Sligo Corporation was formed by Royal Charter on 30th March 1612 by King James 1, bestowing upon Sligo the status of a Corporate town.
The Royal Charter constituted a Provost, 12 free burgesses and a Commonalty, which provided the jurisdiction for local courts of record.
This meant that the newly formed Sligo Corporation would be able to enact bye-laws, enjoy a mercatory guild and possess a common seal.
The posts created for the better governance of Sligo were two Sergeants-at-Mace, and other interior officers. But more importantly, Sligo would be able to return two MPs to Parliament.
In the latter part of 1612, King James 1 issued the King’s Letter from his royal residence at Hampton Court to commence the process of Sligo being granted a Charter.
In 1621 Sligo was granted a Staple, a medieval method of trade and taxation whereby the King required that trade in certain goods were transacted at specific market towns or ports.
The Staple contained the commercial power of urban Sligo, in contrast to the ‘adventurers’ of 1613, with the town’s Gaelic elite, the O’Creans, figuring prominently. The Staple gave full power to trade in all wool, woollen stuffs, yarns and hides, with all Irish ports and cities like Liverpool. In 1627 Sligo was granted an additional fair in the town.
Unfortunately, the original Charter of 1613 is missing, although transcribed records, in both Latin and English, do still exist.
For all practical purposes the two earliest grants of King James 1 were the Charters of the Borough until an Act under George II (reign 1727-1760) saw Sligo Corporation become Conservators of the Port, maintaining a Ballast Office , and under George III (reign 1760-1820), Vestries were empowered to repair the streets.
The Irish Municipal Reform Act of 1840 provided for a democratically elected Corporation with a restricted franchise electorate and this legislation was designed to dismantle the feudal strangle-hold that existed in Sligo.
Indeed, during the 19th Century, Sligo was the only Borough in the West of Ireland and was amongst ten of the principal towns on the Island to hold such civic prestige.
THE COAT OF ARMS
Although the 1612 charter granted a common seal, it neither prescribed nor suggested a coat of arms for Sligo, but left this to the members themselves. The earliest known seal of the Corporation dates from 1709 and depicts a deer or antelope. It contains the legend ‘Burogh of Sligoe’, with the letters A.R. (Anne Regina) and P.I.B. – Provost James Bennett, who died that year.
The Corporation seal as we know it today first appears in 1775, and there are conflicting opinions as to its origin. Woodmartin felt that the tower in ruins, represented the Round Tower at Drumcliffe, while O’Rorke was convinced that the tower was that of Sligo Abbey. The fact that the tower shown on the earliest seals was square would seem to endorse O’Rorke ‘s view.
The oak tree represents the dense wood-lands that once covered the site of the town, and the ‘hare courant’, signifies the wildlife that abounded there. The scallop shells are depicted as they were once abundant in the estuary at the mouth of the Garavogue – a river once known as the “Sligeach”, or “shelly place”, giving Sligo its name. The current crest with blue, gold and green colouring was adopting by the Corporation in January 1953.
Now officially known as Sligo Borough Council, they have become the local authority of the largest urban settlement between the cities of Derry to the north and Galway to the south.
Ironically, as Sligo Borough Council were celebrating the 400th anniversary of Sligo becoming a corporate town, then Environment Minister, Phil Hogan TD announced plans to reduce the number of city and county councils, change the role of local representatives in the planning process and reform local authority funding.
As a result of these plans, it has been announced that Sligo Borough Council and four Donegal town councils, Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Buncrana and Letterkenny are to be axed. Almost 80 more town councils nationally will also be abolished in an effort to save €420m.
Many of the reforms were to have been introduced in time for the 2014 local elections.