The Court of Chancery was a court which exercised equitable jurisdiction in Ireland until its abolition as part of the reform of the court system in 1877. It was the court in which the Lord Chancellor of Ireland presided. Its final sitting place was at the Four Courts in Dublin.
The Chancery in Ireland was set up in 1232. The court was abolished under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Ireland) 1877 and its jurisdiction transferred to the newly established High Court of Justice in Ireland, and in particular, in the Chancery Division. The High Court was split into separate courts for Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland in 1920 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. While the Northern Ireland court still maintains a separate Chancery Division, the Irish Free State abolished the divisions of the High Court under the Courts of Justice Act 1924. The High Court in Ireland still maintains a "chancery list", although any judge of the Court may now exercise its jurisdiction in equity.
In the early centuries of the office, the Lord Chancellor was a senior cleric, usually though not invariably an Englishman by birth. In the 15th and 16th centuries, a nobleman sometimes held the office, acting through a deputy. From the Reformation on, he was usually a trained lawyer, though the practice of appointing a senior cleric only ended with Michael Boyle, Archbishop of Armagh who retired in 1686.
In addition to his judicial functions, the Lord Chancellor had a key political role. Until the Act of Union 1800, he was Speaker of the Irish House of Lords even though he was not always given a peerage. After the Act of Union, he was still required to advise both British and Irish Governments on a range of political and legal matters. He was often called on to steer legislation through the House of Lords: Thomas O'Hagan, 1st Baron O'Hagan was created a peer so that he might assist in passing the Supreme Court of Judicature Act. Edward Gibson, 1st Baron Ashbourne was a member of the British Cabinet, but this was exceptional.
The office of Master of the Rolls in Ireland existed from the 14th century. Originally his functions were clerical, but in time he became in effect an assistant Lord Chancellor. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the office was notoriously a sinecure for English politicians, but from 1800 on a determined effort was made to appoint judges of real ability.
From the 1850s, the Lord Chancellor sat as a judge of appeal, with a Lord Justice of Appeal to assist him. The drawback to this process was that the two might disagree as Lord O'Hagan and Jonathan Christian frequently did. No doubt for this reason the Irish Court of Appeal set up in 1878 sat as a bench of three.
In 1867 a new office of Vice-Chancellor was created to assist the Master of the Rolls at first instance. It was abolished in 1904; surprisingly it had only been held by one man, Hedges Eyre Chatterton.
Originally the Lord Chancellor was "keeper of the king's conscience", charged with giving relief in any case where the courts of common law could not supply a remedy. In time, as in England, equity developed into a fully fledged legal system in its own right, parallel to the common law.
O'Flanagan, writing in 1870, noted that he had examined the Calendar of the Court of Chancery in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and found the ordinary business of the Court then to be quite similar to that of his own time: injunctions to stay proceedings in a common law court, proceedings to compel a trustee to make over an estate to the plaintiff, discovery of deeds, and actions to set aside deeds obtained by fraud.
Apart from the ordinary business of the Court, certain functions were reserved to the Lord Chancellor: care of minors and wards of court, discipline of solicitors and coroners, and removal of justices of the peace. In 1924 the special functions of the Lord Chancellor were vested in the Chief Justice of Ireland; in 1936 responsibility for minors and wards of court was transferred to the President of the High Court and discipline of solicitors was transferred to the President in 1960.