Mackey, Rex (1911–99), barrister, actor, and writer, was born Arthur Joseph Connel Mackey on 7 December 1911, the eldest of three sons and two daughters of Joseph Arthur Mackey of Liosnamara, Bray, Co. Wicklow, and his wife Gertrude (née Gallagher). Educated at Castleknock College, he excelled academically, winning the Bodkin prize, and at sports, in particular rugby and cricket. On leaving school in 1930 he worked for a short unloved period in a bank, an occupation he left to become a student at UCD in 1933. The following year he enrolled at King's Inns and was called to the bar in 1938, commencing practice on the north-western circuit. He succeeded in carrying on his practice while at the same time becoming enthusiastically involved in acting, notwithstanding the prejudice which then would have existed against the stage. He acted during the 1930s and into the 1940s at the Gate and the Abbey, and to some extent on the London stage. He performed with many well-known actors of the time, including Mícheál MacLiammóir (qv), Orson Welles and Noel Coward.
Called to the English bar by the Inner Temple in 1947, he was for a time a member of chambers in London. In the 1950s and early 1960s, while still practising at the Irish bar, mainly in Dublin and on the Leinster circuit, he was again involved in theatrical work, in particular writing scripts for television, radio, and cinema. For some of this period he lived in London. In 1963 he returned to live in Ireland and practise at the bar, though for a period he continued writing for television and radio, including two particularly successful RTÉ programmes, ‘Justice at large’ and ‘The trial of the Widow Wilkins’. In 1964 he published a very successful book on bridge, The walk of the oysters (London 1964; 1986), and in 1965 Windward of the law (London 1965; Dublin 1991).
From 1970 he applied himself exclusively to his practice at the Irish bar, taking silk in 1973 and subsequently being elected a bencher of King's Inns. He continued to practise, almost exclusively at court work, energetically and successfully up to his death aged 89. At the time of his death he had been a member of the bar for 61 years and was, as the longest serving member of the Law Library, entitled to the honorary title of Father of the Bar, something which he somewhat ironically enjoyed.
His career represented a particularly unusual achievement for two main reasons. First, it had for many years been firmly believed that to engage in what might be described as an on and off relationship with the work of a barrister was almost certainly a recipe for failure; to that maxim Rex Mackey's career from 1970 to 1999 gave a clear contradiction. Secondly, for a courtroom advocate, which Rex Mackey always was, to commence his wholetime career aged 60, take silk at 63 and continue busily and successfully engaged in heavy and important cases, both criminal and civil for a further 26 years, was surely in itself an almost unique experience. His theatrical activities had a marked effect on his courtroom achievements, adding not only to his success as a persuasive advocate but also at times making him extremely entertaining to watch and listen to. Outside court he was excellent company with a strong anecdotal gift.
Mackey married (1937) Marie Elena Munizy; they had a daughter, Noemi. After Marie's death he married (1961) Carmel Guilfoyle, with whom he had a daughter, Thora. He died 7 November 1999 in St Vincent's Hospital.