They had the power to raise money through the collection of rates, known as the ‘county cess’, and had responsibility for the repair of roads and bridges and the upkeep of local institutions such as hospitals and lunatic asylums.
Grand juries were appointed yearly by the county High Sheriff, and had an important judicial function in that members were to preside at the assizes and examine bills of indictment relating to criminal matters.
The grand jury met at the time of the assizes. Between one assize and another, the raising of money and the arrangements for carrying out the work were left to a staff of permanent officials. The jurors themselves were selected by the high sheriff from the leading property owners in the county, and one’s place on the panel was a matter of great importance to those chosen.
The composition of each panel depended on the character of the sheriff, who, if he wished to secure the passage of a certain measure, could fill the grand jury with his supporters.
Technically the grand jury was ‘a body of twenty four good and lawful men’, but they remained almost exclusively Protestant and often were chosen from a limited group of well-connected families. Catholics were forbidden to serve until 1793.
The resolutions passed by grand juries and an outline of the business carried out when they met can be found in local newspapers. Grand jury presentments are the chief records of the county administration prior to 1898. These and grand warrants contain information about work ordered to be done by the grand jury on roads, bridges and jails and constabulary duties in the counties.
|Grant Warrants, Co. Down, August 1800-1814||
|Presentment books, 1778-1899, mostly printed, c.1820-||DOW/4/2/1-69|
|Grand Jury books giving names of overseers and directors of road projects 1780-1826||DOW/4/4/1-5|
|Parliamentary registration revision lists, Borough of Newry, 1897-1908||DOW/5/2/A/1-12|