The judge wore no wig and his face was a mask of bewilderment. The case was going ahead, he was told. At the back of the court sat Mrs Van Morrison, the reclusive housewife formerly known as Michelle Rocca. A few feet away sat her opponents and neighbours, Desmond and Mary Kavanagh. They don't know no rock 'n' roll.
This was midday Thursday. Since Tuesday evening, the judge, Michael Hanna, had given the parties as much room as possible to settle their differences. He had warned that if they couldn't then it "was going to cost a lot of money" for somebody.
Usually in these situations, sense prevails and a settlement is reached. There is a little give and a little take on both sides. Usually, the matter at issue is a sum of money.
This case was not usual. Despite all the time in the world no settlement could be reached. What was at stake was not a sum of money, but a number of trees, their height, their character, their… ladies and gentlemen, please, Mr Van Morrison… their soul.
At issue was an alleged breach of the Morrisons' privacy. Their neighbours, the Kavanaghs, had built what was described in court as a "Celtic Tiger-type home" next door in the salubrious Dublin suburb of Dalkey. How times have changed. A little while ago, owning a Celtic Tiger-type home would have been a sign that you had arrived among the well-padded ranks of the super rich. Now it is delivered as an insult, an insinuation of vulgarity, at a time when the little people are struggling.
Anyway, there were supposed to be enough trees between the respective pads to ensure the Morrison clan retained their privacy. Michelle is not happy with the outcome and launched a High Court judicial review. She blames Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown council for not enforcing the requisite conditions on the Kavanaghs. The trees are not up to scratch. Her Avalon sunset is all over the shop.
In Court 13, they had it out. Present were at least five barristers, including two senior counsel. Unlike the Dalkey neighbours, Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown only hired a junior counsel. There were at least four solicitors. Ching ching. During these straitened times, it's good to see that at least a few legal eagles were swooping to pick up their fill of choice bread.
There was no sign of Van. Perhaps he was at home, singing his lovely song, It's not easy bein' green, looking out his window in search of enlightenment, and seeing only blue skies, where there should be lots of trees.
The Morrisons' barrister Eamon Galligan ran through a number of affidavits, placing particular emphasis on one from an arborist, which is a professional in the study of trees. The point was to demonstrate how the Kavanaghs had not complied with the planning regulations on trees. The going was soft, to say the least.
At one point the judge remarked that it might be difficult to see the wood from the trees, and Galligan replied that he was glad the judge made that observation and not him.
There was comment within the document of what a tree actually was, "in the sense of a tall, single-stem, woody plant".
One issue was whether or not the Kavanaghs knew a tree when they saw it, or even thought about it. Galligan pointed out, "They can't remove their trees. What is in their mind is not the issue, it is what is in compliance."
The judge looked on, trying hard to maintain the demeanour of Job and failing miserably. Everybody else appeared to be on the brink of expiring from boredom. Van was out at the ranch, delving through his back pages to find some solace in a life shorn of trees.
"And it smells like rain, maybe even thunder/ Won't you keep us from all harm, wonderful redwood tree."
Some devastating logic was introduced to proceedings. "The implication of a tree survey is that any trees not listed for felling are assumed to be retained." No argument there, and one and one is two. Ching ching.
At one point during the stand-off, the Kavanaghs had proposed growing bay laurel as a substitute because "the height of bay laurel can get up to 20 metres". But there was no codding Michelle's people with that line. It was pointed out that the "record height in Ireland is 12 metres".
By now, trees, and all that they are, and all that they could be, were taking on an existential character. A whole new world was opening up. The weighty tome of choice in the case was The Law of Trees, Forests and Hedgerows, which would undoubtedly beat the pants off John Grisham in plot and character.
The fare moved onto Michelle's affidavit. She does not have any confidence in the assurances of the Kavanaghs' tree guy that they were committed to a high standard of screening using trees and shrubs.
Still, there was no sign of Van. Every time the door opened all eyes turned to see if some enlightenment might walk right in and rescue the fare from ridicule. Did blues masters like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, from whom Van drew inspiration, ever fret over green screening from Celtic Tiger grandees? Half the time those boys were happy to find a tree under which to lay their heads, and now here was their spiritual offspring, up to his oxters in all this delicate foliage.
At one stage a guy called Ledbetter was introduced in an affidavit. Ears pricked up. HG Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, was a godfather of the blues, another who inhabited The Man's muse. Maybe we were leaving trees behind and moving onto music. But no, this guy was GT not HG Ledbetter and he was another tree guy rather than a blues man.
Friday dawned dark. Day four. Ching ching. Still no settlement in an action that was originally scheduled for two days. The judge wore his wig and did his best to maintain his patience. After less than half an hour, another tree on the road. One more affidavit from another tree guy, one more barrister pleading that he needs time to read it. There was some hullabaloo before judge Hanna took the matter in hand.
"I'm going to rise," he said. "Consider the affidavit, do whatever you like. I'm not at this stage going to listen to poniards being stuck into the other side. We're here for the fourth day now." He sounded like a man who wasn't best impressed with the use of the court's time. A poniard is a class of a dagger.
They came back at 2pm, and it turned out that more time was needed. The wig was again absent from the judge's head, which may have been an indicator of where his patience lay.
He pleaded with the barrister to get on with it, to keep going for the love of trees and all that is sane in the world. "My observations from the first day have become sharper and sharper," he said, referring to the ching ching issue.
Then, with no relief in sight, he threw in the towel. "I'm going to take charge," he said. "I will give you the facility of the rest of the afternoon. We three [himself and the two senior counsel] shall meet again at 11 o'clock on Monday."
He signalled that he is due back in the real world on Wednesday, the day he is due to hear a Hepatitis C case, which "must take priority".
"The parties may note there are a couple of clear days to next Monday. Perhaps those days can be used."
Don't bet on it. The principals all have deep pockets and obviously some strong notions about trees. Those old tree blues are set to run and run, till the last drop of sanity is drained from the case.
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