Activities Wise and Otherwise: The Career of Sir Henry Augustus Robinson, 1898-1922


Brendan O Donoghue

August 2015

This is the first-ever biography of Sir Henry Robinson, leading British civil servant, whose work had a critical impact on Irish affairs during the period 1912-1922. This remarkable biography brings Robinson to the fore in the crucial final decade before Irish Independence, offering a unique British perspective on the key events of the period – The Home Rule Crisis, First World War, Easter Rising, Conscription Crisis, the 1918 General Election and the final days of British administration in Ireland.


ISBN: 9780716532996 Categories: , ,


This is the first biography of Sir Henry Augustus Robinson, who in addition to his duties as a senior civil servant in Dublin’s Custom House between 1898 and 1922, acted as unofficial adviser to British ministers on many of the major political issues of the day. A consummate administrator, Robinson was responsible for planning and implementing a new and democratic local government system in 1898–99, and for supervising infrastructural, health and social services in the proceeding twenty years. Yet, in defiance of civil service norms, he became a figure who had a significant influence on major political issues and the administration of Ireland during the critical years of 1912 to 1922.

Brendan O Donoghue uncovers Robinson’s official and unofficial life and work, including his role in the Home Rule controversy, the Conscription Crisis, the release of political prisoners and the decision to agree a truce in 1921. Emerging as a man who loved Ireland but whose unionist status was never in doubt, he was critical of the ‘die-hard’ group who, even in 1918, could not accept that some form of Home Rule was inevitable. He was concerned, however, to avert any solution which would entail complete separation from the Empire or partition. This remarkable biography justifies Robinson’s critical role at a time of momentous events in the last pre-independence decade.

Table of Contents


1. Family background and early career
2. Planning the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898
3. Implementing the Act – A Triumph for the Local Government Board
4. A Remarkably Harmonious Working Relationship with the Local Councils
5. A focus on ensuring efficient administration rather improving local services?
6. Was the LGB the Fountainhead of Corruption in Ireland?
7. ‘We never were Subordinate, except to Parliament’


8. Home Rule: ‘you will find that the Ulstermen’s minimum will be six entire counties, and no option’
9. Booting out a Weak and Incompetent lot
10. The World War: the War to unite us all?
11. The Easter Rising:  was there a living soul … who was prepared for what was to follow?
12. Sheer Madness to Attempt Conscription
13. ‘A fair and square fight … as to who is going to govern the country’
14. Supporting the chaotic administration of Lord French
15. The Sinn Féin takeover of local government and the Government’s response
16. ‘It was difficult to say who really was safe in those days’
17. Drafting and implementing the Government of Ireland Act
18. ‘The surrender of the Government to Sinn Féin’
19. Family matters and final years, 1922–27


About the Author

Brendan O Donoghue was a civil servant from 1960 to 1997 working briefly in the Departments of Social Welfare and Finance and then in the Department of Environment and Local Government, culminating in a seven-year term as Secretary General of that Department. He was Director of the National Library of Ireland from 1997 to 2003 followed by a period as member of the board of the Library until 2010. He was elected to membership of the Royal Irish Academy in 2001 and is the author of books on engineering history – The Leahy family of Engineers (2006) and The Irish County Surveyors (2007).