Law Hall of Fame logoA statute of the agency stated to be the Parliament of Ireland, but in reality the puppet of Edward III's son Lionel, and which set out a series of shocking laws against the Irish in their very own land.

The Statute got its name from the then-seat of the rump Irish Parliament, based in Kilkenny, Ireland (image of Kilkenny Castle, below) and convened in 1367.

The law was pushed through by the king's son Lionel, a harsh man, known also by his British peerage nickname, the Duke of Clarence.

According to Joyce, Lionel had "an insane hatred of the Irish."

It was Lionel who intimidated the Irish Parliament into agreeing with his anti-Irish statute.

More astonishing is that the Irish Lords would approve of such a law, under any circumstances except, perhaps, to temporarily appease the envoy of such a powerful neighbour.

The policy behind the Statute of Kilkenny was the English fear that their settlers were becoming too Irish, even preferring to defer to the Irish Brehon laws. The Irish were the enemy and the statute sought to draw a fence between them and the English settlers.

The viciousness of the legislation and the policy of isolation was apparent from the preamble of the Statute of Kilkenny:

"... many English of the said land, forsaking the English language, manners, mode of riding, laws and usages, live and govern themselves according to the manners, fashion, and language of the Irish enemies ..."

"... the Irish enemies shall not be admitted to peace until they be finally destroyed or shall make restitution fully of the costs and charges of ... war."

Kilkenny CastleHis prohibitions, all with capital punishment or forfeiture of property to those English settlers caught committing the following offences:

  • "... no alliance by marriage, gossipred, fostering of children, concubinage or by amour, nor in any other manner, be henceforth made between the English and Irish of one part, or of the other part ... and if any shall do to the contrary, and thereof be attainted, he shall have judgment of life and member, as a traitor to our lord the king";

  • "... no Englishman be governed in the termination of their disputes by March law nor Brehon law, which reasonably ought not to, be called law, being a bad custom ... and if any do to the contrary, and thereof be attainted, he shall be taken and imprisoned and adjudged as a traitor ...";

  • "... every Englishman do use the English language, and be named by an English name, leaving off entirely the manner of naming used by the Irish; and that every Englishman use the English custom, fashion, mode of riding and apparel ..."; and

  • "... whereas the Irish agents who come amongst the English, spy out the secrets, plans, and policies of the English, whereby great evils have often resulted; it is agreed and forbidden, that any Irish agents, that is to say, pipers, story-tellers, bablers, rimers, mowers, nor any other Irish agent shall come amongst the English, and that no English shall receive or make gift to such ...".

The Statute of Kilkenny also prohibited intermarriage between Irish and English.

Joyce wrote that:

"The Irish living among the English were forbidden to use the Irish language under the same penalty. That is, they were commanded to speak English, a language they did not know."

The law was far too asinine to last. For the most part, it was ignored and though there were a handful of martyrs and lost property in its name, Joyce adds:

"This new law, designed to effect so much, was found to be impracticable and became after a little while a dead letter. It would require a great army to enable the governor to cary it out and he had no such army."

Gwynn writes:

"... the statute of Kilkenny (was) never observed. The use of the Irish language spread in spite of all prohibitions. The great (Irish) lords themselves who passed these measures disregarded them in their own daily lives. Men who wanted to live in the country found it wise in many respects to conform to Irish usage."

Seeing his law-making routinely ignored by the Irish and English alike in Ireland, Lionel left the country in a huff and a puff. When Lionel's Irish wife died, he traveled to Milan, Italy to take a new wife and there, he died in 1368.

But Lionel's 1367 Statute of Kilkenny rang as a rally cry to Irish nationalists for centuries as a useful "example" of English rule.

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, 1495: Ponyings' Law (Ireland)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Legal Definition of Brehon
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Brehon Laws
  • Gwynn, S., The History of Ireland (London: Macmillan and Co., 1924), pages 11, 40-41, 116, 121, 134-135, 193, 214 and 262-265.
  • Hayden, M. and Moonan, G., A Short History of the Irish People (Dublin: Talbot Press Limited, 1921), pages 53, 60-62, 165 and 395
  • Joyce, P. W., A Concise History of Ireland (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1905), pages 46-49, 61, 74, 78 and 165-168.