Sources for Irish legislation, 1692–1800
Destruction of records
The destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922 saw the loss of all official manuscript records relating to Irish legislation (but see Text of legislation). The destruction of records of the Irish parliament and privy council means that scholars have depended on records already in print, i.e. the Journals of parliament and The statutes at large.
Irish Parliament Journals
Both houses of parliament undertook the printing of their journals in the late 18th century. These naturally contain a great deal of evidence for legislation.
The Journals of the house of commons were printed four times. The edition used in creating the Database was the last to be printed: Journals of the house of commons of the kingdom of Ireland (21 vols, 1796–1802).
The house of lords printed its journal just once: Journals of the house of lords (8 vols, Dublin, 1779–1800).
Irish Privy Council records
Irish privy council records for the years before 1711 were lost in a fire in that year. The further destruction in 1922, and the fact that none of the relevant records had been printed, mean that the legislative role of the Irish privy council has been regarded as largely irretrievable. However, the Journals of the Irish parliament, used in conjunction with English privy council records in The National Archives at Kew reveal much – by inference – of the activity of the Irish privy council.
Heads of bills were sent by the houses of the Irish parliament to the chief governor, to be laid before the Irish privy council and thence sent to the English privy council. If they failed subsequently to appear in England we may conclude that they were rejected by the Irish privy council. In some cases the changes to titles between the heads of bills stages and the English privy council stages are so significant that they imply amendments by the Irish privy council. Finally, the appearance at the English privy council of a bill which has no relationship to any heads of a bill is evidence that the Irish privy council initiated the bill. The Irish privy council regularly initiated bills until the 1730s, and occasionally thereafter: the Database shows that the last bill to begin in the Irish privy council was in 1776 (Bill No. 0171). The Irish privy council also made extensive use of its power to reject bills as late as the 1770s; it last use of this power was about the end of 1781 (Bill No. 2187).
English Privy Council records
The English privy council records are in The National Archives at Kew. Under Poynings’ Law, Irish bills had to be considered by the English privy council, which might approve them without amendment; approve them with amendments; or reject them. English privy council records, while incidentally throwing light on the Irish privy council, show above all how the administration in London reviewed, amended or stopped Irish bills.
Privy Council registers (PC 2)
The English privy council registers are preserved in their entirety. They record the arrival of Irish bills at the council and referral to the attorney- and/or solicitor-general. They also record the approval and ‘engrossment’ of bills, before their return to Dublin. If bills were amended, the amendments were entered in the register; these vary greatly from very minor corrections of language (called ‘literal amendments’ at the time) to substantive changes (‘material amendments’). Some amendments were extensive, and are important evidence for bills subsequently enacted and especially for those that failed to pass the Irish parliament on return. The Database indicates when bills were amended at the English privy council, though it does not attempt to distinguish between ‘literal’ and ‘material’ amendments.
The registers record the attendance at council meetings, which often included the monarch. Other useful material in the registers includes references to petitions relating to Irish bills, reports of the law officers, and membership and reports of committees appointed to consider Irish bills. When bills were not approved, the fact was normally not explicitly recorded in the register.
The registers are normally the source of all the values in the privy council stages fields.
Privy Council miscellaneous unbound papers (PC 1)
Many other relevant papers are preserved among the ‘unbound papers’. These are by no means complete; the earliest relating to Irish bills is from 1707, and this class remains scarce in the early decades of the 18th century. These papers sometimes contain petitions or other documents relating to Irish bills, or reports of the law officers or committees of the council. The Database gives precise archival references.
Privy Council minutes (PC 4)
Another incomplete class. The ‘minutes’ were notes (sometimes very rough) taken by the clerks of the privy council. On rare occasions they contain material not in the other classes. The Database gives precise archival references in such cases.
Measures which passed both houses of parliament and both privy councils were enrolled as acts of parliament. The original acts of parliament were destroyed in 1922. However, public acts were normally printed after each session of parliament and in several compilations called the Statutes at large. Unfortunately private acts were not normally printed. The principal edition used in compiling the Database is The statutes at large passed in the parliaments held in Ireland (20 vols, Dublin, 1786–1801). See further under Regnal years and statute numbers.
Where to find printed sources
The printed journals and statutes can be consulted in major libraries. Some editions are available in online collections of early printed material, to which certain universities subscribe. Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) contains the Journals of the house of lords [of Ireland] and several editions of the Statutes at large [of Ireland]. Another online collection, The Making of the Modern World, contains an incomplete set of The journals of the house of commons, of the kingdom of Ireland (31 vols, Dublin, 1782–1794). For printed ‘separates’ see Text of legislation.
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