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[Post Famine Ireland- Social Structure Ireland as it Really Was. Copyright © 2006 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Chapter Five


Central Government

The Constitution and Government of the United Kingdom 1850 to 1921

Chapter Summary. This chapter deals with the political institutions of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, the crown and monarchy, Parliament, political parties, Government policies, the armed forces. the offices of state, financial matters and national insurance. The Government was responsible for valuing all property in Ireland for local taxation was based on property. The principal Irish Offices were the Local Government Board, the Board of Works, and the Congested Districts Board. The hyperlinks immediately below are to the most important headings.

 The Crown, Monarchy and Government


The Political Parties




Militia and Yeomanry

The Structure of the Irish Government or Executive

His Majesty’s Household in Ireland

The Offices and Boards

Financial Matters

British Policy in Ireland

Policy of Irish Government

National Insurance


Ireland in the Empire

The king’s authority over Ireland was derived from the submission of the Irish chiefs and bishops to Henry II as their feudal overlord at the synod of Cashel, Co. Tipperary in 1171, and confirmed by the Treaty of Windsor (Berkshire, England) in 1175. The king of England’s right as feudal overlord of Ireland was recognised all over Europe, and most importantly, by the Pope. The Irish Government was established when Henry II promised the Irish chiefs and bishops that he would institute a government on contemporary Anglo-Norman lines. The quarrels of the Irish local lords and chiefs with their feudal overlord were similar to those elsewhere in Europe. From the 12th century two separate dominions or kingdoms were ruled jointly by a single monarch. It was an awkward fact which Irish republicans, especially Catholics, found hard to get round. In the 19th and 20th centuries most Irish nationalists and separatists merely sought a separate parliament under the crown, in effect dominion status like that of Canada and Australia.

By the Act of Union (1800 Irish people legally ceased being foreigners in Britain. Irishmen had always made their way to England, and their presence, like that of the Welsh, passed unremarked in Shakespeare. The Scots, if anybody, before 1603, were the foreigners. Irishmen of the upper and middle classes, for all practical purposes, were treated as Englishmen. Catholic nationalist historians have often dwelt on the prejudice against the Irish, especially Catholic Irish, in England. But prejudice against Catholics was general, even English Catholics, and if there was prejudice against working-class Irish much of this could be explained by their drunken, riotous, and generally uncouth behaviour. (Consider the habits of Irishmen who had no privies at home, and who failed to realise that the use of a privy was absolutely essential in an English town. The poor and illiterate from Ireland were no different from the poor in other countries, Cowley, The Men who Built Britain, 189.)

            But with regard to Protestant Irish people there was no difficulty, each within their own class. An Irishman could be elected to sit in the English Parliament, and could be promoted to any rank in the armed forces. If Irishmen were not usually appointed to top judgeships in England, that was because of professional jealousy of the English bar and not because of legal difficulties. Irish peers had equal right of access to the crown as the English peers. Before and after the Union London was filled with Irishmen, often of considerable rank and influence. Irish labourers frequently travelled to England seeking seasonal or permanent work. If they became destitute however they were not supported on the English parish but had to return to Ireland.

            The Act of Union legalised the position of Irish people in England. They were now citizens of the United Kingdom, which explains why Irishmen can still be granted knighthoods by the queen. They were therefore also made citizens of the British Empire. They could freely travel to, settle in, or engage in trade with any British colony. The term British now included Irish, as well as English, Scots, and Welsh, a fact always resented by nationalists. An Irish Catholic rebel in 1848 later went to Australia, became prime minister of the colony of Victoria in south Australia, and was knighted by the queen. Members of Irish families became officers in the army in India and spent the century unifying the sub-continent. The two most successful British generals in the second half of the 19th century were Irish, Wolseley and Roberts. Lord Charles Beresford and David Beatty became prominent admirals. Those who qualified themselves as lawyers and were called to the Irish bar could plead in any court in the Empire. A qualification from Trinity College Dublin was accepted everywhere.

            The ports in every British possession around the world were open to Irish ships for trading, both for imports and exports. Manufactured linen was the great Irish export. In addition Irish traders had the benefit of all trade agreements negotiated by the Government on behalf of the United Kingdom. Their ships had the protection of the Royal Navy in every sea in the world, and that protection was very necessary. As the United Kingdom put the great bulk of its defence expenditure into its navy rather than into its army, it was able to maintain a fleet which could patrol the waters in any part of the world especially against pirates. (The United States had to build its own tiny navy to deal with pirates on the North African coast.) [Top]

The Crown, Monarchy and Government

By the Act of Union (1800) a single state was constituted out of the two separate kingdoms of Great Britain and of Ireland and was called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It is as incorrect to say that Ireland was ruled by the British Government as to say that Texas after 1845 was ruled by the United States. The Irish formed part of the Government of the United Kingdom. The essential provisions of the Act were that there should be a single parliament for the United Kingdom, a single taxation, a single army and navy, a single customs area, a single currency, a single body of laws, and a single civil service. The systems of courts under their respective Lord Chancellors were to remain separate, except that the final court of appeal in Britain and Ireland was to be the House of Lords. Existing laws in Ireland were to be retained. The existing system of administration in Ireland under a Lord Lieutenant was to be retained for the present, but its functions would diminish as it became possible to merge departments of government. There was to be a common electoral system, but the qualifications for the franchise in each country were not changed (Keenan, Ireland 1800-1850, 16-19).

The system of Government established by the Act of Union (1800 was a reasonably good one, and capable of improvement (Keenan, Ireland 1800-1850, 15-19). Ireland, for the most part did well under it, the north eastern parts spectacularly so. There was no reason why it should not have continued. There were plotters against the Government as there were in every other European country. But without the enormous support from expatriate groups in the United States it is unlikely that any separatist movement would have achieved much public support. But with the American money and the poisonous propaganda targeted equally against a Government they called ‘British’ and the Protestants they achieved success in a part of Ireland in the long-run. (Similarly in Germany the National Socialists would have been unimportant without the financial backing of industrialists who feared communism.) Lyons noted that Irish historians were inclined to overlook the constant efforts of the Government to improve the condition of Ireland (Ireland Since the Famine, 80). The reason for this was that in the racist ideology embraced by separatists the British were designated ‘oppressors’. Therefore, anything they did was labelled ‘oppression’. By definition, any act of the British was harmful, while any act of the separatists was beneficial. There was no more contact with concrete facts than there was in the similar National Socialist ravings in Germany.

The United Kingdom was described as a constitutional monarchy, in other words the traditional powers described as the royal prerogative were circumscribed by constitutional checks imposed by parliament. All government was done in the name of the crown irrespective of the individuals who sat on the throne. The king could declare war and make peace, issue pardons, grant honours, make appointments in the armed forces, and so on, but gradually all these things were done on the ‘advice’ of his ministers who were drawn from Parliament. The judges, the commander-in-chief of the army, and the Board of Admiralty got their powers and authority from the royal prerogative and not from Parliament. Among the checks for example was a law that judges in the royal courts could not be arbitrarily dismissed, and that the consent of Parliament had to be obtained for many things, especially the supply of money. Nearly all legislation originated in Parliament though the fiction was kept up that it originated from the crown. The origin of the prerogative was lost in the mists of time but had its origin in the powers of the king over his war band in the Bronze and Iron Ages in North Western Europe.

The outward forms of monarchical government were maintained. The governing ministry was the king’s ministry, and each minister had to be appointed by him. All legislation which the ministry proposed to enact had to be discussed with the sovereign beforehand and get his consent. No law was valid without the royal assent, though his liberty to dissent was limited. Getting the initial royal consent to introduce legislation was often the most difficult part. Only the sovereign could call or dissolve Parliament, and did not always give consent for a premature dissolution. King George III resolutely refused to allow his ministers to enact any further reliefs for Catholics, but his hand was strengthened by the fact that he could always get a majority in parliament to support his view. The queen and the two kings who succeeded her were closely involved in the details of Irish politics, and twice, in 1914 and in 1921 intervened personally to try to resolve the disputes between the parties in Ireland. Queen Victoria carefully read the minutes of cabinet meetings sent to her and commented on them to her prime minister, while her son Edward VII, a more pleasure-loving monarch ignored details. His son was the more conscientious George V, and the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, was acutely aware of his likes and dislikes, as the king could ask the leader of the Opposition to form a ministry. The officers of the royal household were naturally a source of influence on the monarch and quite often Irishmen were appointed to various posts. For example Major General Sir Henry Ponsonby was Queen Victoria’s private secretary from 1870 to 1895. In theory, all foreign policy, and the ability to make treaties with foreign powers was in the king’s control, and the army was the royal army, not the parliament’s army, and the navy the royal navy. The king, on the advice of the cabinet, could act suddenly in an emergency but both were always dependent on Parliament for money to support the armed forces and foreign wars.

Central to the compromise between Parliament and king was that the king was bound to select his principal ministers from among the leading members of Parliament. To get anything done by Parliament the king had to pick those who had a following in Parliament and could secure the necessary majorities when voting took place. In practice, the king (or queen) called on one of the parliamentary leaders from either the Whigs or the Tories to put forward a panel of ministers (a ministry) though he could object to individual members of it. He then accepted the ministers and officially appointed them. They then formed a cabinet, and the principal minister was called unofficially the prime minister. (His formal title was usually First Lord of the Treasury Board.) The cabinet could resign as a body.

Unlike in the United States where there was written constitution, in Britain the unwritten constitution was continually being modified. For example, throughout the long reign of Queen Victoria Parliament gradually gave itself more and more power over the army, transferring the powers of the monarch’s commander-in-chief to a Minister for War. Gradually the great feudal offices of the Commander-in-Chief and the Admiralty were brought under direct the control of Parliament, something which did not occur either in the United States or in Germany. In the eighteenth century the United States rationalised the form of government, assigning different powers in different degrees to different bodies in a logical manner. (It was then left to the Supreme Court to ‘interpret’ the Constitution, so in practice it is continually modified.) In the United Kingdom such a thorough rationalisation did not take place, so one can find such oddities as the obscurely named Hanaper Office, a branch of the Lord Chancellor’s Court of Chancery, which dealt with the administration of counties. Laws too were sometimes repealed, but more often the courts declared them obsolete. Above all, Parliament took over the Executive while maintaining the traditional forms.

Nearly all the great Irish departments of state like the Treasury, the Revenue Departments and the Post Office were merged with their British counterparts following the provisions of the Act of Union (1800. These mergers did not take place immediately or at the same time, but by the end of the 19th century most civil servants in Ireland belonged to merged Offices whose head office was in London. As Lyons points out, by 1914 of the 26,000 civil servants in Ireland only about 2,500 were in the local Irish boards (Lyons Ireland Since the Famine 73). It should be pointed out that almost without exception these 26,000 civil servants were Irish. The Post Office retained Irish local offices as did the Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue, which dealt with income tax and estate duties. They were in the Customs House, Dublin, and dealt with excises, estate duties, stamps and taxes, and the customs house for the Port of Dublin. There were also Collector’s officers in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Londonderry, Newry, and Waterford. There was no separate revenue budget but individually salaried officers (Whitaker 1902). The royal army and Royal Navy were common to the whole of the United Kingdom and, for the most part, were not under the Irish Government. For local defence the militia and yeomanry were under the Irish Government (Lord Lieutenant) except for military operations when they came under the army Commander-in-Chief in Ireland.

The flag of Ireland was that of the United Kingdom of England and Scotland with the addition of a red saltire cross on a white field (the cross of St. Patrick) thus forming the well-known Union Jack. The Warder in 1902 deplored the unavailability of the traditional flag of Ireland, a gold crowned harp on a blue field. Only the ‘rebel’ Irish flag of an uncrowned harp was made. This latter flag had indeed been adopted by Cromwell, hence the lack of crown (Warder 21 June 1902, Fox-Davies, Heraldry 474-5). The old flag of Ireland appears on the royal arms and is without the crown, and historically, on the royal arms never had a crown, though the shape of the harp varied considerably. The badges of the Royal Irish Constabulary had a crowned harp to indicate their royal connection (Fox-Davies, 349). (The present flag of the Irish Republic, three vertical stripes of green, white, and orange was the emblem of a political movement which, like the swastika of the German National Socialist Party, was adopted as the flag of their regime. It has no historical connection with Ireland, and is deeply divisive.)

The monarchy was very popular in Ireland. Republicanism was scarcely an issue except among extremists. When Queen Victoria and King Edward VII visited Ireland they received ecstatic welcomes. When the king toured the west of Ireland in 1903 welcoming bonfires were lit on the surrounding hills. [Top]


Though described as a constitutional monarchy, the United Kingdom was in fact a parliamentary democracy. Though there was not full adult suffrage the franchise was sufficiently extensive to gauge the mood of the tax-paying part of the public. There was one parliament for the United Kingdom and Ireland, and by the terms of the Act of Union (1800 Ireland was to return 100 Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons and 32 peers or noblemen, four of whom were to be Protestant bishops, to the House of Lords at Westminster, England (Keenan, Ireland 1800-1850, chapter 1). The Parliament of the United Kingdom had almost complete control over the royal or crown executive in the whole of the United Kingdom. Most laws passed in Westminster applied to the whole of the United Kingdom, and most of the British and Irish administrative Offices were merged. But because of traditional differences in laws and administration in Scotland and Ireland these were exempted from some laws, and special versions of the laws were enacted for these two regions. For example, the powers of sheriffs in Scotland were quite different from those in England, so it was simpler to frame a separate Scottish Act than to pass a common Act with special Scottish inclusions and exclusions. Special laws for Ireland usually had the word Ireland included in brackets in the title. Normally only Irish MPs attended the debates on laws intended solely for Ireland, and only Scottish MPs on similar debates for Scotland, so in practice Irish laws were enacted by Irishmen and Scottish laws by Scotsmen. It was found necessary to retain a separate Irish executive to deal with local matters like education and policing that could not easily be fitted into the British model. In general the attitude of Parliament towards Ireland was benign.

 Not only was there no oppression, but every effort was made to ensure that the Irish were treated the same as the English, Welsh, and Scots. Significantly, when the United Kingdom was broken up in 1920 Irishmen did not become foreigners, but remained, in British eyes if not their own, citizens of the United Kingdom with full rights, and after two years’ residence in time of war, were liable for conscription.

For much of the 19th century most Irish MPs supported either the Whigs or the Tories, and voted with them in parliament. Despite the efforts of nationalist politicians to describe Ireland as oppressed, the laws were the same for the whole of the United Kingdom except where local peculiarities in Ireland and Scotland required slightly different wording. The real grievance in Ireland among Catholics was that for historical reasons official patronage and consequently corruption was in the hands of Protestants and it was a closed circle which Catholics found it hard to break into. This was to a considerable extent their own fault, for by insisting on a separate parliament they failed to assist either of the two dominant parties, the Whigs and the Tories. (This was the same as seeking political office in the United States but opposing both Democrats and Republicans.)

            The chief characteristic of politics in this period was the regular alteration of parties. Unlike the period from 1714 to 1830, when there was first a long almost unbroken period of Whig rule followed by a similar period of Tory rule, there were twenty two ministries involving twelve prime ministers. While each ministry lasted on average a little over three years, the average length of a government of a particular colour was about four years and eight months. A prime minister who died, resigned or lost the confidence of his colleagues could be replaced by a prime minister of the same party.

            With regard to Ireland, there were twenty four appointments of the Lord Lieutenant involving nineteen different peers, with five serving two terms. He was invariably of the same party as the prime minister who appointed him. As a new prime minister normally appointed a new Lord Lieutenant, some of the terms were very short. Most spent two to three years in Ireland, though the Earl of Aberdeen was there for nearly ten years.

            The time in office of the Chief Secretary as the Irish Secretary was now universally called was shorter, as the successive prime ministers made thirty five appointments in the period, giving an average of two years. Most were British, though Lord Naas and Lord Carlingford were Irish. Unlike in the first half of the century, where strong personalities were left long enough to make a strong impression, few Chief Secretaries in the second half of the century impressed. But there were exceptions like the two Balfours. The Lord Lieutenant was a member of the House of Lords and reported, if necessary, to the House of Lords, besides his official communications to the queen or king which were normally made through the prime minister. Similarly, the Chief Secretary sat in the House of Commons, and took a leading part in debates on Irish affairs. As the House of Commons, the elected house, became more important so did the office of Chief Secretary become more significant than that of the Lord Lieutenant. The changes of officers were frequent hence the policies of the two main political parties became the central element. This was just a normalisation of ordinary politics (see below The Irish Government).[Top]

The Political Parties

There were in the nineteenth century two major political groupings or parties, the Whigs now called officially called Liberals, and the Tories now officially called Conservatives. The Liberal Party split over Home Rule for Ireland, and the breakaway group called Liberal Unionists eventually joined the Conservatives. Both parties, like the Democrats and Republicans in the United States were little more than like-minded gentlemen who voted together under an agreed leader. When Sir Robert Peel in 1845 divided his party over the issue of the repeal of the Corn Laws it was nearly thirty years before enough Conservatives could agree on who should be the leader, so governments were formed from shifting coalitions. In the 52 years between 1834 and 1886 the Liberals and their associates were out of office for scarcely a dozen years, and lost only 2 of the 14 general elections. In the 31 years from 1874 until 1905 the Conservatives were in office for approximately 24 years. This was due to a considerable extent to a similar split in the Liberal Party in 1886. Because of divisions in the Conservative Party over tariffs in the twentieth century the Liberals were in office from 1905 until 1922. (See also Chapter 13, Popular Beliefs and Movements.)

The main political parties had origins dating back for centuries. In the 18th century, the Whigs were regarded as the aristocratic class and they combined with the mercantile classes in the great towns. Their interests had come together at the ‘Glorious Revolution’ in 1688, and to further these ends they insisted on the supremacy of parliament. The party became associated with change and reform. Dissenting churches also supported the Whigs who stood for liberty of conscience. The Tory Party was that of lesser country landowners who rarely attended court, but who were staunchly loyal to the crown and the Established Church. In Ireland they tended to be smaller resident landlords, while the Whig landowners of great estates were often absentees. They therefore stood for the rights of country people.

In the nineteenth century the Whigs, now called Liberals, developed a liberal consensus after 1850. They were in favour of Parliament rather than the monarchy, pro rege saepe, pro patria semper (for king often, for country always). They were in favour of free trade and abolishing anything ancient which they regarded as unsuitable for a modern manufacturing and trading nation. They represented the towns rather than the countryside. They were for peace and against war, and did not look favourably on the expansion of the British Empire or intervention in foreign wars. They opposed increases in the royal armed forces. They were largely influenced by the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham who maintained that the objective of social policy should be ‘The greatest good for the greatest number’. Radicalism was an extreme form of Liberalism. They were more tolerant of dissent in religious matters and were largely backed by Nonconformist Protestants including Presbyterians. These were in principle opposed to the Established Church, and opposed state aid to schools of the Established Churches. They were especially opposed to any assistance to Catholic schools from taxpayers’ money. The Nonconformists were also opposed to the sale and consumption of alcohol.

The Tories were traditionally in favour of the crown, of its armed forces, and the Established Church, pro rege et patria (for king and country). They favoured the expansion of the Empire to bring religion and the rule of law to other countries. They represented the landed interest and the countryside. In legislation they preferred to retain as much of the traditional ways as possible, but were also the ‘paternalistic’ party, anxious to better the conditions of the working classes, especially those they saw as victims of the unrestricted laissez faire of the Whigs. The best known philanthropic Tory was Anthony Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, who began legislation to improve the condition of employees, especially children, in factories. Under Disraeli, the Tories passed an important series of Acts to better the condition of the ordinary worker. For this reason, before the rise of the Labour Party, the working classes were inclined to vote for the Conservatives. In the north of Ireland where the middle classes were inclined to support the Whigs the working classes supported the Tories. Socialism was regarded as an extreme form of Conservatism or Tory paternalism but it was not politically important until after the First World War.

These were just tendencies, not hard and fast divisions. A Liberal prime minister, for example, might favour armed interventions more than a Tory one, but would face more dissension from his own supporters.

A problem arose in the second half of the 19th century when Catholic Irishmen began demanding a separate Irish parliament, either under the crown or not. Those who wanted an independent parliament under the crown are usually called nationalists, and those who wanted an independent republic are called republicans. The problem arose because nationalists and republicans were concentrated in three of the Irish provinces, while those Irishmen who wanted to retain the Westminster parliament, the unionists, were concentrated in the northern province. Had support for nationalism or republicanism been evenly spread over the whole of the United Kingdom they would have been treated as an insignificant minority. Likewise, had support for the parliament in Westminster been thinly and evenly spread over the whole of Ireland it too would have been dismissed as insignificant. But because each side had its support concentrated in definite regions the possibility of separatist and anti-separatist blocks arose. The Nationalist formed a third party in the House of Commons with little power except to cause nuisance. For achieving practical aims its members would have been better off joining either of the other main parties. When they eventually succeeded in controlling the balance of power in the Commons they split Ireland. [Top]

Franchise and Elections


The Great Reform Act (1832) modernised the system of parliamentary representation in Britain by redistributing parliamentary constituencies from ancient boroughs to the new large cities. It also equalised the financial threshold for the franchise over the whole of Britain, retained the old forty shilling freehold vote in the counties, and set the borough franchise uniformly at possession or occupation of a house worth £10. Traditional rights of franchise like that of the ‘potwallopers’ which included lodgers if they had the right to their own fire on which to boil their own pot, were abolished (OED).The changes raised the total number of voters in the Britain rose from 435,000 to 622,000 (Richards and Hunt Modern Britain 112-3). The property qualification for the franchise was retained on the grounds that the historic role of the House of Commons was to vote on taxation, and it was those with property who by and large had to pay the taxes.

The forty shilling freehold vote had been abolished in Ireland by the Catholic Relief Act (1829) on the grounds that impoverished smallholders were likely to be intimidated either by the landlords or the Catholic clergy. So the county franchise was set at £10 for any lease including traditional leaseholders, and in 1832 the franchise in the boroughs was made uniform. The Irish Reform Act (1832 established the £10 occupancy on the same basis as in England, namely the actual legal occupation of a property worth for example £10 a year if rented. The voter when registering testified on oath the value of his holding to the Clerk who held the register of voters. Every county returned two members, while 31 boroughs returned one member except Dublin and Cork which returned two, and the University of Dublin one. The number of seats in Parliament was raised from 100 to 105. This was pre-Famine Ireland with the population rapidly rising. The five extra seats were created by giving Galway, Limerick, and Waterford, the borough of Belfast, and the University of Dublin an extra member each (Keenan, Ireland 1800-1850 252; Beckett Modern Ireland 308).

Though the principles were clear there was considerable difficulty in practice with regard to determining the value of the freehold independently of the testimony on oath of the would-be elector. In the discussions leading up to the Parliamentary Voters (Ireland) Act (1850 there was much dissatisfaction with regard to registration. Lord Cloncurry wrote to Frederick Conway, the editor of the Dublin Evening Post proposing the Poor Rate as the basis for the franchise, to obviate the present ‘annoyances, perjuries, and ill-will’ (Dublin Evening Post 5 May 1840). Another was that people swore one income for being assessed for the poor rate and a higher one for voting. Another was that the income from the farm could fall below the attested value. Finally, the one who held the actual certificate in his hand at the hustings was the one who had the right to vote.

The Parliamentary Voters (Ireland) Act (1850 introduced by Sir William Somerville established the Poor Law Valuation of the holding as the determining factor, the assistant barristers still had to revise the lists at revision sessions, and the Poor Law district clerks should keep the records (Walker Ulster Politics 44). The compulsory octennial registration was abolished. Voters would still have to be registered in order to claim their votes. In addition two occupation franchises were introduced; the borough vote was given also to rated occupiers of £12 and upwards, and the county vote to freeholders and rated occupiers of £12 and upwards; the effect was

Irish borough electors 1854

            rated occupiers            19,719

            freemen or burgesses     6,530

            other qualifications        3,385

            total                             29,634

Irish county electors 1854

            rated occupiers                        139,088

            freeholders                       8,521

            leaseholders                     1,098

            rent charges                       638

            total                             149,345

(from Hanham, in Dod, Electoral Facts).

In Ireland elections were notorious for violence, for the coercion of the electors by landlords and priests, and for corruption in the boroughs; in Scotland election petitions are rare and elections are solemn. The small size of the many of the electorates meant each voter could be known individually and subjected to various pressures, and he had to vote in public; the pressure could be from a landlord, or in the case of a shopkeeper, from his customers. Or indeed from terrorists. The constituencies were designed to favour the smaller country towns, and the agricultural counties; in Ireland 23 of the 33 boroughs had fewer than 500 electors, for example Portarlington 86, Athlone 170; majorities were small, and every vote counted. Great landowners had vast influence in elections as they had everywhere in their counties for they controlled most of the wealth and opportunity. The local gentry ceded one seat almost by prescription to the leading local magnate. If the tenants voted against the landlords en masse, as they did in 1831 and 1832 there was little a landlord could do (Hanham, op. cit.).

            The next change in the qualifications came with the Representation of the People (Ireland) Act (1868 which followed Disraeli’s Second Reform Act (1867) for Britain. The franchise for the counties remained unchanged, but was lowered for boroughs to £4 and this included ‘lodgers’ who seem to be the old potwallopers. Legally a £4 lodger was one who occupied lodgings at an annual rent of at least £4 (OED). This had the effect of giving the franchise to skilled tradesmen, and the electorate in the boroughs doubled. Farm labourers and skilled artisans got the vote but not indoor servants (Walker, Ulster Politics, 39-45).

            There was a further extension and simplification of the franchise in 1884 when the Representation of the People (Ireland) Act (1884) was  passed equalising the county and borough franchises and made all householders and lodgers in the counties also eligible to vote. The vote, by what was called the ‘service franchise’, was given to those who occupied houses or rooms in virtue of their employment. This applied chiefly to agricultural labourers and farm workers. The Conservatives, led by Lord Randolph Churchill, were first to realise that the interests of farm workers were not necessarily the same as those of their employers, and that the working class could be persuaded to vote for the Tories. These proved very loyal and became known as the Tory working class. Working class people were often very conservative in their views. This became known in Ireland as the Orange vote, or the Orange card because of the working class society, the Orange Order, to which many of the Protestant working class belonged. (Lord Randolph Churchill was often accused by Catholics of appealing to religious bigotry; he was in fact appealing to class interest against their employers.) Historically the resident Tory landlords in Ireland had been closer to the people on their estates than the Whigs, so it was not surprising if they eventually supported the Tories.

            The franchise was extended again for local authority elections in 1898. The franchise for local government elections in Ireland was wider than in England and wider than for parliamentary elections; it included lodgers, service franchise electors, and freeholders (County Councils’ Gazette 18 May 1900). By the same Act women were allowed to vote, and could also be elected town commissioners, urban and rural district councillors and Poor Law Guardians, but not county councillors either in counties or county boroughs though they could vote for such. The law was changed in 1911 to allow them to be county councillors. They could not be justices of the peace in virtue of their office or poor rate collectors (Constabulary Gazette 19 May 1900). By the Representation of the People Act (1918) manhood suffrage was finally conceded to all men over the age of 21. Women over the age of 30 who were ratepayers themselves or the wives of ratepayers or were university graduates were allowed to vote. Elections were all to be held on a single day. By a separate Act introduced by Herbert Samuel women could also be elected to parliament. By the Sexual Disqualification Removal Act (1919 the exclusion of women from all public offices became illegal.

            After the introduction of the Home Rule Bill in 1886 the various political parties tried to ensure that as many of their supporters as possible registered themselves (Walker Ulster Politics 44-5). The system was still not entirely safe, especially after the introduction of the ‘lodger’ vote. When the Nationalist Party was trying to dislodge Tim s from North Louth early in the 20th century there were massive registration drives on both sides, but many of these votes were disallowed on appeal. Nor was the means of removing people who had died or had moved elsewhere from the register ever solved. It became a standing joke that the dead in the local cemetery had polled heavily as usual. By using the names of the deceased a person could fraudulently vote several time, hence the popular joke ‘Vote early, vote often’. (Once, much later in Belfast, I personally objected to the presence of the names of 60 students in a single block of flats as ineligible on the grounds of non-residence. They had left the university for up to 20 years previously.) At any given election one could assume that the electoral register was erroneous by at least 10%.

Another piece of legislation concerning elections was the Ballot Act (1872) or the secret ballot Act. Before this each voter had to mount the hustings, a temporary raised platform erected outdoors, identify himself to the sheriff or other presiding officer, and the County Clerk, and announce in a loud voice without mumbling the name of the candidate for whom he was casting his vote. There was no legal requirement that the elections should be held outdoors, but only that they should be public. In a contested election hustings were normally required, but the secret ballot meant they were no longer required. This Act was aimed against bribery and ‘treating’ voters, i.e. keeping them supplied with food and drink. It was obviously pointless to bribe a voter who could easily accept bribes from all the candidates. The same applied to intimidation and victimisation. The Act was limited by the Lords to eight years, but when the time for its renewal came round it was made permanent. It was followed by the Corrupt and Illegal Practice Act (1883 which placed limits on the amount of money a candidate might legally spend on the election (Walker Ulster Politics 169). It at least reduced the number of paid workers and paid advertising. However, the costs of elections and the introduction of single-seat constituencies resulted in most constituencies being uncontested after the rise of the Nationalist Party (Walker op.cit 246).

What might be called a regressive step was the Redistribution Act (1885 which divided up counties and boroughs to form single-seat constituencies. The idea was devised by the radicals in the Liberal Party. As most constituencies returned two members political parties put up two candidates, and each voter had two votes. (If the voter cast only one of his votes he was said to be a plumper.) The Liberals often chose a radical and a traditional Whig for the two seats, but the radicals considered that a majority of their supporters favoured the radicals, so they would win far more seats in single-seat constituencies. Lord Randolph Churchill decided that this idea would work for the Conservatives as well and supported the measure. The result, which we have to this day, is that in a three-way contest the candidate with 34% of the votes can win. With four candidates 26% could be sufficient. Indeed, as was quickly shown, almost every seat in whole of Ireland was won by either a Nationalist or a Unionist by simply getting at least 34% of the votes cast; perhaps not even 20% of the total electorate. In the United Kingdom as a whole both Whigs and Tories favoured the new system as they were the biggest parties. Notoriously, in 1918 Sinn Fein won 80% of the seats with less than 50% of votes (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine 399).

The redistribution of the seats and the formation of roughly equal single seat constituencies were accompanied by the abolition of the boroughs. County Louth for example with two seats was divided into North Louth and South Louth each with a single seat. Newry, Londonderry, and Belfast however retained their separate representation, and Belfast got three additional seats. Though Ireland’s population and wealth had fallen considerably relative to England’s since 1800 the total number of seats was not reduced.

 Proportional representation was introduced in 1919 with the twin hopes of inducing civic-minded citizens to stand for election in place of party hacks, and of negating the evil effect of the Redistribution Act which guaranteed a monopoly of power to nationalists or republicans in all the Catholic districts in Ireland. The only hope of persuading Protestants to accept Home Rule was if they could see a chance of fair representation. Unfortunately, Sinn Fein ensured that nobody would stand against them. It was the wrong message. [Top]


Contested elections in Ireland were expensive affairs, and so the gentlemen of the county made a preliminary canvass of opinion in the county to see if they had enough support to win both seats or whether they should put up only one candidate. In many ways Ireland was a deferential society and if a leading nobleman in the county habitually put up a candidate for a seat he would be unopposed for half a century or more. In 1868 only one of the nine Ulster counties was contested (Walker Ulster Politics 51). When a contest was decided on it was regarded by all as an open season to fleece the candidates. It was amazing too how many men could take time off work to ‘assist’ the candidate. Tenants in mid-century were expected to vote in their landlord’s interest, and the Countess of Fingall remarked that the feudal age lasted longer in Connaught than elsewhere. Her father in Co. Galway marched his tenants to vote, and supporters of rival candidates fought each other on the quays of Galway. County Galway was also famous for a reckless hunt, the Galway Blazers, for the persistence of duelling, and supplying officers and men to the Connaught Rangers. The age was brought to an end by Charles Stuart Parnell (Fingall, Seventy Years Young 35-6).

The Catholic Association in the 1820s began successfully to intervene in elections on behalf of candidates who supported their request for Catholics to be allowed to sit in parliament. Because this could be said to have some bearing on the position of the Catholic Church in Ireland the Catholic bishops allowed priests to assist in the electoral campaigns and allowed Catholic chapels, which were frequently the only large public building in a parish, to be used for meetings. After 1829, when the object had been attained, these permissions were withdrawn. But some priests and bishops were unhappy about this and felt that the Catholic clergy should be able to assist and ‘guide’ Catholic candidates. They could ‘explain’ for example how Peel’s Tamworth Manifesto was a snare and a trap for Catholics! During the remaining seventeen years of Daniel O’Connell’s life until 1848 numerous Catholic priests and bishops supported his various campaigns.

After O’Connell’s death many of his supporters embraced a revolutionary programme aimed at overthrowing what they called ‘British rule’ by force. The Catholic clergy had three principal objections to this. First was that Irish grievances were not so great, intolerable, or insoluble that recourse to arms was required. Such grievances as existed could be remedied through action in Parliament. The conditions for a ‘just war’did not exist. The second was that on the Continent revolutionary movements were invariable linked to anti-clericalism and attacks on the Church. The third was that the older clergy still remembered with shame the events of an attempted revolutionary insurrection with the assistance of the Revolutionary French army in 1798. Drunken orgies of looting, rioting and murder had been matched with brutal repression. Though a very brief, limited, and ill-prepared uprising had been attempted in 1848 and was easily put down, the political priests felt that their presence in nationalist councils was more necessary than ever. An attempt was made to establish a broad-based Independent Party, and this was wholeheartedly supported by the Catholic clergy. It lasted only 10 years. For the next 10 years, until Isaac Butt established the Home Government Association (later Home Rule Association) in 1869 politics as far as the priests were concerned lay in supporting either a Whig or a Tory candidate.

In the meantime an organisation was formed in 1858 which was to have a malign influence over Irish politics for the next 60 years. It was a secret oath-bound society formed to promote and develop an armed uprising, and was called the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Secret oath-bound societies were condemned by the Catholic Church for it was realised that they were normally plotting revolutions involving bloodshed. An American branch was formed at the same time, to provide funds, give military training, and to acquire arms. Members were commonly called Fenians after a band of warriors and heroes in Irish mythology (Campbell, Fenian Fire, passim). The importance of the IRB lay in the fact that members were usually also members of apparently legitimate bodies like political parties, the Land League, and the Irish Volunteers. Members of the IRB could and did infiltrate these bodies and controlled them. Crucially, American members could collect funds and channel them to their brethren in Ireland. It is likely that the influence of the American branch ultimately proved decisive.

The Catholic clergy were of course aware of what was going on, and stepped up their efforts to get involved in the Home Rule or Nationalist Party after it was formed. Their difficulty is illustrated by the problems facing a parish priest in Co. Monaghan. Canon Hoey, parish priest of Muckno (Castleblaney) in 1882 was a determined supporter of tenant right. His last political fight was against the convention system of selecting parliamentary candidates in which all the real business was done by wire pulling and machining behind the stage and rigging the conventions. The meeting at which he denounced dishonest political methods was itself most dishonestly organised. He was later given an address which praised his support for free conventions in the selection of parliamentary candidates (M’Kenna, Clogher 444-5).

The conventions were for the selection of parliamentary candidates, and the priest wanted them to be open, public, and straightforward. Tammany Hall machine politics was as common in Ireland as in the United States. Conventions were notoriously rigged by the party bosses. But particularly if American money was being channelled towards the IRB and its supporters free and open conventions could not be allowed. John Devoy was a vital supporter of the military council within the IRB, which planned the rising of Easter Week 1916, and he was a key figure behind the Friends of Irish Freedom, an open organisation backed by Clan na Gael (as the IRB in America came to be called), which by late 1919 had raised a million dollars in support of the ‘independence movement’ (R.V. Comerford DNB Online ‘John Devoy’).

Towards the end of the century, the parliamentary leaders in both the Liberal and Conservative parties took steps to get greater control by their respective parties in Parliament and over the local organisations in the different counties and towns that were responsible for selecting candidates and ensuring their election (DNB, Lord Randolph Churchill). This could be done for example by insisting that every candidate should be on an approved party list. Steps were also taken to ensure that when elected a Member of Parliament should adhere to the official policy of his party as set out in its manifesto. This led to an increase of the power of the Party Whips or Whippers in, a term derived from foxhunting. In 1883, Charles Steward Parnell revived the Land League under the name of the Irish National League with purely political aims. It still received money from America but in greatly reduced amounts. It was its function to co-ordinate activities in all the constituencies as the two main parties were doing. The Catholic clergy were very active in setting up and leading local branches. In many parts of Ireland local branches were based on Catholic parishes, with the Catholic clergy trying to keep control (Walker Ulster Politics 204-5). The Liberal and Conservative Parties in Ireland, and especially in Ulster, began to build up their constituency organisations as in Britain. The new, broad-based Conservative organisations often had links with the Orange Order. The Liberal Party in Ulster followed suit but was not so well organised In the 1885 general election the Liberals won no seats in Ireland (Walker op. cit. 177-201; 221). The Liberal vote was absorbed by the Conservatives. This is why Walker sees the 16 years between 1869 and 1885 as crucial for the development of a separate political identity in Ulster. The year 1885 saw the formation of the Irish Loyal Patriotic Union to co-ordinate Protestant voters against the nationalists. This was reorganised in 1891 to become the Irish Unionist Alliance as Protestants realised that a split vote would allow nationalists, even if they were in the minority, to take seats. However, this approach was split geographically in 1905 with the formation of the Ulster Unionist Council which became the Ulster Unionist Party (Buckland Irish Unionism 96, 124, 201). In 1905 too the party backed by the revived IRB called Sinn Fein was also started though originally violence was not part of its political programme.

            There always was a considerable amount of violence attached to British and Irish elections and this persisted longest in the West of Ireland. This was however rough sport such as had traditionally been found between apprentices and in Irish faction fights. But at the beginning of the 20th century, guns, particularly revolvers began to make their appearance. This was especially true in contests between the various nationalist factions. The Nationalist Party had split in 1890 over Parnell’s divorce and re-united in 1900 under John Redmond. A rival United Irish League was formed by William O’Brien who however agreed to the reunification of the party under Redmond. William O’Brien again split the party by forming the All for Ireland League in 1910, and it was in disputes between the Nationalist Party and the All for Ireland League that the gun made its appearance in modern Irish politics.

            Payment of Members of Parliament was introduced in 1911. The number of Irish MPs was never reduced despite the fact that the population of Ireland was falling while the population of Great Britain was rising. Had the ‘Goschen ratio’ of taxable income of Ireland namely 9% of the taxable income of the United Kingdom been applied Ireland should have had about 63 members. An Irish Electoral Boundary Commission in 1917 recommended a considerable redistribution of seats. In the redistribution Newry lost its seat in Parliament which it had obtained by its charter in 1613 (Canavan, Frontier Town, 182). In the 20th century Ireland had 101 MPs. In 1922 a rather tart comment was made on the character of Irish MPs. Writing of Lawrence Ginnell the Irish Times noted that he was a master of that school of politicians of which Ireland has a surfeit, logic-chopping, quibbling with words, holding up great national issues over sterile phrases, and talking, talking, talking non-stop (Weekly Irish Times 16 Sept 1922). In December 1918 elections in all constituencies had to be held on the same day and women were allowed to vote. [Top]

The Armed Forces


The armed forces of the United Kingdom were directly under the crown, though raising money to pay for them was the function of Parliament. As noted earlier, Parliament took steps to get some control over the army, though complete control was not obtained until 1964 long after the Second World War. Like its English counterpart, the Irish permanent army came into existence in the second half of the 17th century when Charles II began to maintain some regiments of cavalry and infantry on a permanent basis. Charles II when abroad in exile adopted the prevailing custom of having a personal bodyguard (Warder 7 Dec 1901). An Irish army was formally constituted by Charles II in 1661 when he established His Majesty’s Guards. They were stationed throughout his reign in Dublin where the cost of its quarters and part of its maintenance was borne. It was re-officered largely with Catholic gentlemen on James II’s accession; after the Battle of the Boyne (1690) it, or at least its officers, followed him abroad. The subsequent Irish Army was formed from Protestant regiments raised to support the cause of William III. The oldest infantry regiment was the Royal Irish Regiment formed in 1684 from companies raised around 1683 by royalist Sir Arthur Forbes, the 1st Earl of Granard and Marshal and Commander-in- Chief of the Irish Army. He was removed from this position by James II and supported William III. It was given its name, the Royal Irish Regiment and its number the 18th about 1759 (DNB Arthur Forbes, Harris, Irish Regiments 107).

Previously, commissions were given to various gentlemen to raise a regiment in time of war. They were given the rank of colonel, and a grant of money from the Treasury to cover his expenses in equipping and maintaining their regiments. The regiment was known by the name of its colonel. If he was killed or left the regiment it was called by his successor’s name. At the end of hostilities the grant was discontinued, so the colonel dismissed his troops. Officers purchased their commissions from the colonel, and a market for commissions developed. (Besides his pay an officer usually had means of enriching himself so commissions were valuable, and were regarded as property.) An officer, after having purchased his rank, applied for a commission from the crown, and might have to have some influence to get it. Some officers entered the army solely for the status it conferred and sold their commissions as soon as war was declared. This provided an opportunity for other men anxious to see foreign service to buy their commissions. Commissions to raise regiments were given as late as the French Revolutionary Wars and the 87th and 88th regiments of the line were raised in Ireland at that time. As the number of regiments grew the infantry regiments were just given numbers, and were called regiments of the line as distinguished from militia regiments. Most regiments were eventually given names and nicknames, so the 87th was the Prince of Wales’s Irish (the Faughs) while the 88th was the Connaught Rangers (the Devil’s Own) (Keenan, Pre-Famine Ireland 294-7).

            In the eighteenth century regiments were often stationed in the same place for many years, and recruited locally, so that the rank and file of one stationed for many years in Ireland was largely composed of Irishmen. Irish regiments based in Catholic parts of Ireland were composed largely of Catholics, while those based in the Protestant parts of Ireland were composed largely of Protestants. As it was a wholly volunteer army, each volunteer could choose which regiment he wished to serve in.

            By the Act of Union (1800 legally the Irish Army ceased to exist, but Irish regiments did not. Irish regiments served in every quarter of the world as individual regiments. Not until the First World War were Irish divisions formed, though an ad hoc Irish Brigade was formed during the Boer War under Major General Fitzroy Hart. It was estimated that Irishmen composed two fifths of the army sent to the Crimea. In the reorganisation which followed the Crimean War the ancient office of Secretary at War and the Board of Ordnance were abolished and their powers and responsibilities transferred to the Secretary for War whose office was called simply the War Office. The army of the East India Company was absorbed into the British Army bringing in two regiments which were renamed the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers (DNB, George William, Duke of Cambridge).

            The military establishment in Ireland as in the rest of the United Kingdom was thoroughly re-organised in the second half on the 19th century. These are commonly referred to as the Cardwell Reforms. Edward Cardwell was Irish Secretary from 1859 to 1861 under Lord Palmerston, but in 1868 became Secretary for War under Gladstone. Purchase of commissions was abolished, and officers were selected after tests for fitness including examinations. Provision was made for the retirement of officers. The length of time for enlistment was shortened to allow the formation a veteran reserve. The office of Commander-in-Chief could not be abolished because it was held by the Duke of Cambridge, the queen’s cousin, but by the War Office Act (1870) it was firmly subordinated to the War Office. The Duke was totally opposed to all of Cardwell’s reforms. Nothing could be done about this until the Duke retired which he did in 1895. In 1904 the office was abolished and replaced by a General Staff, and a Chief of Staff, later Chief of the Imperial General Staff as head of the army. Sir John French, of Irish descent was CIGS in 1913 at the time of the ‘Curragh mutiny’ but accepted a filed command as C-in-C of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. (This post was held during the Second World War by Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke of Co. Fermanagh.) Officers in the militia could be transferred to the regular army.

            Regarding Ireland, the chief reform was the division of Ireland into recruiting districts and the assigning to each pairs of the numbered regiments of the line, now designated battalions, and giving names to each of them. By the Army Enlistment Act (1870) completed by Hugh Childers in 1881 Ireland was assigned 16 battalions in 8 districts. There were eight regular Irish regiments in the peace time army, Leinster had the Leinster Regiment and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; Munster had the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Munster Fusiliers; Connaught had the Connaught Rangers, and Ulster had the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Only the last three survived when the others were suppressed on the foundation of the Irish Free State. The depot for the Connaught Rangers (88th and 94th) was in Galway, and their recruiting area was Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon. The depot for the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (102nd and 103rd was Naas, Co. Kildare with the three areas of Dublin city, Dublin county, and Kildare. The depot for the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (27th and 108th) was Omagh with counties Tyrone, Fermanagh, and Donegal. The depot of the Royal Irish Fusiliers (87th and 89th) was Armagh with counties Armagh, Cavan and Monaghan. The depot of the Royal Irish Regiment (1st and 2nd battalions 18th foot) was Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, with counties Tipperary, Wexford and Kilkenny. The depot of the Royal Irish Rifles (83rd and 86th) was Belfast, with counties north Down, south Down, and Louth. The depot of the Leinster Regiment (100th and 109th) was Birr in King’s County (Offaly) with King’s County, Queen’s County (Laois), and Meath. The depot of the Royal Munster Fusiliers (101st and 104th) was in Tralee, Co. Kerry, with Kerry, Limerick, and south Cork. The militias of the corresponding counties were then added as the 3rd, 4th and 5th battalions (Whitaker’s Almanac 1903).

            This is a simplified scheme for illustration and probably close to what was originally intended. Before the allocation to recruiting districts in Ireland several of the regiments had no connection with Ireland. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers had been East India Company regiments, while the Leinsters had been raised in Canada. The Irish Guards were formed in 1900 as the queen’s tribute to the bravery of the Irish troops in the Boer War. The Irish Guards were not disbanded and served with distinction in the First and Second World Wars. The 1st battalion fought in Tunisia and at Anzio, while the 2nd battalion fought in North Western Europe after D-Day. The military recruiting districts did not correspond exactly with the militia districts, and it will be noticed that only 22 out of the 32 counties are mentioned above. The rest of the county militias were associated with the Royal Artillery (Whitaker’s Almanac 1903).

            The Victorian army in its heyday in the second half of the 19th century was commanded by two outstanding Irish generals, Frederick Roberts, Earl Roberts (Bobs) of Co. Waterford and Garnet Wolseley, Viscount Wolseley, of Dublin, who between them led most of the campaigns in the incessant minor wars. Wolseley led the army in 1884-5 to rescue General Gordon in Khartoum in the Sudan. Roberts successfully led a relief army on a forced march from Kabul to Kandahar in the Second Afghan War (1878-1880). The flavour of the time was memorably caught by Kipling

“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,

And the women come out to cut up what remains,

Jest roll on your rifle and blow out your brains,

And go to your Gawd like a soldier” (War Stories and Poems, 56).    

In the First World War, an enormous number of Irishmen both in Ireland and in England volunteered for the army. The Ulster Protestants led the way and Belfast city was the greatest single district for volunteering. The Irish Catholic nationalists endeavoured to match their efforts. The rate of volunteering was high in cities and urban districts and lowest in rural districts especially in the west of Ireland. Besides those who volunteered for the regular and militia battalions, special ‘service’ or wartime only battalions were formed. These were added to the existing regiments, and by the end of the war, the Royal Irish Rifles had 20 battalions. The total number of Irish battalions by 1918 was 82. In the British Army regiments were not a combat unit. This was the brigade composed of two or more battalions, and two or more brigades formed a division which was a larger combat unit.

On 1st August 1914 there were 20,780 Irishmen serving in the army; at the outbreak of war 17,804 reservists and 12,462 special reservists re-joined making a total on mobilisation of 51,046 men; subsequently three new divisions, the 10th, 16th, and 36th were formed each of 12 battalions, which added to the original 16 Irish battalions made 52 battalions; at the same time reserve brigades were formed to act as feeders (Weekly Irish Times 5 Feb. 1916). It was estimated that up to half a million Irishmen volunteered to fight in the British and American armed forces combined in the First World War (Weekly Irish Times 24 Nov. 1923). In the Irish War Memorial Records the names of the 45,435 names of fallen Irishmen were collected; not only the names of those who served in Irish regiments but as far as was possible those who served in other regiments as well; local newspapers were combed for names (Weekly Irish Times 24 Nov. 1923). A total mortality rate of about 10% of all those serving is indicated. It is clear that a large proportion of Irishmen of military age at home and abroad volunteered for the armed forces.



            There never was a separate Royal Irish Navy. In 1688 under Admiral Baron Dartmouth the navy submitted to the Prince of Orange and remained loyal to the Hanoverian monarchs. All Catholic officers were removed from its ranks, at least officially. (In 1829 they were officially re-admitted, but had been present unofficially long before that.) The Act of Union (1800 made no change to its status. The navy maintained two main bases in Ireland, in Lough Swilly, Co. Donegal and Queenstown Co. Cork, to which was added in the 20th century Berehaven, Co. Cork. There were also depots for fuel oil at Rathmullan, Co. Donegal and Haulbowline, Co. Cork (Encyclopaedia of Ireland, ‘Treaty Ports’). These were returned to the Irish Free State (Eire) before the Second World War. Berehaven was not constructed as a base for anti-submarine warfare but as a fall-back position for the Channel Fleet in case of a defeat by the German or French fleets. The most memorable Irish admiral was Lord Charles Beresford, of Co. Waterford who between 1905 and 1909 was firstly C-in-C in the Mediterranean and then C-in-C of the Channel Fleet, the senior appointment of an officer at sea (DNB, Beresford). Admiral Beattie whose family was from Co. Waterford, commanded the Home Fleet in the second half of the First World War (DNB Beattie).

Royal Artillery

            The Royal Artillery was historically separate from the British Army, and like the Royal Engineers remained separate. The army was describes as ‘horse, foot, and guns’ and it was always difficult to get the various units to speak to each other, let alone fight alongside each other. In the Royal Regiment of Artillery there were militia depots in Antrim, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Dublin city, Limerick city, Londonderry City, Mid-Ulster, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford and Wicklow. Associated with these depots were the Antrim militia, Clare militia, Cork City militia, Limerick City militia, Londonderry militia, Sligo militia, Waterford militia, and Wexford militia. In 1901 the total embodied militia infantry in Ireland was 13,750 and militia artillery 5,440 (Belfast Weekly News 30 May 1901).[Top]

Militia and Yeomanry

            The militia was an ancient local defence force, based on the county and formed by a levy on the county and paid for by a tax on the county, which was normally made up to strength or embodied when there was danger of invasion or internal disturbance (Keenan Pre-Famine Ireland 297-9). For most of the 18th century the Irish militia was governed by the Militia Interchange Act (1811). By this Act militia regiments could be asked to serve in any part of the United Kingdom outside their own county. The Lord Lieutenant could also order a ballot for service in the militia to be held among all those adult men liable for service in the militia, but in practice the Government relied on bounties. The militia was disembodied in 1815 following the defeat of the French at Waterloo leaving only a handful of officers and non-commissioned officers to man the county depots. County governors were still required however to keep the militia lists, i.e. lists of those men liable to serve, up to date.

            As fear of the French revived after 1850 the British, as usual preferring to rely on enthusiastic amateurs rather than on an expanded professional army, decided to revive and reform the militia. The Militia Act (1852) fixed the strength of the militia for the United Kingdom at 80,000 to be recruited, as in Ireland, by bounties. The power to use the ballot was retained. Militia regiments were empowered to serve overseas (Barnett, Britain and Her Army 282). The Irish militia was re-embodied in 1854, for the Crimean War, and again for the Indian Mutiny, and the Great War (Northern Whig 1 Nov 1924). The militia were said to be embodied when they were called from their homes to camp for training or service, and disembodied when dismissed to their homes at the end of the required period. During the Napoleonic Wars some of the militiamen were away from their families continuously for twenty years. The Irish militia was separate from the militias of the other two kingdoms.

            In 1899 several battalions of the Irish militia were embodied to be sent to South Africa. The North Cork militia (9th battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps) and the King’s County militia (3rd Leinsters) got to South Africa. The latter battalion was embodied at Birr January 1900, and like other militia regiments at the time it volunteered for the War (Weekly Irish Times 31 May 1902). The 5th battalion, the Royal Irish Rifles, better known as the South Down militia got ready to sail for South Africa in March 1901. It originated in an Act in 1793 and was called the 9th Royal Downshire Militia; it fought at Killala in 1798. It was disembodied after Waterloo and re-embodied in 1854 under the name Royal South Down Light Infantry, and during the Crimean War it supplied 227 volunteers to the line. In 1881 it was renamed the 5th battalion Royal Irish Rifles. It was re-embodied in May 1900 and had already supplied 150 volunteers to the 2nd battalion (Belfast Weekly News 14 March 1901).

‘When Kruger heard the regiment had landed at Capetown,

"I regret," says he, "we're bate," says he, "we may throw our rifles down."

There is only the one conclusion: we'd better quit the Rand

For the South Down Militia is the terror of the land’. (

The other battalions were stood down as the situation in South Africa came under control. Though only part-time soldiers they were useful for guarding bases and back areas. When embodied in Ireland they released the regular battalions for front line duty.

            Though the organisation, equipment, drill and tactics of the militia were identical with that of the regular army the two organisations were totally different. In one the officers and men joined a regiment to make soldiering their life’s work. They could be sent abroad for any number of years in times of war and peace. The militia were occasional soldiers. They came under the county governors who came under the Lord Lieutenant not the War Office until the Cardwell reforms. When they first joined they were given the basic military training, how to march, how to form a line, a column, or a square and how to get from one formation to another. They were taught how to load a musket and fire it on the word of command. For defence, the regiment was extended in a long thin line to enable the greatest number of muskets to bear. For attack they formed a square or column to bring the greatest weight of numbers to bear on a single point in the opposing line. A crucial part of the drill was how to step forward or side-step to fill up the place of anyone who had fallen. This drill was all taught on the parade ground.

In the first half of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars the militia was of necessity retained at home, but after the naval victory at Trafalgar in 1805 the role of supplying volunteers for the regular army became more important, especially in Ireland. After 1854 when the militia were allowed to serve overseas in a body they were useful for guarding bases. Yet Cardwell wanted to improve on this. They would form a kind of army reserve and supply volunteers in a time of crisis to the regular regiments. This change was not finally completed until the formation of the Territorial Army in 1908. The first step was to place the militia and yeomanry under the War Office and this was done in 1855. Then following the formation of two-battalion regiments in 1870 and 1881, the militia regiments were linked to the eight regular regiments who had been given depots in Ireland and three county militias was attached to each regiment as described above. They still in the press and elsewhere retained their traditional names. Finally, the Haldane Reforms in the 20th century transferred the Irish militia to the Special Reserve. In the First World War the militia battalions were ignored by Lord Kitchener who preferred the newly raised and trained ‘service’ battalions. Why he did so is not clear. He may have thought that many of them were too old, especially the officers, or too set in their ways, and that it was easier to form completely new units with officers from the regular army from fresh volunteers. The militia served on garrison duties in the United Kingdom, and volunteers from their ranks could transfer to fighting units. With the disbanding of five Irish regiments in the territory of the Irish Free State in 1922 their associated militia regiments were disbanded too. The militia regiments in Ulster were suspended, but not abolished until 1953. Thirty six of the 82 Irish battalions who served during the First World War were militia battalions (Harris, The Irish Regiments, 274).

The term yeomanry covers any volunteer units which established themselves in accordance with the various yeomanry Acts. The yeomanry regiments raised under the Yeomanry (Ireland) Act (1797) and given official status were disbanded in 1815. But many of the official or legal yeomanry companies were earlier unofficial volunteer companies, several of which had been patriotically raised to defend Ireland during the American War of Independence (Harris, Irish Regiments 13-19). As the yeomanry companies served only in their own localities they were popular and over 60,000 men joined them. For various reasons like the continuing threat of agrarian terrorists and the prospects of Catholic Emancipation many of the companies did not disband and an enquiry in 1828 found that they still numbered around 20,000 with three quarters of them in Ulster. The Government always refused to give them official recognition, they were formally disbanded in 1834, and they seem to have gradually declined (Keenan, Pre-Famine Ireland 300-1). It would appear that the various Acts regulating volunteers and yeomanry did not apply to Ireland (Irish Law Times 20 Jan 1900).

The Volunteer Act (1899) allowing the British to volunteer for service in South Africa was not applied to Ireland; but it was hoped that a Belfast volunteer brigade might be formed. The Irish were soon allowed however to join the Imperial Yeomanry, and there was a rush of volunteers. The Imperial Yeomanry was recruited from all over the Empire and called for young men who could ride a horse and shoot with a gun. It was intended that they should be used as mounted infantry. As with the Boers, the horses gave mobility, but the troops fought dismounted. Local companies were formed and combined into a battalion, the 13th battalion Imperial Yeomanry. The companies were the 45th (Dublin), the 46th and 54th (Belfast), and the 47th (Lord Donoughmore’s). Another battalion had two English and two Irish companies, the 60th (North Irish) and the 61st (South Irish). The 13th contained several Irish Masters of Foxhounds. It was commanded by a totally incompetent British army officer who allowed the brigade to be surrounded by the Boers who were armed with artillery and it was forced to surrender (Harris op. cit. 232; Pakenham, Boer War, 436).

On the return of the Irish companies from South Africa the Government raised two new Irish yeomanry regiments, the North Irish Horse and the South Irish Horse. The first was raised in 1902 with its regimental headquarters in Belfast and the second, raised in the same year had its headquarters in Limerick with 2 squadrons in Beggar’s Bush barracks in Dublin. In 1908 the two regiments were converted to Special Reserve and re-named the North and South Irish Horse, with precedence over the yeomanry in the Territorial Army (Harris, 235). They were sent to France in August 1914, the first non-Regular Army units. The South Irish Horse was disbanded along with the other southern Irish regiments. In the Second World War the North Irish Horse like many cavalry regiments became a tank regiment and fought in Tunisia and Italy.

In the First World War there arose a mass of volunteer auxiliary units, many of them for women to help the armed forces. The first however, in the Boer War, was Lord Iveagh’s field hospital. It was composed of 70 volunteers who trained at the royal barracks, with several RIC mounted men assisting with the training. It had all the requirements of a self-contained field hospital from surgeons to the blacksmith and wheelwright. Training was provided in the handling of mules (Warder 27 Jan 1900). Four Irish doctors were appointed, Dr William Thompson being in command. The hospital was organised by Edward Cecil Guinness of the brewery company, then Baron Iveagh.

During the First World War, despite the carping of the sourpusses of Sinn Fein and the IRB, all ranks of Irish society rushed to give what assistance they could to the armed forces. Among these was FANY, the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. There was also the Dublin University VAD, or Voluntary Aid Detachment branch of Dublin University Women graduates and undergraduates. The scheme began in 1909 when the Secretary of State for War requested a plan for voluntary aid for the sick and wounded in time of war. In 1911 the Officers Training Corps in the university took advantage of the scheme, and enabled a university VAD to be formed and registered with the Territorial Branch of the St John's Ambulance Brigade. A camp of instruction was held in 1912, and in 1914 the university provided No. 19 Mountjoy Square as a hospital, and there they worked; there were 24 beds, with a resident surgeon. Housework, including cooking was done by voluntary workers, and Belgian refugees (Weekly Irish Times 3 July 1915). A Report was made of Irish nurses at the front: they were two to a tent at the general hospitals, and had to provide the furniture of the tents themselves. The VADs were at first resented by the trained nurses. Volunteer VADs were put on probation for one month, then accepted for 6 months, and were sent to hospitals in England or France to do the work of junior probationers. Much of their work was washing in the sink room and cleaning things, sweeping and dusting the wards, running with fomentations, washing bandages, helping with meals and making beds (Weekly Irish Times 21 Aug. 1915). The victory parade in Belfast in August 1919 involved 11 miles of fighting men with 30,000 men and women; women’s units were Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), Red Cross, Voluntary Aid Detachment, women (VAD), Legion Corps, Women's Royal Air Force, Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), Women's Royal Army Service Corps, Women’s Forestry Corps, and Women's Land Corps (Weekly Irish Times 16 Aug 1919).

The Armed Forces in Irish Society

            The armed forces had a much more important part in Irish social life than they have today. Even after the purchase of commissions was ended most officers in cavalry and line regiments were selected only if they had private means. Officers who relied on their pay were directed towards the Royal Engineers and other unfashionable regiments. The term ‘crack regiment’ meaning first class regiment referred to their social position and desirability not their military efficiency. There were famous military families like the Brookes of Colebrooke, Co Fermanagh, 26 of whom served in the First World War and 27 in the Second World War (DNB Alan Brooke). The army barracks and depots were spread evenly over the whole of Ireland, and one battalion was always at home so officers were constantly in demand at hunts, balls, races, shoots, fishing, and other rural sports of the gentry. Their brilliant uniforms lent glamour to many a local occasion. And the lower ranks were similarly popular with the lower ranks in society. Every regiment had its band which also graced social occasions. The position in Ireland was no different from the rest of the United Kingdom. Every officer, and not merely the officers in cavalry regiments, had to have his own expensive personal horse or horses for riding and hunting, They were therefore a welcome sight at horse fairs. Trooping the colours, the ceremonial mounting of the guard, on St. Patrick’s Day at Dublin Castle attracted crowds of spectators. Cities and seaside resorts provided bandstands in public parks where regimental bands could entertain the public.

It was not until after 1900 that extreme nationalists began denigrating what they called the ‘British’ Army. Even then, nationalist propaganda had little effect on popular sentiment until after 1918 when it was realised that the IRA was going to be the new Irish Army and was keeping tabs on all who fraternised with the security forces. [Top]

The Irish Government

The Structure of the Irish Government or Executive

Besides Her (His) Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom there was a separate Her (His) Majesty’s Government of Ireland (the Irish Government) to deal with Irish affairs. The Irish Government or Executive was an anomaly in the 19th century. In theory, by the Act of Union it should have ceased to exist as the various Offices were merged into their British counterparts. In 1801 the entire abolition of a separate Irish Government was proposed by the Home Secretary Thomas Pelham, but this was fiercely resisted by those in the threatened offices. The major offices, the Exchequer, the Treasury, the Post Office, and the Revenue Boards were indeed amalgamated or combined with their British counterparts. The Treasuries were amalgamated in 1816, the Revenue Boards in 1823 and the Stamp Offices in 1827 (McDowell, The Irish Administration, 65, 88-92). The Irish Board of Ordnance was united with its British corresponding Board at the Union. The Audit Boards were merged in 1839. The Ordnance Survey was carried out in Ireland by the Board of Ordnance and was transferred to the English Board of Works in 1870 though it maintained several of its offices in Ireland. The Treasury Remembrancer’s Office was in Dublin Castle. It was the office of the Treasury Remembrancer and Deputy Paymaster, with no separate budget, but only individual salaries. The Post Office (a Revenue Office) had its principal office in London, and it principal Irish office in the General Post Office in Dublin.

Yet, a hundred and twenty years later the Irish Government was still in existence, presiding to a greater or lesser degree over a heterogeneous collection of Boards which survived or were developed because there was no corresponding British Board. Nor was any attempt made to squeeze them into the British system by making them committees of the Privy Council which was the way similar issues were dealt with in England. There were proposals made at times to completely abolish the office of Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary which depended on it, and subject all Irish affairs to the relevant Department or Office in Westminster, but this was never done. Also after the Union some Boards or Offices were developed which had no equivalent in England like the Board of Education, the Board of National Education, the Valuation Office and the Land Commission. The Irish Poor Law Board developed into the Local Government Board. The Irish police was a national service not a county one as in Britain. These were developed in Ireland to meet needs which had no direct equivalent in England at the time and it was said that Ireland had enough Boards to make herself a coffin. The courts were under the Lord Chancellor, but gradually lost most of their administrative functions. The entire court system was left unaltered, and even after the English and Irish systems were rationalised no attempt was made to merge them. Oddly enough the two Civil Services were amalgamated, and entrants in Ireland were often given their first posting in London. Proposals by the Liberals with regard to Home Rule for Ireland were largely concerned with the various Boards concerned with purely Irish affairs which had survived or had developed.

It should be noted at the outset that the Government of Ireland was composed almost exclusively of Irishmen and always had been. It was no more the ‘British Government’ than the Australian or Canadian Governments were the British Government. In theory, Ireland did not have a legislature separate from that of the United Kingdom, but much special legislation had to be passed for Ireland, and normally only Irish MPs took part in those debates. For all practical purposes regarding local Irish issues there was a separate Parliament (Keenan, Pre-Famine Ireland). Mainly, government in Ireland was local government and was in the hands of the Irish country gentlemen in the counties, who met as the county Grand Juries. The chief local officer was the sheriff who was appointed by the Lord Lieutenant from a short list of the gentlemen of the counties. The governing bodies in towns and cities, after the acts of 1828 and 1840 were composed of locally elected councillors or officials.

Historians studying 19th century Ireland struggle to understand the structure of the Irish Government and how it functioned. Though individual elements can be described, it is difficult to understand how they functioned together (Keenan Pre-Famine Ireland 254-272; McDowell, The Irish Administration). The reason is that it was composed largely of left-overs from the past and bits added from time to time to deal with particular Irish needs. It was continually evolving, but not in accordance with any plan. As the Chief Secretary George Wyndham remarked the government of Ireland was conducted only through continuous conversation (McDowell, The Irish Administration, 31). Nor is it surprising that trouble arose when Augustine Birrell (Chief Secretary 1907-16) withdrew from that conversation.

The structure itself of the Government was derived from the medieval government of the royal justiciars and viceroys, and was itself modelled on the royal government of England. By the end of the 18th century the Lord Lieutenant exercised the royal power. Under him were the great officers of the Irish state, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Treasurer, the Lord Admiral or Admirals, the Commander of the king’s forces, the Lord Primate, the Lord Chief Justice, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, the Revenue Commissioners, the Post Master General, the Lord Lieutenant’s Secretary, and the Irish Secretary. The were also minor offices like the Clerk of the Pells, the Inspector of Gaols, the Board of Works (construction of fortifications), Barrack Board in charge of housing troops, Inspector of Mines, and the Commissioners of Imprest Accounts (auditors). Under these were other offices, like the Hanaper Office under the Chancery.

All these Irish officers were independent of each other and fiercely defensive of their rights. They (except the judges) could be dismissed by the king, but as long as there were no complaints to the Lord Lieutenant they were left alone. The various offices in the Revenue, the Post Office, in the Secretaries’ Departments etc. were run as independent fiefdoms where office holders could have opportunities for personal gain either for themselves or their followers. As the country was increasingly prosperous, well-managed, and peaceful, there was no reason to disturb them. In the early 18th century, the Lord Lieutenant came to Ireland only for a brief period every two years to hold a brief parliament lasting a few weeks, so the departmental heads were their own bosses most of the time. There was an Irish Parliament, but for long stretches it did very little and did not meet. The chief point in summoning it was to vote the necessary taxes.

The British Government’s i.e. the cabinet’s, interest in Ireland was slight, to keep the peace, to keep out the French, to maintain the Protestant religion, to maintain an additional reserve army in peacetime, and to ensure that Irish taxes covered the cost of the Irish Government. As long as the required revenue was paid into the Treasury each year from the legal taxes nobody interfered. Not that there was massive corruption or massive extortion but it was agreed that every public official should be able to derive an appropriate income from his office. Gifts for the award of contracts were regarded as normal. The principal interest of the king, however, besides getting the Irish Parliament to vote supply, was to ensure that no laws were passed against the royal interest. To obtain the necessary majorities in Parliament the Hanoverian kings and their ministers in England depended on influential men in Ireland to secure the necessary majorities by whatever means. As the prime minister at the time, Sir Robert Walpole put it, ‘Everyman has his price’. These influential men were called ‘undertakers’ but they had little control over the other great officers of state. After the accession of George III in 1760, in Ireland as in England, he wished to exercise more direct control, and the appointment of George Townshend as Lord Lieutenant in 1767 marks the beginning of the attempt to secure some control over the Government of Ireland. Then between 1782 and 1800 the Irish Parliament made efforts to get some control over the Irish royal executive for itself. But right up to 1921 the Government of Ireland was a collective effort, relying on the co-operation of the chief officers who remained, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Commander-in-Chief of the army in Ireland, with the Chief Secretary.

This structure was changed as the various provisions of the Act of Union (1800) came into force. The two parliaments were merged immediately, and the office of Irish Secretary was merged with that of the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, but otherwise there was little apparent change. A separate Irish budget was presented until 1817 when the two exchequers were merged. Customs duties against British goods were progressively reduced until the virtually ceased in 1825 so the Revenue Boards were then amalgamated, as were the Stamp Offices. There was no haste about the amalgamations which took place when the times were right.

            When the Chief Secretary, Augustine Birrell, in 1907 introduced his Irish Council Bill he set out the shape of the executive part of the Government of Ireland as it then stood. Over legislation, he said, the Irish have had long a considerable measure of control; now they needed also to control the exercise of those laws, to control the administration of the officials, conveniently if inaccurately called Dublin Castle.

Some of the Irish officials, he said, are under the control of the Irish Secretary for the time being; other are independent of him; some departments are wholly on the votes [annual parliamentary budget], some are partly on the votes, and some have independent endowments; the Board of Intermediate Education was totally independent. [Its income was taken from the funds of the disestablished Church.] The total number of Irish Boards is a matter of controversy; excluding the Admiralty and War Office there were he was told 45 Boards; 10 of these were directly under the control of the Irish Government, the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, the General Prisons Board, Reformatories and Industrial Schools, the Inspector of Lunatics, the General Register Office; the Department of the Registrar of Petty Sessions Clerks , the resident magistrates, the crown solicitors, and the clerks the Crown and the Peace.

            Under partial control of the Irish government were the Land Commission, the Commissioners of Charitable Bequests, and the Public Records Office. Not at all under the control of the Irish Government except as regarding appointments and the framing of rules were five; the Board of National Education; the Board of Intermediate Education, the Commissioners of Endowed Schools, the National Gallery, and the Hibernian Academy. Not under the control of the Irish Government but with the Chief Secretary as president ex officio were the Local Government Board, the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction; and the Congested Districts Board. There were four boards exercising statutory authority in Ireland and not under Government control: the Public Loan Fund Board, the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the Royal University and Queen's Colleges. Also not controlled by the Government were eight more, including the Supreme Court of Judicature and its offices, the Registrar of Deeds, the Local Registration of Titles, and the Railway and Canal committee being the most important. There were also 12 English boards working in Ireland, not under the control of the Irish Government, of which it is sufficient to mention the Customs, the Inland Revenue, and the Board of Trade (Weekly Irish Times 11 May 1907).

The re-organisation of the boards into proper departments headed by a minister awaited the establishment of two separate Irish Governments in 1920, but as the creation of a Department of Agriculture showed such a re-organisation could have taken place sooner.

            It must be stressed that Government, both central and local in the early 19th century was very small. This was especially true of Government Offices, most of whom had only a handful of staff. In the early part of the 19th century almost every Office was housed in one of three buildings, Dublin Castle, the Four Courts, and the Customs House, and the total number of people employed in the public service was given as 4,700. Though called the Castle after the original castle of Dublin it was in fact a large group of buildings. The term Castle in this connection had the same significance as Whitehall had in Britain, and the White House in the United States, the centre of the executive as opposed to Westminster, or Capitol Hill, the seats of Parliament. Almost all work was farmed out. If the Military Department, for example, wanted muskets or uniforms, or supplies of fuel or forage they placed advertisements in the newspapers. The Board of National Education had a board room, a resident commissioner, a head inspector, and sufficient clerks to deal with reports from inspectors. Taxes were collected in the simplest way possible. A tax on newspapers was collected by appointing a shop to sell pre-stamped newsprint. A tax on beer and spirits was collected by taxing maltsters who made the malt. A tax on leather was collected by measuring the size of tanning pits. However, after 1850, the number of civil servants, including those in the vastly extended Post Office grew to around 26,000, which was still relatively small. As a result of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms admission to the civil service was by public examinations which were held in Ireland (DNB Stoney, G.J.).

The same was true of local administration. There were several county officers, the most important of whom was the sheriff. The sheriff could employ some bailiffs, gaolers, clerks etc., and in times of particular need could swear in a posse comitatus of special deputy sheriffs, a system which persisted in the United States. But almost all public works were put out to contract. Otherwise the ruling body in the county, the Grand Jury, met four times a year for the assizes. With regard to towns and cities their local powers were set out in their charters, and these were rationalised by various Acts in the 19th century. The borough of Newry for example, up to 1828, was bound by the terms of its charter of 1613 in addition to the preserved rights of the Cistercian abbey of Newry as a liberty. From 1828 onwards, the situation was no longer static. Counties had the traditional rights and duties of counties but from the 18th century onwards more and more duties were being heaped on them.[Top]

His Majesty’s Household in Ireland

The chief governor in Ireland since the Middle Ages was called the Lord Lieutenant (pronounced lef-teń-ant), who as his French title indicates held the place of the king and governed in the king’s place, and in his name, not that of parliament. This was a matter of form, for in practice the Lord Lieutenant was responsible to the ministry or cabinet in London and was nominated by it. His role was not as it had been in the Middle Ages to rule Ireland but to supervise the Irish Government. In the 18th century he quite often did not reside in Ireland but came every two years to hold a short Irish parliament. (The Lord Lieutenant was alternatively called the Viceroy. The adjective referring to the office was invariably viceregal.) In his absence the country was governed by the Lords Justices and officers of state who were usually members of the Irish parliament, almost invariably Irishmen and were the real rulers of Ireland if any such persons could be said to exist (Keenan Pre-Famine Ireland 254-5). The big change after the Act of Union (1800 was not the loss of the parliament, for the same people continued to legislate on specific Irish concerns in the same manner, but now sitting in Westminster. It was that, after a great struggle, the Lord Lieutenant and his Secretary, on behalf of the cabinet, succeeded in gaining some oversight and control over the Boards and Offices. After the Act of Union (1800) it took thirty years for the Lords Lieutenant and Chief Secretaries to gain control of the Under Secretary’s office. To a degree virtually incomprehensible nowadays, the head of an office or a board had virtually a free hand to run his office as he liked within the terms of his remit. The great object of the nationalist politicians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was to restore the happy state of affairs of the 18th century.

The royal household in Ireland (for the most part honorary or ceremonial) in Ireland consisted of the Hereditary Chief Butler in Ireland who in 1920 was the Marquis of Ormonde; the Hereditary Seneschal, or Lord High Steward who was the Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot; the honorary physicians, surgeons, and surgeon oculist; the Office of Arms and the Chancery of the Order of St Patrick. In the Office of Arms were the Ulster King of Arms and Registrar of the Order of St Patrick, the Athlone Pursuivant, the Deputy Ulster King of Arms, and the Registrar of the Office of Arms. Next came the Lord Lieutenant and Viceregal Household. Then came the Irish Executive under the Chief Secretary for Ireland with the Office of the Chief Secretary and the Irish Privy Council, the assistant Under Secretary for Ireland being the Clerk of the Privy Council (Whitaker’s Almanac 1920).

The offices of Butler and Seneschal (Steward) though important once, became largely honorary and ceremonial. So too were appointments like royal physician though he could be called on if the king were in Ireland. The office of Secretary only achieved importance after the Union when the offices of Irish Secretary and Lord Lieutenant’s Secretary were merged.

The Irish Office of Arms was distinct from the English College of Arms. Conferring of honours was a prerogative of the monarch. The office of Ireland King of Arms dated from around 1370, but was changed by Edward VI in 1552 to Ulster King of Arms whose office covered the whole of Ireland. The junior office of Athlone Pursuivant was created at the same time. Scotland had the Lyon King of Arms, while England has two, Norroy and Clarenceux, whose respective domains are marked by the River Trent. An attempt in 1898 to merge the Office of the Ulster King of Arms with the English College of Arms was defeated by the Irish MPs. The Office in Dublin is now called the Office of the Chief Herald (Fox-Davies, Heraldry, 24, 27; Encyc. of Ireland, ‘Heraldry’). The office of Ulster King of Arms was ultimately merged with Norroy.

The Lord Lieutenant’s powers were set out in general terms by the monarch appointing him. (Unlike the Viceroy of India he had no powers to wage wars or make treaties.) In theory he was the chief executive, like the president of the United States. But as described above, many of the offices or departments had by 1850 become controlled from London, or else were independent boards with a limited remit. The status of the office declined as the status of the office of Irish Secretary, progressively called the Chief Secretary, increased. By 1916, Birrell, the Chief Secretary was not bothering to keep the Lord Lieutenant informed about what he was doing. (There was a personal element in this, for the Earl of Aberdeen was a colourless figure, but it was significant all the same.) The Lord Lieutenant became a figurehead from whom only his signature was required. But Aberdeen was a totally different kind of person from the imperious pro-consular Marquis Wellesley in the 1820s. The functions of the Lord Lieutenant were numerous. He could apply statutes by means of proclamations, hear appeals for clemency, grant pardons, issue writs, have oversight of the administration. He was responsible for castles and fortifications, and had oversight over the military forces except during actual campaigns. He alone could call out the militia, and call in the army to aid the civil power. Until 1869 he appointed to many benefices in the Established Church, and in practice appointed Protestant bishops. Through the Deputy Master of the Revels he licensed Irish theatres. The Lord Lieutenant could commission surveys into matters like the use of bogs, get legislation passed by Parliament for the holding of censuses. In general, a great deal of the legislation concerning Ireland was pushed through Parliament by the Lord Lieutenant with the assistance of either the attorney general or the Irish Secretary (Keenan Pre-Famine Ireland 257-9). The situation in 1916 was summed up as follows: "Theoretically the executive government of Ireland is conducted by the Lord Lieutenant in Council, subject to instructions which he may receive from the Home Office of the United Kingdom. Practically, it is conducted for all important purposes by the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant…For many years past the office of Lord Lieutenant has been a ceremonial office…The military and naval forces in Ireland take their orders from the War Office and the Admiralty respectively…Though the Chief Secretary is in the position of a Secretary of State he has no Parliamentary Under-Secretary, and the Irish Law Officers are frequently not members of the House of Commons” (Weekly Irish Times 8 July 1916). Lord Wimborne in 1916 noted that he still retained the prerogative of mercy, but received no reports on anything. When he asked for them he was told they were for information only (Weekly Irish Times 27 May 1916).

When the Lord Lieutenant left Ireland even temporarily his duties were discharged by a Commission of Lords Justices which normally included the Irish Lord Chancellor and the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin. Ireland was ruled by Lords Justices between May and August 1916 following the resignation of Lord Wimborne. The Lord Lieutenant had an Irish Privy Council composed of important office holders appointed by himself. He was bound to consult some members at least of the Privy Council before taking important steps like issuing proclamations. This however was a mere formality, as it came under the control of the Chief Secretary and the assistant Under Secretary became the Clerk of the Privy Council (Whitaker 1920).

The office of Chief Secretary or the powers it exercised were not established by any statute. By the Act of Union (1800 the offices of Irish Secretary, a sinecure post, and Lord Lieutenant’s Secretary were combined. The Irish Secretary thus only exercised the powers of the Lord Lieutenant. The office of Irish Secretary was run by two Under Secretaries, one for civil affairs and one for military affairs but the latter office was discontinued. The Lord Lieutenant’s secretary and the Under Secretaries got on reasonably well until the then Under Secretary, William Gregory, opposed the Marquis Wellesley on his general policy towards the Catholics. There could be only one winner. The office of Under Secretary in 1853 was made non-political and permanent and became in effect the senior post in the civil service. The merging of the offices of Irish Secretary and Lord Lieutenant’s Secretary finally became effective. The military Under Secretary corresponded to British Secretary at War. When the office was merged with that of the civil Under Secretary in 1831 its military duties were taken over by the War Office.

What were the duties of the Under Secretary’s Office, later the Chief Secretaries Office? It is easier to say what it did not do. It did not do anything which was assigned to any other Office. It was not responsible for the revenue, it was not responsible for the courts, it was not responsible for the administration of towns and counties, it was not responsible for military matters, it was not responsible for barracks, castles, and fortifications, it was not responsible for the militia, it was not responsible for public works, it was not responsible for poor relief or famine relief, it was not responsible for legislation involving Ireland, just to name the chief areas which were the responsibility of other offices and which jealously guarded their independence, especially if the Chief Secretary was an Englishman, which was usually the case.

It was responsible for patronage, both civil and ecclesiastical. Indeed Thomas Pelham’s desire to absorb the Irish Government into the Home Office was regarded as trying to get control of the patronage (DNB, Pelham, T.). The last question Sir Arthur Wellesley had to decide on before leaving for the Peninsula was who should be appointed Deputy Warehouse Keeper of Stamped Goods (Longford, Wellington, 169). Almost all offices were filled by patronage, and as each new Secretary took office he was deluged with demands for places, hopefully sinecure, from his relatives and friends. This patronage was important when the king, George III, was trying to gain support for his own party, the Tories. It was only effective in pocket boroughs, and most of these disappeared at the Act of Union (1800 and the rest disappeared at the Reform Act (1833). Still, the promise of a peerage or an office for a relative could be used to influence particular individuals. The elections themselves came under the Lord Chancellor. Secret service money could be used to buy information from informers. As the Central Government in 1836 took responsibility for policing, the money could still be used. From 1813 onwards special police organised by the then Secretary, Robert Peel, and known as ‘peelers’ came under the office. Though the military Under Secretary in his Department was in charge of routine military affairs, the Secretary had to take a wider view and inform the Government if special measures, like the building of more fortifications or establishing a telegraph system were required. But this responsibility was shared with others like the army commanders.

The first duty of the Secretary since medieval times was to find out what was going on and inform the Lord Lieutenant. The latter was usually inundated with a flood of dubious information about what other people were supposedly doing. As soon as they arrived in Ireland both were invariably inundated with callers, anxious to be of help, and indicating how they could be assisted by an offer of a place or of a pension. But no head of an Irish Department or Board at any time was willing to volunteer any information about what his own Department was doing or to seek advice. As Secretary he was in charge of the Lord Lieutenant’s official correspondence, but not his private correspondence. Gradually and imperceptibly the office became the most important in Ireland, overshadowing even that of the Lord Lieutenant. In the name of the Lord Lieutenant, the Secretary could keep an eye on many departments and find out what was going on. He was also in a position to ‘advise’ on any increase in the estimates for any Board or Office. From the end of the nineteenth century the Chief Secretary, not the Lord Lieutenant was given a seat in the cabinet. As Balfour noted there were 10 offices subject directly to the Irish Government, the most important of which were the police and prisons. The holder of the office was made ex officio the president of the Local Government Board (1872), the Congested Districts Board (1891), and the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (1898) when they were formed. The Chief Secretary’s Office absorbed the Privy Seal Office and the Privy Council Office, giving the Chief Secretary direct control of both. (See Birrell’s description above.) It is clear that from the time of William Wellesley-Pole, Irish Secretary 1809-1812, the Lord Lieutenant and his Secretary were taking a deep and practical interest in the everyday details of Irish administration. Wellesley-Pole, for example, investigated the state of Irish gaols, while Robert Peel developed the police. Conducting the business of the Irish Government was like trying to herd unruly pigs or goats, each with its own mind about where it should be going. The Lord Lieutenant had no coercive power apart from dealing with criminal activity. This being said the vast amount of improving legislation it managed to get passed and put into practice is quite surprising. From 1880 onwards when the Chief Secretary was faced by a phalanx of hostile Irish nationalist MPs eager to catch him out, the amount of information a Chief Secretary had to absorb rapidly was enormous. This was especially true with regard to questions regarding land. The nationalist MPs were not however a particularly bright bunch. They just continually regurgitated nationalist rhetoric, just in the manner in which in the 20th century schoolboys regurgitated Marxist rhetoric. No great knowledge of the subject was required in either case.

The Chief Secretary was personally in charge of quite a small office, but it proved to be a key office. It had charge of submitting the estimates of the other departments to the Treasury, dealt with questions regarding the relations of the military in Ireland with the civil power, and corresponded with the Offices and Boards of the United Kingdom over particular issues. It had direct control of the police, supervised the resident magistrates, and dealt with all correspondence directed to the Lord Lieutenant or Chief Secretary such as memorials from prisoners and convicts, or with regard to reformatories (McDowell, Irish Administration, 71). Its chief duty obviously was to keep the Chief Secretary informed about what the other departments were doing, both for his own sake or in case a question was raised in Parliament or in the cabinet. It had no control over most of the Irish Boards or over the Lord Chancellor’s domains so the Chief Secretary could do no more than maintain a conversation with their heads.

The office of Under Secretary was downgraded and the holder of the office was no longer responsible for policy. An attempt in 1902 to give Sir Anthony MacDonnell a role in policy-making led to misunderstandings. The office of Under Secretary gradually became non-political and the title was transferred to the head of the Civil Service. Still, if a particular Under Secretary was regarded as too involved with the policies of a particular administration he was likely to be replaced by a new administration. Most of the day-to-day administration of Ireland was handled by this office and in the 20th century assistant Under Secretaries had to be appointed. So in practice the Under Secretary managed the general administration of the country, and the office became almost as influential as it was in the days of William Gregory a century earlier. Augustine Birrell could leave Ireland for long periods knowing that the Under Secretary could cope. There were sixteen appointments in the seventy years. Several of those appointed were military men, appointed not for their military skills but for their probity, their administrative proficiency, and ability to control large projects and large disbursements of public money. [Top]

The Offices and Boards

The term Board in the context of Irish Government can mean two entirely different things. One was a traditional office headed by a minister of the king who was a member of the Irish Parliament, but with responsibility given to several persons rather than an individual. The heads of such Boards answered directly to Parliament. The other was a Commission or Board unconnected with Parliament established with a fixed budget or source of revenue to carry out a particular remit. When Birrell said that there were 10 Boards directly controlled by the Government it is clear that some of them came under the Lord Chancellor and not the Irish Secretary. The Lord Chancellor was however a political appointment and so belonged to the same ministry as the Lord Lieutenant. But it was a kind of parallel jurisdiction. Some of the Boards are best described under more relevant headings. The connection of the Irish Executive with them was usually slight in every day matters. The Boards of Education and the universities will be described under Education. The Lord Chancellor’s office can be described along with the courts. The police forces and the prisons under Crime and Police. On the other hand, in a tiny country like Ireland, the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary were likely to be dragged into parish pump issues i.e. local issues. Paternalism was expected of any Irish Government whatever its complexion.

Affairs concerning Ireland only were dealt with by statutory boards, each with their limited remit and funding. These tended to grow in number in the second half of the century and increased enormously under the Liberal regime after 1906. By 1920 a thoroughgoing re-organisation was required and was carried out by the two independent Governments. The major difference between them and the traditional boards was that the heads of statutory Boards were not in Parliament.

            The following Boards were the principal ones, though as Birrell indicated, the control and supervision of them was slight so long as there was no major complaint about them, such as exceeding their budget. The most important of these in 1850 was the Board of Works. Commissioners in Ireland called the Board of Works were appointed in 1761 to visit and inspect the various fortifications, public buildings, and all public works, and to report on their state to the Government. On the Board was the Engineer General whose office of Engineer, Overseer, and Surveyor General was suppressed when the Board of Works was established. There had been an earlier Barrack Board established in 1699 to provide healthy accommodation for the various regiments of troops. In 1799 the two were combined and were responsible for the great development of barracks and fortifications at the time of the expected French invasion. In 1831 The Board of Inland Navigation was merged with it. Though a purely Irish Board, the commissioners were appointed by the Treasury and its expenditure sanctioned by it (McDowell, The Irish Administration 94, 204).

            The Board of Public Works was the great factotum board of the Irish Government. It was not particularly large but it was staffed by former officers from the technical branches of the army like the Royal Engineers. Its primary function was the maintenance of public buildings. Whenever the Government required something to be done, provided the funds for it, and advertised for tenders they were then evaluated by the Board of Works’ engineers or architects for approval, and increasingly the works were monitored by the Board’s engineers. It was also involved directly for the Government in constructing model schools and other buildings. Care of ancient monuments like the ruins of Mellifont Abbey was entrusted to it. The Board was authorised to advance loans at low interest for various projects of public concern, for public improvement to harbours public buildings, for public health, land improvement, housing of the working classes etc. (Weekly Irish Times 4 Jan. 1913; Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 81).

The next important Board was the Local Government Board. This Board came to rival and surpass the Board of Works in size and importance. It commenced life in 1838 as the Irish branch of the English Poor Law Board or Poor Law Commissioners, and was made an independent board during the Famine. It was at first responsible for the Poor Law Unions and the dispensary districts. In 1872 the Poor Law Board was renamed the Local Government Board. For control of diseases of animals the guardians could make regulations regarding the muzzling of dogs. Dispensary districts became sanitary authorities under the Public Health Act (1878 and in this respect too came under the Local Government Board. This Board, along with the Board of Works, was made responsible for emergency relief. Under the emergency relief schemes £23,886 was voted by Parliament for relief in 11 Unions where the potato crop had badly failed; in some unions applicants were employed by the guardians on public works as labour tests; these were also given a free supply of seed potatoes, and loans were approved to the guardians under the Seed Supply and Potato Spraying (Ireland) Act (1898). Loans amounting to £598,306 were advanced to 153 unions under the 1880 Act and £588,497 was repaid (County Councils Gazette 9 Mar 1900). It was also made responsible for measures against the spread of tuberculosis, and for the administration of Old Age Pensions. When the long-awaited reorganisation of the government of counties and towns took place in 1898, with new counties, urban and rural districts having directly elected councils, they were placed under the Local Government Board. The role of the Lord Chancellor was then in this matter restricted to the courts, and to the holding of parliamentary elections.

Towards the end of the century the short-lived Congested Districts Board was established. Though the Chief Secretary was ex officio its president it was for all practical purposes independent under its vice-president. As the result of the failure to consolidate uneconomic land-holdings in the early part of the century, the high birth-rate and the considerable reluctance of the poorest people to emigrate, extreme poverty and periodic famines became endemic in places. The chief idea behind it was to gather together all the pieces of legislation regarding the improvement of the poorest districts, to assemble contiguous poor districts into blocs, and to establish an independent Board with an annual budget fixed by Parliament, and make it responsible for all remedial measures. This plan promised the speediest and most direct relief.

By its constitution it was able to spend its money without any reference to the Irish Government or the British Treasury, and it included men widely differing in religion and politics. When it commenced destitution was common in the areas confided to it; in the early years it was necessary at times to start relief works, but these have not be necessary after 15 or 16 years. Land settlement became its most important work but such powers were not granted in the Act in 1891 establishing the Board. The first thing it undertook was to do a survey of the about 80 districts or sub-districts confided to it. They then undertook general schemes for the improvement of agriculture and livestock, but also particular schemes tailored for each district, especially those most likely to suffer from the failure of the potato crop. In some places local earnings rose from £10-20 to £50-70 a year. The area under its control was extended in 1909, and additional powers were given to it. Increasingly its work overlapped the work of the Department of Agriculture and of the Land Commission and it was merged with the latter in 1923 (Irish Industrial Journal 26 June 1920; Encyclopaedia of Ireland, ‘Congested Districts Board’).

As a result of consultations of Members of Parliament summoned by Horace Plunkett MP during the summer recess of Parliament in 1895 it was decided to establish a full department headed by a special minister responsible to Parliament to deal with Agriculture and Technical Instruction. The Recess Committee’s Report recommended the establishment of a new Department specially charged with fostering agriculture and industry, and with the technical education connected with these; there should be consultative committees representative of the agricultural and industrial interests of the country; various existing boards should be amalgamated into the new department, and other kindred duties distributed in a haphazard manner among existing boards or departments should be transferred to the new Department; in fact it proposed a plan of legislation fully worked out.

Though the Chief Secretary was ex officio president of the Department its actual head was the vice-president. The Government would have preferred this to be a non-political appointment, but the nationalists objected to the first vice-president, Horace Plunkett. The Department of Agriculture was charged with the duties of the veterinary department, the Inspectors of Irish fisheries, the Science and Art Department and those of the Commissioners of National Education with respect to the Albert and Munster Institutions. It took over certain duties appertaining to the Land Commission and Registrar General; the Lord Lieutenant was empowered to transfer to it the work of other departments of an analogous character (Church of Ireland Gazette 12 Jan 1900). The Irish Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction was not a mere replica of the former English Board of Agriculture; the Act was intended to promote all the industries of Ireland. Urban industries were to be promoted by technical instruction alone, and it was to promote agriculture in all its aspects, and to have a free hand in accomplishing this. It might establish colleges and experimental farms, keep plots in every parish, employ itinerant instructors. Its total budget was fixed at £166,000 a year, but was not under Treasury control. A novel feature was the provision for bringing the Department into contact with local bodies; to this end a Council of Agriculture was formed consisting of about 100 members, two thirds of whom were elected by the county councils, and the remainder nominated by the Department. The new counties were to establish committees of agriculture (Weekly Irish Times 27 Jan 1900).

The Commission of Irish Lights was formed in 1867 when the Ballast Board of the port of Dublin was reorganised, and lost its responsibility for Irish lighthouses, beacons, buoys, etc. All lighthouses, etc. in the British Isles were placed under the Corporation of Trinity House, London (England and Wales), the Commissioners for Northern Lights (Scotland), and the Commissioners for Irish Lights (Ireland). The most remarkable thing about the latter in this period was the attempt by John Wigham to get gas lighting adopted universally for lighthouses in preference to oil lamps. Though his proposal was rejected by the Board of Trade, another invention of his, group-flashing to enable sailors to distinguish one lighthouse from another was more successful (DNB Wigham). The Commissioners of Irish Lights were audited by the Board of Trade. The other half of the Ballast Board was reconstituted as the Dublin Port and Docks Board. Both were supported by levies on shipping entering port.

Though directly under the control of the Post Office in London, the Irish Post Office must be mentioned; its work has been described earlier under Communications. Other Boards like the Education Boards, the Police Forces, the General Prisons Board, the Land Commission, the universities and museums, and the courts will be described in their respective chapters. There were minor Boards regarding which it is not always clear if they were independent Irish Boards, or were local branches of national Boards: the Admiralty Court of Registry, the Deeds Registry, the Friendly Societies Registry, the Teachers Pension Office under the Treasury Remembrancer, the Quit Rent Office (Office of Woods), the Registrar General's Office, the Valuation and Boundary Survey Office, the Public Record Office, the Charitable Donations and Bequests Office, the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Office, the Lunatic Asylums Office under the Irish Lord Chancellor, the Trustee Savings Banks under a committee of the Treasury, the Board of Superintendence of Hospitals and Charities, the Charitable Bequests Board, the Inland Development Grant Office, the Treasury Remembrancer’s Office into which certain legal fees and stamps had to be paid, and the Public Loan Board. In the 20th century, with the plethora of social legislation coming from the Liberals, numerous Irish Offices of national boards connected with pensions, labour, transport, factories, health and food were established. These later became full ministries in the British Government (Weekly Irish Times 2 February 1912, Whitaker). It is no wonder that even in 1908 the Irish Civil Service was unable to inform Birrell precisely how many Boards there were. The British Government had a handy device for dealing with odd subjects which required some supervision, and that was to establish a committee of the Privy Council. This seems never to have been tried in Ireland.

Part of the duties of the Irish Government was the maintenance of public records, and their publication. Among with those published were the Calendars of Patent and Close Rolls. Criticism by John Thomas Gilbert of the way public records were being treated in Ireland caused him to be recruited to assist in the Public Record Office. A new Public Record Office was opened in Dublin in 1863 and Gilbert was made its Secretary. The organisation of official records in Dublin Castle was begun by the Deputy Keeper of Records, Sir William Betham (DNB, Betham). Ireland at this period had numerous scholars interested in exploring Ireland’s past (DNB Gilbert, Sir John; Sir Samuel Ferguson). The Historical Manuscripts Commission published the 17th century Ormonde Papers (3,000 pages) (DNB Falkiner, Caesar). The Register of Births, Marriages, and Deaths had to be kept after the local registrars, the Medical Officers of Health, had been notified. The Office of Registrar General was established in 1845, and its duties were extended by an Act in 1863 which made registration of births compulsory.

The Ordnance Survey, the Geological Survey, and the Navy’s Hydrographic Survey were based in London, but of necessity, field work concerning Ireland had to be done in Ireland. A point on Valentia Island off the Kerry Coast was selected as one of the points a base for a major international triangulation. The other point was on the Ural River in Siberia. The Irish scale of 6 inches to the mile (1:10,516) was adopted for the whole of the United Kingdom which was being brought up to Irish standards (DNB Sir Henry James). The Survey then undertook a field survey in agricultural areas at a scale of 25 inches to the mile (1:2500) and this was completed between 1887 and 1914. An Irish standard time was established in 1879 on the meridian of Dunsink University outside Dublin under the Irish Astronomer Royal. Greenwich Mean Time was adopted in 1916, and the third hand was removed from cross-channel ships. Apart from purely scientific interest the principal object of the Geological Survey was the search for minerals, in which Ireland was disappointingly deficient. The Irish Section was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1905 by which time a soil survey was considered more important. The principal work was to compile a map at a scale of 1 inch to the mile of solid geology. [Top]

Financial Matters

            In theory, after a period of transition following the Act of Union Ireland was to be taxed exactly as the rest of the United Kingdom. With Gladstone’s budget in 1853 this was finally achieved. Yet Irish nationalists persistently maintained that Ireland was over-taxed. One line of argument was that certain Articles were more widely consumed in Ireland than in England and were taxed at a higher rate. There was a relatively higher excise on whiskey than on beer, but the Irish proportionately drank more spirits. The other line was to take the total sum of taxation raised in Ireland in a given year and contrast it with the total sum expended within the geographical bounds of Ireland within the same year. This ignores sums spent outside Ireland which benefited Ireland indirectly, for example, sums spent on the Royal Navy which policed the seas of the globe and made no charge for it. The other point ignored was that such excesses and deficits could vary sharply even in the short term. Whitaker 1913 gave the following table:

Irish taxation 1820-1911

            year                  raised locally    spent locally,   balance

            1820                5,256,564        1,564,880        3,691,684

            59-60               7,700,332        2,304,334        5,396,000

            07-08               9,621,000        7,810,000        1,811,000.

By 1914, with the introduction of national insurance, the balance swung sharply in Ireland’s favour.

A Comparison of Irish revenues with other comparable populations in 1910 showed

            Sweden            pop. 5,476,441            revenuepercap            £2 5/10

            Norway            pop. 2,370,000            rev. per cap.    £2 13/4

            Denmark         pop. 2,558,919            rev. per cap.    £2 9/4

            Bulgaria           pop. 4,035,623            rev. per cap.    £1 10/4

            Ireland             pop. 4,458,775            rev. per cap.     £2 11/5 (Echo 11 Feb. 1911).

Though Bulgaria was hardly comparable except in size Ireland did well in comparison with the Nordic countries. However, it was estimated that one city, Belfast, paid half of all Irish taxation a fact not lost on nationalist separatists (Weekly Irish Times 20 Sept 1913). It was also claimed that Ulster paid two thirds of all customs and excises raised in Ireland (Irish Presbyterian October 1920). George Goschen, Lord Salisbury’s Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1888 estimated the relative taxable capacity of England, Scotland, and Ireland to be 80:11:9 referred to as the Goschen ratio. Ireland, with almost no native coal and iron, the foundations of the industrial revolution, did not do badly in comparison with Scotland which had both. It is of course impossible to devise a system of taxation and public expenditure in which each local area is taxed and gets benefits to an equal degree at all times.

            One of the principal duties of the Irish Government, like that of the spending departments in England, was to prepare for the Treasury estimates of Government expenditure for the coming year to be included in the budget. This gave the Treasury considerable power over Irish internal affairs. For example, increases in the salaries or pensions of Irish teachers had to be agreed with the Treasury. The Treasury control over expenditure was the same as its control over spending in England. But many people, including Protestant unionists, felt that the control was too detailed. When the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction was established to deal with a considerable range of Irish affairs it was allocated a fixed sum to be dispensed at its discretion. [Top]

Government Policies

British Policy in Ireland

                During the great crisis of the Famine sympathy was expressed on all sides. There are two questions here, the policy of the Government of the United Kingdom with regard to Ireland, and the policies of the Irish Government. One can just ignore nationalist rhetoric about oppression and imperialist exploitation as they just made them up. In fact all alleged examples of oppression have been debunked. The chief policy of the British Government since the 16th century was to guard its western flank against Spain and then France. The British crown had a right to be in Ireland since the 12th century when the Irish chiefs and bishops came to an arrangement with Henry of Anjou whose aim was to prevent his great feudal subjects like the de Lacys from acquiring lands in Ireland not subject to his overlordship. In the 16th century secessionist chiefs could appeal to Spain for armed assistance. There was nothing unusual in this for would-be secessionists invariably ask for the assistance of a foreign power (see Bible 1 Maccabees, chap 8). Apart from the recurring threat of a Spanish armada Britain had no great interest in Ireland until 1798 when there was a scare that a French fleet might land and supply any would-be revolutionaries with arms. Indeed, to get arms, all that any would-be independence leader anywhere in the world had to do was declare sympathy with the French Revolution. The Act of Union had two aims, to make it easier to defend Britain’s western flank and to remove a grievance of Irish Catholics by granting them full civil liberties within the context of a large Protestant state. American Protestants had exactly the same view of Catholic civil rights. British politicians never had the animus, still less the fanatical hatred, against the Irish that Irish nationalists had against the British. It is remarkable, when reading the accounts of the debates in Parliament how sympathetic British politicians were to problems in Ireland. [Top]

Policy of Irish Government in General

                Most of the officials in the Irish Government from 1800 to 1920 and the members of the various Boards were Irish Protestant gentlemen. Most of them were Tories in the sense that William Pitt the Younger was a Tory. They accepted Adam Smith’s main argument that free trade was better than protectionism. They were not of the extreme ‘Manchester School’ of Cobden and Bright. Nor did they believe that the less Government interfered the better it was for the country. Like Pitt they believed in reciprocal commercial treaties where goods could be exported and imported to the mutual advantage of both. Consequently, they did not believe in general in a protective wall of tariffs to protect Irish industry. On the other hand they did not believe that Ireland should be totally at the mercy of England’s more developed industries. So if Ireland was being over-taxed something should be done by the Government to remedy that. Like the English Tory, Lord Shaftesbury, they did not believe in the unrestricted rights of factory-owners, and could agree with Thomas Drummond, the Under-Secretary, that ‘property has its duties as well as its rights’. They were therefore more inclined than their counterparts in England to use the levers of the state for social purposes. The advancing of loans of Government money for reproductive development was a policy they favoured. The officials in the Irish Government had no wish to be reduced to the status of sub-offices of London, and in the meantime, the Lord Lieutenant and the Secretary had to involve themselves in the administration of Ireland. Gradually, they brought in improvements, in policing, in hospitals, in education, in agriculture, in fisheries, in the care of lunatics, in the care of the poor, in the development of roads and canals, and above all in the relief of famine (Keenan, Pre-Famine Ireland passim). They considered it their duty to compensate for the lack of local enterprise which was lacking in many parts of Ireland. Between 1850 and 1920 most of the time and activity of the Irish Government was taken up with social improvement, as all kinds of social legislation was passed by both parties in Parliament, and had to be implemented. There was also an on-going struggle against American-backed terrorist groups. The terrorism of the Land League focussed minds on trying to achieve an equitable solution to the land question. The inequity of a Protestant Established Church in a Catholic country was dealt with. This does not imply that the solutions were the best, but at least an effort was made. The 20th century saw a flood of social legislation, and if two separate Irish Governments had not been established, the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary would have had to undertake a complete reorganisation of the existing Irish Government. (For details of the individual Acts see Keenan, Ireland 1850-1920 passim). The Irish Government had from time to time to grapple with the problem of Home Rule.

            Some of the policies of the Irish Government were identical with those of the United Kingdom. This was obviously so in matters of foreign policy and military matters. Some of the policies, like those on land, education, the Established Church, and the provision for the poor and sick are dealt with in the appropriate context in other chapters. Some policies overlapped with those of local government but need some mention here. Other matters, on which there was no particular policy, were dealt with as they arose. Among these in the 20th century was mediating in industrial disputes, even before industrial courts were set up. Ireland was no different in this respect from other countries. The list of Offices given above shows the wide range of matters the Irish Government had to deal with, even though mostly the matters dealt with were routine. In the second half of the 19th century in Ireland as in England following the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms entry to the Irish civil service was solely by competitive examination.


                Though the Ordnance Survey was a straight-forward task, the corresponding valuation of the property of Ireland was not. An even valuation was required for purposes of getting the franchise, for sitting on grand and petty juries, and for paying the county and Poor Law cesses or rates. Property had no intrinsic value in itself. Its only value lay in the return that men could get from it. Originally, the only property assessed was land, and this land was valued by the townland. By the early nineteenth century some of the townlands had not been valued since the 17th century. Even if land had been reclaimed and improved after the original survey the original valuation stood. Therefore the valuation of the whole of Ireland was undertaken and commenced in 1830 (Keenan, Pre-Famine Ireland, 287). The valuation was entrusted to Sir Richard Griffith who made several attempts to refine his valuations (DNB, Griffith). The original valuation was carried out under the Irish Valuation Act (1827).When the Poor Law was established in 1838 it was decided that all real property should be included in the tax base, so that the rent of a house, actual or possible, industrial property, easements, tolls, navigations, licences, etc. were included. A house with a licence to sell alcohol was clearly more valuable than one without. Up to 1852 there were two separate valuations in force in all but six counties, one for the Grand Jury cess and the other for the poor rate so the Valuation Act (1852 was passed to make one valuation the basis of both (New Irish Jurist 20 June 1902).The Poor Law Valuation was carried out under Valuation Acts in 1846 and 1852. Griffith’s maps were on the scale of 6 inches to the mile, the Ordnance Survey standard of the period. The Valuation remained in use until 1977 and still remains a unique source for economic historians and others (Encyclopaedia of Ireland, Griffith Valuation).

The Valuation Act (1852 [15/16 Victoria] was the principal one, and contemplated three different valuations: the Griffith valuations as they then stood; an annual revision of the list of tenements and hereditaments transmitted by the local authorities to the Commissioners of Valuation, and a general revision to be made every 14 years. These last general revisions were never made; the only alterations were those made in accordance with the annual notification of changes. In the past half century some districts have improved and some decayed, but the Griffith Valuation remained. Under the 1852 Act land was to be valued in accordance with the local values of certain Articles of agricultural produce, and houses and buildings on the annual rental thereof after allowing for repairs, maintenance, and all charges on it except the tithe charge. The resulting value is one of fact not of law; the rent is the market value of the rent, not the actual rent which may be higher or lower; it does not matter whether the building is actually let; nor should the rent of one year be taken, but one year with another (New Irish Jurist 22 Nov 1901). Two different principles of valuation were laid down. Agricultural land was valued in accordance with the prices of designated agricultural products in designated towns, namely wheat, oats, barley, flax, butter, beef, mutton, and pork. The prices were taken from the general average in 40 market towns in Ireland in the years 1849, 1850, and 1851. Houses and tenements were valued in accordance with their rental value. The actual rent of the farm was not considered, but the return a skilful farmer should be able to get. The combined valuation of house and farm should not exceed a ‘fair rent’ to a solvent tenant. The actual rent paid by a tenant farmer was ignored in the interests of trying to establish a ‘fair rent’. The influence of the contemporary Tenant Right movement on the terms is clear. Obviously revisions every fourteen years were called for, but were never carried out. (Strangely, this fair rent was never used in setting rents under the Land Act (1881).)

For the purposes of the valuation Ireland was divided into districts, and each district into "Quality lots", i.e. areas in which the land was of equal value throughout. The individual holdings were then valued taking the particulars of soil, sub-soil, underlying rock, altitude, etc., into consideration. Regard was also paid to facilities for getting seaweed and access to bogs for manure and fuel. The proximity to market towns, and their size and importance was also considered. This was worked out in great detail and with great care for each individual farm. Bills to improve the system were introduced in 1866, 1873 and 1877, but none passed. There is a great need for proper re-valuation; but the result of the Land Acts means that few Irish farms are now let at a competitive rent, which in England automatically allows for the re-valuation; the judicial rents expressly exclude many of the elements of a proper valuation for local taxation purposes; a re-survey would be too costly for any advantages it would bring (New Irish Jurist 22 June 1902). The Department of Valuation did update valuations annually, according to any information supplied to it by local authorities (Weekly Irish Times 28 March 1903). Like land itself, valuation was a big issue, but there would be too many losers to carry out a proper re-survey. To allow the automatic re-valuation to be carried out by free competition for farms as in England was in addition politically impossible.

If these principles had been followed with regard to the setting of rents they would have been very valuable to the landowners, and completely against what tenant groups were trying to get. Free bidding for land was blamed for causing rack-renting, so the Land Acts had to introduce artificial conditions to prevent competition. The Land Court then compounded this by systematically reducing the rents to what they considered ‘fair’. The valuation was the basis for rates and cesses not those taxes themselves which were given as so many shillings in the pound of Poor Law Valuation. Thus a rate of 5 shillings in the pound on a PLV of £40 amounted to £10 per annum, or £5 for the half-yearly moiety.

Combating Terrorism

In the background there was a struggle against American-backed outbreaks of terrorism. These were not unusual in Ireland for the Irish Government was fighting terrorism since the 1760s (Keenan, Pre-Famine Ireland 236-8). By the second half of the 19th century there was an effective police force to deal with it, so the terrorist campaigns were little more than a nuisance as far as most people were concerned. Periodically, short-term pieces of anti-terrorist legislation were passed, but were invariably allowed to lapse. The British Government, like the American Government, felt confident that ordinary laws and ordinary police were sufficient to deal with most emergencies. However in Ireland, whenever there was an outbreak of terrorist activity, special short-lived Acts were often introduced to deal with the emergency for a particular reason. The Government usually felt that the local magistrates had sufficient powers under ordinary legislation to deal with the outbreak if they exerted themselves. They felt that the local magistrates wanted to divert the odium of prosecutions on to the Government in Dublin. In practice a new Lord Lieutenant or Chief Secretary was pushed forward to deal with an outbreak of crime as soon as he arrived. (Agrarian and terrorist crime is described in the next chapter.)

The Government and Parliament disliked extraordinary anti-terrorist legislation, so its first concern was to build up competent police forces. By 1836 two trained and competent police forces had been established, the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary, and on these almost exclusively fell the burden of combating terrorism (Keenan, Pre-Famine Ireland 238-47). Nevertheless, it was necessary from time to time to pass short-lived Acts giving additional powers to the police especially if witnesses were being intimidated as was usually the case. These enabled the Lord Lieutenant to name particular districts as being ‘disturbed’ and proclaim them, thus bringing the provisions of the particular Act into effect. As a last resort, the Habeas Corpus Act could be suspended and martial law imposed. In particular the extraordinary powers taken by the Government of the United Kingdom at the outbreak of the First World War, the Defence of the Realm Act (1914) DORA, applied equally to Ireland.

One particular Act was the Party Processions Act (1850) which stopped all processions of a political nature, because they usually caused provocation and resulted in violence. The Act was challenged by an Orangeman named William Johnson who defied the Act and was sent to gaol from which he emerged a folk hero. The Act was repealed. The Crimes Act (1887) was however perpetual. Eventually, the British and Irish Governments had to enact permanent anti-terrorist legislation because of republican terrorism financed from the United States. [Top]

National Insurance

                It was only in the 20th century that the Government made plans for national insurance to deal with poverty in old age, with sickness, and with unemployment. These Acts were not peculiar to Ireland, nor specific policies of the Irish Government. But with regard to insurance special rules had to be brought in for Ireland. Part of this group of pieces of social legislation was the establishment of ‘labour exchanges’ by Winston Churchill’s Labour Exchange Act (1909). Local labour exchanges were to be established all over the United Kingdom to which employers could send notices of vacancies and to which those seeking work could apply. There were various private exchanges such as for domestic servants but this was open to all trades. An army officer, Major Fuge was put in charge of establishing the exchanges in Ireland and a Miss Brown was appointed a Lady Supervisor for Ireland. The Dublin labour exchange was opened in March 1910. Miss Brown noted that more skilled men than unskilled were using the exchanges (Weekly Irish Times 12 Mar, 10 Dec 1910). (Old age pensions are dealt with in the next chapter).

            Insurance against sickness was taken out by many workers who joined Friendly Societies or Mutual Benefit Societies, and who contributed weekly to their funds. The chief among the Friendly Societies in Ireland was the Irish National Foresters. In 1911 Lloyd George introduced his National Insurance Act (1911. This was to be a self-financing contributory scheme. There were to be two main benefits from the plan, a ‘sickness benefit’ for insured workers which covered most of the wage-earning population, and an ‘unemployment benefit’ for workers in the building, shipbuilding, and engineering industries which were subject to short violent fluctuations in employment. Ireland however was excluded from the sickness benefit at the start because of the objections of Irish doctors which made it unattractive to most Irish employers and workers. The Irish MPs were divided on the matter. In principle the employee would contribute 4 pence a week, the employer 3 pence a week, and the state 2 pence a week, what Lloyd George called ‘Ninepence for four pence’. Women would contribute 3 pence a week, while special provisions for the lower paid meant that most Irish labourers would pay 2 pence or 3 pence a week. Payment was to be on the German plan with stamps fixed to cards, dealt with by the post office. A voluntary branch was to be established for self-employed persons like blacksmiths or small traders who were liable to the whole contribution of 7 pence or 6 pence a week personally. As the unemployment benefit covered only certain trades, and the medical benefits were excluded there was in fact little reason why any Irish worker should join the scheme.

            The insurance was intended to be worked through the Friendly or Mutual Benefit Societies, but in practice they worked with the large insurance companies. It was expected in Ireland that the only Friendly Societies which would come under the scheme, as membership had to be at least 1,000, would be the Foresters and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. But national insurance got a great boost when the Orange Order registered itself as a Friendly Society. The Nationalist politician, Joseph Devlin whose tool the Hibernian Order was, began recruiting furiously against the Orangemen. Belfast, and to a lesser extent Dublin, were the only two places with enough workers in the scheduled industries to be worth the weekly contribution. But even in these areas there was difficulty to getting the Irish medical profession to issue certificates of illness to get the unemployment benefit. In many areas no doctors could be found to participate. The problem seems to have been the smallness of the fee payable to the doctor for his signature.

            In 1920, unemployment benefit was extended to all trades except agricultural workers and domestic servants, which made it worthwhile. Nor was a medical certificate essential, merely the inability to get work. The health side was now administered by the Irish Health Commissioners. By that time a Ministry of Labour had been established (Weekly Irish Times 30 Oct 1920; Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 668). An odd side effect of this legislation was that Ireland’s receipts from the Treasury now exceeded the taxes it was paying, thus overturning a long-held nationalist grievance.       

Public Health and Public Relief

                Though public health and relief of the poor were local responsibilities (see next chapter), the Irish Government, as was customary in Ireland, was also drawn in. The Chief Secretary pointed out that the Government had an interest as the Board of Local Government paid half the costs of drugs and medicines. The chief role of the Government was to ensure that the necessary legislation for the improvement of public health was in place. It could also, through the Board of Works, make loans to various bodies.

            The Irish Public Health Acts of 1874 and 1878 were adaptations of the British Acts of the preceding years, and reflected the common policy of the United Kingdom. Also important were the Vaccination Acts which made vaccination against smallpox compulsory. The greatest threat to public health in country areas was seen to be the poor quality of the housing especially of farm labourers. Successive Housing Acts, usually called Labourers’ Acts were passed to enable the counties to acquire land and build ‘labourers’ cottages’. Since the first Labourers’ Act (1883) £2 millions had been expended on dwellings for agricultural labourers. A non-commercial rent of one shilling a week was being charged for them, which would never repay the money borrowed by the counties (Belfast Weekly News 30 May 1901). Various Food and Drug Acts were passed to ensure that contaminated or adulterated foods were not sold, especially butter. The Dairy and Milkshops Order and the Tuberculosis Act were aimed at curbing the spread of tuberculosis. Fevers and other epidemics were dealt with by the Epidemic and other Diseases Prevention Act (1883) and the Infectious Diseases (Notification) Act 1889, while Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act (1886) gave powers regarding dairies, cow sheds, and milk shops (County Councils’ Gazette 2 Feb. 1900). Some of these Acts applied to the whole of the United Kingdom.

            Though not directly connected with the Government some of the wives of the Lords Lieutenant devoted themselves to promoting public health. The most notable of these was Lady Aberdeen’s campaign against tuberculosis, and Lady Dudley’s campaign to provide nurses in the poorer districts. 


                During the whole 120 years which followed the Act of Union the Irish Government became involved in education to a much greater extent than that of the United Kingdom where it was felt the education was either a matter for the Established Church, the Kirk, or for individuals. In 1806 the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John Newport, persuaded the Lord Lieutenant the Duke of Bedford to set up an enquiry on the spending of public money on education. The Commission produced several Reports, but the last in 1812 was the most important. It concluded that the origin of most of the sectarian violence which plagued Ireland was caused by educating Catholic and Protestant children separately and recommended that in future public money should only be given to schools where Catholic and Protestant pupils were taught together. About the same time some gentlemen established the Kildare Place Society to provide education on that principle. The Government, in which Robert Peel was the Irish Secretary, accepted the analysis of the Report, and channelled Government money through the Society. From 1813 onwards Government money was used for the provision of primary schools on a non-sectarian basis (Keenan, Pre-Famine Ireland, 383-4).

Some Catholic priests and bishops were unhappy with the Society so in 1831 the Irish Government itself established the National Board of Education to provide non-sectarian education. Some of the Catholic clergy were still unhappy and demanded a fully segregated educational system with Government money handed over to the clergy of the different denominations to conduct their religious schools on sectarian lines. From 1831 until 1921 Catholic priests and bishops conducted an unremitting campaign of trench warfare against the policy of the Government. Following the English Education Act (1870) it was impossible to introduce many of the improvements into Ireland because the Catholic bishops would not accept any diminution of their role. Despite the best efforts of the Government most of the clergy, Catholic, Church of Ireland, and Presbyterian, succeeded in getting education run on purely sectarian lines, for in large territorial blocks of Ireland one or other of these Churches was in the majority. For example, two totally different sectarian versions of Irish history were taught in schools with the children never being exposed to the other version. Inevitably, political struggles in Ireland became sectarian struggles, the very thing the Government’s policy sought to avoid. (See Chapter 8 on Education.)

Home Rule

Had the Irish Catholics been willing to share the power and the corruption with the Irish Protestants there would have been little problem. But because the main object of the Irish Catholics was to fleece the Irish Protestants these latter were bound to oppose Home Rule. One of the principal objectives of the Act of Union (1800 was to end the penal laws against Catholics and allow them not only the vote, but to be elected to every office. Had a separate Irish Parliament, then composed entirely of Protestants, continued it would never have allowed Catholics into Parliament or into higher office. To do this would have been to betray the Reformation. More particularly, the Protestants knew that the Catholics would do as they themselves were doing and awards jobs, contracts, pensions, etc., only to their co-religionists. Had the Irish Parliament continued in existence there can be little doubt that the Catholics in Ireland would have been excluded from all public offices at least until the Civil Rights movements in South Africa and the United States in the 1960s.

William Pitt argued that if the Irish Parliament was abolished (and the British one) and a Parliament of the United Kingdom substituted it would be perfectly feasible to give full civil rights to Catholics because (as in the United States) they would be a permanent minority and never in a position to endanger the Protestant character of the state. Most Irish Catholics at the time agreed with him. The trouble started in 1830 when Daniel O’Connell with a notoriously corrupt band of followers began agitating for the restoration of the Irish Parliament with the Catholics, now eligible for election to nearly all public offices, totally in control. O’Connell made absolutely no attempt to engage with even the most moderate of Irish Protestants, and he surrounded himself with Catholic priests and bishops. He was no statesman but merely a populist orator who loved denouncing ‘Orangemen’. In denouncing an unpopular minority he was on par with Adolf Hitler. Though he deplored recourse to violence many of his followers did not. In fact they believed he would lead a Catholic army against the Protestants.

Nor were Protestants reassured when they heard stories of the corrupt Irish Catholic Democrat politicians (commonly labelled Tammany Hall). This is not the place to recount the story again, but it should be remembered that the Protestants who strongly opposed Home Rule knew that the nationalist propaganda was, for the most part, pure lies. But this propaganda was tailored for the American market for without funds from America the Home Rule movement would collapse. Nor did Protestant estimation of Popery rise when many prominent Catholic priests and bishops joined in the propaganda campaign. For as far as truth went, it was no different from preaching the doctrines of National Socialism.

The attitude of the Irish Government towards Home Rule changed, not so much when Gladstone split his own party by introducing a Home Rule Bill as when David Lloyd George, a Liberal, decided it was expedient to ditch the Irish Protestant Tories. (Lloyd George was under no illusions about their probable fate, but that was not his problem.) From 1910 onwards, the Irish Government was working towards Home Rule, a fact that does not appear in republican mythology.


                The Government kept a close watch on what was happening in Ireland, and always had to be prepared to step in if there were food shortages. The first food crisis of the 19th century happened in 1801 so the Government prohibited the distillation of grain and imported rice, and secured the provision of emergency fever hospitals. In 1817 there was another period of scarcity, and the Government took similar measures, and again in 1822 after which the Government spent much money in building fishing quays on the southern and western coasts, and building metalled roads into those many parts of western Ireland where they were lacking. Everyone knew that a really big failure of the potato would cause a massive famine. A Poor Law was passed which, it was hoped, along with the efforts of the Grand Juries, could cope with it. When the potato blight struck in 1845 the Central Government was prepared, but the local authorities were not.

            The whole of the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom was engaged in famine relief, though from nationalist propaganda one would think that they were not. During the Famine, the Government began the collection of agricultural statistics by means of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and this was continued ever afterwards. Dependence on the unreliable potato continued in the crofting areas of the West, and the Government had periodically to authorise payment for seed potatoes.

            The decennial census was conducted every year from 1821 onwards, and the Government had to secure the services of the best statisticians to secure the most accurate results. The published census figures gave a snapshot of Irish society every ten years, and recorded detailed information with regard to farm size, the number of children, and the numbers employed in various occupations, and from 1861 onwards religious affiliations.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.