History of King’s Inns

The Honorable Society of King’s Inns (King’s Inns) is the oldest formally established institution of professional legal education in Ireland. 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).

Inns of Court and Constitution Hill 

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 accessible and online 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 Black Book

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.  

King’s Inns Crest, Motto and Seal

In 1792, 251 years after the establishment of King’s Inns in 1541, the Society was given a charter from George III, which stated that the Society should have a common seal. A well– known 18th–century medallist, William Mossop, was commissioned to design the seal. It consists of an open book, the winged Hibernian harp, and the motto in Latin “Nolumus Mutari”, which we understand to mean as “we do not wish to be changed”.

Today, the motto should be read and understood as a declaration by King’s Inns – the Benchers, Trustees and Council – of their determination that the law will be applied without fear or favour and will not bend to suit the interests of those with power or influence. But, more importantly, it also states that external forces will not change the integrity and independence of King’s Inns as an institution unless these forces are well thought–out and implemented through due process.

King’s Inns will continue to adapt our professional education and training, and methods of operation to be effective, dynamic and modern in practice while cherishing and integrating many of the traditions from the time of its establishment in the 16th century.