LIMERICK CORPORATION

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The corporation exists both by prescription and charter, and its authority is confirmed and regulated by statute. The first documentary grant of municipal privileges was by John, Earl of Morton and Lord of Ireland, in 1199, conferring the same liberties and free customs as were enjoyed by the citizens of Dublin, which were secured and explained by a charter of the 20th of Edward I. Charters confirming or extending these privileges were granted in the 1st of Henry IV., 1st of Henry V., 8th of Henry VI., 2nd of Henry VII., 6th of Edward VI., and 17th and 25th of Elizabeth: the former charter of this last-named sovereign granted, among other new privileges, that a sword of state and hat of maintenance should be borne before the mayor within the city and liberties.

The governing charter, granted by James I. in 1609, constituted the city a county of itself, excepting the sites of the king's castle and the county court-house and gaol; conferred an exclusive admiralty jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, over so much of the Shannon as extends three miles north-east of the city to the main sea, with all its creeks, banks, and rivulets within those limits; constituted the mayor, recorder, and four of the aldermen annually elected, justices of the peace for the county of the city; and incorporated a society of merchants of the staple, with the privileges of the merchants of the staple of Dublin and Waterford.

By the "New Rules" of the 25th of Charles II., the lord-lieutenant and privy council were invested with the power of approving and confirming the appointment of the principal officers of the corporation, who were thereby required to take the oath of supremacy, and the election of all corporate officers was taken away from the body of freemen, and vested in the common council; the discussion of any matter connected with municipal affairs in the general assembly of freemen, or Court of D'Oyer Hundred, which had not previously passed the common council, was forbidden under penalty of disfranchisement; and it was provided, as in other corporate towns, that foreigners and other Protestant settlers in the town should be admissible to the freedom.

James II. granted a new charter after the seizure of the franchises under a decree of the exchequer, but the judgment of that court having been subsequently set aside, it became void; and the constitution of the municipality continued unaltered until the year 1823, when an act of the 4th of George IV., c. 126, commonly called the "Limerick Regulation Act," partially remodelled the powers of the corporation. Numerous incorporated trading companies or guilds were established under these different charters, several of which still exist, but are not recognised as component parts of the corporation, and do not appear to have ever exercised any corporate rights.

The guild of merchants incorporated by James I. having become extinct, was revived by the act of 1823, but has never since met, nor has any attempt been made to enforce its charter, its objects being effectually accomplished by the Chamber of Commerce.

The corporation, under the charter of James I., is styled "The Mayor, Sheriffs, and Citizens of the City of Limerick;" and consists of a mayor," two sheriffs, and an indefinite number of aldermen, burgesses, and freemen, aided by a recorder, four charter justices, a town-clerk (who is also clerk of the crown and of the peace for the county of the city), chamberlain, common speaker, water-bailiff (which office is to be abolished under the New Bridge Act), sword-bearer, high constable, petty constables, serjeants-at-mace, weigh-master, crane-master, and other inferior officers.

The mayor (which office and title were enjoyed by Limerick ten years before they were granted to London), the sheriffs, recorder, and town-clerk are annually elected by the common council on the 2nd Monday after the 24th of June; the four charter justices by the same body on the 2nd Monday after the 29th of September. The chamberlain is elected from among the burgesses for life or during pleasure, by the mayor, sheriffs, and recorder. The aldermen are elected for life from among the burgesses by the common council: the title, however, is a mere honorary distinction, usually conferred on the person who has served the office of mayor.

The common speaker is elected every two years, under the provisions of the act of 1823, by the body of freemen assembled on the first Tuesday after June 24th, in the court of D'Oyer Hundred, and must be approved of by the common council before he can be sworn into office: the other officers are appointed respectively by the common council, the mayor, and the sheriffs. The freedom is obtained by birth, for the eldest son, or marriage with any daughter, of a freeman, also by apprenticeship to a freeman within the city, and by gift of the corporation: the admissions of freemen are made by the common council, subject to the approbation of the court of D'Oyer Hundred.

The act of 1823 requires the council to hold quarterly meetings on the first Monday after June 24th, second Monday after Sept. 29th, and the first Mondays in January and April; extraordinary meetings are convened on requisition of the mayor. All acts of the corporation, except the election of officers, must be now approved of and confirmed by the freemen at large in the court of D'Oyer Hundred, which was re-established by the act of 1823, after having for about seventy years previously fallen into almost total disuse, and is now held on the day following each of the four stated quarterly meetings of the common council, and also within a specified time after the extraordinary meetings of that body: it is composed of the entire body of freemen, and a certified minute of all proceedings at the meetings of the common council must be transmitted by the town-clerk to the common speaker, who presides over the court, for its approval.

The city returned two representatives to the Irish parliament from the period of its earliest convocations until the Union, after which it sent one member to the Imperial parliament; but under the act of the 2nd of William IV., c. 88, it sends two. Besides the freemen, the right of voting belonged to the freeholders of the county of the city, estimated in 1831 at about 2000, making the total number of electors at that period 2413. The above-named act has extended the franchise to £10 householders, and to £20 and £10 leaseholders for the respective terms of 14 and 20 years; the non-resident freemen, except within seven miles, have been disfranchised; and the 40s. freeholders retain the privilege only for life. The number of electors, according to a return to an order of the select committee of the House of Commons, dated Feb. 14th, 1837, was 3186; of whom 912 were freeholders, 14 rent-chargers, 34 leaseholders, 1946 £10 householders, and 280 freemen: the sheriffs are the returning officers.

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