King's Inns

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The Honorable Society of King's Inns
Cumann Onórach Óstaí an Rí
Type Inn of Court
Established1541;483 years ago (1541)
Founder Henry VIII
Chairperson Hugh I. Mohan SC
Dean Eimear Brown
CEO and Under TreasurerMary Griffin
Address, ,
D01 KF59

53°21′10″N6°16′17″W / 53.35278°N 6.27139°W / 53.35278; -6.27139

The Honorable Society of King's Inns [lower-alpha 1] (Irish : Cumann Onórach Óstaí an Rí) is the "Inn of Court" for the Bar of Ireland. Established in 1541, King's Inns is Ireland's oldest school of law and one of Ireland's significant historical environments.


The Benchers of King's Inns award the degree of barrister-at-law necessary to qualify as a barrister and be called to the bar in Ireland. As well as training future and qualified barristers, the school extends its reach to a diverse community of people from legal and non-legal backgrounds offering a range of accessible part-time courses in specialist areas of the law.


The King's Inns society was granted a royal charter by King Henry VIII in 1541, 51 years before Trinity College Dublin was founded, making it one of the oldest professional and educational institutions in the English-speaking world. The founders named their society in honour of King Henry VIII of England and his newly established Kingdom of Ireland. Initially, the society was housed in a disused Dominican friary in Dublin and secured a lease of lands, originally called "Blackfriars", at Inns Quay on the north bank of the River Liffey in Dublin. [2]

The society was reconstituted in 1607 after a period of inactivity and lost possession of its original premises twice, once at the end of the 16th century and again in the mid-18th century. A period of recovery in the 1780s led to the acquisition of the present Constitution Hill site. [2]

In 1790, the Inns Quays site was acquired for the purposes of the Four Courts; the foundation stone at the present building at the top of Henrietta Street was laid on 1 August 1800, with James Gandon being commissioned as the architect. The building was completed by his pupil Henry Aaron Baker. [3] Turn Again Lane, adjacent to the grounds, was renamed King's Inns Street.

For much of its history, the society functioned more as a club than an educational institution. Irishmen who wished to practise as barristers were primarily educated at the English Inns of Court in London until the late 19th century. It was only from the mid-18th century onwards that courses of legal education were provided at King's Inns. [4] [2]

Some academics have cited the early history of the King's Inns as an instrument by the colonial power for controlling Irish lawyers due to its practice of excluding Catholics from legal practice until the late 18th century until the overturning of Penal laws. [2]

King's Inns initially hoped the 1920–1922 partition of Ireland would not end its all-island remit, and it set up a "Committee of Fifteen" Northern Ireland benchers in 1922. [5] These sought more independence, and separatism was fuelled by King's Inns admitting in 1925 as a barrister Kevin O'Higgins, who had not sat the exams but was Minister for Justice in the Irish Free State. [5] In 1926, a separate inn of court in Northern Ireland catered for the Bar of Northern Ireland. [5] In 1929, Hugh Kennedy succeeded in making knowledge of Irish compulsory for admission to King's Inns. [5]


King's Inns courtyard on Henrietta Street The Honourable Society of Kings Inns (455776430).jpg
King's Inns courtyard on Henrietta Street
King's Inns courtyard at the turn of the 20th century "Classical building - location unknown" is Henrietta St, Dublin (33481350971).jpg
King's Inns courtyard at the turn of the 20th century

The society had generally kept a low profile in current affairs in Ireland, though it did come to prominence in 1972, when financial difficulties led to it selling a considerable stock of non-legal books it had in its library. The library collection dates from the end of the 18th century (when it also adopted its motto 'Nolumus mutari' [8] ), and was based in part on that of Christopher Robinson, senior puisne judge of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland), who died in 1787. Books were sold at auction at Sotheby's, London, and a considerable stock of them was sold to clients outside Ireland. This was seen at the time as a major cultural outflow, as many of the books were of historical and cultural significance. [9] In addition, its library had received an annual grant since 1945 for the upkeep of the books from the Irish Exchequer.

A King's Inns team or individual has often won the Irish Times National Debating Championship, and in 2010 won the European Universities Debating Championships. In 2006 the Inns' hurling team competed in and won the Fergal Maher Cup (3rd Level Division 3) in their inaugural year and subsequently reached the final and semi-final.

The Hungry Tree, a London Plane that is encapsulating a park bench, lies in the grounds of the King's Inns, near the south gate. [10]

Architecture and Facilities

The King's Inns complex, situated near Henrietta Street in Dublin, is considered a significant example of neo-Classical architecture. It is often cited as an integral part of Dublin's architectural heritage. [11] [12]

Initial Design and Construction

The complex was initially designed by architect James Gandon, who was well known for his work on the Custom House and Four Courts. Construction began in 1800, with the first stone laid by Lord Chancellor John FitzGibbon, Earl of Clare on 1 August of that year. Gandon's original design featured two parallel buildings connected by a narrow bridge-like structure at the west front. This structure had three openings and was crowned by a cupola—a domed structure supported by columns. [13] [14]

Due to various delays and funding issues, Gandon resigned from the project in 1808. His assistant, Henry A. Baker, took over and completed the project by 1816. [13] [14]

Extensions and Modifications

The complex underwent extensions in the mid-19th century. Architect Frederick Darley added three bays to the north end in 1846, while Jacob Owen extended the south end by three bays in 1849. These extensions were designed to include fireproof strong rooms for storing records, toilets, a carpenters' shop, and a book binder. [13]

Architectural Features

The King's Inns complex is notable for its use of Portland stone caryatids, which symbolise themes like Plenty, Bacchante, Security, and Law. The building also features a copper dome, a design element that Gandon popularised in Dublin. [14]

Reception, Renovations, and Conservation

The architecture of King's Inns has been the subject of various opinions. Some consider its gable end to be in the style of Louis Sullivan, a renowned architect known for his work in Chicago. [11]

In 1998, a major refurbishment project was carried out in the Registry of Deeds. This renovation included updates to the entrance lobby and conservation work on the staircase, windows, and roof. [13]

Notable alumni and academics

See also

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  1. The society uses the spelling "Honorable", although "Honourable" is now standard in Ireland and Britain. [1]
  2. Notes on list:
    • LCJ: Lord Chief Justice
    • MR: Master of the Rolls
    • KC: King's Counsel
    • QC: Queen's Counsel
    • SC: Senior Counsel


  1. Kitt, Tom (22 June 2000). "Copyright and Related Rights Bill, 1999 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage". Dáil Éireann (28th Dáil) debates. Oireachtas. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Prest, Wilfrid (June 1993). "King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland: the Irish 'Inn of Court' 1541–1800. By Colum Kenny. Dublin: Irish Academic Press in association with The Irish Legal History Society, 1992. Pp. xix + 351. 30 punts". The Historical Journal. 36 (2): 496–498. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00019397. ISSN   0018-246X.
  3. Kenny, Colum (1992). King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland: The Irish 'inn of court' 1541–1800. Irish Academic Press & Irish Legal History Society. pp. 261–265.
  4. Colum Kenny. Tristram Kennedy and the Revival of Irish Legal Training, 1835–1885, Irish Academic Press & Irish Legal History Society, 1996.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Osborough, W. N. (Spring 1972). "Law in Ireland 1916–26". Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly. 23 (1): 53–54.
  6. The Honorable Society of King's Inns: Library
  7. The Longman Handbook of Modern Irish History Since 1800 by N. C. Fleming and Alan O'Day, Pages 481–485 ISBN   0-582-08102-5
  8. Colum Kenny. 2005. Nolumus mutari: time for change at King's Inns?. Irish Jurist, 40, 1, 321–346.
  9. Colum Kenny, King's Inns and the Battle of the Books, 1972: Cultural Controversy at a Dublin Library (Four Courts Press & Irish Legal History Society, 2002), passim
  10. O Conghaile, Pol (10 November 2013). "Secret Dublin". Irish Independent. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
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