When the first Sligo County Council was elected in 1899, it swept away the old Grand Jury regimeA Grand Jury controlled local administration in Co. Sligo from the early 17th century until it was replaced by the first elected County Council in 1899. It had powers to build and maintain roads, bridges, jails, courthouses, mental hospitals and other public establishments, to appoint public officials and to raise the funds needed. It consisted, in the main, of twenty-three jurors from a list of propertied gentlemen and selected by the High-Sheriff of the county.Its constitution and its running of affairs were the source of much discontent. While Sligo Grand Jury had many civil achievements to its credit, e.g. Sligo jail, its mental hospital, City hall and courthouse, together with many fine bridges, nationally, the grand jury system had developed a reputation for abuse of powers. With some exceptions repeated efforts for its reform especially by E. S. Cooper, M.P., of Markree, were defeated by property-owner supporters in Westminster. Despite the removal of catholic exclusion in 1793, it was dominated by a protestant/unionist ascendancy with rare exception into the late 19th century. More than any other issue for the catholic/nationalist population, the funding of grand jury activities was levied not on the owners of property but on the occupants of land, mainly catholic.In an era of national growth,e.g. the Ballot Act of 1872, Parliamentary (Ireland) Act of 1850, the Land League and the growing Home Rule movement, Westminster passed the The Local Government (Ireland) Act of August 1898 that would transfer local administration to an elected rather than a selected authority. The change was “revolutionary”. A nationally 94% unionist dominance in the grand jury was replaced by a 74% nationalist local government, the remaining 26% being mainly Ulster-based. In Sligo the change was total.
Pat O’Brien A retired industrial engineer, project manager and former secretary and president of Sligo Field Club, Pat O’Brien has had an interest in history since childhood. Since retirement he has completed a dissertation on the Kilross elements of the 1749 census of Elphin for NUI Maynooth, contributed several local townland history articles to the Corran Herald, articles on the roads and bridges of Riverstown parish for The Riverstown Story and articles on the site of the deBurgo Sligo Castle and the saltworks in Co. Sligo for Sligo Field Club publications. The operation of Sligo Grand Jury has not been previously researched extensively.