Attorney-General for Ireland

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This article is about the pre-independence office. For the modern office, see Attorney General of Ireland.
Michael Morris, later Lord Killanin, Attorney-General for Ireland from 1866 to 1867.
Philip Tisdall, Attorney General for Ireland from 1760 to 1777, portrait by Angelica Kauffmann

The Attorney-General for Ireland was an Irish and then (from the Act of Union 1800) United Kingdom government office-holder. He was senior to the Solicitor-General for Ireland, and advised the Crown on Irish legal matters. With the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the duties of the Attorney General and Solicitor General for Ireland were taken over by the Attorney General of Ireland. The office of Solicitor General was abolished, apparently for reasons of economy, despite repeated complaints from the first Attorney General of Ireland, Hugh Kennedy, about the "immense volume of work" which he was now expected to deal with almost single-handed.[1]

The first record of the office in Ireland, some 50 years after it was established in England, is in 1313 when Richard Manning was appointed King's Attorney (the title Attorney General does not seem to have been used until the 1530s).[2] The Attorney General was, initially, junior to the Serjeant-at-law, but since the titles King's Serjeant and King's Attorney were often used interchangeably, it can be difficult to establish who held which office at any given time.[3] From the early 1660s, due largely to the personal prestige of Sir William Domville, (AG 1660-1686), the Attorney General became the chief legal adviser to the Crown.

The Attorney General was always a member of the Privy Council of Ireland, and a strong Attorney, like Philip Tisdall, William Saurin, or Francis Blackburne, could exercise great influence over the Dublin administration. Tisdall (AG 1760-1777), was for much of his tenure as Attorney General also the Government leader in the Irish House of Commons, and a crucial member of the Irish administration. Saurin (AG 1807-1822) was regarded for a time as the effective head of the Irish Government. In 1841 Blackburne, challenged about a proposed appointment within his own office, said firmly that he "would not tolerate a refusal to ratify the appointment".[4] The office of Attorney General was described at this time as being "a great mixture of law and general political reasoning"".[5]

Attorneys-General for Ireland, 1313–1922[edit]

14th century[edit]

15th century[edit]

16th century[edit]


17th century[edit]

18th century[edit]

19th century[edit]

20th century[edit]

The office was vacant from 16 November 1921[12]


  • Haydn's Book of Dignities (for pre-1691 names and dates)
  1. ^ McCullagh, David. The Reluctant Taoiseach: A Biography of John A Costello. Gill and MacMillan, Dublin, 2010. p. 48. Until 1929 the Attorney General had no full-time civil servants to assist him in giving legal advice, although he did have a number of Parliamentary draughtsmen..
  2. ^ Casey, James The Irish Law Officers Round Hall Sweet and Maxwell 1996 p.7
  3. ^ Casey p.7
  4. ^ Delaney, V. T. H. Christopher Palles. Allen Figgis and Co. Dublin, 1960. p. 60.
  5. ^ Delaney p.60
  6. ^ Hart, A.R. The History of the King's Serjeants at law in Ireland. Four Courts Press, 2000. p. 15.
  7. ^ Hart p. 15
  8. ^ Hart p. 15
  9. ^ Some sources refer to him as King's Serjeant, but the roles of Serjeant and Attorney were easily confused.
  10. ^ In 1839 Smyth in his Chronicle of the Irish Law Officers noted that the destruction of many records made it impossible to compile a full list of holders of the office.
  11. ^ William Courthope, ed. (1838). Debrett's complete peerage of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (22nd ed.). p. 652. Retrieved 11 December 2009. 
  12. ^ Butler & Butler, British Political Facts, 1900–1994, page 9

Further reading[edit]