Lord Lieutenant / Viceroy

The head of the Irish executive during the Union with United Kingdom was the Lord Lieutenant and governor general of Ireland.  He was appointed by the sovereign and was responsible for the peace and security of the kingdom.  The holder of the post, also commonly referred to as the Viceroy was a peer.  The viceroy was commonly a former cabinet minister or had played a significant role in the United Kingdom administration.

The viceroy was sworn in at a meeting of the Irish Privy Council. A certain amount of pageantry was involved.The viceroys were surrounded by a vice regal court with officers and ceremony.  He had extensive powers and could appoint to numerous offices. In the early years of Union many of the positions or offices were fictional sinecures  which were progressively eliminated over the 19th century.Although the viceroy had a good deal of freedom his general policy coincides with that of the government.  He would corresponded with the Prime Minister on major issues.

The Lord-Lieutenant notionally supervised the Irish administration. At the beginning of the 19th century the Lord-Lieutenant nominated the Chief Secretary.

The Chief Secretary

The Chief Secretary  was at first, a subordinate position.  However he quickly became a government appointee and unlike the Lord-Lieutenant, generally sat in cabinets. For example,  the Chief Secretary sat in Gladstone’s cabinet but not in Disraeli’ very smaller cabinet.

In 1885 the Conservatives upheld a previous tradition of putting the Lord-Lieutenant in cabinet and the Chief Secretary outside.  On Gladstone’s reelection the Chief Secretary was  in cabinet and the Lord-Lieutenant outside the cabinet.  Later governments alternated the viceroy and chief secretary as members of the cabinet.

Over the course of the 19th century the office of Chief Secretary  developed from being an assistant or chief of staff to the Viceroy, to the most important office.   The Chief Secretary was a member of the House of Commons, spening the Parliamentary session in Westminster.  He was in close contact with cabinet ministers and his importance increased through the 19th-century.

The Chief Secretary’s office was responsible for a wide variety of functions. It submitted the estimates for other departments and dealt with both civil and military matters.  It was responsible for law and order.  It controlled and disciplined the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police.  It supervised Resident Magistrates and penal institutions.

Relationship of Offices

The relative roles of the Lord-Lieutenant and Chief Secretary overlapped.Various proposals were made for abolition or modification of the offices, but  for political reasons, none succeeded.

Under the first Home Rule Bill,  it was contemplated that the Lord-Lieutenant would go out of office with the UK government before it would act on the advice of Irish ministers.  Later Home Rule Bills provided he would be appointed for six years, but  would act on the instructions of the UK government. After the announcement of the Irish Free State Act the Lord-Lieutenant’s power ceased to be operative in the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.

The Under-Secretary

The Chief Secretary’s immediate subordinate was the Under-Secretary.  The Under-Secretary was continuously resident in Dublin and was responsible to the Chief Secretary for the Irish administration.  The post became a civil service appointment and was not designed to be political.

However many under secretaries had been MPs and had political leanings.  Under-Secretaries were bound by the political rulings of the government they served.

Irish Privy Council

The Irish Privy Council consisted of administrative and legal officials together with peers and other distinguished persons.  By the Act of Union, it performed certain judicial and administrative functions.  However, it continued however it expressed the will of the executive through Orders in Council. Many pieces of legislation required the making of Orders in Council equivalent to modern-day statutory instruments.


Upon the  creation of the Union, there were 22 Irish departments.  A range of other officials existed not linked to any department. The Lord-Lieutenant presided over the administration assisted by the Chief Secretary.  By that time the Chief Secretary’s position was beginning to eclipse that of the Lord-Lieutenant.  The Chief Secretary’s office comprised a civil, military and yeomanry section.

Twelve departments were managed by boards comprised of paid and unpaid members. The size of departments varied considerably.  Over 3,000 persons were employed by the Revenue Board, while  a number of departments had a handful of employees.

The heads of department were appointed by the Lord-Lieutenant and were generally politicians.  However after the Union, almost all departments ceased to have political heads with three political posts the Lord-Lieutenant, Chief Secretary and Vice Treasurer.

In some offices, the staff were paid or partly paid by fees.  Some offices were sinecures being officers with little or no duties,  existing for historical reasons.  They were regarded as rewards for public service or political appointments. Some of these offices carried considerable salaries.  There existed number of offices, particularly attached to the Revenue and the courts at the beginning of the 19th century, which enjoyed significant salaries, but were of questionable utility.

Supervision and Responsibility

In half of the departments the senior appointments were made by the Lord-Lieutenant. The other departments were under the control of the Chief- Secretary’s office.  These departments concerned themselves principally with the courts, law and order, police, prisons, lunatics and heraldry.

The Chief Secretary was technically head of the Local Government Board, Congested District’s Board under the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction.  In practice the vice president, who was a junior minister was responsible for the department.

Most departments submitted their estimated to treasury through the Chief Secretary’s Office.

The Chief Secretary or his junior ministers presided over some of the boards.  Many of the board members were comprised of paid or unpaid persons.

The Chief Secretary represented a range of departments in parliament.  These included boards of which he was not a member and knew little. At some periods during the 19th century the Chief Secretary was assisted in Parliament by an Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer (until 1830).  The vice president of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction sat in parliament, when he could secure a seat.

In 1888 the post of Chief of Parliamentary Undersecretary for Ireland was introduced to relieve the Chief Secretary of the parliamentary work.  However, the office holder died and the bill  was dropped.

Departments in 1800

The following were government departments in 1800.

Commissioners of accounts.

  • Arms office.
  • Army accounts
  • Barrack board and board of works.
  • Chief Secretary’s office
  • Commissariat
  • Registry of Deeds
  • Exchequer revenue side.
  • Inland navigation
  • Trustees of linen manufacture
  • Lottery office
  • Muster Master’s General Office
  • National Debt Commissioners
  • Ordnance Board.
  • Post Office.
  • Privy Council.
  • Stamp Commissioners.
  • Revenue Commissioners.
  • Treasury Commissioners.
  • Wide Streets Commissioners.


The Crown-appointed bishops and senior members of the established church. The Board of First Fruits erected churches and glebe houses for the established church.  It was replaced by the Church Ecclesiastical Commission in 1833.  The Commission was entitled to levy a tax on all benefices worth more than €300 per annum.  It provided churches and paid clerks and sextons.

The Commission was a quasi-government department.  The government nominated certain paid commissioners.  The commissioners had to submit accounts to the Lord-Lieutenant’s office for approval. The commission was disbanded in 1869 upon the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and its staff were transferred to the Church Temporalities Commission which was a government department.

Military Departments

Five of the government departments at the start of the 19th century performed functions for the army including:

  • The ordnance
  • The commissariat
  • The Barrack Board and Board of Works
  • Muster Master General’s Office and
  • Controller of army accounts

The ordinance comprised the Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery, the engineers, a laboratory and a civil branch made up of clerks and storekeepers.  The master general was head of the ordnance. The commissariat was responsible for providing food for the army.

The Barrack Board and Board of Works wereresponsible for barracks throughout Ireland.It consisted of seven Commissioners. The office of Muster Master General recorded the strength of units stationed in Ireland. The  Muster master was entitled until 1807, to charge fees for entering commissions of officers attached to regiments.  The office was abolished in 1822.

Shortly after the Union the army was unified. The title of commander-in-chief in Ireland was changed to Commander of Forces.  The Lord-Lieutenant lost military patronage in relation to the army.  Commissions were transferred to the King.

Governmental Reform

By 1830, 18 of the 22 departments had disappeared by abolition or being absorbed into the United Kingdom department.  The sinecures were abolished.

Superannuation for a civil servant was instituted.  The Civil Service Commission was appointed in 1855 and competitive examinations were introduced in 1871.  This removed the role of patronage in appointments.

Between 1817 and 1890, the division of the civil service into administrative executive and clerical grades emerged.  Different recruitment mechanisms applied.

The revenue administrations of Great Britain and Ireland were merged between 1816 and 1830.

The Board of Works was reorganised in 1831 giving it an economic development function.  In the same year,  the Commissioners of Education were established.

New Institutions

A national police force was introduced in 1836.

The poor law system was introduced by the end of the 1830s.

The Registrar General’s Office was formed in 1844. The  public records office was created in 1867.

The Land Commission, estabslished in 1881 was soon the most significant new body.  The Congested District Board under the Department of Agriculture were formed at the end of the 19th century.

Pre-War Departments

By 1914 there were 40 government departments, of which 11 were the Irish branches of UK departments.  They included the following:

  • Agricultural and Technical Instruction
  • Office of Arms
  • Chief Crown Solicitor
  • Congested Districts board
  • Criminal Lunatic Asylum Dundrum
  • Dublin Metropolitan Police
  • Education Commissioners
  • General Prisons Board
  • Commissioners of Intermediate education
  • Land Commission
  • Inspector of Lunatic Asylums
  • Local Government Board
  • National Gallery of Ireland
  • Public records Office
  • National Health Commissioners
  • National Education commissioners
  • Quit rent office.
  • Registrar General’s Office
  • Registry of Deeds
  • Royal Irish Constabulary
  • Teachers Pension office
  • Treasury
  • Remuneration office
  • Valuation and boundary survey


The UK departments in Ireland included

  • Admiralty,
  • Customs and Excise,
  • Exchequer and Audit,
  • Friendly Societies Register,
  • Home Office,
  • Inland Revenue,
  • Ordnance Survey,
  • Post Office,
  • Stationery office,
  • Board of Trade War office.

Some boards were wholly unpaid and others were paid.



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