Daly, Denis (c.1638–1721), judge, was the first son of James Daly of Carrownakelly, Co. Galway, and his wife, Anastase Darcy, granddaughter of James Riveagh Darcy, vice-president of Connacht in the late sixteenth century. While the details of his early life are obscure, it is known that he began training for a career within the law as a clerk to Patrick Darcy (qv) (1598–1668), his great-uncle. Daly entered Middle Temple in July 1673; he was admitted (19 April 1678) to King's Inns in Dublin, where he began his practice as a barrister. He married Mary, daughter of Thomas Power of Park, Limerick; they had four sons and two daughters.
Daly first came to prominence at a national level following the accession of James II (qv) to the throne. Well regarded within the legal profession, Daly was an obvious choice as the earl of Tyrconnell (qv) directed a reconstruction of the Irish administration in favour of catholics. He was appointed as a justice of the common pleas in March 1686 (sworn 26 April 1686), to which appointment the lord lieutenant, the earl of Clarendon (qv), took umbrage: ‘Daly is one of the best lawyers of that sort, but of old Irish race, and therefore ought not to be a judge. He [is] national to the utmost degree’ (Clarendon correspondence, i, 356). On the final day of April 1686, Daly's name was included on a list of new appointees to the Irish privy council sent to Clarendon, confirming his swift rise from relative obscurity to a position of influence within Irish politics.
Clarendon's initial poor impression of Daly was tempered as the pair often met during the beleaguered lord lieutenant's tenure. This had largely to do with the balanced approach Daly displayed when nominating persons for civil and military appointments, by proposing equal numbers of protestants and catholics. His early conduct at the assizes also attracted the praise of Irish protestants, on the basis of his even-handed application of the law, without the religious bias that some of his contemporaries showed.
With regard to the problematic issue of revisiting the restoration land settlement, Daly adopted a similarly conservative approach by supporting Clarendon's proposal to reopen the commission of grace that had sat between June 1684 and Charles II's death, while he opposed any major redistribution of land. Daly's stance was a result of his leadership of the catholic faction within the ‘new interest’ group – those who had acquired land since 1660 and were thus reliant on the acts of settlement and explanation for the legality of their titles.
Despite the fact that his stance on the land question was opposed to that of Tyrconnell, who favoured the restoration of land to the ancient proprietors, Daly advanced even further within the Irish government following the appointment of Tyrconnell as lord deputy in 1687. Tyrconnell created a small council of seven members to advise him, which included Daly. This advancement to Tyrconnell's ‘cabinet’ was probably due to a series of legal opinions he returned in his capacity as a judge, including that for the reversal of the outlawries of Lords Gormanston and Ikerrin (Ikerine), as well as the obstruction of the claim of the archbishop of Tuam to impropriate tithes in Galway. Daly's increased importance to Tyrconnell was later demonstrated by his complicity in securing the removal of Thomas Sheridan (qv), Tyrconnell's unfavoured secretary, from his post in 1688.
However, with the raising of the issue of land redistribution in the Irish parliament of 1689, Daly became something of a controversial figure when he made an impassioned speech opposing the act of repeal, condemning the parliament for ‘dividing the bear's skin before she is taken’ (Walker, A true account of the present state of Ireland, 16). He was impeached by the commons for his words, but escaped punishment. During the war, Daly was an active proponent of an early surrender on terms, and maintained a correspondence with the Williamite authorities from at least late 1690, for which he was briefly imprisoned by Patrick Sarsfield (qv). He was released as soon as Tyrconnell returned from France in January 1691. In the immediate aftermath of the Jacobite defeat at Aughrim in July 1691, Daly travelled to see General Ginkel (qv) at the Williamite camp to offer his services. Thereafter he was instrumental in convincing the garrison at Galway to surrender swiftly, as well as during the negotiations for the articles of Galway.
Ensuring the full implementation of the various articles of surrender that arose from the war in Ireland proved a difficult task for Irish catholics. Throughout the 1690s a group of catholics from Galway formed an influential interest group, active both in Ireland and England, dedicated to the pursuit of the benefits of the articles of Galway. Having chosen not to follow James II into exile, Daly was an integral part of this group. Late in 1691 he travelled to London, the trip necessitated by the passage of a bill in the English parliament that replaced the oath of supremacy in Ireland (3 William & Mary, c. 2 [Eng.]) with its more demanding English equivalent. This bill made it necessary for anyone who wished to practise the law in Ireland to take new oaths, which if subscribed to by a catholic would have constituted a de facto conversion to the Church of Ireland. A clause inserted in the act, exempting the beneficiaries of the articles of Limerick, was not extended to cover the articles of Galway, despite the express provision made for the freedom of practice for lawyers in article 12 of that accord. Daly's presence in London was designed to complement extensive lobbying in Dublin, where the administration, along with Queen Mary, were receptive to the idea of drafting legislation to relieve the lawyers of Galway. Despite this high-level support, the appeal was rejected by the English privy council.
Daly was one of several Irish catholics named as deserving of the Irish administration's favour after the war, due to their influence within their respective provinces. Two separate papers presented to the government (1691, 1693) described Daly as an important figure within Connacht who could be instrumental in helping to maintain peace within the province, if given incentive to do so. Notwithstanding the advice of these papers, by 1696 Daly and the other lawyers of Galway had yet to receive any relief from the restrictions of the 1691 act for replacing the oaths in Ireland. He was among several men who presented a petition to the English house of commons in January 1696. The petition asked that the commons pass legislation enabling the Galway lawyers ‘to use and exercise their callings, according to the said articles’ (The state of the case of Denis Daly). Though the commons was inclined to look favourably upon the petition, and had begun to draft the necessary legislation, this was subsequently dropped at the committee stage following a counter-petition from Robert Johnson, an Irish protestant. This appears to have been the last attempt by the Galway lawyers to have their case heard.
Daly's personal claim to the benefit of the articles had been passed in 1692 – made all the more certain by a personal guarantee from Ginkel that his estate was safe from forfeiture. Following the suspension of hearings of claims under the Galway agreement from 1693 till 1697, William issued a declaration (April 1697) to the effect that the benefit of these articles was to apply only to those who had been present within Galway itself at the time of the negotiation, thereby contravening the thirteenth article. To counter this move, the Galway claimants once more sent agents to London and the Continent to solicit the king and his government to repeal this declaration, as well as to drum up support for their cause from the Continent. Daly returned to London to plead the case of the Galway claimants, with financial support from his contemporaries. While there – despite having his correspondence intercepted, thus revealing the purpose of his visit – Daly was an integral part of the overall representations that convinced William to ignore his own declaration. As a result, several claimants to the articles were granted reversals in 1698, in spite of their absence from the town at the time of the signing of the agreement.
One such beneficiary was John Burke (1642–1722), Baron Bophin and future 9th earl of Clanricarde. Bophin's efforts to gain a reversal of his outlawry faced obstacles that were both numerous and complex, so that he was reliant upon the efforts of the Galway lobby to secure the strict interpretation of the articles. Concurrently, he pursued his personal case in both Dublin and London, in which endeavour Daly appears to have been his principal agent. In a lengthy process, stretching from 1697 to 1702, Daly was involved in all stages of Bophin's case. This included negotiations with prominent protestant politicians including Thomas Brodrick (qv) and John Methuen (qv), Irish lord chancellor, as well as Arnold Keppel, earl of Albemarle. Their activities attracted considerable attention on the part of the forfeiture inquiry commissioners in 1699, due to the large sums of money involved, but the protagonists escaped major censure.
With the turn of the century and the end of most of the proceedings surrounding land forfeitures, Daly continued to act as a conveyancer and a trustee for the estates of Col. John Browne (qv) (1639–1712) of Kinturk and Westport. He appears on a list of catholics licensed to bear arms in 1705 and again in 1715. He died in March 1721, at the same time as Sir Toby Butler (qv), a signatory of the articles of Limerick. Butler's death notice in Whalley's Newsletter described him as being in competition with Daly for the chief seat in purgatory, an indication perhaps of the bitterness with which those who came to an accommodation with the Williamite regime were regarded by some of their catholic contemporaries. Daly's conduct during James II's reign, the Williamite conflict, and throughout the ensuing decades, makes him an exemplar of the section of Irish catholic society that was satisfied with the restoration land settlement, and was prepared to protect it at all costs.