Membership of the Society is open to anyone. Our Society includes members of the judiciary, practising lawyers, academic lawyers, historians, students and members of the general public.
The Irish Legal History Society examines, explores and engages with all issues relating to legal history on the island of Ireland, from earliest times to the present day. Founded in 1988, the Society holds two Discourses annually, as well as publishing scholarly works on a range of legal history subjects. On this website you can see our range of publications, you can find out about our recent and future events, as well as information about joining.
The 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Legal History takes place from 21-24 November in Boston, Massachusetts. Full details about the conference are available here.
These Conferences have taken place since 1973. The 2020 Conference will be held in Chicago, Illinois.
The Irish Legal History Society was deeply saddened to hear of the death of our friend, colleague and former President, Sir Anthony Hart.
Sir Anthony was a founder member and one of the first two Vice-Presidents of the Irish Legal History Society. He served as President from 1991 to 1994, during which period he invested much time and attention in widening the membership of the Society, not least in the United States of America. His service to the Council of the Society continued unbroken until his death. His contribution to the development of the Society was wise, unassuming, influential, and sustained. Through his membership of the Selden Society and his regular attendance at the British Legal History Conferences, he was an enthusiastic source of encouragement to many young legal historians and won many friends for the Irish Legal History Society.
Sir Anthony was awarded the Gold Medal of the Society in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to legal scholarship. The author of A History of the King’s Serjeants at Law in Ireland (2000), and A History of the Bar and Inn of Court of Northern Ireland (2013) he also published papers in the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly and in two volumes in the Society’s collected discourses series.
Throughout his career, his commitment to historical research and to reconciliation was inspiring. In the days to come many tributes will be paid to him for his career as a lawyer and his legacy as a judge as well as his work chairing the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland. At this tragic time, the Society wishes to pay its own tribute to his considerable contribution to the scholarship of legal history and its appreciation across Ireland.
The British Legal History Conference will be held in St Andrews, Scotland, from 10-13 July 2019. The conference theme is Comparative Legal History.The theme builds upon F.W. Maitland’s famous observation that 'history involves comparison', and that those who ignore every system but their own 'hardly came in sight of the idea of legal history'. The aim is to examine differences and similarities across a broad time-period to produce better approaches to the subject of legal history, combining depth of analysis with historical contextualization. Rather than comparing individual rules or searching for universal systems, the theme will take an intermediate approach the topic of comparative law, investigating patterns in legal norms, processes, and practice.
As always, there will be a strong Irish presence among both the papers and the delegates.
Registration is open until 31 May 2019. Full details about the programme and how to register are available here
The British Legal History Conference takes place at the University of St Andrew's, Scotland, from 10-13 July 2019. The theme of the conference is ‘Comparative Legal History’. The closing date for registration is fast approaching (31 May), and the programme can be viewed here.
There is a packed programme, with several contributions from Irish scholars and on Irish themes, covering a number of periods, including:
- Cordelia Beattie (Edinburgh), ‘Married Women’s Will-making in Late Medieval Ireland: A Comparative Approach’
- Riona Doolan (University College Cork), ‘Arson and the Death Penalty in Early Irish Legal Material.'
Kevin Costello (University College Dublin), will deliver a paper on ‘The Doctrine of Employment at Will in England and the United States, 1750-1870’.
As well as some 75 papers, the conference also includes four plenary sessions:
- Caroline Humfress (St Andrews), ‘Some Comparative Legal History: Lazarus and the Lawyers’
- Alice Taylor (KCL), ‘What’s does Scotland’s earliest legal tractate actually say (and what does it mean)?’
- Rebecca Probert (Exeter), ‘What Makes a Marriage? Religion, the State, and the Individual in the Long Nineteenth Century’
- Ian Williams (UCL), ‘James VI and I, Rex et Iudex: One King as Judge in Two Kingdoms’
The final plenary panel is comprised Lorna Drummond (Sheriff of Tayside and Fife); Geoff Lindsay (Justice, Supreme Court of New South Wales)and Hector MacQueen (Edinburgh – Formerly Scottish Law Commission).
To round everything off, there will be a walking tour of St Andrew's and a Ceilí on Friday.
Recent issues of the Law and History Review have included articles on aspects of Irish Legal History:
- Lynsey Black, “On the other hand the accused is a woman…”: Women and the Death Penalty in Post-Independence Ireland' (2018) 36(1) Law and History Review 139-172 (available here)
- Ciara Molloy, 'The Failure of Feminism? Rape Law Reform in the Republic of Ireland, 1980–2017' (2018) 36(4) Law and History Review 689-71 (available here)
Law and History Review is one of America's leading legal history journals, encompasses American, European, and ancient legal history issues.
January 2019 saw the launch of Patrick Hyde Kelly's edition of William Molyneux’s The Case of Ireland’s Being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England, Stated.
Regarded as the most celebrated Irish political pamphlet published before 1801, William Molyneux’s Case of Ireland, stated (1698) was written to demonstrate that English statutes did not have force in Ireland until they had been re-enacted by the Irish parliament.
The book was launched at Iveagh House on Friday 25 January by Professor Ian MacBride.
The book is available for purchase from Four Courts Press, and is free to members of the Society.
2019 marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which facilitated access to the legal profession for women.
Dr Judith Bourne, ambassador for the First 100 Years Project, spoke at Queen's University Belfast on 8 March to reflect on this historic change and explore the story of Helena Normanton, the first woman to practice as a barrister in England. Normanton was the first woman to be admitted to an Inn of Court after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and was called to the Bar in 1922. Normanton would go on to be one of two first women King's Counsels and one of the few women to maintain a practice at the bar at this time.
Dr Bourne is a Senior Lecturer at St Mary's University, Twickenham.
Judge Liz Goldthorpe delivered the 2019 Spring Discourse on the subject of Averil Deverell BL, the second woman called to the Bar of Ireland and the first to practice in the South. Deverell went down to the Law Library to practise in January 1922, and remained in practice until her retirement in 1969. She was among the first group of women graduates from Trinity College, University of Dublin, obtaining her law degree in 1915. She died in 1979 and in her will left a bequest setting up a lectureship in the Law School of Trinity College.
The Honourable Society of the King's Inns holds an archive of Averil Deverill's papers, details of which can be found here.
The Spring Discourse took place on Friday 22 February at the Law Society of Ireland, and was well-attended.
Regarded as the most celebrated Irish political pamphlet published before 1801, William Molyneux’s Case of Ireland, stated (1698) was written to demonstrate that English statutes did not becomeof force in Ireland until they had been re-enacted by the Irish parliament. For all its fame, The Case’s mass of legal precedents and seemingly contradictory arguments make it a work that requires elucidation for the modern reader. This new edition presents a critical text, based on the manuscripts of The Case in the Trinity College Dublin library, together with explanatory notes, and a re-examination of the historical background and the sources on which Molyneux drew. The arguments in The Case, set out in a form analogous to presenting a legal case in court, are shown to be a significant response to the contemporary pamphlet debate on Irish woollen exports and the legal competence of the Irish house of lords, rather than the stand-alone publication the book has often been treated as.
August 2018. 336pp; ills.
Available free of charge to all members of the Society, or for purchase from Four Courts Press
Patrick Hyde Kelly is a fellow emeritus of Trinity College Dublin. A specialist in the history of political and economic thought in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Ireland and Britain, he has edited Locke on money (2 vols, Oxford, 1991) for The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke.
The University of Edinburgh's Centre for Legal History provides a lively social and scholarly focus for the active research community at the University of Edinburgh and beyond. The University has a long tradition in the field, as the Chair of Civil Law was founded in 1710, with Civil Law taught continuously in the University since then. Major interests pursued are Roman law, the learned laws in the Middle Ages, the history of law in Europe, the history of Scots law, and legal history in Louisiana. The interests of the Centre avoid a narrow focus on law as rules, and research is typically comparative and interdisciplinary, drawing on a wide range of sources.
The Centre organises a number of seminars and lecture programmes:
- The Edinburgh Roman Law Group, founded by the late Professor Peter B. H. Birks when he held the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh, presents a regular and lively programme of speakers on Roman law.
- The Alan Watson Seminar for Legal History, also initiated by Professor Birks, holds interdisciplinary seminars on medieval and early modern law in historical context.
- A more recent initiative is the programme of Ancient Law in Context organised with Ancient History (in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology). This offers an interdisciplinary research network exploring law and economic and social development, bringing together specialists in ancient law and all aspects of ancient history – social, economic, and political.
- The Henry Goudy Seminar meets once a month during term time to discuss works of classical literature.
- Finally, the Centre holds the biennial (sometimes annual) Peter Chiene Lecture, bringing in a distinguished legal historian to speak. From time to time, the Centre also sponsors and organises specialist conferences and seminars, such as those on the medieval ius commune (from casus to regula) and humanism (ad fontes).
- The Centre also holds relaxed social events through the year.
The Centre seeks to engage with the wider community, and does this largely through its blog, the Edinburgh Legal History Blog, which is written by John W. Cairns, Paul J. du Plessis, Guido Rossi, and other members of the Centre.
University of East Anglia, Norwich, 3-4 April 2019
The traditional—and still popular—image of the ‘feudal’ political order of the Middle Ages is one of anarchic knights and overmighty barons pursuing selfish ends to the detriment of peace and justice. Our teleological narrative thus explains the emergence of the modern state by the rise of centralised monarchies which abolished private conflict and introduced ‘commonweal’. The medieval aristocracy, in this telling, is a negative force, a symptom of the collapse of the Roman imperium and an impediment to human flourishing.
However, recent work has questioned this characterisation of the baron’s role in government and the conception of public good, as well as the benevolence of centralised governments themselves. Is the vilification of medieval lords not another case of history written by the victors? ‘Noblesse oblige?’ intends to host a discussion and reevaluation of baronial government and aristocratic commitment to the common good in the Middle Ages.
The two-day conference will be held on the University of East Anglia campus in Norwich on the 3rd and 4th of April 2019, and will begin with a keynote address by Prof. Martin Aurell, director of the Centre d’Études Supérieures de Civilisation Médiévale, Université de Poitiers, and author of many books on aristocratic culture.
Papers of twenty minutes in length are welcome from both emerging and established scholars of baronial political culture, with special reference to questions surrounding their ‘public’ role. Examples within this theme might include the moral nature of a baro, connexions between the aristocracy and religious reform, images of good governance in vernacular texts, noble opposition to tyranny, or aristocratic women as channels for justice and mercy. We aim to incorporate a broad chronological range of papers, and especially invite explorations of change over time. We also welcome points of comparison with aristocratic political culture from outside Europe or Christendom.
Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to the conference organisers at firstname.lastname@example.org, along with the applicant’s name, affiliation (including independent scholar), and a 150-word biography. We hope to have bursaries available to assist postgraduate, unwaged, and international participants. The organisers eagerly look forward to receiving and reading all submissions. The deadline is October 31, 2018.
Gregory Lippiatt and Richard Daines: email@example.com.
University of East Anglia
Norwich Research Park
The 2018 Autumn Discourse was delivered by the Hon. Sir Donnell Deeny at the Graduates Memorial Building, Trinity College Dublin on Friday 23 November.
The title of the Presidential Address was:
"The Trials of Arthur Donnelly: A Cause Célèbre of the 1870s"
The Rt Hon Lord Justice Deeny is a Privy Councillor, as well as the Pro Chancellor of Dublin University. His paper was followed by lively discussion. Members of the Society were then invited to a reception hosted by the Provost, marking thirty years since the foundation of the Society in 1988.