Grand Jury Presentments (1807-1900)
from 'Irish Grand Jury Presentments' by Dr. James Ryan
(used with the author's permission - see full article at The In-Depth Genealogist)
Grand Juries were the forerunners of the modern County Councils. They were a panel of major landowners in each county formed to make decisions on legal and other matters. They were originally responsible only for the justice system, but this was gradually expanded to commissioning of local public works, i.e. building of roads and bridges, and maintenance of public buildings (infirmaries, courthouses, jails etc). It funded these works by means of a county tax on land, known as a cess or ‘rates’. Catholics could not legally serve on grand juries until 1793, and even after this date the jury lists were still predominantly protestant. They met in spring and summer, just after the regular Assizes (local court) sessions. In these sessions, they would hear ‘presentments’, i.e. proposals for grants for the construction or maintenance of roads and bridges etc.
The family history relevance is that the proposals include the names of proposed contractors. On occasion, they may also specify the work to be done by reference to the property of individuals. For example, ‘to build a bridge over the river Lingane at Maurice Shea’s house’ or ‘to repair .. the mail coach road.. between Timothy Duggan’s ditch and Thomas Butler’s gate, all in the townland of Ballydrihid’ (Both from Limerick GJP 1831)
The records state the names of the lead contractors, and a short specification of the work. Some examples from the Limerick Grand Jury of 1831 are;
KINGSTON, Earl; MONTGOMERY, Thomas; O'CALLAGHAN, Daniel; DONOHOE, John: to build a bridge of one arch over the river Barabee, on the road from Hospital to Clogheen, between the townlands of Skeheenarinky & Barabee
LISMORE, Lord; TAYLOR, Edwin; GRUBB, Samuel; MURPHY, Martin: to build a bridge between Michael KENNELLY'S house and his land at Kilballyboy - road from Clogheen to Dungarvan
So, who were these people? The lead persons are local ‘gentlemen’ who may also have been Grand Jurors. The others are likely to be tradesmen with specialist skills in bridge-building.