Commons, Constituencies and Statutes
Edith Mary Johnston-Liik
The Irish parliament met for the first time on 18 June 1264 at Castledermott and for the last time in the Parliament House, Dublin, on 2 August 1800. It had lasted for over 500 years, and from 1707 it was the only parliament in the British Empire with the medieval structure of King (represented by the Lord Lieutenant), Lords and Commons. Like the English/British parliament it only met regularly from the end of the seventeenth century.
In 1692 Ireland had a minimal infrastructure; by 1800 it had become recognisable as the country in whose history and culture there is a continuing and irresistible tide of interest worldwide.
The Parliament which sat in Dublin from 1692 to 1800 was the last Irish elected assembly to represent the whole of the island. The principal issues to emerge during the time of the Irish Parliament – the Penal Code, legislative independence, the 1798 Rebellion and the passing of the Act of Union of 1800 – were not only crucial in themselves but continue to influence our understanding of Irish history over the last three hundred years.
The Parliament played a vital role in developing the nature and character of eighteenth-century Irish society. Among the ‘firsts’ it can claim are the Newry Canal, the first commercial waterway (by some 20 years) in the British Isles, and the first maternity hospital, the Rotunda in Dublin, in 1745. Its development of the roads network, fairs and markets, education, banking and commerce and, most crucially perhaps, the linen industry, created by 1800 a vibrant and expanding economy and population.
It was entirely fitting that in 2002, in close proximity to the bicentenary of the Act of Union, History of the Irish Parliament 1692–1800, a multi-volume work published by the Ulster Historical Foundation was launched. It is the outcome of decades of dedicated research, masterminded and edited by Professor Edith Mary Johnston-Liik. The information amassed is presented in a format that has made it an invaluable reference work, accessible to academic and local historians, and genealogists alike.
This authoritative work not only demonstrably and amply rewards the support it has received from the Australian, Irish, British and Northern Irish governments but, unquestionably, will be regarded for many years as the definitive work on the Irish Parliament 1692–1800.
The work was launched in Dublin by the Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern TD, in the old Irish Parliament building in Dublin (the Bank of Ireland headquarters) on Thursday 21 February 2002; in Belfast at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Wednesday 27 February 2002, by the then Minister for Culture Arts and Leisure, Michael McGimpsey MLA; in the Cholmondeley Room, Palace of Westminster, London on Tuesday 26 March 2002 by Lord Hutton; and in the same year enjoyed two receptions in America: in the Burns Library, Boston College, and the US Capitol Building, Washington DC.
Since its publication only four years ago History of the Irish Parliament has acquired an already legendary status. Its authority as a source of reference has been made manifestly apparent in the reviews it has received from the peers of its author:
‘… the History of the Irish Parliament is truly awesome …’, ‘… sheer admiration for an author [who] has not only honoured the memory of those before her … but who has triumphed over the generations of suspicion that frustrated its achievement during the twentieth century’, and as no less a figure than Professor Toby Barnard has admitted ‘all concerned with Irish history even those roaming in the foothills must recognise the accomplishment’.
HISTORY OF THE IRISH PARLIAMENT
Prompted by academics and amateur researchers who were keen to see this massive resource made more accessible Ulster Historical Foundation secured funding from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to digitise the History and make the data available online. The internet version has dramatically enhanced access to the wonderful resource that is History of the Irish Parliament. Online there is a brief digest of the 1,692 statutes passed between 1692 and 1800 – these sum up the achievements and ambitions of the 2,273 MPs who passed them; there are short biographies of the MPs; and a brief history of the 300 constituencies which returned them.
MPS IN DUBLIN
Companion to History of the Irish Parliament.
To coincide with the launch of the online resource, the Foundation published a new one volume companion entitled MPs in Dublin – containing two completely new chapters which look at Irish society and the personal concerns which influenced the MPs. This volume forms a valuable reference work in addition and complementary to the History of the Irish Parliament. It is a particularly useful reference for students of eighteenth century Irish history.
This book was launched at the Bookshop at Queen’s (Queen’s University Belfast) on Thursday 12 October 2006 by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield.