An Educational Charity | Charity Reg. No. NIC100280
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Charitable Objectives

Local Government

Local patronage was an important adjunct to wealth and property in conferring prestige on the various landed interests. To be governor of the county was proof of one's national position and its recognition by the government. Membership of the grand jury offered many opportunities to gratify what the Edgeworths described as 'certain little preferences, which those gentlemen who have influence on county grand juries, and who can satisfy their consciences that jobbing is right and necessary, easily manage to gain', and R. L. Edgeworth (0688) found himself unpopular when 'he set an example of being scrupulous to the most exact degree as a grand juror, both as to the money required for roads or for any public works, and as to the manner in which it was laid out.'229  Local government operating on so slender a basis requires acceptance on the part of the governed and responsibility on the part of the governors; both were largely lacking. Even towards the close of the century the enlightened Edgeworths could deplore the terrible bigotry that forbade the visit of a priest to a condemned man.230  This fundamental lack of co-operation, evident to a degree on both sides, militated against the growth of an ethical consensus without which informally structured administration could not succeed.

Local Administration

At the level of local government the three administrative strands – judicial, administrative and military (in the role of law enforcement) – came together. Before the late 1770s the Chief Secretary's office was a single unit, but then it was split into two: the Civil and the Military. Among the most important day-to-day concerns of the Civil Department was the supervision of local government, while the Military Department was the official liaison between the army command and the local magistrates' demands for assistance or protection. Until 1793 the penal laws confined the magistracy to protestants, and in some areas there was often a shortage of suitable people. As in England, the quality of local government depended on the quality of the gentry, who were its unpaid administrators. Membership of the grand jury, which met twice a year at the time of the assizes, was restricted to 23 JPs summonsed by the High Sheriff, who selected one person from each barony possessing either freehold property worth £50 or leasehold lands to the value of £100 above the rent. Peers were not eligible, but they frequently secured representation through the appointment of their agents.

Once sworn, the grand jury231  had a civil as well as a criminal function. In the case of the latter it was a jury of indictment or accusation, while on the civil side it arranged for the administration of the county and the maintenance of its buildings, for example the court house and the gaol, and the repair or construction of the roads, and it paid the local officials concerned with the regulation of markets and trade. The administrative activities of the grand jury were financed by a rate called the cess, and special projects might receive a parliamentary grant.

To assist them in carrying out their duties, the grand jury employed two full-time salaried officials, the county treasurer and the clerk of the Crown, who received £10 each half year. The treasurer managed the county property, collected the cess, disbursed payments, and kept rudimentary accounts. The clerk of the Crown kept the county records, received presentments and objections to them, and drafted the grand jury's orders. For these duties, although he usually received a half-yearly salary of £10, it could be increased by statute in certain counties where his duties were particularly onerous. In addition he was entitled to certain fees for entering traverses and on the conviction, outlaw or transportation of prisoners. Another county official was the coroner, who held inquests into suspicious or unexpected deaths, attended to wrecks and treasure troves, investigated escapes of prisoners and had a duty to prevent fatal nuisances. Each county had between one and six coroners.232

The Established Church in Local Administration

The Established Church had a secular as well as a spiritual role. It was the arbitrator of wills, which had to be proved in its courts. The parish was responsible for the upkeep of the property of the church, to which the overwhelming majority of the nation did not belong and consequently resented supporting. For instance, in 1751 John Kinkead, a Presbyterian, representing himself and his neighbours, came to the Earl of Abercorn's agent to complain:

In the name of many of his neighbours in Derrygoon who think that they have been ill-used at their vestry ... the minister constantly adjourning when a full vestry meets to lay on money and says he will adjourn every week until he tires them out and fulfils his designs. One vestry held lately to lay on money for the clerk when they locked the church door and suffered none to enter but such as would agree to lay on £15 for that use.233

The parish was also the unit for the implementation of much local government; for example, until 1760 when it was reorganised under 33 Geo. II, c. 8, the parish was responsible for the very unpopular road labour service, and in the shape of tithes the clergyman levied a universal tax on the locality. The barony was the unit for the collection of central taxation. Its role was central in the everyday life of the locality.

The Role of the Police and Army

The eighteenth-century police system was a direct descendant from the middle ages and in urgent need of refurbishing. Traditionally, a High Constable for each barony was appointed by the grand jury, usually a prominent local figure. Night policing was in the hands of the watch and day policing in the hands of the petty constables, known as Barneys.234  The system was, in common with all eighteenth-century social services, inadequately financed. Consequently, there were too few officials and they were badly paid and frequently poorly supervised. Their efficiency was usually a reflection of that of the unpaid superiors who appointed them, the local Justices of the Peace or, where there was manorial jurisdiction, the seneschal of the manor.

In the larger towns, civic law and order was in the first instance the responsibility of the corporation. Writing from Dublin in 1700, Lady Peyton told her son, Kean O'Hara, that: 'here is mighty robbing in town by several villains that are come on purpose to do mischief.' London was little better, as in 1718 Madame da Cunha, née Catherine Browne, wrote to her nephew that 'since Lady Fitzwilliams, Jones and I were robbed ... coming from the Duchess of Ormond's at Chelseay I don't care for country jaunts: and yet I behaved myself with a great deal of courage, though a pistol was levied at my nose.'235  In Ireland Lord Charlemont was robbed in his own garden at Marino on three occasions in the second half of the century. Sir John Blaquiere, a former Chief Secretary, declared in parliament in 1786 that 'neither the persons nor the properties of the inhabitants are in any degree safe in the streets after dark.'236

As a lawyer, Carr, who visited the city in the early years of the nineteenth century, was interested in municipal organisation and urban social control. Although his view of what he saw or experienced was often superficial, it gives a yardstick of eighteenth-century achievement in this area. Very surprisingly, he found in 1805 that robberies were 'very rare' in Dublin, adding that: 'at night the city is admirably watched and patrolled. Most of the watchmen are armed with muskets, others with a pike having a curved knife.' In fact he found the country so peaceful that he thought that stories of Irish atrocities 'have been manufactured by the editors of English newspapers, to fill up a vacancy in their print'!237  This favourable opinion of law and order in the capital was far from true at any time during the eighteenth century. However, Carr's visit coincided with the exhausted aftermath of the two recent rebellions, which may have temporarily improved the façade of law and order – or, as was suggested, the pickpockets may have followed the exodus of the Irish parliamentarians to London!

From time to time parliament tried to tighten the system and make it more effective. For example, in 1719, 6 Geo. I, c. 10, laid down the duties of the grand juries, Justices of the Peace, and juries of (manor) leets to ascertain and erect watch-houses within their counties and localities and to apportion the appropriate contribution to be levied on the locality for their building and repair and for keeping the watch. The watch was to be provided with watch-bills, staves and halberts, and the watch-house supplied with fuel and candles. Money raised was to be given to overseers appointed specifically for this purpose and to be accounted for at the next assizes, quarter sessions or court leet. A watch was to be kept each night during the dark months, from at least 29 September to 25 March. 'In times of tumult and danger' the watch was to be protestant, but otherwise it could be protestant or Catholic 'promiscuously'. All those who paid hearth money were liable for service either personally or by proxy. Attempts were made to encourage citizens to assist in the preservation of law and order by rewarding those who secured the conviction of criminals, sometimes by half the fine imposed and sometimes by a set reward. Essentially this was a rural or village system, and as the century advanced the problems of urban policing became increasingly obvious. The police system in its modern form emerged in the nineteenth century, and was in part a consequence of Sir Robert Peel's political experiences as Chief Secretary in Ireland from 1812 to 1818 when he, like so many aspiring English politicians, was sent to make his reputation on Irish difficulties.238

In the eighteenth century social violence, particularly in urban communities, was a universal rather than a uniquely Irish problem. The only solution to the inadequacies of the police system was to call in the army. The civilian uses of the army were numerous and not always clearly defined. They were supposed to be under the direct control of the Castle, but often quick action was required in a specific situation. In 1787 the Commander-in-Chief of the army in Ireland pointed out to the Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, that:

The King's troops have been fully employed in assisting to collect the revenue, and in carrying into execution the common and statute law; in supporting the King's writs, and suppressing tumultuous risings ... but for the military there would be no government at all in this country and that in proportion as they are withdrawn, anarchy and confusion will supply their place.239

This situation was not new, as in 1775 Lord Lieutenant Harcourt reminded Lord North, when the British government wished to send Irish troops to America and replace them with German mercenaries, that 'foreigners may, either from their ignorance of the language, or from other causes, not be applicable to the many civil purposes in which the Irish army is necessarily employed.'240  In order to perform these duties detachments of the army were scattered in numerous barracks, of varying size, throughout the country. Apart from the very large barracks at Dublin and Cork there were, for example, barracks of foot at Ballina and Arklow, horse at Castlebar and Clonmel, etc. In these small towns the barracks was usually the largest and most imposing building. The presence of the soldiers made a significant, and not unwelcome, contribution to their economy, although the citizens disliked having to supply the barracks with fuel and candles: they disliked even more the demands of soldiers in transit for accommodation and transport. Many statutes attempted to reconcile the military demands of the soldiers with the lifestyle of the civilians, for instance, 6 Anne, c. 14 (1707 ) and 21 Geo. II, c. 9 (1747 ).

Policing in Dublin presented a particularly acute problem, but to a lesser degree the same problems were present in all cities. Similar attempts were made to strengthen the police in the provincial cities, particularly Cork. In 1778 parliament passed acts for the improvement of the policing of both Cork and Dublin, 17 & 18 Geo. III, c. 38 and 43. In Dublin an alderman was to be appointed to give co-ordinated supervision to the police in each parish. Finally, in 1786, it was recognised that the system of parish policing was inadequate and unsuitable for a city of the size and with the social problems of Dublin. The Dublin Police Act, 26 Geo. III, c. 24, repealed the 1778 act, defined the boundaries of the city as the area within the Circular Road and Phoenix Park, and legislated for a unified police force within the capital. Three magistrates were to be appointed police commissioners by the Lord Lieutenant; under them there was to be a high constable, four chief constables, 80 constables – half on night and half on day duty  – and 400 watchmen. There was to be a central police office and four divisional offices. During the previous year, a similar bill for London had been unsuccessfully introduced at Westminster. In Ireland it was introduced by John Fitzgibbon, the formidable Attorney General, and was immediately the centre of violent, if unsuccessful, opposition. Grattan declared that it was a bill of patronage, while others complained that it encouraged an exodus of undesirables, such as pickpockets, horse-stealers and house-breakers, into the surrounding counties.241

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Registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC100280