Irish history, pre-1921

The Papers of Sir Thomas Erle

Army officer Thomas Erle (1649/50-1720) crafted an illustrious career amidst the political turmoil and violence of the late seventeenth century. Having declared himself for William of Orange during the Glorious Revolution, Erle was sent to Ireland in March 1689 to fight the combined French and Irish Army of the deposed King James II. In 1690 he took part in the Battle of the Boyne and the Siege of Limerick, and in 1691 the Battle of Aughrim.

In 1694, following other military ventures in the Spanish Netherlands, Erle returned home as Governor of Portsmouth, a position which he was to hold until 1712. In 1697 he returned to Ireland as second in command to Lord Galway, becoming Commander-in-Chief of Ireland a few years later. In 1702 Erle was made a Lord Justice of Ireland. The following year Erle was promoted to Lieutenant-General and became MP for Cork in the Irish Parliament: he held the seat until 1713. Erle continued to hold various political positions in England, continuing to defend against Stuart attempts to claim back the throne.


  • ERLE 1: Letter books from Erle’s time as a Lord Justice of Ireland, containing correspondence between Erle and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
  • ERLE 4/7: Papers of the Lord Justices of Ireland, 1694-1702.
  • ERLE 4/9: Papers on Irish Catholics, 1687-1705.
  • ERLE 4/131415 and 16: Erle’s regimental and personal accounts.


Sir Nicholas and Lady Minna O’Conor

Nicholas O’Conor was born in Dundermot (Dun Diarmaida), Co. Roscommon, in 1843. O’Conor entered the diplomatic service in 1866.

His postings included Secretary of Legation, Beijing (1883-6), acting as Chargé d’affaires at the Legation, (1885-6); Secretary of Legation, Washington (1886); Consul General, Bulgaria (1887-92); envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the Emperor of China and King of Korea (1892-5); envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the emperor of Russia (1895-8); and Ambassador to Turkey (1898-1908). It was very unusual for an Irish Catholic to have a diplomatic career, never mind be appointed ambassador.

Highlights of this collection:

  • OCON 1: extracts from O’Conor’s diaries and private journals, 1857-1888.
  • OCON 16: Photographs and postcards from Lady Minna’s collection.
  • For papers relating to Nicholas’s diplomatic career, see OCON 5OCON 6 and OCON 7


Photograph of Nicholas O'Conor, taken in the 1870s

Photograph of Minna O'Conor, taken in the 1870s


Photographs of Nicholas and Minna O’Conor, taken in the 1870s in Holland and London, OCON 16

Leopold Amery

Politician and close contemporary of Winston Churchill, Leopold Amery (1873-1955) was a committed imperialist. In accordance with those views, he was strongly opposed to Irish Home Rule during the 1912-1914 Home Rule crisis, in contrary to the majority political opinion.

Relevant material from the collection:

  • AMEL 1/2/24AMEL 1/2/25AMEL 1/2/26AMEL 1/2/27: Press cuttings of articles and letters by Amery for various publications arguing against Home Rule, 1912-1914. These files also include speeches, letters and memoranda.
  • AMEL 1/2/28: Articles and Hansard coverage of the Home Rule Bill. Also includes correspondence between John Seely, General Sir Arthur and Brigadier-General Hubert Gough on the resignation of officers in the Irish Command over the imposition of Home Rule, 1914.
  • AMEL 1/2/29: Papers and correspondence on events in Ulster over the imposition of Home Rule in Ireland, March 1914, including diaries of military and naval movements during the Curragh Crisis


Extracts from the diaries of Roger Casement

Diplomat and Irish rebel Sir Roger Casement was born in 1864 at Sandymount, near Dublin. His family was raised as Protestants, but his Catholic mother had secretly christened Roger when he was three. Casement fashioned himself as a colonial adventurer, with much of his early career taking place in Africa, specifically the Belgian Congo.

In the first decade of the twentieth-century Casement was offered a variety of British consular posts in South America. It was in the Congo and in South America that Casement recorded his relationships with men in his diaries. These diaries would fall into the hands of the British government after Casement was arrested on charges of high treason, for trying to arrange an Irish rising against the British government with Germany’s aid in 1916. The diary entries were used to further discredit the Irish nationalist after his execution.

Note that the Churchill Archives Centre only holds limited extracts from the Casement diaries (CANT), used in preparation for the Rex v Casement treason trial, 1916. The full diaries can be viewed at the National Archives.


William Bull

The diaries of councillor and MP William Bull (1863-1931) provide a fascinating source of political gossip during the period of Home Rule debates. Bull served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Walter Long when Long was Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1905 and leader of the Unionist Party.

Long was a vociferous opponent of Home Rule and played a major role in the Partition of Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. Bull, working as Long’s agent, facilitated gun-smuggling schemes to build up arms for the Ulster Volunteers, including the notorious Larne gun-running scheme in April 1914.


  • BULL 3/3: Bull’s diary from January to July 1901, which includes cuttings relating to a disturbance caused in the House of Commons by several Irish MPs.
  • BULL 3/11: Bull’s diary from January to June 1905, with comments on his work as Parliamentary Secretary to Walter Long at the Irish Office.
  • BULL 3/12: Bull’s diary from June to December 1905. Includes Bull’s comments on a debate in the Commons on Ireland and a record of his visit to Castle Saunderson in County Cavan, where Colonel Edward James Saunderson, one of the founders of the Ulster Unionist Party, was born.
  • BULL 4/8: Bull’s diary for June to December 1913, which includes material relating to his involvement in illegal gun running to Ulster Loyalists, who were resisting Home Rule.
  • BULL 4/9: Bull’s diary for January to June 1914. Includes Bull’s record of a demonstration in Hyde Park against British Forces supposedly being used to shoot Ulster Loyalists.
  • BULL 4/11: Bull’s diary for January to June 1915, including material relating to James Campbell’s appointment as Lord Chancellor of Ireland and his subsequent removal from office due to Irish Nationalist outcry, which sparked fears that Britain risked alienating Irish-Americans.
  • BULL 4/13: Bull’s diary for January to June 1916. Includes a confidential memorandum on Ireland drawn up for the Cabinet by Walter Long on the links between Sinn Féin and Germany. Bull’s diary also includes a record of the morale in Ireland at the time of the Easter Rising and a five page petition from Irish Unionists.
  • BULL 4/14: Bull’s diary for July to December 1916, which includes letters on the ‘Irish Question’.
  • BULL 4/15: Bull’s diary for January to June 1917, which includes a report from a friend on his visit to Ireland on the 23rd February 1917.
  • BULL 4/17: Bull’s diary for January to June 1918. Includes Bull’s record of his visit to Ireland with Walter Long, including notes of interviews Bull undertook with the local population. Bull also lists the Irishmen arrested by Royal Irish Constabulary with details of their activities; the diary also includes a poster Bull has collected advertising the Irish Citizen Army and an Independent Ireland.
Poster recruiting for the Republican Irish Citizen Army.

Poster recruiting for the Republican Irish Citizen Army. Collected by William Bull and saved in his diary, BULL 4/17


  • BULL 5/3: Bull’s diary for January to June 1921, which includes a letter sent by Eamon de Valera to MPs regarding the British Army’s ill-treatment of the Irish, a secret report from the Directorate of Intelligence on Revolutionary Organisations in the United Kingdom and invitation to Bull to attend the ‘State Opening of Our New Northern Parliament’ in Belfast, following Irish Partition.
  • BULL 5/4: Bull’s diary for July to December 1921. Includes a letter from James Craig, first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, cyclostyled letters from Austen Chamberlain to all MPs about ‘Irish negotiations’ and a copy of ‘Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland’.


February 2022