Henry Charles Sirr, Irish soldier, Town Major (police chief) of Dublin, extortioner, wine merchant and collector, dies on January 7, 1841, in his rooms in Dublin Castle. He is one of the founders of the Irish Society for Promoting Scriptural Education in the Irish Language.
Sirr is born in Dublin Castle on November 25, 1764, the son of Major Joseph Sirr, the Town Major of Dublin from 1762 to 1767. He serves in the British Army from 1778 until 1791 and is thereafter a wine merchant. In 1792 he marries Eliza D’Arcy, the daughter of James D’Arcy. He is the father of Rev. Joseph D’Arcy Sirr, MRIA and of Henry Charles Sirr.
In 1796, upon the formation of yeomanry in Dublin, Sirr volunteers his services, and is appointed acting Town Major, and is thenceforward known as the chief agent of the Castle authorities. In 1798 he is promoted to the position of Town Major, and receives, in accordance with precedent, a residence in Dublin Castle.
Sirr is active in the efforts of the Castle to suppress the republican and insurrectionary Society of United Irishmen. In the months prior to their rising in May and June 1798, he is prominent in the arrests of Peter Finnerty, the editor of their Dublin paper, The Press, on October 31, 1797, and of their leaders Thomas Russell and the popular Lord Edward Fitzgerald. It is the capture of FitzGerald on May 19, 1798, that brings him before the public.
In 1802, in a lawsuit, Hevey v. Sirr, presided over by Lord Kilwarden, Sirr is fined £150 damages, and costs, for the assault and false imprisonment of John Hevey. His lawyer in this case refers to his “very great exertions and laudable efforts” to crush the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The opposing lawyer, John Philpot Curran, tells a long tale of a grudge held by Sirr against Hevey, the latter a prosperous businessman and a Yeoman volunteer against the Rebellion, who has happened to be in court during a treason case brought by Sirr. Hevey recognises the witness for the prosecution, describes him in court “a man of infamous character,” and convinces the jury that no credit is due to the witness. The treason case collapses. Sirr and his colleague had then subjected Hevey to wrongful arrest, imprisonment incommunicado, extortion of goods and money, and condemnation to hanging. Curran implies that these techniques are typical of the methods used by Sirr and by others to suppress the Rebellion.
On August 25, 1803, Sirr is instrumental in the arrest of Robert Emmet, in the course of who’s abortive rising the previous month in Dublin, Kilwarden had been murdered.
In 1808 the Dublin police is re-organised and Sirr’s post is abolished, but he is allowed to retain the title. Niles’ Register of March 24, 1821 remarks that “Several persons have been arrested at a public house in Dublin, by major Sirr, charged with being engaged in a treasonable meeting, and committed to prison. We thought that this old sinner, given to eternal infamy by the eloquence of Curran, had gone home.”
Sirr is an avid collector of documents and curios. He sells McCormac’s Cross and other valuable antiquities in exchange for second-rate copied paintings. The remains are given by his older son, Joseph, to Trinity College, Dublin at some time between 1841 and 1843. It now forms the Sirr Collection of the Trinity College Library, Dublin.
Henry Charles Sirr dies on January 7, 1841, in Dublin Castle. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Werburgh’s Church, while his victim, Lord Edward FitzGerald, is buried in the vaults of the same church.