Connolly, Patrick Joseph (1927–2016), barrister and attorney general of Ireland, was born 25 May 1927 at 70 Botanic Road, Glasnevin, Dublin. He was the elder of two sons born to Patrick Joseph Connolly, principal of Ballyboughal national school, and his wife Ellen (‘Nellie’; née O’Hara), a teacher at Oldtown national school, Co. Dublin, where the family lived. Patrick Connolly was taught in both of those schools and in 1940 won a scholarship to St Joseph’s College, Garbally Park, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, where his father had been educated.
At St Joseph’s, Connolly participated in sports and enjoyed appearing in school productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. In 1943 he placed third in Ireland in the intermediate certificate examination, winning a Department of Education scholarship that enabled him to take his leaving certificate in 1945. In 1946 Connolly won a Dublin County Council scholarship to attend University College Dublin (UCD) where in 1948 he gained a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA, first class honours) in legal and political science. He was auditor of the university’s Law Society (1948–9), and a gold medallist and auditor (1949–50) of the Literary and Historical Society.
Connolly had also commenced legal studies at King’s Inns in 1946, obtaining his Barrister-at-Law (BL) degree in October 1949 before being called to the bar on 1 November 1949. He first trained with Noel Hartnett (qv), then a Clann na Poblachta TD; Connolly was briefly involved with the party, though soon made the more politically advantageous decision to join Fianna Fáil. He played football into the 1950s with the Wild Geese Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club in Oldtown, where he lived, and also followed the beagle pack which occasionally hunted in the area.
He practised law mostly on the Dublin circuit, specialising in alcohol licensing, consumer finance and landlord and tenant law. Connolly became known for his prodigious memory, which allowed a mastery of case law and its printed sources. He was a junior defence counsel for Charles J. Haughey (qv) during the arms trial (September–October 1970). They had been contemporaries at UCD and King’s Inns, and were called to the bar together. Both came from relatively humble backgrounds in north Dublin, excelled in their studies, were interested in GAA and horse racing, and over time became friends.
In October 1971 Connolly became a senior counsel. He was much sought after by large insurance companies and built up a lucrative legal practise, specialising in personal injury cases and marine accidents; occasionally he represented public bodies. Connolly’s calm and incisive approach to cross-examination enabled him to particularly excel at defending insurance companies in the higher courts. During the Whiddy Island inquiry in 1979 he represented Total Oil, who owned the oil freighter (Betelgeuse) that had exploded in Bantry Bay, Co. Cork, in January of that year, killing fifty people.
Though the suitability of his legal expertise for the post was not universally acknowledged, on 9 March 1982 Connolly was appointed attorney general by Haughey, then taoiseach; Michael O’Kennedy, a senior counsel and Fianna Fáil TD, had already turned down the post. Connolly’s appointment came at a time when the government were under increasing pressure to hold a referendum to introduce a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion. While the government was receptive to the anti-abortion position, shortly after his appointment Connolly submitted a memorandum to Haughey that presciently warned of the difficulties inherent in precisely formulating a constitutional ban. His concern was that any form of words adopted should not ‘reduce the guarantee of the right to life of the living or exhalt [sic] the guarantee of the right to life of the unborn above the right of the living’ (Connolly, ‘Memorandum to An Taoiseach’, 1982). The referendum was eventually held in September 1983, with neither Connolly nor Haughey then in office.
On Friday, 13 August 1982, gardaí arrested Malcolm Macarthur, on suspicion of murder; the arrest took place at Connolly’s apartment at Pilot View, Dalkey, Co. Dublin. Connolly had known Macarthur since the mid-1970s, having first met Macarthur’s partner, Brenda Little, in the early 1970s when she had been fundraising on Grafton Street, Dublin, for sports facilities in Oldtown. They became close, and attended concerts and the cinema together, and remained friendly after Little and Macarthur had a child together. Macarthur had arrived at Connolly’s home on 4 August, prevailing upon the attorney general to let him stay. Over the next nine days Connolly and Macarthur repeatedly travelled together in Connolly’s official car, driven by an armed garda officer. They also attended an All-Ireland hurling semi-final together – it has been suggested that Connolly introduced Macarthur to the Garda Commissioner Patrick McLoughlin at Croke Park, though that claim has been denied by Connolly’s nephew, who was also in attendance.
During this time the gardaí had initiated a major nationwide manhunt for the perpetrator of the murders of Bridie Gargan in the Phoenix Park on 22 July, and Donal Dunne in Edenderry, Co. Offaly, two days later. Unbeknownst to the attorney general, Macarthur had become a suspect. The last known address the gardaí had for Macarthur was a Donnybrook flat, on which Connolly had covered the rent for a time in early 1982.
When Connolly arrived home on Friday 13 August, he was informed by gardaí, who had surrounded the area, that a murder suspect was under surveillance at his residence, and likely had a firearm. Shocked by the revelation, Connolly assisted gardaí in gaining entry to arrest Macarthur. A shotgun was found hidden in the apartment, which Macarthur admitted he had brought there. Its serial number matched the shotgun stolen from and used to kill Donal Dunne. Connolly informed gardaí he was due to depart to the US on holiday the next day. They returned early on Saturday morning seeking a statement; in what can most charitably be described as an act of naivety, Connolly stressed his tiredness and stated he would give one upon his return from his long-planned holiday. Macarthur was charged with murder that day, giving his address as Connolly’s home.
Connolly consulted with nobody in the government, speaking to Haughey only after landing in London having completed the first stage of his trip to America. He insisted that he wished to continue with his holiday, to which Haughey agreed, likely under the impression Connolly was about to board his flight to America; he actually flew out on Sunday. By now the news that a suspected double murderer had been arrested at the home of the attorney general had begun to generate international headlines, and Connolly was met by a press barrage on his arrival at John F. Kennedy airport in New York city. After speaking once more to Haughey, Connolly agreed to return home immediately. BBC News filmed Connolly’s arrival (on Concorde) at Heathrow airport, London, on Monday 16 August, from where the Irish Air Corps transported him to Casement aerodrome, Baldonnel, Co. Dublin. Connolly was whisked straight to Haughey’s home at Kinsealy, Co. Dublin. There, with the house besieged by the media, Connolly was instructed to resign. This was announced in a press release early on Tuesday 17 August, the same day Connolly’s resignation was accepted by President Patrick Hillery (qv). Though Connolly issued a statement accepting responsibility for his actions, his close association with a murder suspect generated a feverish collective tension and provoked conspiratorial rumours.
It was in the context of this febrile atmosphere that Haughey gave a press conference on 17 August. Noting that Connolly’s resignation was prompted by an improbable sequence of events, Haughey described the affair as grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre and unbelievable. From these adjectives Conor Cruise O’Brien (qv), writing in the Irish Times on 24 August, coined the notorious acronym ‘GUBU’. The phrase, rapidly popularised, was widely adopted in describing the murky character of Haughey’s 1982 government, not least the phone tapping of journalists and other improprieties subsequently linked to Sean Doherty (qv), his minister for justice, and senior gardaí. The government was ousted following the 1982 general election.
In January 1983 Macarthur pled guilty to the murder of Bridie Gargan. Though he had also admitted murdering Donal Dunne, the director of public prosecutions entered a plea of nolle prosequi (dismissal). Unusually neither an outline of the evidence, nor a chronology of the events, were read into the court record. Many have questioned if the brief legal trial, lasting only minutes, served to shield Connolly and Haughey from inquisitorial questioning, and thus public embarrassment. The relevant Department of Justice files, as is usually the case after thirty years, were not released to the National Archives of Ireland. Intensely private, Connolly only once spoke publicly about the incident, in a 1995 RTÉ television interview.
Connolly’s tenure as attorney general lasted just over five months. Had he remained in post he would have been a leading candidate for any vacancy arising amongst the senior judiciary, not least that created by the April 1982 resignation of John Kenny (qv) from the supreme court (that vacancy was filled by Niall McCarthy, who was appointed in November 1982). Connolly returned to his legal practice at the law library and became a senior bencher of King’s Inns. In 1995 he sponsored a perpetual trophy for the winners of an annual Gaelic football challenge match between barristers and solicitors, which is named after him. He was an avid fan of boxing, rugby and cricket, and most of all Gaelic games, of which he retained an encyclopaedic knowledge of players and matches. Enjoying cinema and the theatre, Connolly combined two of his favourite hobbies, travel and the opera, on his many visits to opera houses around the world (one anecdote recalls that, for a wager in a pub during the 1970s, he wrote out, on beer mats, the titles of 100 Italian arias). Debonair, his warmth, kindness and conviviality were noted by many. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of his call to the bar, in 2009 his colleagues presented him with a rare edition of Finnegans wake by James Joyce (qv), his favourite writer. Connolly continued his legal practice until the age of eighty-two, and attended his last GAA game in 2013, watching his beloved Dublin beat Mayo in the All-Ireland football final.
Connolly died on 7 January 2016 at his home in Dalkey, in the presence of his nephew and three nieces. After his funeral (9 January) at the Church of the Assumption, Dalkey, he was buried at Deans Grange cemetery. From an estate valued at €3,318,897 he left significant bequests to Brenda Little and her son.