seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Office of Governor of Northern Ireland Abolished

The mainly ceremonial office of Governor of Northern Ireland is abolished on July 18, 1973 under Section 32 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a cabinet office created in 1972, takes over the functions of the Governor on December 20, 1973 under Letters Patent.

The office of the Governor of Northern Ireland is established on 9 December 9, 1922 under Letters Patent to “do and execute in due manner as respects Northern Ireland all things which by virtue of the [1920] Act and our said Letters Patent of 27 April 1921 or otherwise belonged to the office of Lord Lieutenant at the time of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922.”

The 1922 “Instructions” sent alongside the letters patent establishing the office require the Governor of Northern Ireland to get the monarch’s permission to leave Northern Ireland, and empowers the Governor in such cases to issue letters patent under the Great Seal of Northern Ireland appointing a “Deputy or Deputies, Justice or Justices” during his absence. This emulates the practice of appointing Lords Justices of Ireland when the Lord Lieutenant is absent from Ireland. Each new Governor upon taking office selects a slate of eligible deputies from among the Privy Council of Northern Ireland, and at each of his subsequent absences a subset of these are sworn in for its duration. Many are Lord Chief Justice or Lord Justice of Appeal, including Denis Henry, William Moore, James Andrews, Anthony Babington, John MacDermott, Baron MacDermott, and Samuel Clarke Porter. Others are Senators and/or county lieutenants, including Robert Sharman-Crawford, Robert David Perceval-Maxwell, Henry Armstrong, Sir Thomas Dixon, 2nd Baronet, Maurice McCausland, and Francis Needham, 4th Earl of Kilmorey.

The Governor has possession of the Great Seal of Northern Ireland and is the successor to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in Northern Ireland, itself established on May 3, 1921. The official residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland is Hillsborough Castle in County Down. Following refurbishment of the Castle, James Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn, takes up residence in 1925. It remained the official residence until the abolition of the office of governor in 1973. Henceforth it has been the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.


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Birth of James Hamilton, First Governor of Northern Ireland

james-hamiltonJames Albert Edward Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn, is born in Hamilton Place, Piccadilly, London, on November 30, 1869. Styled Marquess of Hamilton between 1885 and 1913, he is a British peer and Unionist politician. He serves as the first Governor of Northern Ireland, a post he holds between 1922 and 1945. He is a great-grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Hamilton is the eldest son of James Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Abercorn, and godson of the Prince of Wales. His mother, Lady Mary Anna, is the fourth daughter of Richard Curzon-Howe, 1st Earl Howe. He is educated at Eton College and subsequently serves first in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers until 1892 when he joins the 1st Life Guards. He is later transferred as major to the North Irish Horse.

In early 1901 he accompanies his father on a special diplomatic mission to announce the accession of King Edward to the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Russia, Germany, and Saxony.

In the 1900 general election, Hamilton stands successfully as Unionist candidate for Londonderry City, and three years later he becomes Treasurer of the Household, a post he holds until the fall of Arthur Balfour‘s Conservative administration in 1905. After serving for a time as an Opposition whip, Hamilton succeeds his father as third Duke of Abercorn in 1913. In 1922, he is appointed governor of the newly created Northern Ireland. He also serves as Lord Lieutenant of Tyrone from 1917 until his death, having previously been a Deputy Lieutenant for County Donegal. Abercorn proves a popular royal representative in Northern Ireland, and is reappointed to the post in 1928 after completing his first term of office. In 1931, he declines the offer of the governor generalship of Canada, and three years later he is again reappointed governor for a third term. He remains in this capacity until his resignation in July 1945.

Abercorn is made the last non-royal Knight of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick in 1922. In 1928 he becomes a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and is also the recipient of an honorary degree from the Queen’s University Belfast. He receives the Royal Victorian Chain in 1945, the same year he is sworn of the Privy Council.

Abercorn marries Lady Rosalind Cecilia Caroline Bingham, only daughter of Charles Bingham, 4th Earl of Lucan and his wife Lady Cecilia Catherine Gordon-Lennox at St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, on November 1, 1894. They have three daughters and two sons.

Abercorn dies at his London home on September 12, 1953, and is buried at Baronscourt in County Tyrone.