The Honorable Society of King’s Inns is Ireland’s oldest School of Law. It was founded in 1541 during the reign of Henry VIII when the king granted the Society the lands and properties on which the Four Courts now stand, but which were originally occupied by the Friars Preachers (Dominicans). When the Four Courts were built in the 1790s, King’s Inns moved to Constitution Hill and the benchers commissioned James Gandon to design their present property. Henceforward, these would be the headquarters of the benchers and the School of Law. The primary focus of the school is the training of barristers but now reaches a broader community by offering a wide range of part time and blended learning courses in specialist areas of the law.
In the Middle Ages, the need for apprentice lawyers to learn about common law led to the founding of hostels where they could live and study. The Inns of Court were places where the students were provided with accommodation, meals and tuition. Up to 1800 the buildings at Inns Quay provided all that was needed for practice at the bar. There were chambers where barristers lived and worked, a hall for eating and drinking, books for research, a chapel for prayer and gardens for recreation. Things changed somewhat with the move to Constitution Hill. Chambers and a chapel were to have been built but the plans were never executed. However, many of the 17th century traditions remain or are co–mingled with 21st century developments.
The formal records of King’s Inns (the “Black Book”) date from 1607. Initially a voluntary society but by 1634 membership had become compulsory for barristers wishing to practise in the courts. After the Williamite wars of the 1690s catholics were effectively excluded from the legal profession by the penal laws. This exclusion lasted for a century until the Catholic Relief Act of 1792 when catholics were allowed to practise at the outer Bar.