Eddie Synnott

The death took place on Tuesday last, March 8th, of Judge Peter Alexander Smithwick, at the age of 85.

The late Judge Peter Smithwick.

Born on February 15th 1937, into the famous family who brewed Smithwick’s ale for several generations in Kilkenny City until it was acquired by Guinness (Diageo) in 1965, Peter Smithwick grew up in the family’s country home at Kilcreene Lodge and was educated at Loreto Convent, Kilkenny, Castleknock College and UCD. He joined his father Walter’s solicitors’ practice in 1958 and took over the practice on his father’s retirement. He also succeeded his father as Director of Smithwick’s Brewery.

Peter Smithwick was a Freeman of Kilkenny, served as chairman of the Kilkenny branch of the Council for the Blind, was a former president of the Order of Malta in Ireland and a committee member of the Butler Society.

An active Fianna Fáil member, he was director of elections for 12 Dáil, Presidential and European elections and Referenda from 1961 until his appointment as a judge, when he ceased to be actively involved in politics. He was also a member of the Fianna Fáil National Executive, secretary of Kilkenny Comhairle Dáil Ceanntair and secretary of Glenmore Comhairle Ceanntair.

In 1988, he was appointed a judge and later appointed President of the District Court, serving in that position until 2005.

Having retired as President of the District Court in 2005, Judge Smithwick was appointed sole member of a tribunal of inquiry into alleged garda collusion in the murders of two RUC officers, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan.


The Smithwick Tribunal

It was probably as his role as sole member of The Smithwick Tribunal that Judge Peter Smithwick will be best known and remembered for.

The tribunal was set up as a result of report, published in October 2003, by Peter Cory a Canadian judge who was commissioned by the Irish government to investigate the killing of the two officers and to determine if there were grounds for a public inquiry.

In his report Judge Smithwick said that although there was no “smoking gun”, he was “satisfied that the evidence points to the fact that there was someone within the Garda station (Dundalk) assisting the IRA”.

The judges report resulted in an apology from the then Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter for the failings identified in the report. The Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan described the notion of collusion between members of An Garda Siochana and the IRA as “horrifying”, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny saying that the report was “shocking”


Tributes to late judge

There were many tributes paid to the late judge, including one from the current President of the District Court, Judge Paul Kelly, who described him as “a real old school gentleman” and “a pleasure to appear before”.

Ms Mary Laverty S.C. spoke of the late judge as “a Renaissanc man”, interested in history and law, who spoke Irish. She went on: “He was a man of the people who treated everyone with respect… Above all, he was a Kilkenny man who was very proud of the contribution his family made to Kilkenny”, adding that “He was a delightful man, a devoted family man who made everyone feel better for knowing him”.

Constance Cassidy S.C., who was regularly involved in cases before the late judge, said that she was sorry to hear of his death, describing him as a “very hard worker, very fair, astute, courteous and a top class judge”. She continued: “He was both an old style gentleman and ahead of his him as he very much encouraged female practitioners”.

At his Requiem Mass, his daughter Thalia spoke of her father as a “kind and understanding” man “who was always there for us”. She went on to tell a story about accompanying him through the Four Courts when she was a student, describing how she was mortified by people bowing to him. When she asked him if he was embarrassed by this he replied that they were not bowing to him but to his role.

Aoife Smithwick described her father as an intellectual man, who was “truly a very good person, we were very privileged to have him as our father”.

Judge Peter Smithwick’s burial took place in the grounds of St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, on March 11th, following Requiem Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. He is survived by his wife Deirdre, children Thalia and Aoife, sister Judy, grandchildren Diarmuid, Oisín, Isabel, Nicky and Marina, extended family and friends.

He was predeceased, in February 2022, by his brother Paul who received an OBE for his service to British-Irish relations.

The late Paul and Judge Peter Smithwick pictured at the official launch of the Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny. Photo: Andres Poveda Photography.