“Historical Governance in Limerick City: The Role of Freemen, the Hundred Court, and the Common Council”

Limerick city, which was founded by Vikings in 922 AD and later captured by Normans around 1195, has a long and rich history of governance. The Limerick Corporation, renamed Limerick Council in 2002, was established through a charter issued by John, Lord of Ireland on December 18, 1197. Subsequently, the constitution created by this and eleven other charters remained essentially unaltered until 1841.

Three distinct representative bodies governed the city. The Freemen of Limerick met weekly in the Hundred Court, a combined city council and law court. At an annual special meeting, the Freemen would elect the Mayor and, after 1413, two Bailiffs to serve for one-year terms each. The Gild Merchant was an association of merchants similar to today’s Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, the Common Council resembled the modern City Council, comprising aldermen (usually former Mayors) and councillors who were co-opted rather than elected.

Norman knights, similar to those who captured Limerick in 1195.

The executive arm involved the Mayor and two Bailiffs, who were nominally elected by Freemen in the Hundred Court. However, they were usually chosen by the civic elite from the Common Council’s membership. The Mayor and Bailiffs could serve for one year but were eligible for re-election. In 1609, the two Bailiffs were elevated to the title of Sheriff when Limerick city became an administrative county. In 1672, under the provisions of the New Rules introduced by the Dublin government, the right to elect the Mayor and Sheriffs was transferred from the Hundred Court to the Common Council. The Mayor governed the city with the assistance of the Bailiffs or Sheriffs, the Common Council, and a few officials like the town clerk.

Limerick Corporation was a perpetual body corporate, possessing a common seal and its own legal personality separate from individual members of the Hundred Court and Common Council. The Corporation governed an area comprising the city proper and a vast rural hinterland in both Counties Limerick and Clare, known as the North and South Liberties. In 1578, Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary, situated 60 miles from the city, was also placed under Limerick Corporation’s jurisdiction.

Abbreviated & Edited Extract From: Limerick City Council 1197-2014 A Retrospective By Matthew Potter, Limerick City Archives Available Here: LIMERICK CITY ARCHIVES

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