The Ballygullion stories are a series of short stories in several volumes by author Lynn C. Doyle. (Anyone here familiar with them? I've never read them.)

The following anecdote was published in a law journal, as a true story. The fact that Ballygullion seems to be entirely fictional makes me doubt its authenticity. Can anyone tell me if it actually originated in Doyle's work?


Volenti non fit injuria.
--Scriblex is indebted to Courier for this story of Sergeant A. M. Sullivan, K.C., last of the old Sergeants-at-Law of the Irish Bar, who at the age of seventy-eight has now decided to retire from active legal practice.

The story, which will appeal at least to the common-law advocate, concerns his appearance for an Irish labourer injured at work and refused compensation. Unsuccessful in every Court, the plaintiff reached the House of Lords , where considerable argument centred round the Volenti non fit injuria doctrine. The appellant, a native of remote Ballygullion, had insisted upon being present, and had sat throughout "as expressionless as an Irish potato."

During the third day, one of the Law Lords cut Sullivan short with:"But surely your client must be taken to have heard of the doctrine volenti non fit injuria?" "My Lord," replied Sullivan, gravely, "in Ballygullion they talk of little else."

  • Are you asking whether Ballygullion is a real place? (It's not; it's apparently based on Slieve Gullion, though.)
    – CDR
    Commented Apr 25 at 0:17
  • No, I'm asking whether the anecdote, which was reported as real in a law journal, actually came from the stories.
    – Pete
    Commented Apr 25 at 0:24
  • 1
    @Pete - I've proposed an edit to make your question clearer, which is now wending its way through the approval process. The main change was to add details to the title. I also wrapped the "Anyone familiar?" section in parentheses to show that it's not the question. If you dislike these changes you can of course roll them back.
    – MJ713
    Commented Apr 25 at 4:47
  • I will note that A. M. Sullivan is at least a real person, though my cursory search through his memoir didn't turn up anything like this anecdote.
    – MJ713
    Commented Apr 25 at 5:13

2 Answers 2


Here is an appearance of the story from April 1949, that I found via the British Newspaper Archive. This predates the July 1949 New Zealand Law Journal article quoted in the question, and may perhaps be the original printed source for the story, if ‘Creevey’s use of “I recall” can be trusted.

The tall, gaunt, bearded octogenarian, Serjeant Sullivan, K.C., defender of Roger Casement, is another who does not accept Mr. Attlee’s glib assurance that the creation of an Irish Republic makes no difference to its citizens who are resident here. Counting himself now a foreigner, he has felt compelled to retire from practice at the English Bar. His striking figure will be much missed. So will his fearless humour. I recall in particular a flash of irony from him which delightfully exposed the pedantry of an over-meticulous Judge. The Serjeant’s client, a poor illiterate Irish peasant, was claiming damages for personal injury. The Judge took the view that there were legal objections. “Mr. Serjeant,” he protested, “has your client never heard of the maxim, volenti non fit injuria? (an injury is not done to a person who consents). The Serjeant fixed the Judge with a steely eye. “My Lord.” he retorted in his rich brogue, “in the village of Ballymena, from which my client comes, it is almost the sole topic of conversation.” He had no further trouble with that Judge.

‘Creevey’ (1949). ‘A Club Causerie’. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 29 April 1949, p. 2.

Note that in this version of the story Sullivan’s client comes from Ballymena (a real town in County Antrim) and not from the fictional Ballygullion. We must therefore understand the occurrence of “Ballygullion” in the New Zealand Law Journal article as being (among other embellished details like the plaintiff’s occupation and demeanour in court) an indication of memorization and recall: somewhere in the chain of transmission between the Yorkshire Post and the New Zealand Law Journal, someone could not remember the name of the town and substituted (accidentally or deliberately) the fictional name as a good enough equivalent.

The story collections Ballygullion (1908), The Shake of the Bag (1939), and Back to Ballygullion (1953) by Lynn C. Doyle are available on the Internet Archive, and you can check for yourself that they contain no mentions of Serjeant Sullivan, “volenti non fit injuria”, or the other elements from the ancedote.

Here are a few later retellings; note the variation in the location of the plaintiff’s home.

I am reminded of the story of a case from a little country town in Ireland, which had finally reached the highest court of appeal. One of the law lords at one stage interrupted counsel to suggest: “But surely, Mr. Sullivan, your client must be familiar with the maxim, Volenti non fit injuria”. “My Lord”, counsel replied, “in Ballygullion they talk of little else”.

George A. Johnson (1955). Osgoode Hall Lore: being an address given to The Lawyers Club in the convocation hall, Osgoode Hall, Toronto on April 14th, 1955, p. 3. Toronto: Law Society of Upper Canada.

There was once an Irish judge trying an action in tort between two semi-literate peasants from a remote comer of County Kerry. Suddenly turning to the counsel for one of them he said: “Surely your client is aware of the principle volenti non fit injuria.” “My lord,” replied counsel with deep seriousness, “up in the mountains where my client lives they talk of little else.”

Francis Cowper (1961). New York Law Journal 8-28-61, p. 4. Quoted in Eugene C. Gerhart, ed. (1969). Quote it! Memorable legal quotations, p. 261. New York: Clark Boardman.

Perhaps you recall the story of Sergeant Sullivan (the last of the sergeants), to whom the trial judge said, “Surely your client is familiar with the maxim, ‘volenti non fit injuria’.” Sergeant Sullivan replied, “My Lord, in County Kerry where my client lives, they talk of little else.”

Sanford D. Levy (1965). Review of Legal Ethics by Jerome E. Carlin. Bar Bulletin of the New York County Lawyers’ Association 23:5, p. 229.

  • Thank you for this useful information. I've been discussing this on another forum. Your cite is, I think, the earliest found so far.
    – Pete
    Commented Apr 25 at 15:10
  • @Pete It might be helpful if you could link us to that forum, in case there are any clues there. Commented Apr 25 at 15:12
  • There is at least one other book in the series (The Ballygullion bus) which I've not been able to find online. So it isn't yet conclusive that it didn't come from the series, but it does look likely that it didn't.
    – Pete
    Commented Apr 25 at 15:13
  • The Ballygullion Bus was published in 1957 so is unlikely to be the source for articles published in 1949. Commented Apr 25 at 15:15
  • Point taken. I've been discussing it on American Dialect Society. Here's all the discussions for the current month. listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2024-April/…
    – Pete
    Commented Apr 25 at 15:18

The two earliest citations in 1949 both credit A. M. Sullivan with the humorous riposte. Hence, it is helpful to determine what A. M. Sullivan wrote on this topic in his 1952 memoir.

Interestingly, Sullivan did not take credit for the line. Instead, Sullivan attributed the comical response to Henry Harte Barry of Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland.

The judge who enjoyed using Latin phrases was Sir John Chute Neligan, Recorder of Cork. Here is the pertinent excerpt from Sullivan’s memoir.

"Mr. Barry," he said on another occasion, "has your client never heard Sic utere tuo alienum non laedas?"

"Not a day passes, your Honour, on which he does not hear it. It is the sole topic of conversation where he lives at the top of Mushera mountain," replied old Henry Harte Barry , the doyen of Kanturk.

The Last Serjeant: The Memoirs of Serjeant A. M. Sullivan Q.C. (1952), Author: A. M. Sullivan (Alexander Martin Sullivan), Chapter 4: Personalities of the Bench, Quote Page 48, Published by Macdonald, London, Database: Internet Archive

Sullivan's tale was published in 1952 which is a few years after the 1949 citations, yet it is crucial because Sullivan disclaimed credit for the remark. Also, the Latin phrase differed from the phrase specified in 1949.

  • 1
    Good answer! Welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. Commented Apr 27 at 18:35
  • Thanks, Gareth. Congratulations on finding the excellent citation in April 1949. Commented Apr 28 at 16:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.