The late solicitor John Devane who was a regular at Nenagh Court
Limerick solicitor John Devane, who died suddenly this Sunday, May 14, at his home, was a regular practitioner at Nenagh District Court, where he represented local clients with his trademark and firm belief in helping the underdog or those who had fallen foul of the law.
He was never a man to shy away from a robust defence of his clients, often clashing with Gardai and even local judges at the court when making a case.
M Devane died aged 54 following a long health battle.
His main practice was in Limerick, where he represented some of Limerick’s most notorious criminals, including gang rivals, over a 20-year career.
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.
A moment’s silence was observed in Limerick District Court this Monday, where Mr Devane had represented clients as recently as last week.
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 Roxboro Road in Limerick city, 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 once said in an interview with 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.
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 one 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.
Mr Devane represented 450 soldiers in a suit against the State in the army deafness damages claims, and 800 prisoners who were forced to slop out their own jail cells.
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 turned his life around after a brief stint in the Defence Forces, 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 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.”
His funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.