In addition to overseeing civil government, the Chief Secrtary's Office also had a military department, tasked with supervising the Irish military establishment. The Royal Barracks in Dublin (now known as Collins Barracks) were one of the largest barracks in Europe, being home to as many as 4,000 troops at a single time. There were somewhere in the region of 200 other barracks scattered across the island by the end of the eighteenth century. During the 1790s, the Irish military establishment had to contend with both the threat of foreign invasion and internal disaffection. Taken from Samuel Neele & William Faden, A plan of the city of Dublin (1797). Image courtesy of Library of Congress/Creative Commons license.
This print by the artist James Gillray depicts the French armada that arrived off the south-coast in December 1796. Anchoring off of Bantry Bay in County Cork, the poor weather forced the French to abandon their expedition. Nonetheless, the arrival of the French had punctured the myth that Ireland was completely protected by the 'wooden walls' of the British navy. British Museum, under Creative Commons License.
During the French invasion attempt in 1796, there were rumours of Irish radicals hoping to aid the French. This letter from the Chief Secretary, Thomas Pelham, discusses reports of disaffection. TNA HO 100/65/223.
A crucial responsibility of the Chief Secretary’s Office was to encourage recruitment into the British army. This illustration is from a proposal to embody a new regiment of light infantry. TNA HO 100/67/155.
The invasion scare had highlighted how unprepared the military was, particularly in the south of the country. In the wake of the Bantry crisis, it was spectulated that if the French had landed, they might have captured Cork city in less than a week. A report into the military’s effectiveness was commissioned. It calculated how long it would take the army to assemble 10,000 troops at key sites to fight off a French invasion. This returns makes it clear how long it would have taken to assemble an adequate force if the French did land near these southern towns. TNA HO 100/71/100.
This map, created by the Irish military, depicts the south coast of the country, including its major towns and inlets. This part of the country was the focus of an attempted French invasion in late 1796. TNA HO 100/78/405-406.
Following a French expedition which was defeated in Connacht in late 1798, the documents found on the person of the French officers were transmitted to the Home Office. This is the letter of service issued to the leader of the expedition, General Humbert, by the French Minister of War. TNA HO 100/82/117.
Both the Chief Secretary and the Home Office required frequent updates on the extent of the army in Ireland, as well as the numbers recruited into the Irish militia. TNA HO 100/50/392.
This colour drawing by Henry Brocas, depicts the Battle of Vinegar Hill, just outside Enniscorth in County Wexford. This Battle was a turning point in the 1798 Rebellion, with the rebel forces facing a devastating defeat. Courtesy of National Army Museum. NAM. 1971-02-33-411-1.View this item
Following the outbreak of the Rebellion in 1798, the Chief Secretary transmitted copies of the letters that he was receiving from the military as they confronted the rebels. This letter, dated 1 June 1798, describes rebel movements in county Wexford. TNA HO 100/81/3-5.
Cornwallis was both the Lord Lieutenant and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces in Ireland between 1798 and 1801. British Museum, Creative Commons/non-commerical use.
Following the outbreak of Rebellion in Leinster, fighting subsequently broke out in Antrim and Down in June 1798. This report from General Nugent recounts the events of the battles of Ballynahinch and Saintfield, both key engagements of the rebellion in Co. Down. TNA HO 100/81/130.
This painting, completed by Nicholas Pocock in 1799, depicts a key battle between the French and British navies off the coast of Donegal in October of 1798. On board one of the French ships was Theobald Wolfe Tone, who was identified and arrested when he came ashore, following the British navy's capture of the ship. Wikicommons/Creative commons.
This is a copy of a notice, allegedly written by the rebel leader Joseph Holt, as he waged a guerilla campaign of resistance from the Wicklow mountains. It references ‘General Bonaparte’ and encourages small farmers and labourers to refrain from paying rent. While seemingly signed by 'Holt' its provenance is suspect. TNA HO 100/66/281.
During the debates over the Act of Union in the year 1799-1800, the issue of Irish public finances was in the spotlight. The cost of the Irish military establishment was always a contentious issue, but several statements of Irish costs were produced by the government, such as this return from March 1801. TNA HO 100/95/163.