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. We are proud to partner with Queen’s University Belfast to host the British Legal History Conference 2022.
By Professor Patrick Geoghegan, President of the Irish Legal History Society
The Irish Legal History Society mourns the death of its founder, and former President, Professor W.N. Osborough MRIA, a wonderful friend and colleague, an inspiring teacher, and a giant in the world of Irish legal history scholarship.
As a distinguished lawyer and judge and former President of the Society has recognised: ‘Another great oak has fallen in the forest. We are unlikely to see his like again. He was a most distinguished scholar, a polymath, a renaissance man.’
It was Professor Osborough’s vision and determination that led to the creation of the Irish Legal History Society in 1988 and he established a steering group to draft the constitution, arranged the financial and administrative structure, devised a publicity campaign, and planned the publishing programme. From the beginning one of the greatest strengths of the Society was the all-Ireland nature of the organisation and many have commented on the connections it has fostered between historians and practising lawyers North and South over the past thirty-three years. It is one part of his remarkable legacy.
Nial epitomised all that is good about the Irish Legal History Society and from the very beginning we all benefitted from his intellectual curiosity and dynamism, the generous way he shared his unrivalled knowledge, and his friendship and support. In recent years we have honoured his contribution with the W.N. Osborough Composition Prize in Legal History and we plan to celebrate his immense contribution to the Society and to Irish legal history scholarship when this pandemic is over. Many tributes have been paid to him in recent days by former students and colleagues. For example, a former Attorney General for Northern Ireland mourned the loss of ‘this brilliant and loveable man, whose performative delight in our law was an enchantment’. A Pro Chancellor of the University of Dublin remembered ‘the gentleness of his manner and the breadth and acuity of his scholarship.’
Professor Osborough’s achievements go far beyond his contribution to the Society. Over many decades thousands of students benefitted from his erudition and scholarship and from the incredible way he was able to get people excited about whatever he was teaching, first at Queen’s University Belfast, then University College Dublin, moving to Trinity College Dublin, before returning to University College Dublin where he served as Dean of the School of Law. One of his former students has noted that ‘He taught a generation of Queen’s law students to think, probably for the first time. We certainly are in his debt. He even made a connection in one lecture, I remember, between John Stuart Mill and violin playing. I am not sure if anyone else has managed this.’
As a scholar Professor Osborough was remarkable. A former editor of The Irish Jurist, his books include a history of the UCD Law School, a legal history of the Irish Stage, and a litigation topography for Dublin, as well as many ground-breaking articles. Upon hearing of his death, an Irish Supreme Court judge noted that ‘His contribution to legal history in Ireland was simply immense, but that should not obscure his legacy as a lawyer . He published an article in or around 1976 on Irish practice in relation to suspended sentences which was an admirable piece of scholarship and which was still being cited in judgments in recent years’.
Shortly before his own death, Judge Adrian Hardiman wrote in the Dublin Review of Books of how he ‘remembers with appreciation his [Professor W.N. Osborough’s] vivid treatment of the law of torts in University College Dublin in the early 1970s’ before going on to say that ‘his distinguishing feature is that his cultural hinterland is much broader than that of the average lawyer or law teacher and to my mind his legal insights are much the sharper and the more realistic for that.’
Professor Osborough was a brilliant scholar who inspired many generations of students with his insights and imagination. The Irish Legal History Society will never forget his friendship, his many kindnesses, or his remarkable contribution to legal history scholarship.
We offer our condolences to his children, his wider family, and his many friends and colleagues. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Irish Times, 9 January 2021
The Irish Legal History Society is saddened to hear of the death of Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore.
A graduate of Queen's University Belfast, Lord Kerr became a High Court judge in 1993 and was Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland from 2004 to 2009. He served as a judge of the UK Supreme Court from 2009 until his retirement in 2020.
Lord Kerr was a patron of the Irish Legal History Society and a frequent contributor to the Society's events.
Instead of the usual format of an AGM followed by a distinguished lecture, this year the ILHS is holding a virtual AGM, followed by a zoom webinar. All members and non-members are welcome to attend the webinar, which takes place on Thursday 10 December at 7.30 pm.
Please click here to join our panel to discuss
‘Researching and Writing Irish Legal History in the 21st Century’
Dr. Lynsey Black (Maynooth University)
Dr. Sparky Booker (Queen's University Belfast)
Dr. Coleman Dennehy (University College Dublin)
Dr. Niamh Howlin (University College Dublin)
Dr Lynsey Black is an assistant professor at Maynooth Unniversity. She researches in the areas of gender and punishment, the death penalty, historical criminology, and postcolonial criminology. Lynsey is currently PI on the IRC New Foundations project, 'Living Borders: Cattle Smuggling on the Ireland/Northern Ireland Border'. This research is being done in collaboration with the National Museum of Ireland and explores border criminality through the 20th century. Lynsey was a Visiting Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History in 2019. She has published in Punishment and Society, Law and History Review, and the Social History of Medicine, and is co-editor of the collection, Law and Gender in Modern Ireland, with Hart Publishing. She is currently working on her first monograph, Women, Murder and the Death Penalty in Ireland, 1922-64, with Manchester University Press.
Dr Sparky Booker is a lecturer in medieval Irish history at Queen's University Belfast. Before she took this post in 2016, she was a postdoctoral research associate at Swansea University, on the AHRC-funded project 'Women negotiating the boundaries of Justice, Britain and Ireland, c. 1100-1750' (womenhistorylaw.org.uk). Her current research examines female plaintiffs in the secular and ecclesiastical courts of Ireland from c. 1350- c.1530, and focuses particularly on litigant strategies, overlapping jurisdictions, and the influence of wealth, status, ethnicity, and gender on women's legal activities. Her doctoral research explored interactions between the English of Ireland and Irish in the later middle ages. She is the co-editor of Tales of Medieval Dublin Dublin, (Four Courts Press, 2014).
Dr Coleman Dennehy has previously taught at Maynooth, Limerick, UCD and University College London, and was a visiting scientific researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Vienna. Coleman He received an IRC Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow for his project, ‘Competing jurisdictions: appellate justice in the Dublin and Westminster parliaments, 1603 – c.1730’. He has published many articles and chapters, as well as Restoration Ireland: Always Settling and Never Settled (Routledge); The Irish Parliament, 1613-89 (Manchester University Press); Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, and his World: Restoration Court, Politics and Diplomacy (Routledge; with Robin Eagles). Coleman has also edited The Evolution of a Colonial Institution; Law and Revolution in Seventeenth-Century Ireland (Four Courts Press).
Dr Niamh Howlin is an Associate Professor at UCD and her publications include Juries in Ireland: Laypersons and Law in the Long Nineteenth Century (Four Courts Press) as well as articles in the Journal of Legal History, the Law and History Review, Comparative Legal History, and the American Journal of Legal History. She has also edited, with Dr Kevin Costello, Law and the Family in Ireland 1800-1950 (Palgrave Macmillan) and Law and Religion in Ireland (Palgrave Macmillan; forthcoming 2021). Niamh also works on contemporary legal issues and in 2020 published an empirical study on judge-jury relations with colleagues from UCD and Sheffield Hallam. She is currently working on a history of the Irish Bar.
Opportunity for Early-Career Scholars
The J. Willard Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History is a biennial event sponsored by the American Society for Legal History.
An ASLH committee reviews applications and selects 12 early career scholars from around the world as Institute Fellows. The Fellows participate in seminars, meet other legal historians, and present their own work. The program is structured but informal, and features discussions of core readings in legal history and analysis of the work of the participants in the Institute.
Scholars in law, history and other disciplines pursuing research on legal history of any part of the world and all time periods are eligible to apply. The seminar and written materials are conducted in English, and we cannot consider non-anglophone applications. Traditionally, the selection committee has sought to create a cohort of fellows with varying degrees of familiarity with the field, and welcome applications from scholars at an early stage of their career (beginning faculty members, doctoral students who have completed or almost completed their dissertations, and J.D. graduates).
Applications for the eleventh Hurst Summer Institute, which will take place from 13-26 June 2021, will be accepted until 15 January 2021. Applicants should be aware that it is possible that the 2021 session may be held remotely. (A decision will likely be made by the end of March).
Applications must include a cover letter, CV, and research agenda (of no more than 2,500 words) as a single PDF document. Submit your application any time between 1 December 2020 and 15 January 2021. Additionally, two letters of recommendation should be submitted on each applicant’s behalf by the January 15 deadline. Questions on the application process can be directed to email@example.com.
The 2021 Institute will be chaired by Lauren Benton, Barton M. Biggs Professor of History and Professor of Law at Yale University, and Sarah Barringer Gordon, Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.
Previous Hurst Institute sessions were led by distinguished legal history scholars, Lawrence Friedman (Stanford University), Robert W. Gordon (Yale and Stanford), Barbara Young Welke (University of Minnesota), Hendrik Hartog (Princeton University), and Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin).
2020 may be a good year to attend an international conference without the need to travel.
The American Society of Legal History annual conference will be held on 13 and 14 November. The online program features a carefully curated selection of exciting panels on the legal history of colonialism, slavery and abolition, immigration, and other topics.
You can find the full program here.
Register here. Registration is free for all ASLH members, and you must be a member to attend.
The Fire Courts: Successfully Delivering Justice in a Time of Plague and Fire
Prof Jay Tidmarsh, Notre Dame Law School
The Selden Society and the Inns of Court have joined forces to establish a new series of annual lectures open to scholars, students and the general public to show the relevance of a wider understanding of Legal History.
Click here to watch the recording of Professor Jay Tidmarsh in conversation with His Honour Donald Cryan for the first Selden Society and the Inns of Court annual lecture on 21 October 2020
The British Legal History Conference 2022 is scheduled to take place in Belfast from 6-9 July 2022. This decision has been taken in consultation with the BLHC Continuation Committee.
The theme for BLHC 2022 is Law and Constitutional Change.
A call for papers will be made on 15 March 2021
Registration will open in February 2022.
The conference website will shortly be updated.
To preserve the usual biennial pattern of BLHCs, arrangements will be made by the BLHC Continuation Committee for the conference following the Queen’s, Belfast event to be held in 2024.
We are delighted to announce the publication of 'Law and Revolution in Seventeenth-Century Ireland'. Edited by Dr Coleman Dennehy, this volume brings together a collection of essays arising from a conference held in 2014 in the House of Lords at the Bank of Ireland, Dublin.
The contributors to the volume are Andrew Carpenter, Stephen Carroll, John Cunningham, Coleman A. Dennehy, Neil Johnston, Colum Kenny, Neasa Malone, Aran McArdle, Bríd McGrath, Jess Velona, Philip Walsh and Jennifer Wells.
Copies will be distributed to members free of charge in the usual way once the Covid-19 restrictions are eased.
The book can also be purchased directly from Four Courts Press.
Electoral law in Ireland before 1641
Competing authorities: the clash of martial and common law in early seventeenth-century Ireland
'Necessarye to keepe order in Ireland': marital law and the 1641 rebellion
Henry Burnell's Landgartha: family, law and revolution on the Irish stage
The New English, the past, and the law in the 1640s: Sir William Parson's 'Examen Hiberniae'
Not every judge a phoenix: King's Inns under Cromwell
The Black Book of King's Inns, Dublin, 1649-63: an annotated, chronological and contextualized transcription
Taking war crimes law seriously in revolutionary Ireland: a legal analysis
Martin Blake of Ballyglunin, County Galway: from transplantation to restoration-a case study of land, law and estate protection
Appointments to the bench in early restoration Ireland
Coleman A. Denehy
Lawyers and the circulation of scurrilous verse in restoration Dublin
The speech of Sir Audley Mervyn, speaker of the house of commons, demanding reforms in the court of claims: a reinterpretation through the lens of legal history
Charles II's legal officers and the Irish restoration land settlement, 1660-5
The ILHS Spring Discourse 2020 has been cancelled due to Covid-19
We hope to re-schedule later in the year.
Mary Phelan, Irish Speakers, Interpreters and the Courts 1754-1921 (Four Courts Press 2019).
This book was launched by Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh of the Court of Appeal at a reception at DCU on Tuesday 21 January 2020. The event was well-attended by academics from a number of disciplines including law, history, translation studies, Irish studies and linguistics.
Professor Dorothy Kenny from the DCU School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies welcomed attendees and the interdisciplinary and ground-breaking nature of the research was highlighted by Professor Patrick Geoghegan, President of the Irish Legal History Society. Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh spoke about the position of the Irish language in the State and in the courts, noting the continued relevance of a number of themes running through the book.
Dr Mary Phelan is a lecturer in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies (SALIS) at DCU. She is the chairperson of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association and her research is in the field of Translation Studies, particularly historical provision of court interpreters and contemporary provision of interpreters in courts, police stations, hospitals and other settings.
The book is available for purchase directly from Four Courts Press, and is supplied free of charge to all ILHS members.
In 2018 Dr Claudia Passarella from the University of Padua visited Dublin to conduct research into Irish judges and juries. This trip was funded by the Irish Legal History Society Post-Doctoral Bursary. Dr Passarella was able to access a range of legal and historical sources during her stay in Dublin, at UCD Special Collections, Trinity College Early Printed Books, the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives of Ireland.
This research was ultimately published in 2019 in the international peer-reviewed journal Comparative Legal History as "The juries’ wisdom in the administration of criminal justice: Irish jurisdiction and the Italian justice system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This article aims to investigate the relationship between professional judges and laypersons in criminal matters, with special reference to the decision-making procedure performed by the Irish system and the Italian system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The paper focuses on judges’ and jurors’ duties both before and after the verdict. This field of research provides context for a careful consideration on some fundamental issues, such as the judges’ charges and their influence over the jury, the principle of reasonable doubt, the distinction between unanimous verdicts and verdicts by majority vote, and the consequences of a disagreement among jurors. A comparative approach reveals how two European countries with a distinctive legal tradition faced the same problems by adopting different solutions.
Dr Pasarella's other publications, in both English and Italian, can be viewed here: https://unipd.academia.edu/claudiapassarella
Our 2019 Winter Discourse takes place this Friday 6 December. Professor Richard English will deliver a paper entitled Legacies of the Irish Revolution: Ernie O'Malley and the IRA.
The Discourse begins at 6 pm in the Upper Bar Library, Royal Courts of Justice. All welcome.
Richard English is Professor of Politics at Queen's University Belfast, where he is also Distinguished Professorial Fellow in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. Professor English's research focuses on the politics and history of nationalism, political violence, and terrorism, with a particular focus on Ireland and Britain. His books include Does Terrorism Work? A History (OUP, 2016), Modern War: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2013), Terrorism: How to Respond (OUP, 2009), Irish Freedom: The History of Nationalism in Ireland (Pan Macmillan, 2006), Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA (Pan Macmillan, 2003), Ernie O'Malley: IRA Intellectual (OUP, 1998), and Radicals and the Republic: Socialist Republicanism in the Irish Free State 1925-1937 (OUP, 1994). He is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, an Honorary Fellow of Keble College Oxford, and an Honorary Professor at the University of St Andrews. Professor English has given invited Lectures on his research in more than twenty countries. In 2018 he was awarded a CBE for services to the understanding of modern day terrorism and political history.