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Irish Legislation Project

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust

Co-directors: (QUB) and Dr James Kelly (St Patrick’s College, Dublin City University) 

Research fellows: 2004-7 Dr John Bergin  Ph.D; 2004-6 Dr Andrew Sneddon  Ph.D

This project, funded for three years, has as its objective to investigate the working of the Irish legislative system in the eighteenth century through the compilation of a database of legislative initiatives undertaken in the Irish parliament, 1692-1800.  When completed, the database will be published on the internet with open access.   To mark the completion of the work, a symposium will be held at Queen’s in September 2007, under the auspices of the Wiles Trust on legislation in Ireland in the eighteenth century. The information on the database will be used by co-directors in the writing of a research monograph on the working on the Irish legislative system.

Journals of the Irish House of Commons

The making of Irish legislation and Poynings’ Law
Between 1692 and 1800 (from the aftermath of King William’s victory in Ireland to the Act of Union) the Irish parliament sat more regularly, and produced far more legislation, than at any other time in its history. The legislative work of the Irish parliament was severely constrained by the operation of the medieval statute known as Poynings’ Law, which gave the Privy Councils of Ireland and England extensive powers.

The manuscript records of the Irish Parliament and Irish Privy Council were lost in the destruction of the Irish Public Record Office in 1922. The great loss of material is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the Irish Houses of Lords and Commons had undertaken the printing of their Journals in the eighteenth century. Furthermore, the public (though not the private) acts were also printed in several editions of the Statutes during the eighteenth century.

The English (after 1707 British) Privy Council exercised, under Poynings’ law, extensive powers to review, amend and reject legislative proposals from the Irish Parliament and Irish Privy Council. As a result there is much evidence, as yet little used, of Irish legislation in the British Privy Council records in the National Archives in London. Used in combination with the printed Journals and Statutes, and other records, this material allows scholars to obtain a much fuller picture of the complex Irish legislative process.

The database draws on these sources to set out the key stages of more than 4,000 acts and failed legislative proposals. For the first time scholars will have a single point of reference for all legislation proposed or enacted between 1692 and 1800. By indicating the principal dates and stages of every item of legislation, and the bodies which considered them, the database will facilitate researchers who wish to consult the original source material. Though the database will provide a basic classification of the legislation according to its subject matter, it will not reproduce the substance of the bills. The subject classification will follow that of J. Hoppit (ed.), Failed legislation 1660–1800: extracted from the Commons and Lords Journals (London, 1997), the product of a research project into English/British legislation financed by the Leverhulme Trust.

It will also be possible to use the database, without reference to any other material, to carry out quantitative analysis of legislative activity. It will throw much new light on important questions concerning the respective roles of the two Houses of the Irish Parliament and the Privy Councils of the two kingdoms. The database will provide a wealth of new information about the precise roles of these bodies, including where the legislative initiative lay, and the activity of the various bodies in amending and rejecting bills. The database will also make it possible to study the changes in the relative positions of these bodies over the course of the eighteenth century. A firm basis will be provided for future work on the political and constitutional aspects of the Irish legislative machinery.

Furthermore, scholars in many fields will find it easier to research legislative activity. The Irish legislature interested itself in numerous aspects of the economy, society and religious practice. The scope of Irish legislation, and the wealth of related source material, has not always been appreciated by researchers working outside the sphere of political history.

The database will ultimately be available for consultation without charge via the Internet.


To mark the conclusion of the project, a colloquium was held in September 2007, partly supported by the Wiles Trust.

Publications of Project Directors
The Project Directors have already both published extensively on the government and politics of Ireland in the eighteenth century in general, and on legislation in particular.

Professor Hayton has edited The Irish parliament in the eighteenth century: the long apprenticeship (Edinburgh, 2001) and contributed an essay entitled ‘Patriots and legislators: Irishmen and their parliaments, c.1689–c.1740’ to J. Hoppit (ed.), Parliaments, nations and identities in Britain and Ireland, 1660–1850 (Manchester 2003).

Dr Kelly has published an essay entitled ‘The making of law in 18th-century Ireland’ in N.M. Dawson (ed.), Reflections on law and history (Dublin, 2006) and a monograph, Monitoring the constitution: Poynings’ Law and the making of law in Ireland, 1660–1800 (2007).