After Stoneybatter became a Viking settlement it was known as Oxmantown. When it had the biggest cattle market in these islands it was nicknamed Cowtown. Nowadays judging by the street fashions and cafe customers it often feels more like Courtown.
This area of Dublin city centre often features in Irish crime novels and films – and in real-life crime reports on TV too. Not so much because it has an especially high crime rate, more because it’s where a large volume of crimes (and civil disputes) throughout in the State are processed by that sausagemeat factory better known as Our Legal System.
In the back streets of Smithfield and Stoneybatter you’d often come across characters in plain jackets or raincoats, without a cap or clip-on tie, but wearing tell-tale dark navy trousers and sky blue shirts: the uniform of the Garda Siochana. Police officers. Guards.
The barrister and judge types you can tell from their black suits and the occasional black gown, with their glowing white starched shirts and stiff wing collars, often unbuttoned. The two strips of white linen (about one inch by five) hanging down the front of the neck are known as bands.
Some female barristers might wear a white blouse with bands like their male counterparts. More commonly they’d go for a starched white all-in-one “collarette” (sometimes “coletterie”) or bib covering their neckline, with bands and a tall “Mandarin” style collar. I’m no fashion guru – I came across these terms during research for my next book.
Or at least from memory I thought these garments were all white. In fact there are many variants, in many colours.
On the Web I came across a splendid firm of Donegal tailors based on the Inishowen Peninsula called Moville Clothing. They specialise in handmade barrister shirts (and clerical garb).
Sometimes the legal types bustling along the pavements are weighed down with folders of legal papers. Or they’re followed by a “junior” dragging one other vital fashion accessory behind them: a rolling “wheelie” suitcase packed with court documents. But you’d rarely see barristers wearing their wigs on the street.
The new rule defused what had become an increasingly bitter debate in the profession whether it was appropriate to cleave to anachronistic modes of dress – even as a traditional and undoubtedly recognisable uniform – and avoided a more drastic solution, such as the abandonment of wigs or gowns altogether.
As for The Accused, they have a different dress code altogether.
A final word about solicitors, who sometimes appear as advocates in court. They’d be in ordinary suits and aren’t required to wear the gown palaver.