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The Irish Lord Lieutenancy

P Gray, O Purdue (eds)
UCD Press
A Question None Could Answer: 'What Was the Viceroyalty For?' 1800-1921

Aberdeen ushered in a decade of parsimony, achieving the unusual distinction of ruining himself financially while acquiring a reputation as the meanest lord lieutenant of modern times.44

Viceroys had few ways of accurately assessing public feeling and tended, rather naively, to read a good deal into the behaviour of crowds at their official entries or departures from Dublin. Anglesey was impressed in 1830 that, despite O'Connell's influence, he was greeted with 'as much enthusiasm as I ever witnessed'.45 In 1886 Morley, with bland hypocrisy, congratulated Aberdeen (a man he had no time for) on an occasion that would 'take a conspicuous place in the history of our time'. Carnarvon innocently com­menting that 'the Irish are a strange people', likened his own departure to that of Fitzwilliam in 1795, what with all the 'visible signs of respect', the bowing and raucous enthusiasm. Cadogan more acutely realised that such things were generated by crowds probably 'four-fifths' of which were 'deadly enemies'.46 Indeed, the failure of most British politicians and British visitors generally to see through the surface geniality of Irish social discourse at all levels says much for the bluntness of their cultural antennae, though Gladstone proved better attuned than most with a deadpan diary entry for his arrival at Kingstown in October 1877: 'A newsman called "You're wel­come to Ireland". A voice from behind "No you're not'".47 More tellingly, while during his first viceroyalty Spencer found it possible to go for a solitary ride every afternoon, in May 1885 Charles Dilke accompanied him on his first walk for many weeks, shadowed by police and meeting but one man who lifted his hat while others shouted 'Murderer' and 'Who killed Miles Joyce?'48

The occasion on which viceroys most pressingly asked themselves the question 'What is the lord lieutenant for?' was probably when they looked at their own financial accounts, for while their remuneration was high, their expenses were higher still. No one took the job in order to get rich, even though, in the official remuneration stakes, the position lay towards the head of the pack. Between 1784 and 1812 the salary was £20,000 a year Irish or about £18,500 British, then it rose to £30,000, and then fell back to £20,000 British in 1831.49 A shifting and opaque sum was also provided as a contribution towards expenses, as much as £6,232 in 1841. As_a result, the whole Castle machine constituted a significant gravy train for the local econ­omy: in 1850 Clarendon reckoned that it generated no less than £100,000 annually.50

Finding victims to accept appointment was, in any case, often difficult. To begin with, there was no consensus as to whether viceroys should be of Irish or of English (or Scotch) background. In the early years the emphasis was largely on the danger of Irish appointees who could not, it was claimed, 'divest themselves of native prejudices, partialities, and animosities'.