This volume in the Irish Legal History series is concerned with what can be learned of popular attitudes to law, lawyers and the legal system in Ireland over the last 250 years or so, from folk, literary and other materials.
Like the church, the pub and the marketplace, the courthouse has long been a central feature of Irish social life – but not always as the perceived seat of justice. Here the many facets of law in rural Ireland are brought to light: law as a game of speculation; as a means of communication; as a weapon to be employed against an enemy; or even as a form of cheap entertainment.
Various characters drift in and out of the stories – some famous, some unknown – each contributing to the vivid tapestry of Irish legal experience. Cases range from the most trivial of lawsuits to the most heinous of murders. We see the tricks of lawyers and witnesses as they do battle in the courtroom; the use of bribery and ‘influence’; prejudice; perjury; alternative methods of dispute resolution, the role of the church and the influence of the supernatural. All this helps to place the courts in their true social context: putting flesh on the bones of legal history.
Éanna Hickey is a Dublin-based barrister.