Michael Morris, later Lord Killanin, Attorney-General for Ireland from 1866 to 1867.
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
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 in rank to the Solicitor-General for Ireland: both 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 for Ireland were taken over by the Attorney General of Ireland. The office of Solicitor General for Ireland was abolished at the same time, for reasons of economy. This led to repeated complaints from the first Attorney General of Ireland, Hugh Kennedy, about the "immense volume of work" which he was now forced to deal with single-handed.[1]

The first record of the existence of the office of Attorney General in Ireland, some 50 years after the equivalent office was established in England, is in 1313, when Richard Manning was appointed King's Attorney (the title Attorney General was not widely 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.[2]

In about 1536 there was a short-lived attempt to expand the role of the Attorney General, which apparently involved abolition of the office of King's Serjeant. The proposal was defeated through firm opposition from the Serjeant-at-law, Patrick Barnewall, who argued that "the King's Serjeant has always used to maintain the Pleas.. for this two hundred years and more". 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. In certain periods, notably during the reign of Elizabeth I, who thought poorly of her Irish-born law officers, the English Crown adopted a policy of choosing only English lawyers for this office.[2]

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 administration. Saurin (AG 1807-1822) was regarded for many years as the effective head of the Dublin Government. In 1841 Blackburne (AG 1830-1834, 1841-1842), on being challenged about a proposed appointment within his own office, said firmly that he "would not tolerate a refusal to ratify the appointment".[3] The office of Attorney General was described as being "a great mixture of law and general political reasoning"".[4]

Attorneys-General for Ireland, 1313–1922

14th century

15th century

16th century


17th century

18th century

19th century

20th century

Name Portrait Term of office Political party
James Campbell
MP for Dublin University
James Campbell, Vanity Fair, 1909-08-25.jpg
4 December 1905 22 December 1905 Conservative
Richard Cherry
MP for Liverpool Exchange (1906–10)
Richard Cherry.jpg
22 December 1905 2 December 1909 Liberal
Redmond Barry
MP for North Tyrone (1907–11)
1911 Redmond Barry.jpg
2 December 1909 26 September 1911 Liberal
Charles O'Connor 26 September 1911 24 June 1912
Ignatius O'Brien 24 June 1912 10 April 1913
Thomas Molony 10 April 1913 20 June 1913
John Moriarty 20 June 1913 1 July 1914
Jonathan Pim 1 July 1914 8 June 1915
John Gordon
MP for South Londonderry
8 June 1915 9 April 1916 Conservative
James Campbell
MP for Dublin University
James Campbell, Vanity Fair, 1909-08-25.jpg
9 April 1916 8 January 1917 Conservative
James O'Connor 8 January 1917 7 April 1918
Arthur Samuels
MP for Dublin University
8 January 1917 7 April 1918 Conservative
Denis Henry
MP for South Londonderry
6 July 1919 5 August 1921 Conservative
Thomas Watters Brown
MP for North Down
5 August 1921 16 November 1921 Conservative

The office was vacant from 16 November 1921[10] and succeeded by the Attorney General of the Irish Free State on 31 January 1922.


  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 there were a number of Parliamentary draughtsmen.
  2. ^ a b c Casey, James The Irish Law Officers Round Hall Sweet and Maxwell 1996 p.7
  3. ^ Delaney, V. T. H. Christopher Palles. Allen Figgis and Co. Dublin, 1960. p. 60.
  4. ^ Delaney p.60
  5. ^ a b Hart, A.R. The History of the King's Serjeants at law in Ireland. Four Courts Press, 2000. p. 15.
  6. ^ Some sources refer to him as King's Serjeant, but the roles of Serjeant and Attorney at the time were easily confused.
  7. ^ Smyth in his book Chronicle of the Irish Law Officers (London, 1839) noted that the destruction of many State records made it impossible to compile a full list of holders of the office.
  8. ^ William Courthope, ed. (1838). Debrett's complete peerage of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (22nd ed.). p. 652. Archived from the original on 27 April 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
  9. ^ T. C. Tobias, ‘Atkinson, John, Baron Atkinson (1844–1932)’, rev. Sinéad Agnew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 accessed 17 Feb 2017 Archived 25 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Butler & Butler. British Political Facts, 1900–1994. p. 9.

Further reading