Dr Donal Coffey gave the 2022 Winter Discourse

Dr Donal Coffey gave the 2022 Winter Discourse

The 2022 Winter Discourse was given by Dr Donal Coffey (Maynooth University) in late November 2022 at the Law Society of Ireland in Dublin.

The title of his Discourse was ‘Constitutional Theory and Irish Legal Education, 1900-1950’.

The Discourse was attended by one of our patrons, The Hon. Mr. Justice Donal O’Donnell, Chief Justice of Ireland, as well as many members of the judiciary, academics, and lawyers in practice.
A response was given by Dr Niamh Howlin (UCD). The talk stimulated considerable commentary and questions immediately afterwards and discussion was carried on over dinner.

The talk was preceded by a welcome to the Law Society by its President, Maura Derivan. It was preceded by a talk on aspects of Law Society recognition of long service in the profession by former President, Mr James Cahill.

Picture Credit: (C) Robert D Marshall 2022

Prizes awarded at the Winter Discourse

Prizes awarded at the Winter Discourse

The 2022 Winter Discourse was the occasion of the awarding of three prizes.

Prof Norma Dawson CBE was awarded the Society’s Gold Medal for her services to Irish legal history over a long and distinguished career.

The W.N. Osborough Composition Prize in Legal History was awarded to Dr Ben Hazard (School of History, UCD) for ‘Thomas Wadding, Waterford landowner and lawyer of Gray’s Inn, 1562–1613’.

The Irish Legal History Bursary was awarded to John Marshall to further his research in London on the Leinster lordship in the thirteenth century.

The three recipients are pictured above with the President of the Society, Mr John Gordon DL

Jane Ohlmeyer awarded Gold Medal by the Royal Irish Academy

Jane Ohlmeyer awarded Gold Medal by the Royal Irish Academy

The Royal Irish Academy has awarded the 2023 Academy Gold Medal in the Humanities to Professor Jane Ohlmeyer MRIA

Professor Ohlmeyer will be presented with her Gold Medal at a special ceremony in Spring 2023.

Professor Ohlmeyer has been a long-term member and supporter of the Society, and sat on the Council for many years. The President, on behalf of the Society, has written to Professor Ohlmeyer to congratulate her on this exceptional honour.

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.


On the passing Dr Éamon Phoenix

On the passing Dr Éamon Phoenix


The Irish Legal History Society is deeply saddened to hear of the passing Dr Éamon Phoenix.

Dr Phoenix gave a superb paper to the society in March 2022 at Clifton House in Belfast entitled ‘Sir Denis Henry (1864-1925): Barrister, Catholic Unionist Politician & First Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland’

He was well known and highly regarded in Belfast and across the island.

The Irish News, a paper he contributed to on a regular basis, reported his passing here.

Winter Discourse, 25 November 2022

Winter Discourse, 25 November 2022


The Winter Discourse will follow the Annual General Meeting of the Irish Legal History Society.
It will be given by Dr Donal Coffey (Maynooth University) and will be held in the Education Centre of the Law Society of Ireland, Blackhall Place, Dublin 7 on Friday 25th November, 2022.


The title of Dr Coffey’s discourse will be ‘Constitutional Theory and Irish Legal Education, 1900-1950’.

Refreshments will be served from 4.30, followed by the Annual General Meetings. Dr Coffey’s lecture will commence at 6.15.