Carlow Grand Jury

Repository: Carlow County Archives

Identity Statement

TitleCarlow Grand Jury
Archive ReferenceIE CCA GJ
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1786-1895
Level of DescriptionFonds
Extent Medium102 items


Creator(s): Carlow Grand Jury

  • Administrative History ↴

    The grand jury system, a form of local government, was in operation from the 17th century (if not earlier) to the end of the 19th century. There were forty grand juries in Ireland, one in each county and a further eight in the urban counties of Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Kilkenny, Galway, Drogheda and Carrickfergus. In 1838, a further grand jury was created when County Tipperary was divided into two ridings for administrative purposes, each riding having its own grand jury. Initially, the grand jury was concerned with the administration of justice. Judges visited each county twice yearly and held court sittings (known as assizes) with the aid of grand juries. Grand juries originally comprised ten members but this was later increased to twenty-three. The jurors were mostly landowners and were chosen by the high sheriffs. By the early 19th century, the grand jury had been assigned a range of other functions and it was by then the most important local body in rural Ireland. Functions included the provision and repair of roads and bridges; and the construction and maintenance of dispensaries, county infirmaries, lunatic asylums, courthouses and gaols. Works undertaken by the grand jury were funded by a local rate or tax called the county cess paid by land occupiers. Proposed works were discussed at presentment sessions. There were two types of presentment sessions (1) county at large which dealt with expenditure for the whole county and the barony in which the courthouse was situated. In addition to justices of the peace, one cesspayer nominated by each baronial session was on the county body (2) baronial which dealt with expenditure to be levied on discrete baronies. These presentment sessions were conducted by justices of the peace, and from 1833 included five to twelve cesspayers. The grand jury met twice yearly at the spring and summer assizes to ratify decisions taken at presentment sessions. For several reasons, there was widespread complaint about the grand jury system: o It offended the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ as cesspayers were land occupiers rather than landowners, and it was the latter who mainly served as grand jury members o Catholics, who comprised the majority of the population, were prohibited from serving on grand juries until 1793 and subsequent to this, continued in the minority on jury lists. This was partly due to property ownership being concentrated in Protestant hands o It is generally considered that over the years the system became corrupt and that grand jurors organised works to benefit themselves or acquaintances. Also, anyone wishing to make or repair a road simply created a certificate stating the necessity of the work and the estimated cost, attested by two persons before a justice of the peace, and submitted it for consideration at a presentment session. Pressure of business was sometimes so great that grand jurors were able to devote only a few minutes to each presentment. Few checks were made to ensure satisfactory completion of works. The grand jury system was subject to numerous parliamentary investigations and some reforms were implemented. The creation of the office of county surveyor in 1817 brought a degree of control into the making of presentments. Reforms culminated in the introduction of the Grand Jury (Ireland) Act, 1836. It gave cesspayers a limited role in deciding how local taxes should be spent but the system never lost its reputation for corruption and partiality. Moreover, the first Land Act, 1870, relieved small tenants of the burden of paying the county cess. Under all tenancy agreements entered into after the enactment of this legislation, tenants were entitled to deduct half of the cess owing on the land from their rent where their holding was valued at more than £4. Where the holding was worth less than £4, the entire sum could be deducted from the rent or was to be paid by the landlord. Most of the functions of grand juries were taken over by the local authorities created under the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, namely, county councils, rural district council and urban district councils. Bibliography Crossman, Virginia. Local Government in Nineteenth Centure Ireland (Institute of Irish Studies for Queen’s University Belfast for the Ulster Society of Irish Historical Studies, 1994) Murphy, Michael et al. Grand Jury Rooms to Aras an Chontae: Local Government in Offaly (Ireland: Offaly County Council, 2003)
  • Archival History ↴

    Official Transfer
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴

    Official Transfer

Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Carlow Grand Jury ↴

    Most of the documents in this collection pertain to proposals for works put before presentment sessions and subsequent contracts.

    The Schedules and Abstracts contain a wealth of similar information, for instance, the names and salaries of officials in the employment of the grand jury eg county surveyor; county treasurer; inspector of weights and measures; courthouse keeper; surgeon at the county infirmary etc; resolutions of the grand jury ie policies they have adopted eg approach to the support of deserted children. The names of deserted children are frequently given in the records; expenses of Carlow Gaol.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    For the most part, documents have been arranged thematically:

    Schedules of sums applied for and applications for public works (county at large)

    Abstracts of presentments (county at large)

    Barony-specific presentment books

    Contract account books

    Bank lodgement books

    Certificates of performance record books

    Funding applications

    Contractors’ books

    Miscellaneous documents (includes several items regarding the building of Carlow Courthouse)

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Available for research by appointment with the Archivist.
Conditions Governing ReproductionBound volumes may not be photocopied but digital photography is generally permissible.
Creation Dates1786-1895
Level of DescriptionFonds
Extent Medium102 items
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Finding Aids Descriptive list available Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Related MaterialCarlow Grand Jury commissioned the building of Carlow Courthouse circa 1828. Architectural drawings for Carlow Courthouse by William Vitruvius Morrison (1794-1838) were purchased at auction and have been catalogued as part of a discrete collection (document code P2/48). Scanned copies of these drawings are available on our website:

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteCarlow County Archives Archivist
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions16-May-11