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Sir William Moore (1864 - 1944):
Barrister, Politician, Judge

William Moore was only the second Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, capping a most distinguished legal career.

The eldest son of Dr William Moore, honorary physician to Queen Victoria, of Moore Lodge, Ballymoney, County Antrim and Sidney Blanche Fuller, William Moore was educated at Marlborough and Trinity College, Dublin where he was Vice-Chancellor’s Prizeman in English Composition, as well as Gold Medallist in Oratory and President of the University Philosophical Society (the “Phil”, one of Trinity’s two student debating societies), graduating with honours in Classics and Modern History.

Moore was called to the Irish Bar in 1887 and naturally joined the North East Circuit where he built up a steady practice, becoming a QC in April 1899, but “he devoted more time to politics than law” as his Irish Times obituary observed, and it was as a prominent Ulster Unionist that he was best known at this stage of his career. Moore, who was proud of his descent from a Plantation family, first entered Parliament as the Unionist MP for North Antrim in 1899, but lost that seat in the General Election of 1906. However, later the same year he was returned as MP for Armagh, retaining the seat until his appointment as a High Court judge in 1917.

During his almost two decades in Parliament Moore was a trenchant and influential proponent of the Unionist cause at Westminster and on party platforms in Ireland and in Great Britain. It was at his initiative that the preliminary meeting was called in December 1904 that led to the formation of the Ulster Unionist Council which was to play an important role in the organisation of Unionist resistance to the Third Home Rule Bill some years later, Moore being elected to its Standing Committee at the formation of the Council. For a period Moore served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to George Wyndham, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and was offered the post of Solicitor General for Ireland in the dying days of the Conservative government, although in the event the promotion did not take place.

In Opposition Moore continued his resistance to Home Rule and devolution, and although he was elected a Bencher of King’s Inns in 1910, it was not until 1915 that he received a significant legal position when he was appointed Senior Crown Counsel for Belfast. Parliamentary service was a well-trodden path to judicial appointment in Ireland, and according to his daughter Moore never concealed that he went into Parliament to get onto the bench. He achieved his ambition when he was appointed as a justice of the King’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland in 1917.

Given his political background it was unsurprising that when a judicial structure was created for Northern Ireland in 1921 Moore chose to transfer to it, and on 17 October 1921 was appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal in the new Northern Ireland Court of Appeal. As the senior judge after the incumbent Lord Chief Justice, Sir Denis Henry, Moore was closely involved in the detailed negotiations providing for the continued education of student barristers from Northern Ireland at King’s Inns in Dublin. Following Henry’s sudden death in October 1925 Moore was appointed Lord Chief Justice, and after the severance of relations with King’s Inns in the summer of 1925, it fell to Moore as Lord Chief Justice to preside over the meeting of judges and barristers that resulted in the formation of the Inn of Court of Northern Ireland in January 1926.

Moore was created a baronet in June 1932, and on 31 May 1933 had the satisfaction of presiding at the opening of the fine, but long delayed, Courts of Justice building in Chichester Street, Belfast. He retired on 1 December, 1937.

Described by the Belfast News Letter as “a man of striking personality and warm and generous nature”, Moore was awarded an honorary LLD by Queen’s University, Belfast in 1926 and by Dublin University in 1934.

In 1888 Moore married Helen Gertrude Wilson, and they had two sons and a daughter, the eldest son succeeding to the baronetcy on his father’s death in 1944.


Born: 22 November 1864
Died: 28 November 1944
AR Hart

Kenneth Ferguson (ed.): King’s Inns Barristers 1868-2004; F.E. Ball: Judges in Ireland 1221-1921; AR Hart: A history of the Inn of the Bar and Inn of Court of Northern Ireland; Alvin Jackson: The Ulster Party Irish Unionists in the House of Commons, 1884-1911, and Colonel Edward Saunderson Land and loyalty in Victorian Ireland; John F. Harbinson:The Ulster Unionist Party 1882-1973 its development and organisation; DIB; ILT & SJ lxix (1925) 255; Irish Times, 29 November, 1944: Belfast News Letter 29 November, 1944; www