An Interesting Person – Francis Walter Doheny


Peter McQuillan

The Old Kilkenny Review, published each year by Kilkenny Achaeological Society, is a great source of interesting articles on places and people, and I want to tell you about a little known local man who was written about by the late Mrs Mary Kenealy in the 1989 issue. The author credits Mr. Jimmy Dockery, principal reporter in the Kilkenny Journal, as the source of much of her material.
Francis Walter Doheny was born in 1879. He was a grandson of another Kenealy, William, author of the well-known song ‘The Moon behind the Hill ‘. As a young man he was noted for his brilliant intellect. When he qualified as a solicitor he got the highest marks in the United Kingdom in his final exam. He worked for a time in the British Civil Service in London but, suffering ill-health, he returned home to Kilkenny, intending to practice as a solicitor here.
Always concerned with the rights of the individual, he used his position in London to secure an extra day’s leave for employees when a public holiday fell on a Sunday , which became known as ‘The Doheny Holiday ‘.
Back home the eccentric side of his character developed and he was known for volubly addressing the public on any and every subject from the window of his flat on the High Street. He wrote frequently to the newspapers, and was successful in becoming a member of Kilkenny Corporation. Here, in 1916, he updated the list of all the Corporation documents which had been previously catalogued by Patrick Watters, Town Clerk, in the 19th century.
In 1926 his most famous exploit occurred. Unimpressed by the new state set up by the Treaty, he declared a ‘one-man republic ‘. To mark the occasion and to assert his independence, he threw a stone through the window of the Post Office and surrendered to a lone policeman. He duly appeared in court, fully expecting a prison sentence, but was adjudged to be insane and sentenced to a period in a mental hospital. The playwright, Denis Johnston, was so indignant at what he considered a cruel miscarriage of justice in this most degrading punishment, that, as he said, ‘to commemorate this heart-breaking old man, he wrote a play called ‘The Golden Cuckoo ‘, based on the incident.
As you might expect, his legal business did not thrive, and he was eventually forced to retire to the County Home in Thomastown, there to be supported for the rest of his life by the state he had rejected. From there, he wrote lengthy letters to all and sundry, many of whom he had never met nor who had ever heard of him. At times his writing showed a subtlety of humour as in one letter he wrote about 1916 :

A Kilkenny Happening
Kilkenny has its own way of celebrating Easter Week.
A bull crashed in through the window of no.98 O’Donovan Rossa St.
(nation-minded people call it by the name given to it by the
Corporation, slave-minded people still call it High Street) on the
Tuesday of Easter Week, 1927.

Despite his apparent aggressive views, Francis was judged to be a considerate and courteous person who always behaved in a gentlemanly manner. Apart from politics his great interest was in phonetics, on which he wrote extensively. He developed a phonetic alphabet of which no copy appears to have survived.
His assessment of his fellow solicitors, in alliterative form, caused much amusement in legal circles:

Doheny’s deeds are dexterously drafted,
Crotty’s conveyances are conspicuously correct,
Lanigan’s leases last longest,
Poe’s processes prompt payment,
Harte’s haddendums are hitchless holdfast halters.

Francis died in the County Home, Thomastown on 13th February, 1962 and is buried in St. Kieran’s Cemetery.