Conference to mark the centenary of the Courts of Justice Act 1924

Conference to mark the centenary of the Courts of Justice Act 1924

The Irish Legal History Society is pleased to partner with University College Dublin and the Courts Service to mark the centenary of the Courts of Justice Act 1924. This Act was signed into law on 12 April 1924, and was one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in the Free State.

The centenary will be marked on 12 April 2024 by a special event at Dublin Castle, the venue of the first sittings of the new courts. The event includes talks, guided tours, an exhibition and a musical performance. Speakers at the conference include academics from across the island, as well as members of the judiciary.

Later in the year, a book of essays will be published by the Society in association with Four Courts Press.

A programme for the conference can be READ HERE.




Prizegiving for Inaugural Student Essay Competition

Prizegiving for Inaugural Student Essay Competition
The 2023 Spring Discourse held at Marsh’s Library saw the formal awarding of the prizes to the winners of the inaugural Irish Legal History Society Student Essay Competition. The competition, which aims to showcase the work of students in the field of Irish legal history, was first run in 2021-22. In its inaugural year, it received a very encouraging response and in their deliberations the judging committee decided to split the prize between an undergraduate and a postgraduate winner.

Prize winners received copies of Irish Legal History Society/Four Courts Press volumes with commemorative book plates.

The postgraduate winner was Andrew Byrne Keeffe, a JD/PhD candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University (having formerly carried out research at Trinity College Dublin), who took the prize with the essay: ‘An Act, a Fact, or a Mistake?: How Martial Law Contoured the Irish Rebellion of 1798’. Andrew received a copy of The Court of Admiralty of Ireland, 1575–1893.

Jessica Commins, of University College Dublin, and now undertaking postgraduate study at the University of Amsterdam, received Lawyers, the Law and History, for her winning essay: ‘On Both Sides of the Aisle: Ireland and the Abolition of Slavery Act 1833′.

Ms Commins was able to attend on the night, and addressed the audience about what inspired her to consider the Irish role and reaction to the Abolition of Slavery Act. Ms Commins is pictured here with a patron of the Society, Dame Siobhan Roisin Keegan, Lady Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

Announcement of the ILHS Student Essay Prize Winners

Announcement of the ILHS Student Essay Prize Winners

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 [1917] 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.

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.