Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland
curated-collections-iconCurated Collection

The Home Office and Ireland (1793–1803)

From Rebellion to Union. In partnership with The National Archives UK. Curated by Dr Timothy Murtagh with Dr Neil Johnston.

About this Collection

The Home Office (Ireland) Correspondence held at The National Archives (UK) — also known as the HO 100 series — consists of letters written by high-ranking officials in Dublin Castle, addressed to the central administration in London. The HO 100 series is especially important as it helps to replace the many records of the Irish Chief Secretary’s Office (CSO), destroyed in the Four Courts in 1922.

The CSO oversaw the entire government machinery of Dublin Castle, acting as the executive government for Ireland. It was the main channel of communications between government departments in England and their counterparts in Ireland, coordinating administration of a wide range of issues, from trade and taxes, to policing and putting down insurrections. The destruction of much of the CSO’s archive was a great tragedy of the 1922 fire.

HO 100 captures the workings of the Irish Chief Secretary’s Office (CSO), the central agency that oversaw all various government departments within Dublin Castle, acting as the executive government for Ireland. The CSO was the main channel of communications between officials in England and Ireland, coordinating administration of a wide range of issues, from trade and taxes, to policing and the suppression of  insurrections. While there are some significant surviving collections of CSO material for the later decades of the nineteenth century, material for the period before 1830 is much harder to find.  In this regard, HO 100 provides a crucial insight into how Ireland was governed during a crucial time in the island’s history. 

HO 100 is important because it functions as a substitute for the vast collection of CSO records destroyed in the Four Courts in 1922. What was lost in the fire included some of the key collections for understanding the British government in Ireland, such as the series ‘Departmental Letter and Official Papers, 1760–1831’, a huge collection which contained the bulk of letters between the British and Irish governments during this period. Fortunately, this destroyed collection was only one half of the Dublin–London correspondence, with the other half preserved in the files of the Home Office.  Even more fortunately, the secretaries in the Home Office occasionally made copies of their responses toDublin, providing us with duplicates of  some of the  letters destroyed in 1922.  

The contents of HO 100 span the years 1782 to 1851, and reflect the range of responsibilities of both the Irish Chief Secretary, as well as the Home Office in London. Each office had a broad remit for domestic affairs. HO 100 touches on topics such as Irish finance, trade, agriculture, and ecclesiastical matters, as well as the British military activity in Ireland. 

Questions of state security and public order receive particular attention, with relevant correspondence coming from both civil and military sources. Additionally, the Irish Chief Secretary was tasked with ‘managing’ the Irish Parliament to ensure it passed legislation desirable to the British government. As a result, there is a wealth of material on Irish parliamentary politics and relations between the Irish Parliament and the Lord Lieutenant.  

HO 100 also contains numerous letters and reports about everyday life in Ireland, as the government sought out data on various aspects of Irish society. The series often contains copies or extracts from letters to Dublin Castle from a wide range of writers, from local landowners and magistrates, to custom officers and paid informants. This provided the government with a vivid picture of the ‘state of the country’. 

For those interested in learning more about the social and political history of Ireland in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, HO 100 is a colourful and revealing source of information. The series is a vital starting point for research on  Irish popular protest, as well as the birth of Irish republican and mass-democratic movements.  The Home Office papers are arguably the key source for understanding high-level government decisions regarding Ireland in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth century.

What can I find here?

HO 100 is a large series, consisting of 264 volumes. Each volume contains between 200 and 300 letters. This Thematic Collection is the fruit of a  six-month programme of work on HO 100, generously supported by The Friends of The National Archives, a voluntary organisation dedicated to enhancing public access to and awareness of the Archives’ treasures. The research focussed on a sample of 80 volumes covering the years 1793 to 1803. Dr Timothy Murtagh investigated the archival history of the collection and created a ‘selective calendar’ of the contents of HO 100 between 1793 and 1803. The Thematic Collection does not yet include digitised images of the manuscripts. Instead we provide an  enhanced listing for 80 volumes of HO 100. This listing includes a general description of each volume, noting the type of correspondence (whether it is civil or military), the date range covered in the volume, as well as an overview of topics discussed within.  Additionally, the collection includes descriptions of over one thousand items of correspondence,  on average between ten and twenty selected from each volume.  The description of these individual items includes:

  • Names of correspondents (who is writing to whom)     
  • Date of the correspondence
  • Short description of what the letter is about or, in many cases, an excerpt of the letter or a full transcription of its contents.

Historical Context

The volumes selected cover the years between 1793 and 1803 — a tumultuous decade including war, rebellion and the Act of Union. The year 1793 commenced with the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and France, a conflict that would define the next twenty years. 1793 also saw the passage of a Relief Act that dismantled the last of the restrictive ‘penal laws’ on Irish Catholics (although the right to sit in parliament was withheld). No further concessions were given to reformers, either Catholic or Protestant, as the government targeted them and sectarian tensions escalated. The outcome was the formation of two opposing bodies: the Ultra-Protestant Orange Order and  the United Irishmen, the first explicitly separatist and republican organisation in Irish history. The latter were a secret revolutionary movement that launched the 1798 Rebellion, an insurrection which resulted in the deaths of 20,000 people. In the immediate aftermath, the British government pursued a legislative union between the British and Irish parliaments, known as the Act of Union, coming into effect on 1 January 1801. There were hopes that the Union might provide an opportunity to govern Ireland on less coercive ‘Union principles’. These hopes were dashed in 1803, with the recommencement of war with France, under the leadership of the now Emperor Napoleon. The start of the Napoleonic Wars heightened fears of another uprising, fears which were confirmed in the summer of 1803, with the unsuccessful rising of Robert Emmet. Emmet’s subsequent execution effectively ended the United Irish movement, as well as hopes that the Union would provide a fresh start.

Collection Name: Home Office and Ireland

Stories from this Curated Collection