Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland
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Castle and Country

Reconstructing the State, Revealing Society, 1760–1830

Castle and Country delves into the workings of the Irish executive government and parliament during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It aims to reconstruct and analyze records from the Chief Secretary’s Office in Dublin Castle and the Irish Parliament, offering a unique perspective on the interaction between state and society in an era that included the 1798 rebellion, the Act of Union (1801) and Catholic emancipation (1829).

In the eighteenth century, central authority in Ireland rested with the executive government in Dublin Castle and the Irish Parliament. 

  • The Dublin Castle executive consisted of the lord lieutenant and his chief secretary, who oversaw government departments coordinated through the Chief Secretary’s Office. These officials were appointed by London and reported to the British cabinet.
  • The Irish Parliament, located in College Green, theoretically embodied the will of the country but was elected by a landed Anglican minority. Despite this, it claimed to represent the Irish ‘nation’ and scrutinize policies from London. In the late eighteenth century, conflicts between the parliament and Dublin Castle increased as Irish MPs asserted their autonomy from Britain.

Both the Castle and the Parliament were part of an expanding and centralizing state that sought to intervene more frequently in people’s lives. They aimed to understand the country they governed by inquiring, counting, and quantifying. Thus, state and parliamentary records provide a window into the lives of ordinary people during this period of profound change.

This strand examines the machinery of government and how Dublin authorities attempted to control the country. It reveals the multiple ‘nations’ within Ireland: the English-appointed executive, the elite-dominated Parliament, the politically marginalized but assertive Catholic majority, and the independent Presbyterian community. By reconstructing these records, the project highlights the interactions and tensions between these groups and the central government.

Castle and Country will deliver two ‘Gold Seams’ during Phase III (2023–5):

Chief Secretaries’ Papers: This Gold Seam reunites scattered papers from Ireland’s Chief Secretaries and their staff. The Chief Secretary, overseeing day-to-day policy implementation, managed a complex web of departments and agencies. By identifying surviving official papers and personal correspondence, this seam recreates the information streams flowing into Dublin Castle between 1760 and 1830. These years, marked by revolutions in America and France, inspired Irish campaigns for parliamentary reform and republican-separatism. Amidst unrest and rumors of insurgency, the Chief Secretary’s Office diligently gathered intelligence on threats to its authority.

Irish Parliamentary Debates: This seam focuses on the Irish Parliament’s records during its final decades of significant independence, particularly during the campaigns led by Henry Grattan in the 1770s and 1780s. This era saw the Irish Parliament in Dublin gain autonomy from the British Parliament, allowing it to pass laws and manage Irish affairs more freely. Yet the Irish Parliament remained hostile to any type of parliamentary reform that might open its doors to the country’s Catholics, a failure which set the stage for the tumultuous period of the 1790s and, ultimately, the parliament’s own dissolution in 1801 with the Act of Union.  This project creates a digital resource to tell the story of the Irish Parliament during its final decades, repopulating the parliamentary archive lost in the 1922 fire. It will curate debates and speeches, illustrating the Protestant elite’s resistance to reform and the subsequent rebellion of 1798 and Union in 1801. 

Stories from this Research Strand