Parliament of Ireland

From Academic Kids

This article is about the legislature abolished in 1801. For alternative meanings, see Irish parliament (disambiguation).
Facade of the Irish Parliament House, in Dublin. Today the building houses a branch of the Bank of Ireland.
Facade of the Irish Parliament House, in Dublin. Today the building houses a branch of the Bank of Ireland.

The Parliament of Ireland was a legislature that existed from mediŠval times until 1800. It comprised the King of Ireland and two chambers: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Lords consisted of members of the Irish peerage while the Commons was directly elected, albeit on a very restricted franchise.

Over the centuries, the Irish parliament met in a number of locations both inside and outside of Dublin - the first place of definitive date and place was Castledermot, County Kildare on 18 June, 1264. Among its most famous meeting places were Dublin Castle, the Bluecoat School, Chichester House and, its final permanent home, the Irish Parliament House in College Green.


Early History

The Irish Parliament was originially founded in the 13th century to represent the English community in the Lordship of Ireland. The native or Gaelic Irish were officially considered outlaws and were not eligible to either vote or stand for office. However, in the 14th and 15th centuries, the English presence in Ireland shrunk dramatically, eventually shrinking to a small fortified enclave around Dublin known as the Pale. The Parliament thereafter became essentially the forum for the Pale community until the 17th century. The Palesmen themselves encouraged the Kings of England to take a more direct role in the affairs of Ireland, to protect them from the Gaelic Irish and "Gaelicised" Old English lords. In 1494, the Parliament encouraged the passing of Poyning's Law which subordinated the Irish Parliament to the English one, so that the Irish Parliament could not be bullied by the powerful landed families in Ireland like the Earl of Kildare into passing laws that pursued the agendas of the different dynastic factions in the country.

The role of the Parliament changed after 1541, when Henry VIII declared the Kingdom of Ireland and emabarked on the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland. Thereafter, the Gaelic Irish lords had their positon legalised and were entitled to attend the Irish Parliament as equals (although most members continued to be of English descent). However the Protestant Reformation introduced by the Tudor monarchs changed the nature of Irish politics, as almost all of the population of Ireland remained Roman Catholic. The native community had several disputes in Parliament with the English authorities in Ireland over the introduction of Protestantism as the state religion and over paying for the long-running English wars of conquest in the country. For this reason, in 1613-15, constituencies for the Parliament were fixed so that English and Scottish Protestant settler's representatives became the majority in the Irish Parliament. After the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Irish Catholics were barred from voting or attending the Parliament altogether in the Cromwellian Act of Settlement 1652. They never fully recovered these rights for the remainder of the Parliament's existence.

After this point, the Irish Parliament was again the preserve of a colonial English minority, though now a new, Protestant one. The Anglo-Irish Parliament did asert its independence from London several times however. In the early 18th century it successfully lobied for Parliament to be called every two years (as opposed to on the whim of the monarch) and shortly thereafter, it declared itself to be in session permanently (mirroring developments in the English Parliament). The Irish Parliament also agitated for greater powers relative to the English Parliament and for better Terms of Trade with Britain.


During the existence of the parliament Ireland was to varying degrees subordinate to the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Parliament of Ireland only had control over legislation, while the executive branch of government, under the Lord Lieutenant, answered to the British government in London. Furthermore the Penal Laws meant that Catholics, who constituted the vast majority of Irish people, were not permitted to sit in, or participate in elections to, the parliament; Poyning's Law made the Irish legislature subordinate to the Parliament of Great Britain, by forbidding the Irish parliament to discuss any bill without the British legislature's prior approval.

In 1782, following agitation by major parliamentary figures, most notably Henry Grattan, the Irish parliament's authority was greatly increased. Under what became known as the Constitution of 1782 the restrictions imposed by Poyning's Law were removed. A little over a decade later Catholics were given the right to cast votes in elections to the parliament, although they were still debarred from membership.


The House of Lords was presided over by the Lord Chancellor, who sat on the woolsack, a large seat stuffed with wool from each of the three lands of England, Ireland and Scotland. In the Commons, business was presided over by the Speaker who, in the absence of a government chosen from and answerable to the Commons, was the dominant political figure in the parliament. Speaker Connolly remains today one of the most widely known figures produced by the Irish parliament.

Much of the public ceremonial in the Irish parliament mirrored that of the British Parliament. Sessions were formally opened by the Speech from the Throne by the Lord Lieutenant, who, it was written "used to sit, surrounded by more splendour than His Majesty on the throne of England"1. The Lord Lieutenant, when he sat on the throne, sat beneath a canopy of crimson velvet. At the state opening, MPs were summoned to the House of Lords from the House of Commons chamber by Black Rod, a royal official who would "command the members on behalf of His Excellency to attend him in the chamber of peers".

Sessions of Parliament drew many of the wealthiest of Ireland's Anglo-Irish elite to Dublin, particularly as sessions often coincided with the social season, (January to 17 March) when the Lord Lieutenant presided in state over state balls and drawing rooms in the Viceregal Apartments in Dublin Castle. Leading peers in particular flocked to Dublin, where they lived in enormous and richly decorated mansions initially on the northside of Dublin, later in new Georgian residences around Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square. Their presence in Dublin, along with large numbers of servants, provided a regular boost to the city economy.


In 1801 the Parliament of Ireland was abolished entirely, when the Act of Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and merged the British and Irish legislatures into a single Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The union arose from a number of strains in Anglo-Irish relationships. In 1798 British rule in Ireland was shaken by the failed United Irishmen rebellion. The crisis over the 'madness' of King George III produced tension, as both of the King's parliaments in each of his two kingdoms possessed the theoretical right to nominate a regent, without the requirement that they choose the same person. Nonetheless the situation was resolved when both chose the Prince of Wales.

The result of these tensions was a British government decision that the entire relationship between Britain and Ireland should be fundamentally changed. Constitutionally it was necessary for the Act of Union to be passed by both the British and Irish parliaments before it could become law. The Irish parliament was therefore effectively asked to vote for its own abolition.

After one failed attempt, the passage of the act in the Irish parliament was finally achieved, albeit with the mass bribery of members of both houses, who were awarded British and United Kingdom peerages and other 'encouragements'. On 1st January 1801 the Kingdom of Ireland and its parliament ceased to exist. It was the last legislature in Irish history to have power to legislate for the whole island.

Part of the deal involved the concession of Catholic emancipation, which meant the removal of all remaining discriminatory laws against Catholics and faiths other than the established Church of Ireland. However, following the Union, King George III blocked emancipation, arguing that it conflicted with his coronation oath to uphold the Protestant faith. Emancipation was finally granted in 1829.

In the 1830s and 1840s nationalist leader Daniel O'Connell lead a unsuccessful campaign for the repeal of the Act of Union and the restoration of 'Grattan's parliament'. However those advocating repeal insisted that Catholics be granted the right to sit in any restored parliament.


  1. Unsourced eighteenth century quote used in the Bank of Ireland, College Green, an information leaflet produced by the Bank of Ireland about the Irish Houses of Parliament.

See also


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