There was neither room nor food at the inn for a heavily pregnant mother, her husband, their four children and two elderly grandparents because they were Travellers, Judge John O’Connor said in the Circuit Civil Court.
And after excoriating the senior staff and the owner, Charlie Chawke, of the well-known Orchard Inn at Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham, Dublin, for its policy relating to Travellers he awarded the family €33,000 damages for defamation.
“What happened at the Orchard Inn on Sunday 11th September 2016, in Ireland at the close of the second decade of the 21st Century is shocking,” Judge O’Connor said.
“It’s reminiscent of a dark period of Irish history that we thought was over,” he told barrister Kevin D’Arcy, counsel for Freda, Patrick, Kathleen and Larry Connors who the judge described as a very decent family that had been the subject of humiliation and denigration.
“It should never have happened,” Judge O’Connor said. “There was a clear policy that they were to be excluded and I would advise the owner that he should change that.”
He said that on that particular day the Connors family was never going to get in to the Orchard pub-restaurant and it was simply because of their ethnicity and a deliberate policy to exclude Travellers.
Judge O’Connor said the evidence of the bar restaurant manager, Wayne Buggle, who had refused them entry, had been evasive and the court had found it disturbing that throughout his evidence he had kept referring to the Connors family as “these people”.
The judge said he found the evidence of another defence witness untruthful and although one witness who had been an independent witness called by the defence had been truthful he found his evidence more helpful to the Connors family’s case.
Judge O’Connor told Mr D’Arcy, who appeared for the family with Spellman Callaghan Solicitors, Clondalkin, that the effect on Mrs Freda Connors, (aged 31) whose family reside at Stocking Hill, Rathfarnham, had been particularly disturbing.
She was a heavily pregnant young mother who had her little children with her.
Judge O’Connor did not accept that when asked by Wayne Buggle if he had a reservation Patrick Connors had immediately said “Get out of my way or I’ll slit your throat.”
Mr D’Arcy told the court the family had turned up at the restaurant for Sunday lunch and had been refused entry allegedly because they did not have a booking.
While they were remonstrating with Mr Buggle, other families were walking in without being asked whether they had a booking or not.
Counsel said there had been an incident in the Orchard Inn several weeks previously involving a Traveller group not associated with his clients and it was his case the Connors had been excluded because they were Travellers.
A priest who had just lunched in the restaurant, Fr Derek Farrell, knew them had told Mr Buggle they were a respectable family.
Judge O’Connor, stating that he believed the Connors were excluded because of the incident weeks earlier in the pub, awarded Ms Freda Connors €15,000 damages and awarded €6,000 damages to Patrick, Kathleen and Larry Connors.
The judge told Mr D’Arcy he would award Circuit Court costs in each case against The Orchard Inn which is likely to tot up to more than €100,000 for all parties costs including defendants costs.