Obituary Peter Alexander Smithwick, KM.

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Peter Alexander Smithwick, KM,

Died 8 March 2022

Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour & Devotion in Obedience

Former Regent of the Sub-Priory of St Oliver Plunkett

Former President of the Irish Association

Born on 15th February 1937, to Walter and Eileen Smithwick of Kilcreene Lodge, Peter received his primary education at Loreto Convent School in Kilkenny and thereafter he was a boarder at Castleknock College in Dublin. He proceeded to read for his degree in Law at University College Dublin, where he sharpened his debating skills in the Literary & Historical Society (founded in 1854 by St. John Henry Newman). After graduation, Peter was admitted into the Law Society of Ireland and became a solicitor in 1958. He gained his early legal professional experience with his father’s practice in Kilkenny, and he represented the ninth generation of his family to be involved with the Kilkenny brewery that bears its name. It was founded by John Smithwick in 1710, and Peter was guest-of-honour at its tercentenary celebrations. Though it had been bought by Guinness (now Diageo) in 1965, he remained on its Board of Directors. He was appointed a judge of the District Court in 1988, and within three months he was appointed its President, and he served in that role until his retirement in 2005. Lauded as ‘a skilled gentleman with the common touch’, (Irish Independent, 8 December 2013), he was noted for his integrity, equanimity, astuteness, courtesy and compassion – he was an adherent of the principle that the quality of justice should be tempered with mercy. His sartorial standards, of three-piece pinstripe suit and bowler hat, when en-route to court also attracted approval from a public wearied of the fashionable inelegance that passes for sophistication. Alas, his intended post-judicial pursuits in historical research were postponed when he was almost immediately appointed to conduct a tribunal of enquiry into alleged Garda collusion in the murder of two RUC officers in South Armagh in 1989.  This in itself is testimony to the universally high regard in which he was held. Known as ‘The Smithwick Tribunal’, it reported its findings on 3 December 2013. Shortly afterwards, Peter’s health, sadly, went into decline.

Peter was descended from Robert Smithwick, an Englishman, who arrived in Ireland during the 1620s to serve Richard Boyle, the first earl of Cork (1566-1643). By the late seventeenth century, his grandson, Henry, married into the Grace family (prominent among the ancient Catholic nobility of Ormond & Ossory), and thereafter the Smithwick family became established among the county families of Kilkenny. Among his Gaelic-Irish ancestry was the O’ Kelly de Gallagh (Gurtray Line) of the House of Festus O’Kelly de Gallagh et Tycooly in East Galway, which had been raised to the dignity of Count by Empress Maria Theresa in 1767. Of that family, Ambrose Alexander (Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour & Devotion), Joseph and Alban were among the founding members of the Irish Association of the Order of Malta. In 1962, Peter followed his relatives and his father, Walter, into the Order’s knighthood. Such deep connection with the Order was a prime motivation in Peter’s long and distinguished service to it and to all its various charitable works. In 1971, he took the vow of Obedience. In 1994, he was elected vice-president of the Irish Association of the Order, and in 2000, he was elected its president – a position he held for three terms until 2009. Thereafter, he served as Regent of the Sub-Priory of St Oliver Plunkett. It was during his presidency that St John’s House was renovated and the new extension was built to accommodate the Ambulance Corps’ national headquarters and first-aid/emergency medicine training facilities. In 2004, in recognition of his services, he was awarded the distinction of Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour & Devotion. A most affable, principled, wise and witty gentleman, who bore witness to his deeply held faith, Peter Alexander Smithwick epitomised Christian Chivalry in a world that needs it. He will be greatly missed.

To his wife, Deirdre, daughters, Thalia and Aoife, sister Judy, and grandchildren, Diarmuid, Oisín, Isabel, Nicky and Marina, we his confrères and consoeurs in the Irish Association of the Order of Malta, and our volunteers in all our hospitaller and charitable services, extend our deepest and sincere condolences.


Lux Aeterna Luceat Ei, Domine

Details of his funeral arrangements may be viewed on

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