LIMERICK'S most dangerous criminals have his number on speed dial. He has represented the city's gangland figures in 15 murder trials. Yet he's considered by many in Limerick's legal profession to be a pariah.
So who is the real John Devane, public defenderextraordinaire or a self-publicist whose powers of self-aggrandisement know no bounds?
Sitting in the grounds of Limerick's courthouse building, the interview takes place in his black Mercedes CL200 Kompressor.
Devane, 44, tanned and wearing a pin-striped suit, cuts an imposing figure behind the leather-trimmed steering wheel. Business is obviously booming in a city that has become a brand name for crime.
But within five minutes, he's crying. He's talking about why he chooses to earn a living defending people accused of some of the most horrific crimes of modern Irish times. Suddenly we've digressed to how he grew up dirt poor with his mother and six siblings in a three-bed corporation house on the Roxboro Road in Limerick.
His eyes well up as he reveals that as a child he was raped repeatedly by a paedophile gang.
He talks with frightening candour about this: "I ended up being the kid at the centre of a paedophile ring. I had the first penis inserted in me when I was eight and the last one was when I was 14.
"I made a statement to the gardai about four years ago. The guy who was abusing me still passes me on the street and he laughs at me.
"I told the guards to let him know that if he continues to provoke me, that at some stage I'm going to kill him. I'm going to hit him with a hammer on the back of the head."
Devane's vivid descriptions of the abuse he suffered are shocking.
But he says he wants people to know exactly who he is, and exactly where he came from. He says he's sick of being an outcast in Limerick's legal fraternity. "The real me is someone who has bared my soul to you today, and I have no problem with people knowing that here is a guy with as dysfunctional a background, and as dysfunctional a youth as anyone could have. But I survived.
'One of the reasons I do the type of work I do, is because I have a particular empathy for these people and for what society has done to them, or has not done for them'
"The real me is someone who on the surface is very professional, but also very embittered because the powers that be, the various arms of theState - the health services, the guards, the schools - didn't help me out of what was an horrendous life.
"I wanted to commit suicide last March. I had planned it and everything. Professionally I shouldn't say that because they'll say, 'He's unhinged and this is the way to get him out.' I used to drink a lot to hide from the rapes and the perceived bullying I would have from my colleagues in the legal profession who wouldn't be seen sitting at the same table as me.
"But I'm paid to do a job and if certain members of society or of the establishment have their feathers ruffled, that's grand by me. Because when I tried to explain what happened to me as a child and how I needed protection now, it wasn't given to me.
"One of the reasons I do the type of work I do, is because I have a particular empathy for these people and for what society has done to them, or has not done for them."
Devane, a father of two, is now in Alcoholics Anonymous. He is not well liked in legal circles in Limerick because he undoubtedly courts publicity with brash class-action suits against the State for headline-grabbing causes such as prisoners who have to slop out.
He seems to have a contract with controversy, teaming up for everything from army deafness to nursing-home-payment claims.
Personally, he's also suing the State over the MRSA he contracted in hospital. His sister recently claimed he assaulted her. He won that case. He also recently clashed with a judge who publicly denounced him as a clown. The rate-your-solicitor website carries an unequivocal 'Avoid' beside his name.
But the criminal fraternity do anything but that. They have made him a wealthy, if evidently unhappy, man.
Devane was just six weeks old when his father died, leaving a 35-year-old widow. When he was 12 he was arrested for petty crime. Expelled from school at 15, he drifted through jobs as a private in the Irish Army, a disc jockey, a hospital porter, a store detective and a bar manager, before returning to sit his Leaving Certificate at the age of 26.
Half-way through his law degree course in UCC, he fell off a bike and suffered a massive brain haemorrhage. He was given a half an hour to live. He has spent many of those half hours in the company of extremely violent men in Limerick.
Devane says he's not in the least surprised by the latest atrocity in Limerick.
"The psyche of these guys is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I am only qualified 10 years but I have represented three generations of the one family. There's absolutely terrific money to be made in selling drugs on the streets of Limerick city and a lot of teenagers see it as the way out because sure you get a bit of time, but what's a bit of time when you are 15 or 16?
"The psyche of a lot of these guys is, 'Well, if I'm going up to prison, I'm going up to join the lads.' It's a sick and depraved way, but it's the reality."
Then he drives off in his big Merc, making more money and more enemies.
Brian Carroll (Sunday Independent)