Catalogue description Ireland: Dublin Castle Records

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Details of CO 904
Reference: CO 904
Title: Ireland: Dublin Castle Records

This series contains records of the British administration in Ireland prior to 1922. Most of these papers relate directly or indirectly to the methods adopted by the authorities, using civil and military forces, to combat the efforts of the Nationalist organizations to secure Irish independence.

The series contains lengthy memoranda on the various Nationalist movements, including Ribbonism, United Irish League, Sinn Fein, and at the other end of the political spectrum, Ulster Unionists. Also included are accounts of judicial proceedings, censorship and the seizure of seditions literature, reports by both police and military, papers relating to the establishment of the Lord Lieutenant's Household, Dublin Metropolitan Police, Public Trustee Office, etc.

A few papers relate to routine civil administration; and there are also files containing information about personalities who figured prominently in the struggle, including Eamon De Valera, Roger Casement, Maud Gonne and Countess Markievicz.

The series was formed from several superceded series; with some additional papers of Brigadier General Sir Ormonde Winter, presented by his widow, and some files discovered in the Commonwealth Relations Office.

Date: 1795-1926
Related material:

See also War Office, Division within WO

For further records see CO 903

Separated material:

Most of the records of the Chief Secretary's Office passed to the governments of the Irish Free State and of Northern Ireland.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Former reference in The National Archives: CO 572, CO 697, CO 698, CO 699
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 232 boxes and files
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Unpublished finding aids:

A key for the former National Archives references is available. Please speak to staff at the enquiry desk for the precise location.

Administrative / biographical background:

The Chief Secretary's Office in Dublin Castle was the central office of the Irish administration serving both the lord lieutenant and the chief secretary. From 1777 to 1819 the office was divided into military and civil branches, each under an under secretary. From the late eighteenth century there was also a yeomanry section. In 1819 the office of military under secretary lapsed, and in 1832 the three branches were merged. The office was later organised in Administrative and Finance Divisions. From 1904 there was a Land and Works Division which was discontinued in 1911 and its work transferred to the Finance Division.

There was also a Judicial Division, incorporating an earlier Police and Crimes Branch, from 1904 to 1918, when it was merged with the Administrative Division. A Publicity Branch was set up in June 1920. The staff of these divisions were under the general control of a chief clerk, designated assistant under secretary from 1845 to 1852 and again from 1876.

The office exercised close supervision over certain other Irish departments and conducted the bulk of correspondence with English departments. It was responsible for law and order, had oversight of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, magistrates, prisoners and convicts, and transmitted the orders of the Irish attorney general (acting as director of public prosecutions) to the police and crown solicitors. In 1829 the office of chief secretary was combined with that of keeper of the privy seal and the Irish Privy Seal Office was then absorbed within the Chief Secretary's Office.

In 1852 the Privy Council Office was similarly absorbed and in 1853 the chief clerk of the Chief Secretary's Office was sworn as clerk to the Irish Privy Council. He also served as deputy keeper of the Privy Seal. In 1919 the chief secretary became minister of Health for Ireland and was assisted by an Irish Public Health Council.

The office also maintained a separate establishment in London, known generally as the Irish Office, which dealt with certain parliamentary business. A draftsman of bills was also employed, predominantly in London. The post initially carried the right of private practice, but in 1877 became a full time post. The draftsman had very wide duties including the drafting of legislation and provisional orders for Irish departments, the examination of bills, public or private, likely to affect or capable of extension to Ireland, advising the English parliamentary counsel and giving general legal advice to the chief secretary. In 1922 the former chief crown solicitor in Ireland was appointed solicitor to the Chief Secretary's Office.

The constitutional crisis of 1920 to 1922 led to considerable changes in the organisation of the Chief Secretary's Office. In August 1920 Sir John Anderson, then chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, was appointed joint under secretary to supervise financial arrangements on the transfer of powers under any constitutional rearrangement. An additional assistant under secretary was appointed in September 1920 to take charge of a Belfast Office.

In May 1920 a police adviser to the lord lieutenant, later designated chief of police, was appointed to co-ordinate the police forces and the intelligence work carried out by the two forces and the military authorities. Early in 1922 the Chief Secretary's Office was closed and the remaining staff were transferred to the Irish Office in London, along with selected records required for administrative purposes.

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