Announcement of the inaugural ILHS Student Essay Prize Winners (2022)

Announcement of the inaugural ILHS Student Essay Prize Winners (2022)
In 2021, the Irish Legal History Society announced its inaugural student essay competition. This initiative seeks to showcase and celebrate the rich scholarship being carried out in this field by students in Ireland and around the world. The Society invited all students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, and based in any institution, to submit essays on the topic of Irish legal history. Applicants were asked to submit works no longer than 5,000 words, and were judged on criteria including their contribution to knowledge, the clarity of the argument, use of literature and the quality of writing.

We were thrilled to receive a fantastic response to this competition. Spoiled by choice, and the standard of the entries received, our judging committee decided to split the prize, awarding an undergraduate and a postgraduate winner.

Jessica Commins (University of Amsterdam, formerly University College Dublin)

‘On Both Sides of the Aisle: Ireland and the Abolition of Slavery Act 1833’

This essay seeks to rectify a key gap in the historiography of the Abolition of Slavery Act 1833 by exploring the role of the Irish public, MPs and West Indian Interest in the lead up to and the passing of the Act, demonstrating that Irish involvement was evident on both sides of the debate. While ordinary Irish men and women were key participants in the great parliamentary petitioning campaign of 1833 and a small group of Irish MPs led by Daniel O’Connell made commendable efforts to eradicate slave holding,the darker legacy of the Irish West Indian interest is rarely discussed. Analysis of the Houses of Parliament petitions and debates of 1833 demonstrate Irish MPs played a key role in the decision to grant twenty billion pounds in compensation to the slave owners, as well as a continued form of servitude for a number of years. The one hundred and ninety Irish men and women who received compensation demonstrate the slaveholding interest played an important role in Irish involvement in the Act, with evidence of this legacy still present in the Republic today.

As a young woman educated in Ireland, the prevailing narrative of Irish history is that of a plucky young nation shaking off the shackles of the colonial oppressor. This narrative often obscures the complex relationship that Ireland has historically had with colonialism and does not recognise Irish complicity in that system. While the narrative of ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’ and Daniel O’Connell’s friendship with Frederick Douglass remains well known by the Irish public, our involvement in slavery is not. In the wake of campaigns demonstrating comtemporary instances of racism in Ireland, such as injustices caused by the Direct Provision system, it is clear attention needs to be paid to Irish involvement in colonial slavery and to wider participation in British imperialism.


Andrew Byrne Keefe (Harvard University, formerly University of Dublin)

‘An Act, a Fact, or a Mistake?: How Martial Law Contoured the Irish Rebellion of 1798’

Early modernists have identified the implementation of martial law as a key development in the history of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.  Curiously, this punitive turn in Ireland’s legal history happened well before the rebellion’s most iconic moments, raising an important historiographical question: was the uprising consciously premeditated or were the rebels goaded by the British military?  Relying on court-martial records from The Rebellion Papers, this paper attempts to account for the role of martial law in the rebellion by comparing how the due process rights of defendants and the severity and certainty of punishment varied across the four provinces.  The findings suggest that martial law was implemented more punitively in counties where loyalists incurred greater damages from the rebellion and support an account of the rebellion as an unintended consequence of variation in enforcement by local officials.

I am a JD/PhD candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University. As a historical sociologist, I use mixed methods to study the origins of racial and economic inequality in the American criminal legal system. My dissertation, “Mad Laboratories of Empire: A Comparative Analysis of Criminal Procedure in Ireland, Jamaica, and Virginia, 1215 – 1688,” relies on original source materials to investigate how English common law — the legal foundation of the American system — has contributed to harsher and more unequal levels of punishment in the United States and other former British colonies, relative to levels in countries that base their systems on civil law. To examine these original sources in comparative perspective, the dissertation also draws on secondary literature on criminal procedure in the early modern French, Spanish, and Portuguese empires. The results of my research promise to contribute to historical scholarship on racism and English criminal law as well as to research in global and transnational sociology that has connected the legacies of slavery and colonialism to mass incarceration and police militarization in present-day societies.


Sir Anthony Hart Memorial Lecture 2021


To honour the life and legacy of the distinguished judge and legal historian (and a former President of the Society), Sir Anthony Hart, the Benchers of the Inn of Court in Northern Ireland have organised an annual memorial lecture.

The inaugural Sir Anthony Hart Memorial Lecture will take place on Thursday 11 November 2021 at 18.15 in the Inn of Court of Northern Ireland. The lecture will be given by Justice of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, The Right Honourable Lord Stephens of Creevyloughgare on ‘1798: a tale of two barristers’.

Lord Stephens was one of Sir Anthony’s pupils at the Bar.


Numbers are unfortunately restricted, but you are invited to watch online.
To register, and receive login details, please email Lisa Mayes at



British Legal History Conference 2022

 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.

Launch of Irish Speakers, Interpreters and the Courts 1754-1921

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.

Launch of Molyneux at Iveagh House

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.

Calling Time at the Bar: Helena Normanton and Her Challenge to the Legal Profession

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.

The use of Irish law in medieval Norway

Professor Jørn Øyrehagen Sunde of the University of Bergen delivered a lecture  entitled

“The Beauty and the Beast? The use of Irish Legal Ideas and Non-Use of Irish Substantial Law in Norwegian Medieval Law.”

This lecture was organized with the support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in collaboration with the UCD Sutherland School of Law.

26 April 2018 at 5pm, room F103A, Newman Building, University College Dublin.

The VV Giri Lecture 2018

Dr Jyoti Atwal (Jawaharlal Nehru University) delivered the annual VV Giri Lecture at the Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin.

“Margaret Cousins (1878-1954) in India and Ireland: Revisiting Suffragettes, National Ideals and Anti Imperialist Politics”

Years 1915-1916 hold special significance in the history of India and Ireland. Politically, the radical anti imperialist groups acquired confidence in the belief that revolution was achievable through armed uprising. Historians of anti imperialist movements (Chandra:1989; Josh:1992; Mukherjee:2005; Malley:2008) have pointed out to the international impact on the Indian freedom movement. The presence of VV Giri in Ireland and of Margaret Cousins in India during 1916 is highly significant. Their unique international experiences prepared them for an anti colonial methodology which included constitutionalism, Gandhian Satyagraha (passive resistance) and socialism. Margaret, an Irish suffragette and a founder of Irish Women’s Franchise League (1908) with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, sailed for India with her husband, James, when the suffragette activism was at its peak.

This paper seeks to explore how feminist scholars have attempted to ‘put women into history’ in Ireland (Murphy:1992; Daly:2008;Paseta:2013;Urqhart:2001) and India (Basu:1990; Forbes:1996; Kumar:1993). I will focus on the period from 1916 till 936 when Margaret and James were actively engaged in the political life of India. I seek to address three themes – one, the question of politics of collectivity; second, creation of national ideals and thirdly, issues of economic reconstruction.

Dr Jyoti Atwal is Associate Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India & Adjunct Professor, Department of History, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Limerick, Ireland (September 2017- August 2022).

She engages with issues pertaining to Indian women in the reformist, nationalist and contemporary perspectives; socio cultural and religious aspects of women’s lives in colonial and post colonial India; women’s  agenda and the nation; autobiographies of women and narratives of the personal and the political domains; politics of representations of gender relations in colonial India; dalit (low caste) women’s history.

She has recently published a book entitled Real and Imagined Widows: Gender Relations in Colonial North India, Delhi: Primus, 2016. She has recently introduced a new course on Women in Ireland: Reforms, Movements and Revolutions (1840-1930)’ for post graduate students at JNU.

Currently, Dr Atwal is researching on an Irish suffragist in colonial India – Margaret Cousins (1878-1954). She has been a Visiting Faculty at Dublin City University in 2013; Trinity College Dublin Long Room Fellow in 2012. She is a member of the executive team of the India Studies Centre Cork at University College Cork and a member of the editorial board of Women’s History Review (UK, Routledge).

Art Exhibition

‘The Trial’: a visual art exhibition which focuses on the experiences of those who have worked in the Irish penal system in the 19th and 20th centuries. It explores human rights and healthcare in the Irish criminal justice system.

UCD historians Catherine Cox and Fiachra Byrne have collaborated with men from the Bridge Project, Dublin to create this unique installation.

The exhibition ran from 18-23 April 2018 at the Old Courthouse in Kilmainham Gaol Museum.

See for more details about the project.


Double Book Launch

The Irish Legal History Society was delighted to announce the official launch of two recent publications in January 2018: Juries in Ireland:Laypersons and Law in the Long Nineteenth Century by Dr Niamh Howlin & Guardian of the Treaty: The Privy Council Appeal and Irish Sovereignty by Dr Thomas Mohr

The books were launched at a special event at the UCD Sutherland School of Law on Tuesday 30 January 2018.  Professor Hector MacQueen of  Edinburgh Law School, delivered a lecture entitled ‘Reflections on Legal History.’


pictured: Dr Niamh Howlin, Dr Thomas Mohr, Professor Hector MacQueen and Ted.