The Dublin Liberties, 1600–1850
The ‘liberties’ are a familiar feature of Dublin. Indeed the term survives colloquially to denote the heartland of the old city. But what exactly were the liberties? How did these semi-autonomous urban jurisdictions come into being, and to what extent did they retain their prerogatives until well into the nineteenth century? This study attempts to answer these questions. It examines the medieval origins of the manors of St Sepulchre and of Thomas Court and Donore, ruled respectively by the archbishop of Dublin and the earl of Meath, and of the two smaller liberties of St Patrick’s and Christ Church, subject to the deans and chapters of the two cathedrals. Until modern times the lords of the larger liberties exercised legal jurisdictions comparable to those of the lord mayor (even to the extent of appointing constables and administering gaols), and in all four liberties to a greater or lesser degree they controlled the economic life of their territories through their market juries and by administering the assize of bread, the provision of public lighting and fire-engines. Their activities inevitably led to tensions with the municipal authorities, and with each other, and how they tenaciously maintained their privileges until the demands made by increasingly complex urban society became too much for them is considered.
Kenneth Milne is Historiographer of the Church of Ireland and Keeper of the Archives at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. He edited The Irish charter Schools 1730–1830 (1997), and Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin: a history (2000), both published by Four Courts Press. He has also contributed to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Dictionary of Irish Biography.