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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

263 in 1831


(1831): 9,600


13 July 1802(SIR) JOHN KEANE, Bt. 
10 Nov. 1806JAMES BERNARD, Visct. Bernard 
18 May 1807HENRY BOYLE, Visct. Boyle 
28 July 1807 (SIR) JOHN KEANE, Bt., vice Boyle, called to the Upper House 
17 Oct. 1812(SIR) JOHN KEANE, Bt.116
 Hon. William Francis Spencer Ponsonby27
27 June 1818JAMES BERNARD, Visct. Bernard 

Main Article

Youghal, like Bandon, was one of the boroughs which, passing by marriage into the hands of the 4th Duke of Devonshire in 1753, had, through mismanagement, fallen under the influence of the earls of Shannon, who returned all the Members in this period.

The 6th Duke of Devonshire was urged by his energetic agent in Ireland, Thomas Knowlton, to recover the borough from Lord Shannon. In 1808 when the mayor created 109 new freemen, most of them non-resident, in the Shannon interest, and his proceedings were challenged by the Giles family, prominent members of the corporation, Knowlton had pointed out that the 5th Duke (d.1811) must prevent the initiative in ousting Shannon from being taken by others. In August 1812 Knowlton was permitted to launch an attack on Shannon’s position, arguing that the 1st Earl of Shannon had virtually stolen Youghal from the duke’s family. The case of his adversary Henry, 3rd Earl of Shannon, was twofold: firstly, that after 1753, various interests having sprung up, his grandfather had been ‘invited by the principal persons to put an end to the party divisions and distractions that then existed’; and, secondly, that no person could claim, as the duke did, that Youghal ‘belonged’ to him, for ‘in my mind no person can claim a right to the borough of Youghal, but by the good wishes of the majority of the respectable part of the corporation. Such good wishes it has been the fortune of my family to have long enjoyed.’ Unfortunately for Shannon, however, the 6th Duke was in a position to link landed power with political influence for, as an independent witness informed the Castle, Devonshire owned much of Youghal (a third in fact) whereas Shannon ‘hasn’t a foot of land in it’.

The first round in the battle took place at the election of 1812 when the duke put up William Francis Spencer Ponsonby, son of Lord Bessborough, against Keane, Shannon’s nominee. Ponsonby was defeated, the mayor having rejected 40 would-be voters for him, but could claim a majority of the votes within the borough boundaries, Keane’s overall majority being ensured by non-residents, as well as ‘undue influence’ and irregular admissions to the freedom. Ponsonby objected to 97 votes for Keane on these grounds. He petitioned the House, but his claim that the franchise was in resident freemen was rejected. The duke and his agents then proceeded to play their trump card, the ownership of Youghal land. Claim was laid to certain lands reclaimed from the river Blackwater, upon which some of Shannon’s friends on the corporation had built warehouses, quays and assembly rooms, all without the landlord’s permission. Litigation was at first unsuccessful, in 1816 and 1818, but by 1822 it became apparent that the duke would be vindicated. Not surprisingly, leading members of the corporation came to a private agreement with the duke, one clause of which stated ‘that in future the admission of freemen and the choice of magistrates should be with the concurrence of the Duke of Devonshire’. In 1826 the duke nominated the Member.

Chatsworth mss, Knowlton to Heaton, 6, 10, 19 Aug., 8 Sept., 18 Dec. 1808, 19 Oct.; Youghal poll bk. 17 Oct.; Shannon to Devonshire, 27 Aug., Knowlton and Ponsonby to same, 18 Nov. 1812, Currey to same, 14 Aug. 1818, Abercromby to same, 2 Aug. 1816, 13 Jan. 1822 and enc.; Leveson Gower, ii. 461-6; Add. 40222, ff. 33, 178; NLI, Shannon mss, Ponsonby to Shannon, 1 Sept. 1812; CJ, lxviii. 58.

Author: P. J. Jupp