Lord Lieutenant of Ireland

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Official flag of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland

The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (plural: Lords Lieutenant) is the name of a political office (job). It was the representative of the King and head of the Irish executive (government) between 1171 and 1922. The term is always pronounced as 'Lord Lef-tenant of Ireland'.

Other words used for this office were Judiciar in the early mediaeval period and Lord Deputy as late as the 17th century. The people in this job were often also called viceroy, from the French vice roi or deputy king.

In the Middle Ages some Lord Lieutenants had been Irish noblemen. After that only noblemen from Great Britain worked in this job.

Role[change | edit source]

The King's representative had a number of different roles. He was

  • the representative of the King (the "viceroy");
  • the head of the government in Ireland;
  • a member of the English or British Cabinet;
  • sometimes also commander-in-chief of the army in Ireland.
  • Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick

The structure of the government[change | edit source]

The Lord Lieutenant was helped to govern by the Irish Privy Council. This was a group of people chosen to be on the Council. Some inherited their seat. They usually met in the Council Chamber in Dublin Castle.

The main politicians were:

Chief Secretary for Ireland 
From 1660, originally the chief administrator. By the end of the 19th century the Chief Secretary worked like a prime minister, with the Lord Lieutenant in the role of the King.
Under-Secretary for Ireland 
The head of the civil service in Ireland.
Lord Justices 
Three people who acted in for the Lord Lieutenant's when he was away. Before 1800 they were: Lord Chancellor of Ireland, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh as Primate of All Ireland.

Lords Lieutenant stayed in power until the British Government/the King wanted them to leave.

Importance of the post[change | edit source]

Two Lords Lieutenant, Lord Hartington and the Duke of Portland, went from Dublin Castle to 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister of Great Britain, in 1756 and 1783 respectively. At other times, the post was used to move politicians that were no longer wanted in London out of the way.

By the mid-to-late 19th century the post was no longer very important. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had become more important in ruling the country than the Lord Lieutenant.

Housing[change | edit source]

The Viceregal Apartments in Dublin Castle — the official 'season' residence of the Lord Lieutenant

The official house of the Lord Lieutenant was the Viceregal Apartments in Dublin Castle. This was also where the Viceregal Court was based. When the Lord Lieutenant had to live in Ireland full time, this had to change. In 1781 the British government bought the former ranger's house in Phoenix Park. It was named the Viceregal Lodge. It is now known as Áras an Uachtaráin. It is the residence of the President of Ireland.

The Lords Lieutenant then only lived in the Castle during the Social Season (early January to St. Patrick's Day, 17 March).

Irish attitudes[change | edit source]

The office of Lord Lieutenant, like the British government in Ireland, was generally unpopular.

From the early 19th century, calls were made frequently to get rid of the office. However, the office survived right down until the end of British rule in most of Ireland.

More reading[change | edit source]

  • Joseph Robins, Champagne and Silver Buckles: The Viceregal Court and Dublin Castle 1700–1922 (Lillyput Press, 2001) ISBN 1-901866-58-0