John Joseph Webb.

Municipal government in Ireland : medieval & modern online

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Municipal Government
in Ireland

Mediaeval & Modern




Lecturer in Municipal History,

University College,


Author of "industrial Dublin since 1698" and
"The Silk Industry in Dublin"





Printed at
Tax Talbot Prbss, I^td.
W Talbot Street. Dublin




Chapter I. The Introduction of the Char-
tered Borough into iREifAND . i

Chapter II. The Hundred Court . , . .21

Chapter III. Civic Revenue and Expenditure 36

Chapter IV. Control, oF Trade and Industry . 51

Chapter V. Rei^ations with the Centrat,

Government 59

Chapter VI. Rei<ations with the Native Popu-


Chapter VII. The Tudor Period — A Period

OF Transition .... 82

Chapter VIII. Town Pi^anting in Ui,ster . . 90

Chapter IX. Increase of the RoyaIv Power

IN Ireland in

Chapter X. The Restoration Period . .143

Chapter XI. The Era of MunicipaIv Mis-


Chapter XII. A Chapter of Ii,i,asTRATiONS . 206

Chapter XIII. The Reform of Irish Municipal,

Corporations 238

Chapter XIV. The Towns Improvement (Irei^and)

Act, 1854 252

Chapter XV. The Pubwc Heai^th Act, 1874 • 257 ^

Chapter XVI. Confuct of Jurisdiction in Irish

Towns 260

Chapter XVII. The I.0CA1, Government Acr, 1898 267

; 302



Calendar of Documents relating to Irei^and.

Calendar of State Papers, Ireland.

CAI.ENDAR OF The Carevv Manuscripts.

Cai^endar of the Ancient Records of Dublin.

Statutes of the Irish Parllament.

Gilbert : Historic and Municipal Documents of

IX)DGE : Desiderata Curios a Hibernica.

IvYnch : Feudal Dignities.

Gale : Ancient Corporate System of Ireland

Gross : The Gild Merchant.

Green : The Making of Ireland and Its Undoing

Hardiman : History of Galway.

vSmith : History of Waterford.

Vanston : lyOCAL Government in Ireland.

Weir : Local Government (Ireland) Act.

Parliamentary Papers : —

Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire
into the Mimicipal Corporations in Ireland (1835
Vols. XXVII-XXVIII ; 1836, Vol. XXIV.)

Report of Select Committee on Local Govern-
ment and Taxation of Towns (Ireland), 1878,
Vol. XVI.

Special Report of Mr. W. P. O'Brien, Local Govern-
ment Inspector on the state of Local Government
in Ireland. 1878, Vol. XXIII.

Final Report of Royal Commission on lyocal Taxa»
tion (Ireland), 1902, VoL XXXIX,



The Introduction of the Chartered
Borough into Ireland.

The importance of the town in the system
of government established in Ireland by
the Anglo-Normans is a matter which has
received scant attention from historians
of Irish affairs. The greatest empire
builders of history, the Romans, used the
municipality as an instrument for extending
their sway and maintaining their power
throughout the lands surrounding the
Mediterranean. This was so much the
case that at the time of its greatest power
the Roman empire may be regarded as
consisting of a network of municipalities.
In Ireland a similar policy was pursued
by the Anglo-Norman government. The

2 Municipal Government in Ireland

chief Irish towns in existence at the period
of the invasion of Ireland in the reign of
Henry II., towns situated generally on
the sea coast or in communication with the
sea, fell into the hands of the Anglo-Norman
invaders. The government of these towns
was remodelled, the chartered borough of
England serving as an exemplar. New
towns were established throughout the
tribal lands which were conquered, they
in turn receiving a similar form of govern-
ment. Settlers were induced to come across
from England by the grant of various
privileges to those who should take up their
abode in Ireland. In this way many
towns sprang up around the castles of
Norman nobles throughout the land.

The chief privilege conferred upon the
inhabitants of Irish towns, old and new,
was that of self-government. They were
empowered to elect their own officers and
councils, estabhsh their own courts, and
appoint their own magistrates. They were
given the complete control of industry
within their towns, while without they
enjoyed important commercial privileges.

The Chartered Borough 3

Thus there was estabHshed in Ireland a
system of municipal government similar
to that obtaining in the western part of the
continent of Europe.

In all cases the various rights and
privileges conferred depended upon a
charter or charters. These charters were
granted by English Kings or Norman
nobles. When Henry II. parcelled out
the greater part of Ireland amongst a few
of his chief followers he exempted from the
grants a number of the existing Irish
towns with the territory adjoining them,
retaining them in his own hands as royal
boroughs. Dublin, Waterford, Cork and
Limerick were amongst other towns ex-
cluded from the grants made to his barons.
Three of these cities trace their powers
back to charters granted by Henry or
his son John, who was made Lord of
Ireland by his father. Other towns,
especially those newly founded, received
charters from the Norman barons, charters
which were confirmed later by English

From a study of the charters granted to

4 Municipal Government in Ireland

Irish towns we are enabled to deduce the
main features of their constitution and
economic system. The land upon which
the town was built, together with a con-
siderable stretch of the adjacent territory
was conferred by charter upon the citizens
or burgesses. In the royal charters the
land was always conferred in fee farm to
be held for ever by the citizens or burgesses
from the king and his heirs and successors,
subject to an annual rent. The fee farm
rent of Dubhn was fixed by King John
at two hundred marks a year, that of
Limerick at forty pounds a year. Over the
territory granted the citizens had complete
control. The precious right of self-
government was conferred upon the citizens
thus endowed. They were allowed to
manage their own affairs free from inter-
ference on the part of King or noble.

With regard to the constitution of the
civic government of the newly enfranchised
communities, it appears from the earliest
charters that the townsmen were left free
to set up whatever form of government
they thought best. It is to be noted that

The Chartered Borough 5

whatever rights and privileges were granted
were conferred upon the whole body of
citizens or burgesses and not upon a select

The Chief Officer.

The earliest charters are practically
unanimous in declaring that the chief
office in the civic constitution should be
held by a single individual, who was to
be elected by his fellow citizens. In Dublin
the chief magistrate of the city was at
first designated " Provost," a title which
was soon to give place to that of '' Mayor."
In a charter granted by King Henry III.
in the year 1229 permission was granted
to the citizens of Dublin, and their heirs,
to elect from among themselves annually
a loyal and discreet Mayor, proper for the
government of the city, and who on his
election should swear fealty to the king,
or in his absence, to his Justiciary. The
Mayor was to hold office for one year, at
the expiration of which time the citizens
were empowered to retain him in office or
elect another citizen in his place.

6 Municipal Government in Ireland

The title of the chief officer underwent
changes from time to time. The earliest
titles were usually those of " Provost" and
''Mayor/' The borough of Drogheda versus
Midiam had under its charter, dated 1247,
a chief magistrate known as " Seneschal/*
The titles were evidently borrowed from
the constitutions of the French communes
of the period, many of which communes
were situated in domains ruled over by
the King of England. In later years we
find the titles of *' Portreeve " and " Sove-
reign " in use. Whatever the title, the
chief officer seems to have been endowed
with a position of great power and dignity.
As the chief representative of the town he
was mentioned first in charters, royal
grants and letters patent. He was the
chief magistrate in the civic courts. He
possessed large powers of jurisdiction over
the citizens in the conduct of civic affairs
and in the control of industry. If civic
liberties were violated it was his duty to
vindicate them. In times of danger he
took his place at the head of the armed
force of the town for purposes of offence

The Chartered Borough 7

or defence. His power, however, was not
absolute. Elected by the votes of his
fellow citizens, and holding office for the
brief space of a year, it was unlikely that
he would run counter to the wishes of the
majority of the electorate. He was advised
and assisted in the duties of his office by
a body of councillors. In certain of the
civic constitutions provision was made
for controlling the chief officer in the
exercise of the powers of his high office.
In the charter of the borough of Drogheda
versus Uriel, dated 1229, it was provided
that two of the more lawful and discreet
men of the borough should be elected by
the common council of the burgesses, before
the King's justices, when they should come
to the town to take the assizes, to keep the
pleas of the Crown, and to see that the
provosts of the borough justly and lawfully
treated as well the poor as the rich of the
borough. A similar provision occurs in
a charter granted by Richard II. to the
burgesses of Dundalk.

A charter to the burgesses of Drogheda
versus Uriel of the year 1331 which granted

8 Municipal Government in Ireland

to them, in the absence of the King, the
assize of bread and beer, and the custody
and assay of measures and weights and
other things whatsoever to the office
pertaining within the borough, prescribed
that the mayor and bailiffs should be fined,
and amerced if they neglected their duty
in respect of these matters.

About the year 1341 the Miayor and
Bailiffs of Dublin were arraigned before
the King's Justiciary for default in execut-
ing justice within the city. They were
acquitted, however, on pleading the King's
pardon for all trespasses and felonies com-
mitted before the 21st day of August,
1340, a date subsequent to the default for
which they were arraigned.

The Bailiffs.

Next in point of rank and importance
came the bailiffs, a title appearing fre-
quently in the early charters. The office
of baihff was always a dual one, the title
never being used in the singular. The
bailiffs were important executive officers

The Chartered Borough 9

in judicial matters. They hkewise acted
as magistrates in the civic courts. In
a charter granted to the burgesses of
Youghal in the second year of Richard
III.'s reign which gave to the mayor
and bailiffs the cognizance of all pleas,
both personal and real, in a Court to be
held on every Friday, it was provided
that any one of these officers should have
jurisdiction in the absence of the others.
In the '' Chain Book " of Dublin, under the
heading of " Laws and usages of the City
of Dublin " we find that the Baihffs of the
City intervened in the following matters : —
Refusal of owners to receive rents as
tendered, disputes between masters and
apprentices, claims of country people for
repayment from persons in the city, and
distraints on goods of villeins. In Dublin
the bailiffs also executed the office of

The title of bailiff continued in use for
about four hundred years. In the time of
James I. the title of '' sheriff '* was sub-
stituted for it in the charters issued by that
monarch. The latter title was used, how-

10 Municipal Government in Ireland

ever, much earlier. In the year 1412 the
title of " bailiff '' was abohshed in Drogheda,
and that of " sheriff " substituted. In a
charter granted to this town in the year
1363 it was provided that the mayor and
bailiffs in the guildhall (gihald) of the
borough, should have cognizance of all
pleas as well of tenures within the
borough and suburbs, as of all trespasses
and contracts happening there, and exe-
cutions thereof, except ordinances of the
staple. That the bailiffs shared with the
mayor or other chief officer in the govern-
ment of the town seems a fair inference
from the fact that when the office was
abolished in Drogheda on the occasion of
the union of the two boroughs on opposite
sides of the Boyne in the year 141 2, the
new charter stated that the united borough
should in future be governed by one mayor
and two sheriffs only, the names and states
of the seneschal and bailiffs being extin-
guished. As in the case of the mayor or
provost, the bailiffs or sheriffs were annually
elected by the citizens and burgesses of Irish
cities and towns.

The Chartered Borough ii

This charter conferred upon the mayor
of Drogheda a certain amount of control
over the sheriffs. It provided that the
mayor should have jurisdiction of hearing,
correcting, reforming, and determining in
the hall of the Guildhall at the suit of any,
all defects, oppressions, extortions, mis-
prisions, ignorances, negligences and in-
juries committed by the Sheriffs in their
office within the county (of the Town of

Powers of the Citizens or Burgesses.

As already mentioned, the rights and
privileges granted by the charters were
conferred upon the general body of citizens
or burgesses. The charter of Prince John,
Lord of Ireland, dated 1192, conferred the
various rights and privileges therein men-
tioned upon the citizens of Dubhn, both
within and without the walls. In 1228
Henry III. granted a charter to *' his good
men of Drogheda." It is clear from the
charters that certain important rights were
vested in the general body of citizens or

12 Municipal Government in Ireland

Thus the land which was the subject of
the original grant became the common
property of the citizens or burgesses and
could be disposed of only by their common
consent. The early records of Dublin con-
tain numerous instances of grants and
leases made by the common consent of the
citizens. Henry III.'s charter to his
citizens of Waterford, dated 1232, granted
to them all tenures within the walls and
without to dispose thereof according to
their will, by the common assent of the city.
Other charters contain similar clauses.

The power of electing the chief officer
was likewise vested in the general body of
citizens or burgesses. Thus the citizens
of Limerick in a charter, dated 1291, stated
to be for the purpose of removing any
ambiguity as to the terms of an earlier
charter of John, Lord of Ireland, granted
explicitly that the citizens of Limerick
should have power to choose a mayor of
themselves annually for the government
of the city. The grant of the power of
electing the chief officer is a common
feature of the charters.

The Chartered Borough 13.

The most important right possessed by
the citizens or burgesses under these char-
ters was that of making laws and ordin-
ances for the good government of their
city or town. The charter of Drogheda,
dated 1412, empowered the mayor, sheriffs,
burgesses and commonalty to meet every
year and make ordinances and statutes
for the safe government of the town. A
charter of Limerick, dated the following
year, granted to the mayor and commonalty
of that city the power of meeting and
making ordinances and statutes for the
advantage of the city. In both these
charters, it is to be noted, the commonalty
were empowered to take part in civic legis-

We are afforded a clue as to the manner
in which the citizens or burgesses exercised
these important rights of granting public
land, electing mayors and bailiffs, and
making ordinances for the good govern-
ment of the city or town by another in-
stitution of which frequent mention is
made in the charters, namely, the "Hundred
Court . ' ' Every chartered town was granted

14 Municipal Government in Ireland

its own court. The term " Hundred
Court " was borrowed from the English
borough wherein that institution had
existed from early Saxon times and had
continued on when civic government in
England had been transformed under
Norman influence. In the Hundred Court
of the English borough all the burgesses
had the right of being present. The
functions performed therein included the
election of officers, the making of bye-laws^
and the sanctioning of grants of public
land. From the analogy of the Hundred
Court of the English borough we are led
to the conclusion that the citizens and
burgesses of Irish cities and towns exercised
the important rights above mentioned in
the.xivic courts.

So far we have carefully refrained from
using the term '' inhabitants " when
describing the body in whom these powers
were vested. Did the terms " citizens "
and " burgesses " include all the inhabit-
ants, or at least the adult male inhabitants
of Irish cities and towns ? The question,
it seems, must be answered in the negative.

The Chartered Borough 15

Dr. Stubbs, in deahng with the history of
the EngHsh borough, describes for us the
members of the Hundred Court. They were,
he says, the owners of land, the owners of
houses, shops or gardens ; the burgage ten-
ants, from whose burgages the rent (that
is, the " ferm " of the town) was originally
due. In Ireland it would seem from the
evidence available that the terms
'* citizens " and " burgesses *' were com-
mensurate with " freemen '* and that the
body of freemen consisted at first of those,
and those only, who held burgages in the

Individual charters throw some light
upon the subject. In the earliest charter
on record relating to the borough of Car-
low, namely, that granted by William
Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, in the year
1296, the Earl granted to his burgesses of
Carlo w " all such liberties as burgesses
ought to have, and as it was lawful for him
to confer " and to have the power of mak-
ing '' such of their tenants free as held tene-
ments of 20 feet of land, and that they
might enjoy the common Hberty with the

i6 Municipal Government in Ireland

burgesses/' A still earlier charter contains
a similar provision. It was a charter
granted by William, Earl Marshal, son-in-
law of Strongbow, to his burgesses of Kil-
kenny and attributed to the year 1223.
In this charter it was granted that the
burgesses might make their tenants free,
by 20 feet of land, so that they should have
common liberty with the burgesses.

The body of freemen — the inhabitants in
possession of full civic rights — did not,
however, continue to be restricted to those
holding burgage tenures. As population
and commercial prosperity increased, it
was doubtless felt necessary to enlarge the
civic body. We accordingly read of new
rights to freedom being admitted. Sons
of freemen were admitted by right of
birth. Sons-in-law of freemen were ad-
mitted by right of marriage. Apprentices
to freemen on completing their time were
admitted by right of servitude or ap-
prenticeship. In a statute made in 15 &
16 Edward IV. mention is made of " freemen
of the city of Waterford, by birth or
apprenticeship.'' In a later statute of 15

The Chartered Borough 17

Henry VII. the three rights mentioned are
recognised as existing in DubHn, Waterford
and Drogheda.

The Common Council.

The early charters leave it doubtful as
to the manner in which the civic govern-
ment was organised. Mention is made
of Common Councils, but no indication
as to the qualification for membership is
given, nor is it certain whether the Councils
were restricted to a small number of
privileged individuals or were open to all
the freemen of the cities and towns.

It is highly improbable that the actual
work of government in any of our Irish
towns, even the smallest, was participated
in by the whole body of free burgesses. In
a paper contributed by Mr. W. F. Butler,
author of " The Lombard Communes "
to the Journal of the Cork Historical and
Archaeological Society, a valuable contri-
bution is made to this phase of the subject.
He tells us that as a result of the growing
prosperity of Irish towns due to their

i8 Municipal Government in Ireland

lucrative continental trade, there arose in
many of them a kind of civic aristocracy,
into whose hands there gradually passed
complete control of municipal affairs. From
a perusal of the list of mayors and sheriffs
of Irish towns it appears that these offices
were at first held by a wide circle of families,
but that the circle gradually narrowed until
control passed into the hands of small
oligarchies composed of a few powerful
city families. The most notable instance
was that of the " tribes of Galway," the
name applied to a group of fourteen f amiUes
who ruled the city for a period of nearly
two hundred and fifty years. In Kilkenny,
Mr. Butler tells us, a group of ten families
held sway. In Limerick, Waterford and
Cork oligarchic rule also prevailed. In the
last mentioned place the Danish element
gradually rose into pre-eminence, and for
a long period swayed the civic councils.

In Kilkenny a small inner council was
by charter granted the power of making
laws and ordinances binding upon their
fellow citizens. By a charter of the tenth
year of Henry VII. 's reign it was declared

The Chartered Borough 19

that the sovereign, provost, and burgesses
of Kilkenny might hold councils, convo-
cations, and common assemblies in the
Guildhall or Tholsel, except the common
assembhes, four times in the year, of the
conmions, there usual, and that with the
sovereign, provost, and their peers, in all
such councils and convocations there be
only sixteen of the more discreet burgesses
to be elected by the sovereign, provosts
and their peers ; and that acts and ordin-
ances made by them, should have the same
force as those made by the common assent
of all the commons in the Tholsel.

The municipal records of Dublin reveal
the fact that the government of that city
was vested in a Council which was remark-
able for its symmetrical composition. It
•consisted of a mayor, two bailiffs or sheriffs,
twenty-four jurats or jures, forty-eight
demi-jures and ninety-six councillors. The
two latter elements are frequently referred
to as '' The Numbers." They were also
known as " The Forty-eight " and " The
Ninety-six." Like the Irish Parliament,
ihe Common Council was composed of two

20 Municipal Government in Ireland

Houses, an " Upper House " and a " Lower
House/' The Mayor and Jures sat together
in the " Upper House '' ; the demi- jures
and the " Ninety-six '' sat together in the
''Lower House '' which was presided over by
the Bailiffs or Sheriffs, who probably alter-
nated in the presidency. For several cen-
turies, the constitution of the Common
Council of Dublin remained as above
described, the titles alone having changed.
The Mayor became the '' Lord Mayor.''
The '' Bailiffs" became "Sheriffs." The
title of '' jure " gave place to that of
'' Alderman " and that of '' demi- jure "
to "Sheriff's Peer." The Sheriff's Peers
and the Ninety-six Councillors are referred
to as the " Commons " of the city. It is
interesting to note that the " Commons "
consisted largely of guild representatives.
In a document of the seventeenth century
it is stated that the Ninety-six Councillors
were elected into the Common Council out
of several of the Guilds or Corporations of
the city. This peculiar constitution was
perpetuated down to the year 1840.


The Hundred Court.

An important feature common to the
constitutions of Irish chartered towns was
that known as the Hundred Court. In
countries Hke France and England where
the feudal regime reigned supreme the
privilege of being freed from the juris-
diction of the court of the feudal lord was
highly valued. The inhabitants of the
towns of France reckoned not the cost in
blood or money in their struggle to secure
that precious right. In England it was
purchased with the wealth of the burghers.
In Ireland it was a free gift, granted with
a view to encouraging Englishmen and
others to settle in Irish towns. Yet in
semi-feudalised Ireland the privilege was
none the less valuable. It was one of the
most cherished rights of the civic constitu-

The charters of Irish towns are a fruitful
source of information concerning the

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph WebbMunicipal government in Ireland : medieval & modern → online text (page 1 of 13)