‘One law, many justices: an examination of the magistracy in Pre-Famine Ireland, 1830-1846’
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This thesis examines the role of magistrates in pre-Famine Ireland, examining their relations with one another, with central government, and with local society. It considers the role of the magistracy in enforcing law and order and also examines precisely which members of the gentry controlled rural affairs through the office of magistrate. This thesis further assesses the effects of central government encroaching upon the local autonomy of the landed magistrates in the pre-Famine decades and explores the reaction of local magistrates to the incursion of Stipendiary Magistrates into their sphere of power. The sense of identity of landed magistrates is considered and questions raised as to its essentially local focus. Questions are also asked about the partisan nature of the enforcement of law and order locally and the effect the magistracy had on suppressing agrarian unrest. To address these question government reports, correspondence with the Chief Secretary’s Office, local newspapers and the personal papers and memoirs of individual magistrates are all used to place the local magistracy in the wider socio-economic context of the early nineteenth century. The study concludes that the landed gentry, using positions such as that of magistrate, redefined its identity and authority in rural Ireland during the pre-Famine period. In doing so some members of the gentry actually used the advances of central government (which were intended to reduce their power) to their own advantage, facilitating the re-establishment of their authority over local society.