Co. Limerick


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 8,500 in 1815


22 Nov. 1806WILLIAM ODELL851
 William Thomas Monsell225
3 June 1807WILLIAM ODELL1759
 William Thomas Monsell869
16. Jan. 1811ODELL re-elected after appointment to office682
 William Thomas Monsell405
 Standish O'Grady jun.1450

Main Article

Limerick, a prosperous pastoral county, had a number of powerful landed proprietors including Lords Limerick, Clare, Adare, Massy, Clarina, Muskerry and Southwell, the absentee Courtenay and Egremont interests and, among the gentry families, Odell, Oliver, Monsell, Waller, O’Grady and Hunt. The county being predominantly Catholic, the increase of the registered electorate to over 10,000 by 1820 virtually precluded the election of an anti-Catholic.1 At the Union Lord Clare, the Irish lord chancellor, probably commanded the most influence. He had supported Odell’s election in 1797. In 1801 he was sympathetic to the idea of Waller being replaced as Odell’s colleague at the next election by the former’s brother-in-law Oliver, a landowner worth £9,000 p.a.2 and a favourite of Lady Kingston. Clare was furious, however, when he discovered that his ‘friend’ Lord Limerick had

most wantonly and foolishly committed an act of great hostility to me ... He has bound himself by deed under his hand and seal to support Lord Massy for the next two elections in the county of Limerick avowedly against the persons who may be supported by me. He has set up a brother-in-law of his, a Sir Vere Hunt, who is half knave and half fool, and has the same chance of representing this county, that he would have of being chosen for the county of Yory—and Lord Massy has named a kinsman of his Mr Massy Dawson. This step of Lord Limerick’s by the way is an act of hostility to the government as Odell the present representative has always voted with it—and Lord Massy has uniformly voted in opposition.3

Clare, vowing to teach Lord Limerick a lesson, died leaving a boy heir in January 1802, and although Limerick hoped to step into the vacuum there was no opposition to Clare’s candidates at the ensuing election. Sir Vere Hunt, James Hewett Massy Dawson and William Thomas Monsell, who had all announced their candidature,4 withdrew.

On the retirement of Oliver in 1806, Odell became sole beneficiary of young Clare’s interest, managed for the future benefit of her younger son by his mother. Adare’s son, Windham Quin, stepped into the breach: he was opposed by Col. Monsell and Sir Vere Hunt, doubtless sponsored by Lord Massy, but government supported Quin and Odell. Hunt withdrew, while Monsell got nowhere.5 Monsell, together with one Michael Furnell, who soon gave up, again challenged the sitting Members in 1807. He failed to interest the Castle though being, unlike Quin, ‘a real good Protestant and a decided friend to his Majesty and our glorious constitution’, as well as the favoured nominee of Lords Massy and Clarina. The chief secretary would have supported Croker of Ballinagar, but he declined to stand, and the official attitude was to discourage a contest which would ‘disturb the peace of the county, and may weaken the Clare interest’. Quin was certainly in opposition and publicly approved by the Catholics, but Odell held out hopes to government of his being conciliated by kindness. In his analysis of the poll Monsell, who claimed 549 plumpers and that nearly 100 Catholics had been frightened off, asserted that the Clare interest had assisted Quin as well as Odell, but that it was the absentee Courtenay interest that proved decisive in Quin’s favour. This confirmed his view that government might have turned the election against Quin by espousing him, instead of being influenced by information ‘from Lady Clare or Col. Odell, whose particular interest it happens to be, to oppose me. Why the real interests of the government should be sacrificed to their private convenience I do not see.’6 When Odell obtained office in 1810, Monsell opposed his re-election. The government responded by challenging the issue of a new writ, 13 Dec. 1810, so as to postpone the election until Odell could muster his forces. Monsell, for his part, adopted opposition politics to win Lady Kingston’s support and made overtures to Quin. In the event, Odell was victorious, Monsell retiring after four days and proving unsuccessful in his petition.7

Early in 1812 a row broke out between the Clare family and the Irish government over the latter’s willingness to encourage the pretensions of the chief baron of the Irish exchequer, Standish O’Grady, to name the sheriff. O’Grady was a friend of government, but the Clares thought that he was attempting to divide the government interest in the county to sponsor his son’s election. To thwart this, Lady Clare insisted on breaking with the chief baron and allying her family more closely with Odell, who had just deserted government in a crucial division.8 In the recriminations that followed, the viceroy tried to mollify Lady Clare by pointing out that though he washed his hands of Odell, government would still support him if the Clare interest did, and that O’Grady’s efforts were doubtless directed against Quin. When the Castle remained disposed to accept O’Grady’s nomination of the sheriff, the chief secretary glossed it over by revealing that the dissolution was at hand and the nomination for next year of no great importance electorally. The Clares denied this and threatened to go into opposition.9 Yet neither Standish O'Grady junior nor Monsell, who again put in an appearance, went to the poll at the election of 1812.

The Clare family’s touchiness was exacerbated by the long wait for their candidate Richard Fitzgibbon to come of age. By the time that occurred in 1814 his brother Lord Clare had begun registering and canvassing confidently for him.10 Meanwhile Odell’s relations with government had not improved and in 1815 Quin went over to government, which deprived him of the Whig interests of Lord Southwell and Lady Kingston, but secured him the naming of the next sheriff and the promise of becoming custos rotulorum, which the Castle had previously intended for O’Grady. This preference for Quin infuriated Lord Clare. George Ponsonby was reported to be sponsoring a Whig candidate to compensate for Quin’s desertion, but by November 1816 the canvass by the four other candidates, all of them seemingly supporters of government and of Catholic relief, made an opening for another contender dubious. As one ‘Freeholder’ complained in a letter to a newspaper apropos of Fitzgibbon and O’Grady:

These gentlemen call upon us to reject the present Members and return them to the next Parliament without attempting to let us know what better claims they have upon our confidence and in what points their conduct is intended to be more advantageous to this kingdom in particular or to the empire at large.11

Government was wary, all the candidates pestering it for patronage, but remained committed to the Clare interest. In the contest of 1818 Odell withdrew, complaining of government’s having deserted him, while Fitzgibbon headed the poll with such ease that he was reported not to have drawn on the family battalion of 900 freeholders ready to plump for him.12 Quin defeated his particular opponent O’Grady for second place. It was a pyrrhic victory, as an electoral manoeuvre of his was exposed in the ensuing session, spoiling his chances for the future.

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Dublin Corresp. 20 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. Wakefield, Account of Ireland, i. 267.
  • 3. Bucks. RO, Hobart mss 130.
  • 4. The Times, 13 Apr. 1801; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 3/4, Marsden to Abbot, 2 Feb. 1802.
  • 5. Drogheda News Letter, 21-25 Oct. 1806.
  • 6. Wellington mss, Clarina to Wellesley, 14, 16 May, Odell to same, 16 May, Monsell to same, 17 May, 7 June, Wellesley to Monsell, 17 May, to Dwyer, 17 May, Monsell to Foster, 23 May 1807; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 28, 55.
  • 7. Fortescue mss, Ponsonby to Grenville, 19 Aug., 26 Sept. 1810; CJ, lxvi. 85, 272.
  • 8. NLI, Richmond mss 67/996, 1024.
  • 9. Ibid. 66/913; Add. 40195, f. 20; 40221, ff. 253, 256, 376.
  • 10. Add. 40238, f. 87.
  • 11. Add. 40193, f. 125; 51574, Abercromby to Holland [Nov. 1816]; NLI, Sir Richard Bourke mss 8478/1.
  • 12. Dublin Corresp. 14 July 1818; Add. 40271, f. 93; 40279, f. 35.