Master of the Rolls in Ireland

The Master of the Rolls in Ireland was a senior judicial office in the Irish Chancery under English and British rule, and was equivalent to the Master of the Rolls in the English Chancery. Originally called the Keeper of the Rolls, he was responsible for the safekeeping of the Chancery records such as close rolls and patent rolls. The office was created by letters patent in 1333, the first holder of the office being Edmund de Grimsby. As the Irish bureaucracy expanded, the duties of the Master of the Rolls came to be performed by subordinates and the position became a sinecure which was awarded to political allies of the Dublin Castle administration. In the nineteenth century it became a senior judicial appointment, ranking second within the Chancery behind the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The post was abolished by the Courts of Justice Act 1924, passed by the Irish Free State established in 1922.

History of the Office

Until the sixteenth century the Master of the Rolls was always a clergyman. The office in its early centuries was closely associated with St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin: several Masters of the Rolls served as either Dean or Prebendary of the Cathedral. The office was originally largely an administrative rather than a judicial office, and not all of the early Masters were qualified lawyers. As late as the mid-sixteenth century the office was held by John Parker, a layman who had made a fortune from selling hats; nor was his successor, Henry Draycott, as far as is known, a qualified lawyer. At that time, as the older title Keeper of the Rolls suggests, the Master's principal role was to have custody of the Chancery records.

Francis Blackburne, Master of the Rolls 1842-6

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the office of Master was notoriously a sinecure for absentee politicians, some of them British. Some of the appointments have been described as "farcical". Richard Rigby is said never to have set foot in Ireland during the 30 years he held the office, and William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, who succeeded him, had no qualifications whatever for judicial office.

Nineteenth-century reforms

In the nineteenth century the office became a full-time judicial position: the Master acted as Deputy to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, with full powers to hear any lawsuit brought in the Court of Chancery. A number of gifted judges, including Sir Michael Smith, Edward Sullivan and Andrew Marshall Porter greatly enhanced the reputation of the office. Michael O'Loghlen was notable not only as a fine judge but as the first Roman Catholic appointed to the Bench since 1688. The office was offered to Daniel O'Connell, who admitted that it was the only office he truly wanted but who nonetheless refused it. Charles Andrew O'Connor, the last holder of the office, was sufficiently highly regarded to be appointed a judge of the new Supreme Court of the Irish Free State.


The 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State prescribed a new court system for the new State but allowed the existing system, based on the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Ireland) 1877, to persist as a transitional measure.[1] In 1923, Charles Andrew O'Connor as Master of the Rolls participated in the Judiciary Committee established by the Free State Executive Council which planned the Courts of Justice Act 1924.[2] In this capacity he caused controversy by refusing to admit an affidavit written in Irish because he did not know the language.[2] When the 1924 Act was passed, O'Connor became a judge of the new Supreme Court.[2] The officers of the Chamber of the Master of the Rolls were transferred in 1926 to the Examiner's Office.[3]

List of Masters of the Rolls in Ireland

Office abolished 1924.

See also


  1. "Constitution of the Irish Free State". Irish Statute Book. 1922. Articles 64–72, 75–76. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  2. Dougherty, James I. (22 April 2009). From the Ashes Arose Justice: The Creation of an Irish Judiciary, 1922–1924 (PDF) (Thesis). Carnegie Mellon University: Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  3. "Court Officers Act, 1926 section 13". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 21 September 2016.


  • The Oxford Companion to Law, ed David M Walker, 1980
  • The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921, F. Elrington Ball, 1926