“If God is as fair a judge as Kevin we are OK”. Searching the web for news about the sudden death yesterday of Mr Justice Kevin Feeney at his holiday home in County Cork, I came across this post on politics.ie from Eoin Corr. It seemed to me one of the most appropriate quotes for my former classmate at Gonzaga College 1967-69. I transferred from one Jesuit establishment in Wimbledon to another in Dublin when I was 15, having just completed ‘O’ levels, so I was the youngest in class. I didn’t know anyone at the time. Kevin was always welcoming and although I was not a great sportsman, I played rugby alongside him in the forward line.
Michael McDowell who I met yesterday in County Wicklow before the sad news came through about Kevin’s sudden death was a skilful debater and went on to become Attorney General. Kevin was one of the few who could successfully take him on, using his wit and always smiling. A smile that is captured well in Des Barry’s photograph.
At the L&H in UCD he demonstrated those same witty qualities in debates with a range of speakers, many of whom went on like him to become top lawyers. In addition to Michael McDowell, the L&H group included Adrian Hardiman, John McMenamin, Frank Clarke, William Early, Kevin Cross, Alison Lindsay and Mary Finlay. Some of our other classmates from Gonzaga also progressed to become successful lawyers, namely Tom Finlay, Michael Coghlan, Paul McNally and Barry Halton. Most of our class including Kevin joined the FCÁ in Collins Baracks at the same time in 1968 and some served a full five year term.
Kevin was described quite rightly yesterday as one of the greatest lawyers of his generation. He was educated at UCD and King’s Inns and qualified as a barrister in 1973. He was appointed to the High Court in 2006 and served as chair of the Referendum Commission last year. He was a member of the Courts Service Board. An older brother, John Feeney, was a journalist with the ‘Evening Herald’ who died in the Beaujolais air crash in England in November 1984 with eight others. John was also well-known as a left-wing student activist at UCD. I remember at school another brother, Peter Feeney, who was a year ahead of him in Gonzaga College. He is a former Head of Television Current Affairs and a former Head of Public Policy at RTE. Their father John Kevin Feeney was Professor of Gynaecology and Obstetrics in University College Dublin and Master of the Coombe Hospital in Dublin.
Kevin was married to Geraldine and had four adult children, Kevin (junior), Andrew, Peter and Barbara. My sympathy goes to all his family and relations. His funeral will be on Monday morning, according to the death notice in the Irish Times:-
FEENEY, Kevin T. (unexpectedly), August 14, 2013, beloved husband of Geraldine and loving father of Andrew, Peter, Kevin and Barbara, and brother of the late John. Deeply regretted by his brothers Jim and Peter, Andrew’s girlfriend Fiona, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, colleagues, relatives and friends.
May he rest in peace.
Reposing at his home on Sunday from 4pm until 7pm. Removal on Monday morning to the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, arriving at 11.15am for Funeral Mass at 11.30am and then to Glasnevin Cemetery.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter paid the following tribute:-
“I wish to express my deepest sympathy to Mr Justice Kevin Feeney’s wife Geraldine and his children on their sudden and very sad loss. Kevin was a judge of exceptional ability who graced the High Court bench with courtesy and good humour. Given his dedication to public service, his death at such a young age is a loss for the entire country. He will be sadly missed by everyone who had the privilege of knowing him”.
Attorney General Maire Whelan said Judge Feeney had served with great distinction in the High Court since his appointment. Ms Whelan said as a judge, he had combined enormous intellectual ability with a compassion and courtesy which left an abiding impression on litigant and lawyer alike.
“His deft handling of the Criminal Assets Bureau cases was illustrative of his absolute professionalism and his mastery of a developing area of the law. As counsel, he acted in a series of landmark commercial actions, and he was unquestionably the leading defamation lawyer of his generation, making the sometimes recondite nature of libel law accessible for a jury. He brought the skills he acquired from his practice in the law library to the Bench, where his judgments were informed by his deep knowledge of the law, his robust common sense and his zeal for fairness“, she said.
Ms Whelan said the judge left a legal legacy of incalculable value in his body of reported case law, which would continue for many years to be the bedrock of jurisprudence in matters which concern the recovery of the proceeds of crime. “He was a man of great ability and integrity, and his sudden and unexpected death left a great void in the Irish legal community.
The president of the High Court, Nicholas Kearns, said everyone’s thoughts and prayers were with his colleague’s wife Geraldine and family. “I would just like to say we have all learnt with deep shock and sorrow of the death of Mr Justice Kevin Feeney,” he told the packed courtroom ahead of the court list hearings. He was a judge held in the highest esteem by the entire judiciary and legal profession and his many friends. Over the coming days many tributes, well deserved, will be made to him”, he said.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.