On 13th August 1890, a large crowd gathered at O’Connell Bridge in Dublin as a man in swimming costume, perched on the battlements. The following day, the Irish daily newspaper Freeman’s Journal reported:
On the approach of several policemen he dived into the river, and went through some fancy swimming exhibitions. The swimmer proved to be the famous Tommy Burns, of Liverpool. who had a most extraordinary encounter with a shark while giving an exhibition of the New Brighton Pier last week.
Several newspapers described how Tommy swam to the steps of Eden Quay where a cab was waiting for him but the ‘guardians of the peace’ stopped the vehicle, arrested him and took him to Store Street police station where he was charged ‘with jumping into the Liffey and thereby attracting a crowd which completely blocked the traffic’.
He appeared at Northern Police Court the following day when a police witness told how he stopped the cab and a crowd gathered. Tommy’s defence suggested: ‘Then you caused the obstruction.’
The magistrate, Mr O’Donel, wasn’t convinced by the defence case. He said there was no doubt that the accused was legally guilty but he did not think it necessary to impose a fine. The Freeman’s Journal later reported:
He [the magistrate] hoped he would give an undertaking for his own sake not to jump into the Liffey again. He would advise him to confine himself to the Mersey, and to keep out of the Liffey.
The Manchester Evening News also reported the court case and described how a policeman testified that the dive took place when the tide was only half in … ‘a circumstance which startled the magistrate, owing to the well-known horrible stench of the river’.
Manager Harry Montague ‘amid great laughter’ stated that Tommy was the champion diver of the world. He said he had bet him the price of a new hat that he wouldn’t dive into the river. The report continued:
Mr Montague said the police had treated Burns very kindly, and allowed him to take brandy after his arrest. – The magistrate: Indeed, I think he must have required it after being ten minutes in the Liffey (Laughter.)