Irish Legal History Society Tenth Anniversary

Published in Issue 2 (Summer 1999), News, News, Volume 7

Queen’s University, Belfast, was an apt venue for the Irish Legal History Society’s 1998 AGM and conference. The Society is a cross-border organisation founded ten years ago to encourage the study of the history of Irish law. A specific object is to publish original documents and works about Irish law and also to reprint or edit rare and important works.
As Irish legal and political history are closely intertwined, the Society’s publications are also of interest to historians generally and the wider public. Books already published include: Brehons, Serjeants and Attorneys, Dáire Hogan and W.N. Osborough (eds.); King’s Inns, 1541-1800, Colum Kenny; The Irish Privy Council in Tudor Times, J. Crawford; Explorations in Law and History, W.N. Osborough (ed.); Tristam Kennedy and the Revival of Irish Legal Training, Colum Kenny. Topics for future publications will include: serjeants-at-law; law in the Irish folk tradition; criminal justice in the nineteenth century; and factory law in Ireland, 1878-1914.
The keynote address by J.H. Baker (St Catherine’s, Cambridge) had a rather heavy title: ‘United and knit to the Imperial Crown—an English view of the Irish constitution in 1670’. The content, however, was fascinating because it referred to a seventeenth-century law case about disputed inheritance to English lands. The Ramsays were of Scottish origin and the case turned on the claimants’ nationality and whether they could become naturalised Englishmen indirectly through Irish law. Its status in England was relevant not only to the Ramsay case but also to Anglo-Irish aspects relating to Crown and constitution. In his usual eloquent style, Owen Dudley Edwards (Edinburgh) spoke colourfully about Edward Carson and the law. While the political context was vital, practical law was relevant. For example, experience especially in the Queensberry/Oscar Wilde libel trial, helped to perfect Carson’s techniques in cross-examining and re-examining witnesses. R.B. McDowell (TCD) spoke about Edmund Burke and the law. That eminent politician, statesman and philosopher used the law extensively in his career although he never completed his studies for the Bar at the Middle Temple, London. W.N. Osborough (UCD) covered a wide range of topics in his address on ‘Mysteries and solutions—experiencing Irish legal history’. He mentioned that legal history was applicable to local history as there were often law cases about important buildings or personalities. Because of the central position of precedent in the common law system, legal history is relevant to current litigation. He referred specifically to Iarnrod Éireann v Ireland [1996] 3 IR 321, and concurrent wrongdoing by joint tortfeasors. In the Supreme Court, O’Flaherty and Keane had drawn on legal historical sources to trace the origin of legal doctrines, illustrating the practical aspects of legal history.
A major initiative was announced as the Irish government, through the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, John O’Donoghue, will fund post-graduate research on legal history jointly in Queen’s and UCD.
Enquiries: Prof. W.N. Osborough, Faculty of Law, UCD or Prof. Norma M. Dawson, School of Law, Queen’s University, Belfast.

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