Judge, joker and gent

County View

County View
John Healy

There was a touching, if informal, ceremony at Tuam courthouse last month when a surprise presentation was made to Circuit Court Judge Eoin Garavan on the occasion of his presiding in the Galway town.
The presentation was of a framed photograph of his late father, District Judge John Garavan, taken on his last day on the bench at Tuam prior to his retirement.
What made the photo unique was that it was taken as John Garavan entered the courthouse, framed in silhouette, and obviously at first unaware that he was about to be ‘snapped’. He is seen raising his head in half surprise at the presence of the camera, in a gesture that was completely natural and unstaged.
The photo – who it was actually taken by is unknown – had hung in the office of Tuam solicitor, Danny McGrath, for many years until, on hearing that Judge Garavan was to be in town, he decided that its proper place of honour should be back in the Garavan household in Castlebar.
The gesture itself reflected the esteem and affection in which John Garavan was held across the various Galway locations where he held court, from Tuam (where his closest aide was Court Clerk, the late Salvador Murphy of Swinford) to Galway city, and from Connemara to Kilronan on the Aran islands. His 21-year tenure of office won him respect, affection, admiration and a sense that the law can often be used to effect change for the better in human behaviour, as much as to punish those who transgressed. He was a man with great faith in humanity, always willing to give an offender a second chance and – even by his own admission – tending at times to err on the side of leniency.
Small wonder then that the little Tuam ceremony would lead to a retelling of the old anecdotes of the Garavan days on the bench – his good humour, his ready wit, his informality, while not letting anyone forget who was in charge. There were recollections of his advice to a Tuam man who, charged with a minor assault in a nightclub, told the Judge by way of pleading that he was due to be married in six weeks. “Your disco days are over, then,” the Judge told him, “that was your last fling.”
And there was the story of the mart trader who, to the great amusement of the judge, had been caught with two pornographic videos among the wide range of goods he was offering to the public, ranging from bibles to fire extinguishers, according to the prosecuting Garda. On hearing that the videos were called ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Lust for Love’, the Judge was told that the bringing of the prosecution had brought the accused to his senses. “Do you mean, brought to the censors, or brought to his senses?” quipped the judge.
A defendant charged with the theft of 16 guitars and a clarinet from a Galway music shop was told, “You’d have been able to assemble your own symphony orchestra.”
On the day of his retirement at Galway court, leaders from every walk of life in the city – legal, commercial, civic, professional, academia – lined up to pay sincere tribute to John Garavan. Towards the end of proceedings, there was a shuffling at the back of court and a well-known local rogue, who had appeared before the judge many times, for all the wrong reasons, made his way forward.
“Judge, I want to wish you well, on behalf of all of us who came before you over the years. You were always a true gent.”