Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland
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Rumour, Riot and Rebellion

Reconstructing the Chief Secretary’s Office, 1760–1830

Rumour, Riot and Rebellion reunites a scattered collection of papers from Ireland’s Chief Secretaries and their underlings. Identifying surviving official papers and the personal correspondence of key government figures, we will reconstruct streams of information that flowed into Dublin Castle between 1760 and 1830.

The years 1760–1830 were turbulent. Ireland was still dominated by a wealthy Protestant elite, but their power was being challenged. Revolutions in America and France inspired new movements for political reform and religious equality. Episodes of violent unrest rocked the countryside and rumours of rebellion alarmed the government. Officials in London and Dublin feared that Ireland was on the brink of a revolution, a fear compounded by the threat of foreign invasion. In response, the government eagerly gathered information on any threat to its authority. 

Overseeing the collection of this intelligence was the small staff of the Chief Secretary’s Office (CSO). This was the nerve centre of British power in Ireland controlling a complex web of departments and agencies. Local landowners and magistrates, custom officers and paid informants sent in a constant flow of letters. In worried tones, they reported the activities of rural labourers and pedlars, apprentices and journeymen, vagrants and prostitutes — groups they considered dangerous and who left few records of their own. 

These letters paint a striking portrait of life in Ireland, revealing the activities of the common people, as well as the ruling class’s fears about them. Collectively, this material uncovers new stories about Ireland and its people in the Age of Revolution.

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