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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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House of Lords Votes for the Acts of Union

The House of Lords votes on February 10, 1800 for the Acts of Union which sees Ireland lose its own parliament, direct rule is imposed on Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is created. The acts come into force on January 1, 1801, and the merged Parliament of the United Kingdom has its first meeting on January 22, 1801. Both acts remain in force, with amendments, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but have been repealed in the Republic of Ireland.

Before these Acts, Ireland had been in personal union with England since 1541, when the Parliament of Ireland had passed the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, proclaiming King Henry VIII of England to be King of Ireland. Since the 12th century, the King of England had been technical overlord of the Lordship of Ireland, a papal possession. Both the Kingdoms of Ireland and England later came into personal union with that of Scotland upon the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

In 1707, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were united into a single kingdom: the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Irish Parliament at that time was subject to a number of restrictions that placed it subservient to the Parliament of England and, following the union of England and Scotland, the Parliament of Great Britain. Ireland, however, gained effective legislative independence from Great Britain through the Constitution of 1782.

By this time access to institutional power in Ireland was restricted to a small minority, the Anglo-Irish of the Protestant Ascendancy, and frustration at the lack of reform among the Catholic majority eventually led, along with other reasons, to the Irish Rebellion in 1798, involving a French invasion of Ireland and the seeking of complete independence from Great Britain. This rebellion was crushed with much bloodshed, and the subsequent drive for union between Great Britain and Ireland that passes in 1800 is motivated at least in part by the belief that the rebellion was caused as much by reactionary loyalist brutality as by the Society of United Irishmen.

Furthermore, Catholic emancipation is being discussed in Great Britain, and fears that a newly enfranchised Catholic majority will drastically change the character of the Irish government and parliament also contributes to a desire from London to merge the Parliaments.

Complementary acts have to be passed in the Parliament of Great Britain and in the Parliament of Ireland. The Parliament of Ireland had recently gained a large measure of legislative independence under the Constitution of 1782. Many members of the Irish Parliament jealously guard this autonomy and a motion for union is legally rejected in 1799.

Only Anglicans are permitted to become members of the Parliament of Ireland, though the great majority of the Irish population are Roman Catholic, with many Presbyterians in Ulster. In 1793 Roman Catholics regain the right to vote if they own or rent property worth £2 per acre. The Catholic hierarchy is strongly in favour of union, hoping for rapid emancipation and the right to sit as MPs, which is delayed after the passage of the acts until the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829.

From the perspective of Great Britain, the union is desirable because of the uncertainty that followed the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the French Revolution of 1789. If Ireland adopted Catholic Emancipation, willingly or not, a Roman Catholic Parliament could break away from Britain and ally with the French. Also the Irish and British Parliaments, when creating a regency during King George III‘s “madness”, gave the Prince Regent different powers. These considerations lead Great Britain to decide to attempt merger of the two kingdoms and their Parliaments.

The final passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament is achieved with substantial majorities, in part according to contemporary documents through bribery, namely the awarding of peerages and honours to critics to get their votes. Whereas the first attempt had been defeated in the Irish House of Commons by 109 votes against to 104 for, the second vote in 1800 produces a result of 158 to 115.

In the first Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the members of the House of Commons are not elected afresh. By royal proclamation authorised by the Act, all the members of the last House of Commons from Great Britain take seats in the new House, and from Ireland 100 members are chosen from the last Irish House of Commons: two members from each of the 32 counties and from the two largest boroughs, and one from each of the next 31 boroughs (chosen by lot) and from the University of Dublin. The other 84 Irish parliamentary boroughs are disfranchised, all being pocket boroughs, whose patrons receive £15,000 compensation for the loss of what is considered their property.

(Pictured: Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1952 used by Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI)


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The Dublin Society Renamed Royal Dublin Society

royal-dublin-societyThe Dublin Society for Improving Husbandry, Manufactures and Other Useful Arts, which is originally founded on June 25, 1731, becomes the Royal Dublin Society on June 19, 1820.

The society is founded by members of the Dublin Philosophical Society, chiefly Thomas Prior. On July 1, 1731, at the second meeting of the Society, the designation “and Sciences” is added to the end of its name. The Society’s broad agenda is to stimulate economic activity and aid the creation of employment in Ireland. For the first few years of its existence, the Dublin Society concentrates on tillage technology, land reclamation, forestry, the production of dyestuffs, flax cultivation and other agricultural areas.

In 1738, following the publication of his pamphlet entitled Reflections and Resolutions Proper for the Gentlemen of Ireland, Samuel Madden initiates a grant or “premium” scheme to create incentives for improvements in Irish agricultural and arts. He proposes that a fund of £500 be raised for this purpose and he personally contributes £130. By 1740 the premium scheme has raised £900, and is adjudicated upon the following January and awarded to enterprises in earthenware, cotton, leatherwork, flax, surveying, as well as a number of painters and sculptors.

In 1761 the Irish Parliament votes for £12,000 to be given to the Dublin Society for the promotion of agriculture, forestry, arts and manufactures. This funding is used to increase the amount of premiums distributed by the Dublin Society. Further funds are given by Parliament to the Dublin Society on a sporadic basis until 1784 when an annual parliamentary vote of £5,000 is put in place and remains so until the dissolution of Grattan’s Parliament in 1800.

The “Royal” prefix is adopted in 1820 when George IV becomes Society patron.

The society purchases Leinster House, home of the Duke of Leinster, in 1815 and founds a natural history museum there. The society acquires its current premises at Ballsbridge in 1879, and has since increased from the original fifteen to forty acres. The premises consist of a number of exhibition halls, a stadium, meeting rooms, bars, restaurants, and RDS Simmonscourt Pavilion, a multi-purpose venue.

The Boyle Medal, named after Robert Boyle (1627–1691), is inaugurated in 1899 and is awarded jointly by the RDS and The Irish Times for scientific research of exceptional merit in Ireland. As of 2014 the medal has been awarded to 39 scientists.


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The Octennial Act Receives Royal Assent

parliament-of-irelandThe Octennial Act, an act of the Parliament of Ireland which sets a maximum duration of eight years for the Irish House of Commons, receives royal assent on February 16, 1768. Before this, a dissolution of parliament is not required except on the demise of the Crown, and the previous three general elections were held in 1715, 1727, and 1761, on the respective deaths of Anne, George I, and George II. After the act, general elections are held in 1769, 1776, 1783, 1790, and 1798.

Limiting the duration of parliament is a prime objective of the Irish Patriot Party. Heads of bills are brought, by Charles Lucas in 1761 and 1763 and by Henry Flood in 1765, to limit parliament to seven years as the Septennial Act 1716 does for the Parliament of Great Britain. The heads are rejected by the Privy Council of Great Britain, which, under Poynings’ Law, has to pre-approve any bill before it is formally introduced in the Irish parliament.

Since the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, the British government has wished to increase the size of Irish regiments, the part of the British Army charged on the Irish exchequer rather than the British. In 1767, the Chatham Ministry appoints George Townshend, 4th Viscount Townshend, as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and instructs him to secure the support of the Irish parliament for an Augmentation Bill to effect this increase. The British consider several possible concessions to win over the Irish Patriot Party, and at his speech from the throne, Townshend promises judicial tenure quamdiu se bene gesserint and hints at a Septennial Act.

Lucas again introduces heads of a Septennial Bill on October 20, 1767. Barry Maxwell introduces heads of a judicial tenure bill the same day. In November, the appointment of James Hewitt, 1st Baron Lifford, as Lord Chancellor of Ireland alienates the Undertakers who had hoped for the post. In addition, the British Privy Council adds a wrecking amendment to the judicial tenure bill, which causes the Irish parliament to reject the bill once returned to Dublin. The council also makes three amendments to Lucas’ bill – to the preamble, to extend the limit from seven to eight years, thus an Octennial Bill, and to bring forward the date of the next general election from 1774 to 1768. According to Francis Plowden, the Privy Council insists on the modification to eight years as a wrecking amendment, expecting that the Irish parliament will reject the bill on principle once any amendment has been made to it, and is disappointed when its amended bill is passed. William Edward Hartpole Lecky calls this “without foundation,” stating the actual reasons for eight years are that the Irish Parliament only meets every second year, and to reduce the chance of Irish and British general elections coinciding.

The Octennial Act reinvigorates the Commons, both with newly elected reformers and with MPs made more active by the prospect of imminent re-election. Changes include more assertiveness over supply bills and Poynings’ Law, easing the penal laws, and securing the Constitution of 1782. There are unsuccessful attempts to shorten the maximum duration, in 1773 by Sir William Parsons and in 1777 by Sir Edward Newenham.

The act is rendered moot when the Parliament of Ireland is abolished by the Acts of Union 1800. It is formally repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1879.


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Enactment of Poyning’s Law

poynings-law-enactedPoynings’ Law, also known as the Statute of Drogheda, an Act of the Parliament of Ireland which provides that the parliament cannot meet until its proposed legislation has been approved by both Ireland’s Lord Deputy and Privy Council and by England’s monarch and Privy Council, is enacted on December 1, 1494.

Poynings’ Parliament is called by Sir Edward Poynings in his capacity as Lord Deputy of Ireland, appointed by King Henry VII of England in his capacity as Lord of Ireland. Coming in the aftermath of the divisive Wars of the Roses, Poynings’ intention is to make Ireland once again obedient to the English monarchy. Assembling the Parliament on December 1, 1494, he declares that the Parliament of Ireland is thereafter to be placed under the authority of the Parliament of England. This marks the beginning of Tudor direct rule in Ireland, although Henry VII is still forced to rely on Old English nobles (such as Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, despite his support for Lambert Simnel) as his deputies in Ireland through the intervening years.

The working of Poynings’ Law takes place in several steps. The first step is for the lieutenant governor and the Irish council, or Irish executive, to decide that a parliament is needed, usually for the purpose of raising funds. At this point the council and lieutenant write drafts of legislation to be proposed to the king and his council. After this has been completed, the lieutenant and council, according to the act, are required to certify the request for parliament “under the great seal of that land [Ireland],” and then forward it to England for approval. Once the request arrives in England, it is reviewed by the King and his council, and a formal licence approving the request for parliament and the draft bills are returned to Ireland. Once the licence is received in Ireland, the governor summons parliament and the bills are passed.

The two important aspects of the procedure presented by Poynings’ Law are transmission and certification. Both of these requirements place limits on various parties within the law making process in Ireland. The combination of these processes create a situation where bills can be sent, along with the request for parliament, and the king can amend and remove such bills as he wishes, however he cannot add new bills himself.

Furthermore, the two processes make it impossible for the Irish to add more bills or amendments to a request, after the initial licence request has been granted. This means that any additional bills or amendments that they wish to pass in parliament have to be re-sent along with an entirely new request for parliament. Clearly this creates severe inefficiencies in the legislative process, and thus gives the executive in Ireland as well as the Crown an interest in relaxing procedure.

Poynings’ Law is a major rallying point for later groups seeking self-government for Ireland, particularly the Confederate Catholics in the 1640s and Henry Grattan‘s Patriot Party in the late 18th century, who consistently seek a repeal of Poynings’ Law. The Act remains in place until the Constitution of 1782 gives the Irish parliament legislative independence. The Acts of Union 1800 render most of the Constitution of 1782 and Poynings’ Law moot. Poynings’ Law is formally repealed as obsolete by the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1878.