The structure of the irish legal system resembled that of England, with one theoretically important difference: from 1701 English judges held office during good behaviour (quam diu se bene gesserint) and could be dismissed only with the consent of parliament. Irish judges held office during the sovereign's pleasure (durante bene placito regis), and during the reign of Queen Anne this power was liberally used. After the Hanoverian succession became established this appears to have made little difference to their security of tenure, but it was felt to be a constitutional grievance; as such it was remedied in 1782 in 21 & 22 Geo. III, c. 50.
The Judiciary and the Courts
There were the four courts – Chancery, King's Bench (Criminal), Common Pleas (Civil), and the Exchequer (Financial) – and the Prerogative Court, from which there was an appeal to the Court of Delegates in Chancery, and until 1715 there was the separate jurisdiction of the Ormonde Palatinate of Tipperary, which vanished with the attainder of the 2nd Duke. There was also a Court of Admiralty which, until 1784, was subordinate to the English Court of Admiralty. The three courts, King's Bench, Common Pleas and Exchequer, each had a chief judge and two puisne judges (three after 1784), making a total of nine (twelve); there were also the Chancery judges, the Chancellor, the Master of the Rolls and the Judge of the Prerogative Court. There was, however, a genuine shortage of judges to go on the five assize circuits.186 This led to the custom of commissioning the Prime Serjeant, Attorney General, Solicitor General and some of the senior King's Counsel as assize judges.187 As confirmed by the Declaratory Act of 1719, 6 Geo. I, c. 5 (GB), the British House of Lords remained the final court for Irish appeals until 1783, when the Renunciation Act, 23 Geo. III, c. 28 (GB), finally restored appellate jurisdiction to the Irish House of Lords.
Following the appointment of Primate Boulter in 1724 there was a very firm policy of keeping a majority of the principal appointments in all the great departments of church and state in the hands of men brought over from England in order to form a natural support for the administration. Between the resignation of Alan Brodrick (0237) in 1725 and the appointment of John FitzGibbon (0749) in 1789, the Lord Chancellor was invariably an Englishman, although he could have had a previous career in Ireland, like Lord Chancellor Bowes (0196). 'But I hope it will be a point still kept up,' wrote Boulter in 1726, 'to have two English chiefs amongst the judges.'188 Remnants of this idea survived as late as 1767, when Lord Townshend tried to persuade the British government to appoint an Irishman to the woolsack. The British Lord Chancellor, Lord Camden, counselled the cabinet to reconsider his request, emphasising that:
the Chancellor, Chief Baron and Chief Justice are called to the Council in Ireland, in the quality of statesmen, and that the Council in that country is an assembly of equal importance with either of the branches of the legislature. If the Lord Lieutenant is surrounded with Irish only filling these offices at the board he is subject to be over-ruled in every quarter by the great chiefs of the law, in which case I doubt he must submit ...
It was therefore dangerous as well as expensive patronage, for, as Camden pointed out: 'the highest post in the law could be given to one member only of the House of Commons (for only one can have it).'189 The permanent residence of the viceroy after 1767 and its administrative consequences combined with increasing political awareness and activity to end the custom of 'an helpless and at best a second-rate stranger coming here from Westminster Hall', while the first-rate abilities of the foremost Irish lawyers ensured their appointment as the great places in the law were vacated. Fitzgibbon's (0749) appointment completed the gradual resumption of all the great non-sinecure positions in the law by Irishmen.
The principal law officer was the Lord Chancellor, whose salary depended on various fees, such as half the fee for the issue of each original writ and £3,000 a year for his parliamentary duties in the House of Lords, over which he presided. Under him there were the Chief Justices of the King's Bench and Common Pleas and the Chief Baron of the Exchequer, with their puisne judges or barons. The Chief Justice of Common Pleas and the Chief Baron of the Exchequer each received a salary of £1,000 a year; their puisne judges or barons received £800. The Chief Justice of King's Bench and his puisne judges or barons received, respectively, slightly more. King's Bench was much the more onerous of the two chief judgeships – earlier in the century Archbishop Boulter referred to Common Pleas as 'almost a sinecure'. There were also courts attached to corporations of major towns, usually presided over by the recorder, the mayor or an alderman, and much of their business was sorting out urban problems and disagreements. Similarly some manors had been established with the right to hold courts leet or courts baron. Where the tenants were part of a manor with a grant of manorial jurisdiction, their disputes could be heard and settled in the manor court.
Eighteenth-century leases often contained a variety of feudal obligations. Among these was suit to court, which required the tenant to attend the landlord's court 'as often as he or they shall be legally summoned ... and shall or will pay at the same the usual fees of leet-money or head-silver'.190 Some estates had a franchisal jurisdiction which allowed the landlord or his representative to hold a court leet to try minor criminal cases occurring on the manor.191 The court baron heard civil pleas involving cases of not more than 40 shillings. Very often, particularly in Ulster, the two jurisdictions were blended together. A court of record had wider powers, but was less common. Its jurisdiction, which was much more rarely granted, extended to disputes of up to £100. Manor courts offered a cheap and speedy means of resolving petty disputes, usually over such matters as the upkeep of fences and ditches, trespass, petty theft and similar causes of friction. They continued into the nineteenth century, during which they gradually declined, and were finally abolished in 1859. An inquiry into their operation was held in 1837: at that time there were about 200 manor courts in operation. Among those giving evidence to this inquiry was the seneschal, or presiding official, of three courts in West Cork. He explained their utility and their function:
The people are invariably pleased with being able to tell their story in Irish and to address the jury through me and to tell their story as they like themselves. The jury are conversant with their little manners, customs and bargains much better than gentlemen and all that; I do think that many of them would come to a better and fairer decision than almost any magistrate, at least more satisfactory to the parties.
Other medieval remnants were referred to in the statutes, the most common being 'benefit of clergy', for instance in 2 Anne, c. 12. This dates back to the medieval antagonism that periodically existed between church and state. The church claimed the right to try accused clergy, and clergy were widely defined; consequently almost anybody who could read and was therefore capable of being a priest could claim it and escape capital punishment. It was gradually rescinded during the eighteenth century and finally removed from the statute book in the nineteenth century.193 Another anachronism was 'damage clear', which was a fee formerly paid in the Court of Common Pleas, King's Bench and Exchequer in cases where damages were recovered; it was abolished in England in 1665. Replevin, which figures in a number of statutes, is the provisional recovery of confiscated goods and chattels pending the outcome of trial and judgment. Mortmain refers to lands in the hands of an institution, usually the church.
Eighteenth-century Irish society was litigious, and consequently 'the disproportion of the salaries of the Bench with the profits of the Bar, are causes that the young lawyers of ability attach themselves to parties in parliament, instead of looking directly to the notice of the crown.'194 In 1781 judicial salaries were increased, and they could be augmented in various ways – for instance, the Chief Baron and Barons of the Exchequer were entitled to fees on approving the public accounts. Nevertheless, the judges' remuneration remained considerably below the profits which could be made at the Bar. The Prime Serjeant, Attorney General and Solicitor General's salaries were largely made up from various fees, therefore it is very difficult to calculate them accurately. During the period 1763–84, when W. Gerard Hamilton (0948) held the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer as a sinecure, the Attorney General was largely responsible for the duties of this office. The king, while interested in Irish legal appointments, was generally willing to accept the nominations of the Lord Lieutenant, if approved by the British Chancellor and the cabinet.
Straightforward cases could be heard in the Court of Petty Sessions presided over by a single Justice of the Peace. Two JPs sitting together had a wider jurisdiction, while more complex cases were referred to the Courts of Quarter Sessions, which could try certain felonies. JPs were appointed by the Lord Chancellor except in corporate boroughs, where the corporation had the right under their charter of making such appointments. They usually chose the mayor, an alderman or similar officials. The number of JPs was theoretically large – in 1760 more than 2,000 were listed, with the qualification that 'probably they are not all living.'195 To be a JP was an honour, but to exercise its function could be burdensome. It has been estimated that there were about 3,000 JPs at the end of the century who could administer minor jurisdiction in the Courts of Petty and Quarter Sessions, but throughout the country there were probably not more than 500 active magistrates. It was an unpaid honour, and the JPs might or might not have any legal training. Under these circumstances it was inevitable that efficiency and equity varied from place to place and time to time.
Appeals and serious cases came before the judges from the four central courts, who went on circuit twice a year to hold the assize in the county towns. On these occasions the high sheriff empanelled a grand jury of 23 JPs. The grand jury was a jury of indictment. It decided the work of the judges. At the conclusion of the assize and its accompanying business, the grand jury was disbanded.196 The petty jury was the jury of trial. It differed from the modern jury, which is expected to be ignorant of the case: the eighteenth-century jury often knew about the case and the reputation of the defendant. They also had a knowledge of local customs and the local version of Irish or dialect, which was sometimes useful. According to 11 Geo. II, c. 6, proceedings were to be in English and not in Latin, French or any other language. It is interesting that many counties employed a salaried official known as the interpreter; this indicates at least a desire that justice should be available to all. Contrary to this were local patronage and self-interest, as well as the possibility of intimidation. For instance, in the 1780s, absenteeism, profit rents and the high returns from the provision trade combined with a shortage of qualified Protestant landlords to produce an acute shortage of magistrates 'of education, experience or hereditary respectability'. Consequently, unsuitable magistrates were appointed and brought justice into disrepute in an already alienated society, for 'upon slight suspicion, or vague information, they took up and imprisoned many who were innocent.'197
Most criminals in the eighteenth century went unapprehended. The severity of punishment was indicative of the difficulty not only of apprehending the criminal but of obtaining a conviction, and it was probably counterproductive as it increased the reluctance of witnesses to testify or victims to prefer charges. For instance, in September 1747 John Todd, the agent of Thomas Lennard Barrett, who had a considerable estate near Clones, Co. Monaghan, reported that he had:
not been one day from this place the seven weeks past only four or five days at the Assizes, and as you were so kind to make me a freeholder that obliges my attendance there, and subjects me to be on Petit Juries, as well as nisi prius and Grand Juries which I heartily felt at the very last Assizes.
Todd's letter reveals some of the difficulties and discomforts that his duties involved: he had been part of a hung jury on a trial for coin forgery. Forging coins was a capital offence, and four of the jury 'without giving us any sort of reason but that their consciences being Presbyterian would not allow them' had refused to convict, 'so we were all confined in the Jury Room all night without any fire only candlelight'. Eventually a retrial was ordered at the next assizes.198 Assizes aimed at clearing rather than filling gaols, thus transportation or execution was the punishment for most serious crime, and even for what would now be considered minor offences. Executions, intended as deterrents to potential criminals, were public spectacles and well attended.199 There was little provision for long-term prisoners.
The Sheriff was the executive officer of the county on both the civil and the criminal side. He was appointed annually and was usually the representative of one of the leading gentry families in the county where he was serving or another county. He presided in person over parliamentary elections, but usually delegated his assize executive duties – such as looking after prisoners – to one or more deputies. These under- or sub-sheriffs were required to take an oath against corruption. Nevertheless, parliament remained exceedingly suspicious about them, and passed statutes to control their and the Sheriff's activities. By 1760 the office had become a burden, and government 'had to induce gentlemen of credit and fortune to take it'.200 The assize could be described as the point at which local and central government met, and the grand jury, which included the leading gentry or, in the case of some of the nobility, their representatives, received a charge or talk from the senior judge on circuit.
Following the assizes, the Sheriff in each county would sarrange for transportations. Irish records on transportation were notoriously badly kept, but it was reported to the House of Lords in 1743 that over the past seven years 1,890 convicts had been transported at a cost of £8,428 – approximately half of these, 937, came from the province of Leinster, and of these 465 were from the city of Dublin.201 The outbreak of the War of American Independence closed this outlet, and in 1778 parliament (17 & 18 Geo. III, c. 9) made alternative provision for convicts by allocating them to the Ballast Board to work on the improvement of Dublin harbour. After the American war an attempt was made to resume transportation to North America. By 1786 convicts were again being sent across the Atlantic at the rate of about 180 per annum when the admiral on duty on the Newfoundland station suddenly refused to accept any more. A ship-load of 80 was turned back, to the confusion and consternation of the Irish government which, thereafter, was forced to adopt the more expensive alternative of sending them to the new penal settlement in Australia, where they were equally unwelcome.202
Prisons and Prisoners
Prison accommodation was totally inadequate, and prison officers, like the police, did not exist in anything approaching a modern form. The problem of where to detain criminals was virtually insoluble to the authorities, who, recognising the ineffectiveness of previous legislation, made two major attempts to solve it – in 1763, and between 1778 and 1786, when social unrest was increasing. Prisons were overcrowded and hygiene was virtually non-existent. It was not until 1784 (23 & 24 Geo. III, c. 41) that parliament advocated separating the sexes, and then only if it was practical. Many prisoners died of gaol fever, a form of typhus, before they came to trial – this disease, to which the great prison reformer John Howard eventually fell a victim, was greatly feared and acted as a spur to prison reform. There were numerous reports of infection being spread at trials, and all who visited gaols ran severe risks. Report after report speaks of the overcrowding, the unendurable stench and the prevalence of gaol fever. In 1729 the House of Commons was told that in Newgate prison, in a room 12 feet square and 8 feet high, there were frequently 14 people and occasionally 20. Most gaols were small. Howard, who visited Ireland in 1775, 1779 and in 1782, when he gave evidence to the House of Commons committee on prisons, found that Kinsale gaol had three rooms, Tralee four, while Londonderry, shared by the city and county, had only six rooms. Moreover, the gaol was often the lower floor of a multi-purpose building; for instance, at Lifford it was under the County Hall and at Antrim and Armagh under the Assembly Rooms. At Castlebar Howard found that 42 prisoners had been confined in a room 17 feet by 22 feet.203
The largest prison in Dublin was Newgate. In 1767 it had accommodation for 80, but the average number of inmates was 170. There was also the Bridewell, where lunatics and minor offenders were confined, and five Marshalseas or debtors' prisons including the 'black dog', where criminals as well as debtors were imprisoned. In 1759 there were reputed to be 705 debtors in gaol throughout Ireland, including 40 women. The Inspector General of prisons reported in 1796 that 716 felons and 575 debtors were confined in Irish gaols. The sums for which they were confined could be large or very small – under £1. Being in gaol was a further expense as it involved paying fees to the gaoler, and debtors were not released until they had cleared the further debts incurred in prison.
The system was wide open to abuse and as early as 1698, 10 Will. III, c. 9, parliament attempted to control extortion by issuing tables of fees that were to be strictly observed. In addition, a prisoner 'shall have free liberty to bring in, or cause to be brought in, his own bed, meat and drink and clothing at seasonable hours without hindrance from the Marshal'. Eighteenth-century gaols, like eighteenth-century society, were hierarchical, and payment could be made by one's family or in some other way for superior accommodation. From time to time parliament attempted by legislation to remove or regularise abuses or anomalies in the system, but there was no effective means of enforcing these laws. The system was totally self-defeating, and from time to time the immediate problem of overcrowding was solved by releasing debtors under indemnity acts.204
Society was not impervious to the problem, and associations were founded specifically for the relief of debtors, who also benefited from the proceeds of charitable entertainments. For instance, the Charitable Society, founded in 1718, gave 'elegant concerts' to raise funds for this purpose. Individuals tried to relieve or ameliorate prison conditions; for instance, the Butler family sent coal to prisoners in Kilkenny gaol and in 1747 Anne, Viscountess Midleton, bequeathed £200 to a society for the assistance of discharged prisoners.205 In 1791, the eccentric Earl–Bishop gave 100 guineas to free 70 debtors in Omagh gaol, Co. Tyrone.
In 1770 a decision was made to rebuild both the city Marshalsea and Newgate. Nevertheless, although it was by far the biggest gaol in Ireland, Newgate was soon overcrowded. In 1784 the Lord Chancellor, Lord Lifford, complained that it was almost impossible to visit Newgate without being robbed, and that the same was true for all the gaols in the kingdom.206 In 1765 there were 42 gaols of various types, and by the 1770s every county in Ireland possessed some sort of penitentiary. During the following decade the building of Newgate, combined with the reports of John Howard on his tour of Irish prisons in 1778, encouraged a wave of gaol building and improvement. An Inspector General, Sir Jeremiah Fitzpatrick (see below), was appointed and in 1796 he reported on 51 prisons.207
The condition of the gaols was mirrored in the calibre of the gaolers, who were corrupt and depraved to such a degree that they appear to have differed little from some of their charges. Indeed, in some prisons they were 'trusties' or criminals elevated to the role of gaolers. The office of gaoler was one of profit because of the legitimate, and more often illegitimate, fees that he could demand from the prisoners. In 1726 parliament passed an act forbidding, under a penalty of £500, anyone to 'buy, sell, let or take to farm the office of gaoler'. Previously the office had been openly farmed to the highest bidder. However, three years later the House of Commons discovered that Ashenhurst Isaack, Keeper of Dublin's Newgate Prison, had given £245 to the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, who had the disposal of the gaol; his successor, John Hawkins, had done likewise with an additional £100 to the Mayor and Sheriffs for their support. Hawkins had not made a bad bargain, as it transpired that he was getting £1,163 from room rents, fees and perquisites, in addition to other extortions 'not to be computed or valued'. Isaack, his predecessor, had allowed several notorious robbers to escape.208
During the first half of the eighteenth century the gaoler was expected to keep the prison in repair.209 Confronted with this evidence, and probably with an increase in crime, as 1729 was a year of scarcity, parliament again sought legislative remedies in a flurry of statutes: 3 Geo. II, c. 4, 5, 9, 15, 20, all attempted to improve the administration of justice. But the defects in the prison system in general, and in the conduct of gaolers in particular, were extant in 1778, when Howard reported that 'some of the under-sheriffs in Ireland are guilty of a great abuse in taking 20 or 30 guineas off the gaolers for their appointments.'210 There were some exceptions to this custodial criminality; for example, Howard praised the gaoler at Cork, and the House of Commons recorded the exemplary behaviour of the gaoler in the Marshalsea.211 As institutions, eighteenth-century prisons offered the most vivid picture of concentrated human misery, degradation and squalor.
Again and again parliament sent for reports, considered them and sought remedies for a situation that was beyond either its experience or its resources. In the 1770s and 1780s prison reform had the support of such formidable parliamentary figures as Hussey-Burgh (1059) and the active interest of at least three Chief Secretaries – Sir John Blaquiere (0162) (1772–6), who married in Ireland and made his subsequent career there; William Eden (0681) (1780–2), whose interest in prison reform was well known before he arrived; and Thomas Orde (1594) (1784–7) – as well as the sustained attention of Peter Holmes (1032), MP for Banagher. In many cases their ideas were in advance of those in Great Britain, but, as Howard clearly saw, their police legislation was 'as defective in point of execution as it is commendable in theory'.212 Perhaps the most important result of their endeavours was the appointment of Sir Jeremiah Fitzpatrick, a Dublin physician, as Inspector General of Prisons with a brief to keep the problem before the House through regular reports on the condition of prisons throughout the kingdom. The establishment of systematic inspection by competent and devoted officials ultimately provided the link between the parliamentary statute and its effective implementation.
he application of the law
'The criminal law of Ireland is the same as that of England,' observed Arthur Young towards the end of the 1770s, 'but the execution of it is so different as scarcely to be known.' He continued: 'another circumstance, which has the effect of screening all sorts of offenders, is men of fortune protecting them, and making an interest for their acquittal, which is attended with a variety of evil consequences.'213 De Latocnaye remarked that:
There are ... arrangements for facilitating the procuring of justice for the poor, but these means cannot be employed decently except by the man who has nothing at all. It is difficult for the poor pleader to bring his cause to the ear of a judge; nevertheless, there are examples of poor men obtaining justice, and quickly, but in the main these are cases where rich men have taken their cause and made it their own.214
There were other, less formal, ways of settling small local disputes, varying from courts of conscience in the cities to parishes in areas where the Established Church was strong or, as the session books record, to the Kirk Sessions in Ulster, where the Presbyterian Church has always maintained jurisdiction over its adherents.
Moreover, maintenance was not the only medieval custom extant, for the popular magistrate Sir William Richardson of Augher Castle, Co. Tyrone, had devised a system of trial by combat: sturdy disputants who appealed to him in his magisterial capacity were armed with cudgels and dispatched to the back yard of the castle to fight it out!215 Maria Edgeworth summed up the situation in Castle Rackrent: '"I'll have the law on you, so I will" is the saying of an Englishman who expects justice. "I'll have you before his honour" is the threat of an Irishman who hopes for partiality.'216
In 1787, when lawlessness was increasing and the calibre of the magistracy was giving increasing cause for alarm, 27 Geo. III, c. 40, attempted to improve the administration of justice by authorising the Lord Lieutenant to appoint a barrister of at least six years' experience to assist the JPs in disturbed areas. A JP was expected to supervise local law-enforcement officials such as a constable and the watch. He was to have a salary not in excess of £300 p.a. and to be debarred from sitting in parliament. Nine years later, in 1796, 36 Geo. III, c. 25, allowed the Lord Lieutenant to appoint a legally trained resident magistrate in every county.217
The state of Irish justice throughout the century was deplorable, from the viewpoint of both equity and efficiency. This was partly due to the fact that, like English justice, it was based on trial by jury: a system that can only operate successfully with the co-operation and consent of the majority of the nation. In Ireland it never had this. Dr John Hotham, Bishop of Clogher, commented in 1777 that 'I believe there is no country in the world where real justice is so seldom done by the determination of a jury.'218 A few years later R. L. Edgeworth decided to take up residence permanently in Ireland, and undertook his duties as a landlord and a magistrate most seriously. He was greatly concerned at the casual attitude evinced in the taking of oaths – 'that great bond of civil society, which rests on religion' – and endeavoured to explain to the witnesses the perils of perjury. Interestingly, perjury was a crime for which only the Irish were transported to New South Wales in the early days of the colony.219
Riot was the great weapon of the unrepresented poor,220 and the nightmare of eighteenth-century governments, whose means of law enforcement were slender. The level of literacy was low, news unreliable, rumour rife, unemployment high and faction fighting an established ritual between certain groups. Riots could easily be whipped up by demagogues playing on real or fictitious fears. Frequently they caused extensive damage to life and property, and most prominent politicians could expect to have their windows broken and filth slung at their carriages in the course of their careers. Riots could spring from a wide variety of causes. Food riots, triggered by shortages, high prices and real or suspected hoarding, were cyclical occurrences. Feeding the capital was a matter of law and order as well as of humanity, and the same was true of other sizeable towns, particularly Cork. The discovery of a priest catcher, or the execution of a popular criminal, could easily result in a riot or lynching.
Economic distress often triggered riots, as combinations were well established in Dublin and other sizeable towns. Apprentices could riot in an industrial dispute; for instance, at Cork De Latocnaye found that 'the apprentice-shoemakers had by common accord, struck work, in order to force their masters to increase their wages.' They had marched through the streets shouting and accosting master shoemakers in their houses. When the magistrates appeared with a detachment of soldiers, a taunting game of hide and seek ensued until dark.221 Traditional faction fights were another source of riot and the two factions, like twentieth-century football fans, often got out of control.
Political riots were a feature of life in Dublin, accompanying virtually every major political confrontation. During the 1713 election the Whig and Tory disputes led to a spectacular riot. The mob, which included a number of students with Jacobite sympathies from Trinity College, stormed the polling platform. The sheriffs, who felt that law and order had collapsed, sent for the army. A troop of dragoons was hastily sent to quell the trouble. One rioter was shot dead and another seriously injured. Some soldiers and rioters were arrested and brought before the courts, where the soldiers were exonerated and the rioters convicted. When the poll reopened further trouble was avoided by having separate polling stations for each party.222 From time to time the mob actually broke into the Parliament House.
In 1759, when there were rumours of a political union with Great Britain, there were a series of major disturbances.223 Thomas Waite (2154), the Under-Secretary at the Castle, wrote to Sir Robert Wilmot, the Lord Lieutenant's Secretary in England, that 'I thank my stars I never saw such rioting in a civilised country as there was here the beginning of this month; the day that the mob took possession of the Parliament House, they threatened everybody alike.'224
Officials were uncertain as to what exactly had started the rampage. Lord Chancellor Bowes (0196) thought that it was 'the efforts of those wicked insinuations to the prejudice of Government in 1753 which, with the natural dislike to English rule, has rendered the people easy of belief of all suggestions to its prejudice'.225 The rioters forced members of both Houses to take an oath never to consent to a union. A peer was stripped of his robes and the Attorney General injured. The mob broke into the Parliament House, installed an old woman in the Chancellor's seat in the Lords and threatened to burn the Journals of the House of Commons. The Lord Mayor of Dublin and the sheriffs refused to intervene, and order was finally restored by the army. The Chief Secretary, Richard Rigby (1789), wrote to Wilmot that had 'the mob been suffered to remain till it was quite dark, many houses had been pulled down, and many people murdered, I have not the least doubt ... These mobs and parliaments are damned troublesome to be sure, but assure yourself they don't appear half so formidable to us here, as ... to you at a distance.'226
In 1780, Lord Lieutenant Buckinghamshire declared that 'you will find in no spot any Set so determin'dly and so flagitously mischievous as in the City of Dublin.' Four years later Lord Lieutenant Rutland wrote to Pitt that:
This city is, in a great measure, under the domination and tyranny of the mob. Persons are daily marked out for the operation of tarring and feathering; the magistrates neglect their duty ... In short the state of Dublin calls loudly for an immediate and vigorous interposition of Government.227
The mob had again broken into the House of Commons and on this occasion demanded that John Foster (0805), MP for Co. Louth and shortly after Speaker, 'should be delivered up to their rage with a rope about his neck'. This was the background to 27 Geo. III, c. 15, which was modelled on the British Riot Act, and to the Police Bill, 27 Geo. III, c. 40.
In a hierarchical society traditional influence was important, and the FitzGerald family enjoyed great prestige among the Dublin mob. Many members of the family represented the city in parliament. In 1780 the Attorney General, John Scott (1891), wrote to John Robinson, the Secretary at the Treasury in London, that the 2nd Duke of Leinster (0745) was:
a very high and vain weathercock, whose face turns the City of Dublin, and some other interesting parts of this kingdom, almost to peace or war. Give him what he asks, or more, at least until we have a peace, and you are the gainers. Is it necessary – I hope not – to assure you that I have no interested bias in this affair?228