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 Law and Disorder in Thirteenth-Century Ireland
The Dublin Parliament of 1297
James Lydon, Editor



 
 English Historcal Review
'Although parliaments met in Ireland from the 1260s or earlier, and we have fragmentary memoranda of decisions taken in that of 1278, the parliament of 1297 is the first from which substantial legislation survives.  This prefigures later ordinances, culminating in the Statutes of Kilkenny (1366), which attempted to regulate peace and war, and relations between English and Irish, in a turbulent, localized frontier society.  The rhetoric of such enactments - expressing the outlook of royal administrators and the more anglicized communities in Ireland - has had a lasting influence on Irish historical writing.  Law and Disorder in Thirteenth-Century Ireland.  The Dublin Parliament of 1297 … contains essays marking the parliament's 700th anniversary.  Philomena Connolly provides a valuable short discussion of Irish parliamentary records, together with a new edition of the ordinances and a more nuanced and less ornate translation than that published in 1907 by H. E Berry.  The main emphasis is not, however, on parliament itself; indeed the book reveals how far study of the Irish parliament has languished since the 196os, when Richardson and Sayles made their final contributions and James Lydon's important articles on plena potestas and related matters (which he usefully develops here) appeared.  Instead, there are four substantial essays on themes suggested by the legislation.  Cormac Ó Cléirigh assesses peace-keeping and the distribution of power in Kildare.  Gerard McGrath traces the main stages in the formation of the Irish counties.  Katharine Simms explores relations with the leading Irish dynasties, providing a perceptive analysis of the dynastic politics of northern and western Ireland around 1300.  Seán Duffy makes fresh and significant suggestions about the hibernicizing of elements of settler society, while permitting himself a little coat-trailing.  His essay prompts the thought that if we forswore the introverted vocabulary of Irish medievalists, and wrote not of ‘degeneracy’ or ‘Gaelicization’ but of (say) ‘cultural exchange’, we might be more likely to spy profitable comparisons with other places and periods.  The editorial preface mentions overlaps, but does not signal the profound differences of approach and interpretation that are the most intriguing feature of a volume in which cross-references are regrettably few.  Lydon, for instance, tends to adopt the centralist perspective of the legislation, and argues a case for regarding it as a scheme of reform that was not, in the short term, wholly futile.  For Brendan Smith, on the other hand, it contains ‘little new’, and should be viewed ‘not as a practical programme but as a declaration of identity through law’.  His essay pinpoints questions that may often enter the reader's mind.  Does the legislation provide an unproblematical description of conditions and a realistic strategy for amendment?  Should it read primarily as a text saturated with the unifying aspirations of late thirteenth-century government, visible in Edward I's other dominions?  Were these not, as Simms implies, hopelessly at odds with the traditions of self-help and structures of regional power that prevailed over the greater part even of ‘English’ Ireland?' Robin Frame, EHR.
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