Most Irish buisness was handled by the Home Office in London. This illustration shows the Home Office's first premises, in the Old Board of Trade Building in Whitehall, following its creation in 1782. Reproduction c.1982, Royal Collections Trust.
William Cavendish-Bentinck, the 3rd Duke of Portland, served as the Home Secretary from 1794 until 1801. Portland had once briefly served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but he was to become much better acquainted with Irish matters during his time in the Home Office. National Galleries Scotland.
Edward Cooke served as Under-Secretary in the Irish Chief Secretary’s Office between the years 1789-1801. While Edward Cooke was never one of the top-ranking officials in Dublin Castle, he was one of the longest serving. Having arrived as a private secretary to the Chief Secretary in 1778, he would serve as military and then civil under-secretary between the years 1789-1801. In these twenty-three years, he was crucial in shaping government’s approach to numerous issues, as well as setting up the Castle’s intelligence-gathering network in the 1790s. Image courtesy of the British Museum.
The Chief Secretary’s Office was small, with the number of officials fluctuating between administrations. The Office was physically located in the north-east corner of the Upper Yard of Dublin Castle, as depicted in this Ordnance Survey map of 1847. Image taken from Frank Cullen's Book on the 1847 Dublin Ordnance Survey maps.
The letters from Dublin Castle to the Home Office, along with some copies of the Home Secretary’s replies, were bound together into these volumes. TNA HO 100/71.
The Catholic Committee was a pressure group who lobbied for the repeal of civil and political disabilities which affected Irish Catholics. The 1790s saw the Committee become more assertive, eventually bypassing the Lord Lieutenant and the Irish Parliament, to petition the King directly for Catholic ‘relief’. In order to give this petition legitimacy, the Committee called for a series of elections in the counties, whereby Catholics could vote for delegates to a Catholic ‘Convention’ that sat in Dublin in late 1792. Very obviously influenced by recent developments in France, it implicitly challenged the legitimacy of the Irish Parliament. This handbill described how the elections to appoint Catholic delegates were to be carried out. TNA HO 100/38/83.
The Chief Secretary and his staff kept a close eye on the publications of Irish radicals, such as this one published by the Dublin Society of United Irishmen. While the United Irishmen were initially an open and constitutional body, seeking reform by legal means, they would be suppressed by the government in 1794. Following this, some of the members reinvented the society as a revolutionary conspiracy, dedicated to establishing an independent Irish republic. TNA HO 100/38/136.
This is a copy of a letter, written by the Home Secretary, Henry Dundas, to the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Westmorland, upon the outbreak of war with France in 1793. It makes reference to the agitation for Catholic Relief that was progressing through parliament, and stresses the need for support from Irish Catholics for the war effort. TNA HO 100/42/252.
A handbill addressed to the ‘Presbyterians of Ulster’ and signed by ‘Common Sense’. This name was likely a reference to the famous pamphlet by Thomas Paine. A signficiant aspect of the Irish radical movement in the 1790s was the leading role that Presbyterians played, particularly Ulster Presbyterians. While not subject to the same degree of religious discrimination as Catholics, Presbyterians still resented the privileges afforded members of the Anglican Church in Ireland. The theology of Presbyterianism also facilitated a critique of monarchy and aristocratic government. The alliance between Catholic and Protestant reformers during the 1790s was greatly feared by the government, and Presbyterians were among the leading United Irishmen. TNA HO 100/38/5.
This satirical print shows a group of Irish radicals being shown the horrors of the French Revolution by the devil who wears the French revolutionary symbol of the 'bonnet rouge'. He shows the Irishmen a picture of them being boiled alive by Parisian sans-culottes as part of an 'Irish Stew'. Meanwhile, above, a map of Ireland is torn apart by demons. The great fear among British officials and conservatives was that domestic radicals would make an alliance with the French, something which the United Irishmen did indeed pursue after 1794. Public domain, courtesy of The Met, NYC.
The Chief Secretary’s Office routinely sent copies of radical publications to the Home Office. This handbill, titled the Union Star, was one of the most controversial. It was the brainchild of Walter ‘Watty’ Cox, who printed it anonymously. The Union Star regularly carried a torrent of abuse against the government, as well as listing individuals who he suspected of colluding with the governent. For instance, in this issue he describes one Edward Lilly: ‘about 5 feet high, brown complexion, black hair tyed, clerk to Mr Nihell distiller, Strand Street; many acts of this fellows life make him notorious as a spy’. Of another man named Lawrence Cassidy, he accuses him of being a ‘drunken, perjured informer’. Dublin Castle repeatedly attempted to apprehend the publisher of the Union Star, but were never able to learn Cox’s identity. Instead, Cox decided to turn himself in, availing of an amnesty offered by government. After a short period in America, Cox returned to Ireland in the early 1800s, establishing the noted Irish Magazine. TNA HO 100/70/235.
Another example of a radical publication the government closely monitored. The Northern Star was a Belfast newspaper founded and edited by leading United Irishmen. Its motto was 'The public will our guide, the public good our end'. In May 1797, the paper was suppressed, after a mob composed of militiamen stationed in Belfast attacked the offices of the Northern Star and destroyed the printing presses. The paper's editor, Samuel Neilson, faced multiple prosecutions for seditious libel, and was eventually imprisoned for his part in planning the 1798 Rebellion. TNA HO 100/71/104.
During the 1790s, there were two groups that Dublin Castle kept a close eye on. The first was the Society of United Irishmen. The second group were the Defenders, a shadowy group who had emerged out of the sectarian faction-fighting of County Armagh. The Defenders were Catholic and often explicitly sectarian in their outlook, terrorising the authorities throughout Ulster and north Leinster with attacks on landlords and magistrates. On the face of it, the Defenders were everything the United Irishmen were not: rural instead of urban, sectarian rather than secular, and immersed in Irish popular culture as opposed to the cosmpolitanism of the United Irish leaders. Nonetheless, by 1795, if not earlier, the United Irishmen had sought out an allince with the Defenders. In reaction to this ‘merger’, official in Dublin Castle produced a number of digests on the Defenders, including this item, which compares and contrasts the Defenders with their allies the United Irishmen. TNA HO 100/58/178.
One of the functions of the Chief Secretary’s Office was to convey petitions and memorials to the King on behalf of individuals and groups. This memorial from Dublin’s merchant guild is to congratulate George III on his escape from an attack on his person in 1795. In October of 1795, the King’s coach had been mobbed as he made his way to parliament. The crowd was angered by recent food shortages, as well as the government’s targeting of radical clubs in London. The crowd had allegedly yelled out ‘Down with George! No King!’. Stones had been thrown at the carriage and one had shattered a window near to the King. This incident was used by the Prime Minister to introduce legislation that redefined treason and which tightly restricted the right to associate in public. TNA HO 100/59/147
This is another example of a memorial transmitted via the Home Secretary, also congratulating King on his escape from the 'assassination attempt' of October 1795. Many official bodies, such as guilds and county grand juries expressed their support for the King, sending memorials expressing their happiness at George III’s ‘escape’ from the protestors. This example is from the Grand Jury of the City of Dublin. TNA HO 100/59/160.
Castlereagh was appointed as acting Chief Secretary in 1797, before being formally appointed the following year. He was a key figure in the suppression of the United Irishmen and the 1798 rebellion. Working closely with his counterparts in the Home Office, Castlereagh oversaw the campaign to pass the Act of Union in 1799-1800. After Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1814. British Museum.
A satirical cartoon published in the wake of the Act of Union's passage. The cartoon depicts the Prime Minister William Pitt and John Fitzgibbon, the Irish Lord Chancellor, abducting ‘Erin’, the female personification of Ireland. They have tied her with a ribbon inscribed ‘Union Belt’, and are leaping across the Irish sea atop an English lion. They are being chased by a number of figures riding ‘Irish bulls’. These include St Patrick, wearing a mitre, and followed by several men, including Henry Grattan and John Foster, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. The British Museum.
During the debates over the Act of Union, the Chief Secretary frequently reported on public opinion concerning the measure. This is a printed Requisition for a county meeting, organized by the magistrates in County Monaghan, to organize a meeting to discuss the Union. TNA HO 100/96/4
A depiction of the preparations for Robert Emmet's 1803 rising in Dublin. This attempted insurrection was quickly put down by the authorities, with Emmet himself executed two months later. Nonetheless, Emmet's rising shattered many of hopes that the Union would mark a break with the turmoil of the 1790s. Author's image/National Library of Ireland.