Obituary: Gerald Darling

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The Independent Online
Gerald Darling spent all his professional life in legal circles in London where he practised at the Admiralty Bar, but returned on retirement to his native Omagh, Co Tyrone.

He was born in 1921, in Erganagh Rectory, where his grandfather Gerald Moriarty was Rector, and his commitment to Northern Ireland was a strong theme throughout his life. Academically he was a high flier. His first school was at Omagh. A scholarship to Harrow followed where, with a Gold Medal for a Greek essay, he took a Classics scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford. Yet, when he won a prize to visit Greece, war prevented him from taking it up and ironically, despite his lifelong love of the Classics, he never set foot in the wine-dark sea of Homer.

At the age of 18 he began an outstanding career in the RNVR, from 1940 to 1946, as a Fleet Air Arm pilot, later becoming Chief Test Pilot with the Mediterranean Fleet. A dangerous job and few of his colleagues survived the war. He himself crash-landed, suffering severe injuries including a smashed pelvis. The prognosis was that he would never walk again but following the Greek motto on his aircraft, meaning "Know Thyself", he characteristically defied all the odds, learning to ride again both horse and bicycle. He maintained his connection with the Navy through the RNVR, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander.

When the war ended he returned to Oxford to complete his degree before being called to the Bar, by the Middle Temple. He specialised in Admiralty work and became leader of the Admiralty Bar, taking silk in 1967 and being called to the Bench in 1972. He was an international authority on salvage at sea and was awarded the Lloyd's Silver Medal in 1991 (previously awarded to a Russian cosmonaut).

In 1979 he was invited by the Queen Mother to become Admiralty Judge to the Cinque Ports when she became Lord Warden. It was an office he greatly cherished.

On the death of his father in 1958 he had inherited Crevenagh House, near Omagh, where, from his schooldays, he had spent many happy holidays with his extended family. He was proud of his descent from the Auchinleck family who had always lived there, and resolved to maintain it as a family home despite his ties to life in London. (In his London office you would find a Donegal landscape and a map showing the wartime achievements of Ulster.)

In 1990 he became Deputy Lieutenant of Co Tyrone and in 1993 High Sheriff. In his obsequies address Bishop Hannon of Clogher paid tribute to Gerald Darling's contribution to the work of Edenderry parish, where he had served as parish secretary. In the townlands of Omagh his roots went deep. Bishop Hannon related how, before a major court appearance, Darling would ease the tension by thinking of his favourite spots on the river, the snipe bogs and mountains of Tyrone. Strangely, after a lifetime of trout-fishing, he caught his first salmon only last year. One of his family remembers the fishing picnics in childhood - "as unfortunately a mizzly day is good for fishing the picnics were often rather damp affairs".

But that was balanced by the warmth of bedtime stories in the family flat in the Middle Temple where it is said the family below, willy-nilly, added to the appreciative audience for Darling's dramatic readings of Winnie the Pooh. He would, friends say, have been equally at home as a farmer, taking great pride in his forestry and Belted Galloway cattle and never more at home than working in ragged jeans with his chainsaw.

A permanent record of Gerald Darling his distinction as a lawyer will be his contribution to that definitive work, Halsbury's Laws of England (Admiralty and Ship Collisions), the third edition of 1952. In 1992 he was made an Honorary Bencher of the Northern Ireland Bar.

Roy Bradford

Gerald Ralph Auchinleck Darling, barrister-at-law: born Erganagh, Co Tyrone 8 December 1921; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1950, Bencher 1972, Treasurer 1991; Barrister, Northern Ireland 1957, Honorary Bencher 1992; RD 1967; QC 1967; member, Panel of Lloyd's Arbitrators in Salvage Cases 1967-78, Appeal Arbitrator 1978-91; member, Panel of Wreck Commissioners 1967-96; QC, Hong Kong 1968; Judge, Admiralty Court of the Cinque Ports 1979-96; trustee, Royal Naval Museum 1985-90; Lloyd's Silver Medal 1991; married 1954 Susan Hobbs (one son, one daughter); died Londonderry 13 September 1996.