A Lawless Mob of Dubliners

My search among Ancient Catholic Families of Ireland for the kith-and-kin of my mystery Captain Armstrong resulted in a naive attempt to link him to a possible uncle named Edmund Lawless, but instead has me up to my armpits in 18th-century Dublin ‘Esquires’ all of the same name.

I’ve been attempting to answer if  the ‘Gentleman’ Edmund Lawless of  Clanbrassil-street Dublin was the same man married Margaret Armstrong in 1784 in St Nicholas Without, Dublin, a possible aunt of my mystery captain.

If so that could make him a possible uncle of Captain John P. Armstrong who  I have been chasing round the globe for the last two decades.

But instead I have ended up with at least six men named Edmund Lawless in records of Dublin in  1770-1850 era, so will have to slog through more records to sort out  ‘Quarter-Master Eddie’ from  ‘Doctor Ed’, ‘Freemason Ed’ from  ‘Eddie the Gardener’ and work out which one of them is also a son of ‘Edmund the Gent’ and where Edmund Lawless the barrister might fit in with it all.

In 1792 a ‘Dionysus’ (Denis) Lawless acted as godfather to John P. Armstrong (christened 29 June 1792), the son of Thomas Armstrong and Margaret Corballis. This event took place at St Nicholas Without, a Roman Catholic Church of ancient catholic history in the city of Dublin in Ireland.

A ‘Dionysus’ (Denis) Lawless also appeared as godfather for Eliza Maria Anna Armstrong, baptized 2 Aug 1803, daughter of a Thomas Armstrong and Margaret (surname not provided in christening record), again at St Nicholas Without.

And a Dionysus’ (Denis) Lawless had been one of the marriage witnesses when Edmund Lawless and Margaret Armstrong wed in 1784 at St Nicholas Without.

Extract from Edmund Lawless of Clanbrassil-st Dublin and his 1837 Chancery Case. Source: Reports of Cases argued in the High Court of Chancery, Ireland by W.B.Drury and F.W.Welsh. GOOGLE BOOKS
Extract: Edmund Lawless (?-1863) of Clanbrassil-st Dublin and his 1837 Chancery Case. Source: Reports of Cases argued in the High Court of Chancery, Ireland by W.B.Drury and F.W.Welsh. GOOGLE BOOKS

In September 1810 a Denis Lawless died, ‘intestate, unmarried and without lawful issue’ and administration of his personal estate and effects were granted on the 15th February 1811 to to his brother EDMOND Lawless (note, court records spell it EdmOnd, not EdmUnd).

In 1837 Edmond Lawless of Clanbrassil-street and the brother of Denis (the possible godfather of John P Armstrong)  was involved in a Chancery legal case  involving the land  in Clanbrassil street, which Denis had previously leased just prior to his death in 1810 from ‘David Courtney Esq’.

Courtney  Esq. held the land on a ‘Bishops’ Lease’, renting ‘all those parts of the lands of St Sepulchre, situate in the parish of St Kevins, Co Dublin’ from the Archbishop of Dublin, and in turn demised the property to Denis Lawless, effective  25 December 1809 on a twenty-year lease.

There was a ‘toties quoties covenant for renewal’ on the lease between Courtney and Lawless: Courtney promised to make sure he would ‘from time to time’ do the right thing to renew his lease with the Archbishop and he would serve notice to Denis of the renewal. Denis in turn had three months to pay associated legal expenses and costs or risked losing the lease.

However Denis Lawless died in September 1810 and on the 15th February 1811 his brother Edmond Lawless took over the possession of the premises.

Sometime between 1811 and 1815 Courtney divested his interest in the lease to John Grogan, the elder, who in turn died in 1832 and left the property to his son John Grogan ‘the younger’, but young John was a minor and in November 1832 was made a Ward of the Court, his elder brother Edward being appointed the guardian ‘of his fortune and his person’.

In January 1835 Edward Grogan obtained a lease of the same property in his own name from the Archbishop so in December that year Edmond Lawless served Grogan notice of a fee of nearly 1000 pounds, for costs and expenses.

Having received no response from Grogan and being threatened with ejection, Lawless instituted the Chancery case to recover costs associated with the 1810 lease and to try and secure a renewal of his own lease. (1837 Lawless v Grogan).

Lawless argued that up until 1815 he had paid Grogan the elder the due sums, but after that time Grogan refused to accept saying the amount being paid was not correct, though refusing to say what sum he thought was. The matter dragged on, solicitors were involved and Lawless’ legal representative was also unable to receive a formal reply from Grogan as to his interpretation of what sums were due.

Lawless also argued in the Chancery case that he had never received due notice from John Grogan the elder, as agreed within the terms of the original lease, but Edward Grogan’s plaintiff argued Lawless had been served, in April 1819 by a man named Gallagher.

Gallagher stated he recollected serving the notice to Edmond Lawless at his dwelling house in Clanbrassil-street.

Poor Gallagher was described as being ‘in utter ignorance’ of whom he had served the notice to and when, and that his swearing was ‘loose and vague’.

The case hinged on the serving of the notice, and though it was acknowledged that Lawless knew he owed outstanding sums to Grogan, from 1827 at least, the presiding judge believed that given such a notice  would be relied upon ‘to work a forfeiture’ it was imperative ‘the serving of such notice could be proved’.

He agreed that there was a suspicion Lawless had indeed received notice, given his computations of the amounts due happened to coincide with the sum in a lawyers letter around the time of the notice date, but ‘forfeiture cannot be established upon suspicion’ the judge said and he felt compelled to give Lawless the relief he sought in this legal action.

Edward Grogan was ordered to give Lawless a renewal of his lease dated from 1st February 1810 and Lawless was given three months to pay his back rents after which he could retain his lease. Lawless was also ordered to pay Grogan’s legal costs, or lose the lease and be liable for all costs.

What this Chancery Case provides is that Edmond Lawless of Clanbrassil-street Dublin was the brother of Denis Lawless who died in September 1810, and that Edmond had been living in Clanbrassil-street from at least February 1811 and up until this court action in 1837.

From 1827 until 1835 Edmond Lawless was described as being in considerable financial embarrassment and had to resort to heavily mortgaging the property, but which he was able to recover from by 1835.

Newspaper report of the death of Margaret Lawless (1773-1833) wife of 'Edmund' of Clanbrassil-street, Dublin. (Source: Dublin Evening Mail, 9 Dec.1833., FINDMYPAST)
Newspaper report of the death of Margaret Lawless (1773-1833) wife of ‘Edmund’ of Clanbrassil-street, Dublin. (Source: Dublin Evening Mail, 9 Dec.1833, Irish Newspaper Collection, FindMyPast)

Margaret Lawless the wife of ‘Edmund Lawless, of Clanbrassil-street, Esquire’ died on the 30th of November 1833. The report of her death in the Dublin Evening said she was 60 years of age, which places her birth year about 1773.


But the Margaret Lawless (nee Armstrong) who I seek married married her ‘Edmund’  in 1784, so if these women are one-and-the-same that would mean Edmund’s wife just eleven years of age when they married, which doesn’t seem feasible in this particular sector of Dublin society.

Maybe Margaret’s death age was incorrectly reported, or possibly that this is a second wife of Edmund (albeit also named Margaret).

Or maybe Margaret and Edmund Lawless  Esq., of Clanbrassil-street are not the couple I seek, the  Edmund Lawless who married Margaret Armstrong in 1784. Or a further possibility is there was more than one Edmund / Edmond Lawless living in Clanbrassil Street.

What the death report does suggest is that this couple did have children, and also that Margaret was a supporter of local orphans and widows, probably through a charitable service or in a benefactor role, and it suggests that this Esquire was involved in civic or community affairs.

Formative research turns up a number of references which suggests more than one man named Edmund or Edmond Lawless in Dublin from the 1780-1850 era:  Clanbrassil-street Edmund,a surgeon of the same name (who is probably his descendant as seen by later ownership of Clanbrassil-street land title records as well as birth, death and marriage references), an Edmund Lawless who served as quarter-master in the 4th (Irish, Royal) Dragoons and my particular favorite  an Edmund Lawless in the Royal Navy (much more to my liking, as my John P Armstrong’s references were all from Royal Navy men). There is also an Edmund Lawless recorded as running a nursery in Clanbrassil-street, and there is an Edmund Lawless a barrister as well.

‘Freemason Ed’.

A most tantalizing link between the Lawless and Armstrong’s is the reference to Edmund Lawless being the head honcho of the Saint Patrick’s Lodge for Freemason in Dublin  1815-1822, whose position was filled in 1824 by a Thomas Armstrong.

‘Quarter-master Eddie’

The gap in 1823 makes me wonder if ‘Freemason Edmund’ is also the  quarter-master of the 4th Dragoons who  on the 13th October  1824 was Court Marshalled – and  ‘Fully Acquitted’ –  of  ‘conduct highly disgraceful in having demanded from the contractor five per cent, as a prerequisite on all bread supplied to the 4th Dragoons’. (source: Drogehda Journal or Meath & Louth Advertiser, 10 Nov 1824., FINDMYPAST ).

Mary Josephine Lawless daughter of Quartermaster Edmund Lawless

Quarter-master Edmund Lawless entered the 4th Dragoons on the 31st July 1823 according to this report (if I am interpreting it correctly), which is also  the year that ‘Freemason Ed’ is no longer headhoncho of the Saint Patrick’s Lodge. A War Office report dated 15 August 1823 shows that Edmund Lawless obtained the rank of Regimental Quartermaster upon the death of the former officer named Jolly (source: Morning Post, 18 Aug.1823, Irish Newspaper Collection, FindMyPast).

When the Quarter-master’s daughter  Mary Josephine Lawless married in 1848, to James Quin Maguire, Esq. of Dublin,  her father was denoted as deceased, so ‘Quartermaster Eddie’ must have died between 1832 (when he is still mentioned in a  ‘List of Officers of the Army and the Corps of the Royal Marine’) and August 1848, when his daughter married.

There are no civil registrations of Births, Deaths and Marriages for that era, so it is church and cemetery records that serve in these types of searches, but most importantly newspaper obituaries, death notices or even notices of the administration of estates.

A quick cruise through Irish Newspapers (BLESS IRISH NEWSPAPERS because they are godsend to anyone researching the Irish from the distant shores of Australia)  on FINDMYPAST doesn’t show up an obvious death notice for any Edmund Lawless in the 1800-1845  era, not even when I narrow down the country and concentrate on Dublin newspapers. But  I figure anyway even if I find a death reference I may remain uncertain which Edmund it is going to apply to.

‘Doctor Ed’

Doctor Edmund Lawless R N

 I do end up with  is another Edmund Lawless – this time the head of an medical asylum in Dublin. But at least I know this one is still alive in 1868 (probably too old for Clanbrassil-street  ‘Gentleman Ed’). The Medico-Pyschological Society admitted ‘Doctor Edmund Lawless’ into their fold in October 1868, and a big more digging in Google Books turned up a reference that the doctor-  ‘Esquire’ of course- had served in the Royal Navy but  in 1868  was Master of Saint Patrick’s Asylum, Dublin (source: JOURNAL OF MENTAL SCIENCE, Vol 14. 1868).   Doctor Edmund Lawless, ‘late of Saint Patrick’s Hospital, Co Dublin, Surgeon and M.D’ died on the 11th March 1879 and his probate was granted to wife Harriet Lawless, of Saint Patrick’s Hospital.

From the Medico-Psychological Journal, 1868.
From the Medico-Psychological Journal, 1868.

The journal  shows Dr Edmund Lawless was living at 12 Castlewood-avenue at Rathmines, Dublin in 1868, and aside from his Royal Navy service was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, a professional membership organisation (and these days a registered charity as well). In 1844 he commenced working at Coombs’ hospital in Dublin. In January 1860 Saunders  NewsLetter recorded the birth of a son for Dr Lawless, of ’12 Cullenswood-avenue’  and the same address is given in other sources (Saunders News-Letter, 26 Jan 1860, Irish Newspaper Collection, ibid).

The Northern Standard reported on 27 May 1854 that ‘assistant-surgeon Edmund Lawless’ of the Royal Navy was aboard H.M Tiger and serving in the bombardment of  Sebastapol (source: Irish Newspaper Collection, FindmyPast). Then in June 1856, Lawless was promoted to Surgeon, aboard H.M Fisgard (Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier, 26 Jun. 1855, Irish Newspaper Collection, FindMyPast).

Dr Edmund Lawless of 12 Castle-wood avenue, Dublin with accreditation and service history from the Medico-pyschology journal 1868.
Dr Edmund Lawless of 12 Castle-wood avenue, Dublin with accreditation and service history from the Medico-pyschology journal 1868.

So at first glance ‘Dr Edmund’ seems to be ruled out as the ‘Gentleman’ Edmund Lawless of Clanbrassil-street, however the 1858 Post Office Directory for Dublin places an Edmund Lawless both in Clanbrassil-street as well as in Rathmines. One name – two addresses.

1858 directory: ’32’ Clanbrassil-street:  Edmund Lawless, Esq., and Upper Rathmines’ (note at no 15 there resided a ‘Mrs Armstrong’.)

The earlier 1812 street directory shows Edmund Lawless resided at no ’26’ Clanbrassil-street (Dissertions on the History of Ireland, J. OConor & J McPherson, 1812., GoogleBooks)

And the 1835 ‘Dublin Almanack and General Register of Ireland (Pettigrew & Oulton) shows EdmOnd Lawless at no. 26 Clanbrassil street, occupation ‘nursery man’.

So in 1812 Edmund Lawless, Equire lived at number 26 Clanbrassil street which he had inherited from his brother Denis. By 1835 that address was being operated as a nursery by an ‘Edmond’ Lawless (remember the Chancery records show Edmund the Esquire of that address in 1835 and  who had been struggling financially but was able to catch up with his mortgage in 1835).

The 1845 Dublin Almanack (Pettigrew and Oulton) shows ‘Edmond Lawless,  26 Clanbrassil-street and Upper Rathmines’.  There is also an Edmund B Lawless recorded for 1845  who lived at ‘205 Brunswick Street’ whose occupation was either solicitor or barrister, as his employment is shown as ‘bar’.Also living at the same address was a solicitor named Philip Lawless.

So it might be surmised that between 1812 and 1856, Edmund Lawless the Esquire of Clanbrassil street had for a period of time struggled financially, and either before or after the death of his wife Margaret was able to pay off his mortgage (did he inherit something upon her death, or had he turned his hand to gardening and operated a nursery as an income?).

By this time he would have to be somewhere in his late 70’s, as his wife Margaret was born c1773 and it appears that his address varied as either 26-32 Clanbrassil street, or alternatively there is more than one Edmund/Edmond at that particular street address.

News report of marriage Annette Maria Lawless of 'Upper Clanbrassil street' whose father was named Edmund. Source; Commercial Journal 15 Sep.1855., Irish Newspaper Collection, FINDMYPASt
News report of marriage Annette Maria Lawless of ‘Upper Clanbrassil street’ whose father was named Edmund. Source; Commercial Journal 15 Sep.1855., Irish Newspaper Collection, FINDMYPAST

In September 1855 Annette Maria Lawless, daughter of ‘Edmund Lawless, Esquire of Upper Clanbrassil-street’ married Edward John Smith (another Esq., son of the late John Smith of Templeogue).

The Rathmines parish records where her marriage took place, simply records the marriage of ‘Edw Jno Smythe to Annette Mary Lawless’ on the 10th of September 1855, witnesses James and Eliza Sinnott (Ireland Roman Catholic CHurch Records, FindMypast).

And then to further muddy things, the Dublin Weekly Nation on the 22nd September 1860 recorded the death of Lieutenant Alfred E. Lawless, the ‘only son of our respected fellow citizen, Edmund Lawless Esquire, P L G, Clanbrassil street’. 

Dublin Weekly Nation, 22 Sep.1860, Irish Newspaper Collection, FINDMYPAST
Dublin Weekly Nation, 22 Sep.1860, Irish Newspaper Collection, FINDMYPAST

Alfred was 29 years of age so he was born c 1831, and as we know from the Chancery case that Edmund the Esquire was living at Clanbrassil street at that time, so it seems the Esquire had only 1 son. PLG probably stands for Poor Law Guardian, and there certainly was an Edmund Lawless in the 1840’s – 1860s who was on the board of the South Dublin Union, among other civic committees.

The Limerick and Clare Examiner on the 6th of January 1855 reported the marriage of Edmund Lawless, Esquire, Royal Navy to Harriet White, the eldest daughter of ‘the late Benjamin K White’, many years mayor of Cashel and J.P for Tipperary and so it seems ‘Doctor Ed’ can be eliminated as the ‘Gentleman’ of Clanbrassil street.  The marriage took place in the Cathedral of Cashel (Irish Newspaper Collection, FindMyPast) but this notice doesn’t clarify if this Edmund is not the same Edmund married to Margaret (who died in 1833).

Next on May 14, 1856, it was reported that a ‘son and heir’ of the Royal Navy surgeon Edmund Lawless had been born at ‘Haulbowline’ (Evening Freeman, 21 May 1856, Irish Newspaper collection, ibid). And if this was his son and heir, then it would suggest that Edmund Lawless of Clanbrassil Street, who we know had a son Alfred, is NOT the R.N surgeon Edmund Lawless. (Another son’s birth was recorded in January 1860  with the surgeon living at Cullenswood-avenue (Evening Freeman, 27 Jan 1860) and a daughter on the 19th Sept 1863, the surgeon then living at 3 Lower-Leeson street, Dublin (source: Dublin Evening, 23 Sep 1863, Irish Newspaper Collection, FindMyPast).Further, given this surgeon’s wife is Harriet (nee White) then it would certainly suggest the probability that his is also the same R.N. surgeon who ended up as master of the Saint Patrick Asylum, and who died in 1879.

Griffiths Valuations of Ireland shows TWO references to Edmund Lawless in Clanbrassil-street and in the parish of St Peters, and then another reference to Edmund Lawless in Clanbrassil-street in the parish of St Nicholas Without, as well as another Edmund Lawless of Rathmines, in the parish of St Peter. Solicitors Philip and Edmund Lawless of Upper George Street are also shown  (the year previous they were both living at Gardiner street and in 1845 were in Brunswick street, in 1843 in Harcourt street, so out of contention for this address for the time being).


City of Dublin map showing Clanbrassil street, and numbers 26-32 where Edmund Lawless is recorded as living. (source: http://www.dublincity.ie/AnitePublicDocs/00522679.pdf)
City of Dublin map showing Clanbrassil street, and numbers 26-32 where Edmund Lawless is recorded as living. (source: http://www.dublincity.ie/AnitePublicDocs/00522679.pdf)

Landed Estate Court Rental records and the Griffiths Valuations of Ireland do reveal Edmund Lawless of Clanbrassil-street had over a period of time broken up his extensive piece of land into a series of lots, most of which were leased out over the years to a number of people

And a property dispute lodged in September of last year by Adelphi Tavern of 30 Clanbrassil street, Dublin contains some fascinating information about the history of Lawless’ property dealings, historic buildings, lanes and outbuildings.

This record confirms the 1810 lease which Edmund Lawless had taken up in the Chancery case, and as late as 1894 Annette Smith (the above mentioned daughter of Edmund Lawless P.L.G of Clanbrassil street) was leasing off sections of the property, in particular a lease to Patrick Doyle, which is why there is probably 6 cottages on the land known as ‘Doyles Cottage’.

Memorials and conveyances show a chain of succession in owners, a purchase by Dublin Coorparation of another part of the Lot under compulsory acquisition, and 30 Clanbrassil street itself is shown as having previously been known as ‘The Old Grinding Young’ and there were 6 cottages known commonly as ‘Doyles’ and also as ‘Dions Court’.

The property is acknowledged as having belonged to Edward Lawless, and that it was situated in the parish of St Nicholas Without, and that it was in the area known as ‘Upper Clanbrassil-street’.

Deeds of conveyance dated 1839 between Grogan and Lawless confirm this is the land referred to in the 1837 Chancery Case.

With Annette Smith/Smythe’s mention this document also links the property to her 1855 marriage notice in the newspapers, but both her likely birth year and her brother Alfred’s just doesn’t add up to their mother being Margaret Lawless who died in 1833, the wife of Edmund of Clanbrassil-street. She would simply be too old, suggesting more than one Edmund at that address, or Edmund had a second wife.


An 1862 Dublin street directory (Thom’s Almanack) places Edmund Lawless –  P.L.G – at 47 Clanbrassil street, and we know that two years later his only son Alfred E. Lawless had died aged 29 years. placing his birth about 1830-1831.  

If he is the same Edmund Lawless who served on the South Union board, then he died before 1863, for at an election held in April of 1863, ‘Mr Flanagan’ was elected for the Woods-Quay ward in place of the ‘late Edmund Lawless’ T.C.

In April 1899, Adelaide Berger the widow of Adolphe Berger died in Paris, her death notice recording she was the ‘eldest surviving daughter of the late Edmund Lawless, 47 Upper Clanbrassil st, Dublin’ (source: Dublin Daily Nation, 29 April 1899, Irish Newspaper Collection,  FindMyPast).

Surgeon Edmund Lawless death notice 1879

A Dublin Daily Express newspaper dated 12th March 1879 finally gives an age for Surgeon Edmund Lawless, who died in his ’59th year’, so that finally excludes this man as being the Edmund Lawless who took over his brother’s lease at Clanbrassil Street Dublin in 1811. But without knowing his parent’s name, it is hard to know which branch of the extensive Lawless family he belongs.

Then in a another breakthrough the death of Edmund Lawless was found reported in in the Weekly Freeman’s Journal in  February 1863, and though it refers to a long life it does not mention his age, or members of his family. But if Edmund was of a similar age of his wife Margaret then he was born about 1773, and so would have been some 90 years of age when he died.  Edmund’s death notice confirms he lived in Upper Clanbrassil street, that he was a PLG and T.C of  the SOuth Union, and representative of the Wood-Quay Ward  amongst other public services. Edmund was buried on the 6th of February 1863 at 9 am (cemetary not reported in reports so far found). What is still missing from this jigsaw is the death of Edmund Lawless the Quarter-master of the 4th Dragoons (sometime between 1832 – 1848) and I still don’t know if either of these two men are the same who married Margaret Armstrong in 1784. 

Death of Edmund Lawless 1863

  • Edmund Lawless (???? – 1863) married Margaret ? (c1733-1833). Poor Law Guardian 1840-1860’s, South Dublin Union, Woods-Quay ward councillor of 26-47 Clanbrassil street: : children known: (i)Adelaide Lawless (? – 1899) married Adolphe Berger, died Paris, Fra.. (ii) Alfred E Lawless (c1831-1860) a Lieutenant in the R.N and only son of Edmund Lawless, (iii) Annette Mary Lawless (pre 1833? – ???) m Edw. Smythe/Smith 1855 leased portions of Clanbrassil st in the 1890’s.

  • Edmund Lawless (c1820-1879), Surgeon, Royal Navy, served as assistant-surgeon aboard H.M Tiger at Sebastapol 1854, appointed Surgeon H.M. Fisgard 1856,  lived Castlewood-Avenue, and Cullen-avenue and Leeson-st. Dublin. Served as master of  St Patrick’s asylum/hospital, married Harriett White in 1855: (i) Male and Heir born 1856, (ii) son 1860,(iii)  daughter born 1863.

  • Edmund Lawless (????-died between 1832-1848), Quarter-master 4th Dragoons, lived Clanbrassil street. married ??: and known children: (i) Mary Josephine Lawless (born c 1828?) married 1848 James Quin Maguire.