Coleman Dennehy gives the winter discourse at the Irish Legal History Society Conference, 2014.

Coleman Dennehy: Law and Revolution in Ireland

1660 is a special time in terms of how government appointed anyone that worked for the state. Because the Cromwellian 1650s had been so radical compared to what had gone before, once the King (and a semblance of normality) had been restored, most of the Cromwellian judges like many other state servants, had to go. This allows us a unique view at appointments policy.

Dr Coleman Dennehy

Dr Coleman Dennehy is an Irish Research Council Marie Skłodowska-Curie Elevate Fellow at UCD, but based at University College London Department of History until 2016, after which he will be returning to Belfield. Dennehy’s research focuses on seventeenth and early eighteenth-century legal history and in November 2014 he organised the conference, ‘Law and Revolution in Ireland: law and lawyers before, during, and after the Cromwellian Interregnum’. Dennehy concluded this event with a paper on ‘Appointments to the bench in the early Restoration period’, which, courtesy of the UCD Humanities Institute, is available as a podcast.

‘Law and Revolution in Ireland’ took place in the Irish House of Lords and was held in association with the Irish Legal History Society (ILHS). The event was supported by the ILHS, the Bank of Ireland, UCD Humanities Institute, University College London Department of History, and UCD School of History and Archives. All of the papers from the conference were recorded for the UCD Humanities Institute podcast series and are available to podcast from the Institute’s website.

In spite of his busy schedule Dr Dennehy managed to find time to have a chat with History Hub about his current work.

HH: Why did you organise this conference, ‘Law and Revolution in Ireland: law and lawyers before, during, and after the Cromwellian Interregnum’?

CD: The conference was an opportunity to gather a number of legal historians, practitioners, and judges together, under the auspices of the Irish Legal History Society, to consider the general topic. I think we all acknowledged that although the study of the general civil wars period in the mid-seventeenth century has been well served generally, we felt that the issues of the law and the lawyers, both of which had played such a vital role in events, had never been thoroughly examined in a way that this importance merited. We gathered lawyers and historians from as far as Colorado in the west and Poland in the east to consider these issues and between their papers and the questions and discussion that followed, we really got the chance to sink our teeth into the issues and spend a lot of time on them. In this regard, I think we attained the objectives, which was to really spend a lot of time exploring, considering, and trying our best to understand how the law, and the people that practiced it, affected the developments of the mid-seventeenth century in Ireland.

HH: What is your current project about?

CD: As cases proceeded through the courts, they could be appealed (as today) to a higher court. Some cases (virtually always relating to possession of large amounts of land), went all the way to the House of Lords in Ireland, and could then be appealed to the House of Lords in London. My project, ‘Competing jurisdictions: appellate justice in the Dublin and Westminster parliaments, 1603 – c. 1730’, will study this procedure and how it developed between the early 1620s and the early 1730s, particularly the practical aspect of costs, attorneys, the time it took, etc. I will then disseminate my findings through conference presentations and also by publishing some articles and a monograph.

HH: You gave the discourse at the conference. What was it about?

CD: The discourse was titled ‘Appointments to the bench in the early Restoration period.’ 1660 is a special time in terms of how government appointed anyone that worked for the state. Because the Cromwellian 1650s had been so radical compared to what had gone before, once the King (and a semblance of normality) had been restored, most of the Cromwellian judges like many other state servants, had to go. This means that a large number of judges were appointed all at the same time. This allows us a unique view at appointments policy, because if judges were appointed one by one over the years, it is difficult to see what were the considerations that led to the appointment. However, when so many were appointed, elevated, or confirmed in their roles at the same time, we can cross-reference all the factors such as education, political background, etc., that might have been a determining factor. It is not necessarily a seismic new discovery, more so a new angle to look at things. These judges that were appointed are those who attended parliament and advised on the cases that came before the House of Lords. Writing the paper was worthwhile as it allowed me to further explore the areas where politics and law interacted and also realise questions that I have yet to understand and answer. Knowing and understanding the question is half the job!

HH: You are currently based in London until 2016, after which you will be returning to UCD. Why did you pick UCD and UCL as the bases for your current project?

CD: I would have to say I found UCL attractive on a number of different levels. In the first instance, its reputation for both teaching and research. As has been seen by the recent REF results and QS rankings, it is a top department in a top university, and so my time here will allow me to work with specialists in the general area I am researching. Add to this the fact that my office is equidistant between the Institute of Historical Research, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, the History of Parliament, and the British Library, with Parliament and the National Archives only a short journey away. This allows me to network with all the other historians in the hub and to tap the rich primary and secondary resources. For the project I am undertaking it is essential to come to London, and UCL was the obvious choice – it is like Disneyworld for an historian!

For UCD, it was an equally obvious choice. It’s a great university and one that I have been very happy working at in the past. There are practical benefits such as knowing all the staff both in and outside the school, knowing the way the institution works, what exactly is in the library and where it is to be found – it is said you lose about three months productivity when you move institution. Primarily though, the choice was intellectual. UCD History is a creative and pleasant environment to work in, and there are many excellent historians working in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that can only benefit me as a historian to work alongside them. There are also several legal historians in the Sutherland School of Law that I have occasional interaction with.


Law and Revolution in Ireland Podcasts The conference was recorded for the UCD Humanities Institute podcast series by Real Smart Media. These podcasts can be accessed on the Institute’s website. Conference speakers:

  • Dr Coleman Dennehy (University College Dublin / University College London) – Appointments to the Irish bench in the early Restoration period.
  • Dr Stephen Carroll (Trinity College Dublin) – Competing authorities: the clash of martial and common law in early seventeenth-century Ireland.
  • Dr Aran McArdle (Trinity College Dublin) – ‘Necessarye to keepe Irelande in Order’: Martial law and the 1641 rebellion.
  • Dr Bríd McGrath (Trinity College Dublin) – Electoral law in Ireland in the early seventeenth century.
  • Dr John Cunningham (Trinity College Dublin / University of Exeter) – Lawyers and the law in the writings of Sir William Parsons.
  • Dr Neil Johnston (Department of Culture, Media & Sport) – Charles II’s legal officers and their influence on the Restoration land settlement in Ireland, 1660-65.
  • Professor James McGuire ( Irish Manuscripts Commission) – Governing Restoration Ireland: the evidence of the proclamations, 1660–70.
  • Dr Andrew Robinson (Northern Ireland Policing Board) – ‘Twixt Treason and Convenience’: Protestant Ireland and the trial of the earl of Strafford.
  • Jennifer Wells (Brown University / Institute of Historical Research) – Scottish and Irish Resistance to Cromwellian Legal Measures.
  • Dr Danielle McCormack (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań) – The rhetoric of law and the Restoration settlement, c. 1660-2
  • Prof. Andrew Carpenter (University College Dublin) – Lawyers and the circulation of scurrilous verse in Restoration Dublin.
  • Dr John J. Cronin (University College Dublin) – Countering a revolution with law: the role of the Irish royalist elite in the law courts of the exiled Charles II: 1649-1660.
  • Prof. Colum Kenny (Dublin City University) – Shooting stars and survivors: King’s Inns revisited 1648-1661.

Photographs from the conference by Real Smart Media.