Thursday, 23 February 2012


February 20, 2012 @ 11:23 am | by JOHN GRENHAM

"CSORP" looks like the name of an Eastern European secret police force. In fact, it is the acronym for one of the most under-appreciated Irish historical sources, the Chief Secretary's Office Registered Papers. The Chief Secretary, based in Dublin Castle, became the effective head of government in Ireland in the decades after the Act of Union in 1800. The registered papers are the records of all incoming correspondence to his Office, and cover the years 1818 to 1924. They comprise an extraordinary collection of documents: complaints, petitions, memoranda, accounts and reports on virtually every aspect of the administration of Ireland. And they have survived intact in the National Archives.

Until now, the only access routes to their contents have been via a partial card index in the Reading Room and the original annual CSO registers. The only widely known records were the many local petitions addressed to the Office, any one of which can list hundreds of names. Now a new website,, aims to catalogue and calendar every single document in the collection between 1818 and 1852. For the moment only the first five years, 1818 to 1822, are complete, but already the vivid weirdness of 19th century Ireland is springing to life. One example: in 1821, a Dublin merchant, George Ness, proposed allowing the admission of Catholics to the Freedom of the City. As a result, he received an anonymous letter, which he forwarded to the Chief Secretary's Office. The letter threatens that, '…if I hear another word out of your head about Papists to be made freemen of any our corporations I will have you dragged from limb to limb and your head hung on the rapper of your halldoor..'. The letter is signed 'a fellow that wd shoot a papist, as soon sir as you wd a mad dog'.

Living history, indeed.

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