.
He turned his life around after a brief stint in the Army and returned to education to sit his Leaving Certificate at the age of 27.
However, two years into his training as a lawyer at University College Cork he suffered a massive brain haemorrhage after falling off his bicycle.
He was given “a half an hour to live,” but in his typically defiant fashion added: “A lot of half hours have passed since.”
“Some have nine lives, I must have had 99 lives.”
He is survived by his wife Julieann, daughters Jemma and Jessica, brother of the late Tony and Michael, sisters Márie, Áine, Joan and Paula.
- Reposing at Thompson’s Funeral Home, Thomas Street on Wednesday evening from 5.30pm to 8pm
Removal to St Patrick’s Church, Parteen on Thursday for Requiem Mass at 12 noon followed by burial in St. Brendan's Cemetery, Milltown, Dingle, Co Kerry