In 2021, the Irish Legal History Society announced its inaugural student essay competition. This initiative celebrates the rich legal history scholarship being carried out by students in Ireland and around the world.
The Society invited all students, undergraduate and postgraduate, to submit essays on the topic of Irish legal history. In the second year of the competition, we were again thrilled to receive a fantastic response from students! In light of the quality of the submissions, the ILHS judging committee decided to split the prize, awarding an undergraduate and a postgraduate winner.
The prizes will be awarded at an upcoming ILHS event where we look forward to officially congratulating the winners!
ILHS Essay Prize Undergraduate Winner
Maitiú Breathnach (UCD, BCL, 2023; currently studying for an LLM, Trinity College Dublin, in Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law)
ILHS Essay Prize Postgraduate Winner
Emma Quinn (NYU, MA in Irish and Irish-American Studies, 2024)
Q&A with the Winners
We asked Maitiú and Emma to tell us a bit about themselves and talk about their winning essays.
Maitiú Breathnach, ‘Hidden Trials?: The Case of the Easter Rising Field General Court-Martials’
My essay focuses on the field general court-martials of the participants in the 1916 Easter Rising. I consider the numerous procedural defects, arguably present in the operation of the court-martials, as well as confusion surrounding the exact legal basis under which they occurred. Key to my commentary is the case of R v Governor of Lewes Prison, ex parte Doyle  2 KB 254, which offers many insights into the above areas.
I chose this essay topic as I was interested in the interface between law and the Easter Rising. I was curious to consider the legal underpinning of the court-martials in the aftermath of the Rebellion, trials which proved to have a momentous impact on the course of Irish history.
The competition was introduced to me in the course of a stimulating legal history module taught by Dr Thomas Mohr and Dr Kevin Costello in UCD, which prompted me to enter.
I’ve recently graduated from U.C.D (BCL class of 23) with a First Class Honours in Law and am now enrolled in a Masters Programme in Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law in TCD. I’m currently an FE-1 candidate and my intent is to practice as a solicitor in the future. Some of my other interests include History, Classics and swimming.
Emma Quinn, ‘The Sovereignty of Silence: Women Witnesses to the Carrigan Report and the Rise and Fall of Professional Womanhood in Ireland, 1880-1937’
This essay traces the seeming incongruity between the identities of the witnesses testifying for The Carrigan Committee of 1930-1931 and the resulting draconian and punitive recommendations regarding sexual immorality and sex crimes in the Irish Free State. While two-thirds of witnesses called to testify in front of the committee were women in professional fields, the final report only explicitly mentioned the women participants once, underemphasizing their roles as experts and suppressing their novel suggestions to prevent crime, especially sexual education and pathways to rehabilitation. By tracing the various paths to professionalization that the women witnesses took, through healthcare, political activism, or charity work, this essay discusses how their gender aided their value as witnesses but also led to the occlusion of their testimony.
I am a dual degree master’s student studying Irish and Irish-American Studies at New York University and Library and Information Science at Long Island University. I am very interested in the complicated role that religious sisters play as both enforcers and transgressors of gender roles and acceptable behavior for women in both Irish and Irish-American contexts. When I read James Smith’s Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment for a seminar class led by Dr. Peter Hession, I was struck by the representation of professional women witnesses in this event so thoroughly defined by what Smith calls “Ireland’s containment culture.” I wrote this essay to explore that uneasy dichotomy, and in doing so discovered a generation of women doctors, activists, and charity administrators that advocated against the path that would eventually cause unquantifiable amounts of shame, suffering, and sexual control across Ireland for decades, with continuing aftershocks to this day.