O'HARA, Charles (1746-1822), of Nymphsfield, co. Sligo.

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



1801 - 19 Sept. 1822

Family and Education

b. 26 Apr. 1746, 1st s. of Charles O’Hara, MP [I], of Annaghmore by Lady Mary Carmichael, da. of James, 2nd Earl of Hyndford [S]. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1763; M. Temple 1765, called [I] 1770. m. 1780, Margaret, da. and h. of John Cookson, MD, of Yorks., 1s. 3da. suc. fa. 1776.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1776-1800.

Commr. of treasury [I] Apr. 1806-1807.

Gov. co. Sligo 1784-d; sheriff, 1785-6.

Capt. commdt. Corran and Liney cav. 1796.


‘A young lawyer—has an estate in Sligo—lately married a good fortune—was brought in by Lord Harcourt’s means, paying only £1,000, yet he has always opposed—a very dull, tedious speaker.’ This was how O’Hara was described in 1782. A year later he transferred from Dungannon to the representation of his county and retained it for the rest of his life. The official hope, expressed in 1791, that he ‘might be got over, at least softened’ proved misplaced, for he remained in opposition and was a sturdy opponent of the Union. Nevertheless, having married a niece of the Duke of Portland’s secretary John King* and finding ex-Chief Secretary Pelham in power when he was returned to Westminster, he could think of at least two occasions when he had risked unpopularity to serve the Castle, even if ‘I certainly made no sacrifice of principle or duty in any support I ever gave you’. He evidently looked to Pelham to provide him with an opening, for as his friend Dr Walker King assured Pelham, ‘in one very important article of life few men have been more unfortunate, and in my conscience I believe no man ever more undeservedly’.1

The fact was that O’Hara’s estate, worth nearly £4,000 p.a., had been heavily encumbered, and his assets being in the hands of receivers, it was difficult for him to qualify as a county Member.2 He chose to ignore the problem in 1801, when he appeared at Westminster to vote with opposition for Grey’s state of the nation motion, 25 Mar. On 24 Apr. he was deputed to help prepare the Irish courts bill. On 6 May, in his maiden speech, he successfully moved the postponement of the Irish stamp duties, protesting at their perpetualization as a blow against the restoration of his country’s constitution. On 8 June he put in a word for citizen soldiers as against professionals. He supported the habeas corpus indemnity bill on 11 June. On 14 Apr. 1802 he argued that as long as the British and Irish Exchequers were distinct, it was unjust to equalize Irish and English taxes, and on 28 Apr. duly opposed the equalization of imposts, regretting that he thereby differed from ‘his friend’ the minister. The day before he had seconded the Irish courts bill.

On the eve of the election of 1802, fearing opposition, O’Hara made a frantic bid to qualify himself, with the help of a contrived freehold annuity from his friend Walker King. Before the bid was frustrated by legal delays, he was unanimously reelected. He now had painful scruples about taking his seat and more particularly about voting, though Walker King ascertained for him that he might qualify himself after an election provided there was no petition and advised him to take his chance. The worldly cleric also insisted that O’Hara was being ‘too fastidious’ in thinking that his qualification, if it was a contrivance as in this case, need be kept up after it had served its fictional purpose. O’Hara was still impressed by the statutory declaration that only an estate for life could qualify a Member. He refused to turn to his ministerial friend Pelham for help, for at best the latter would secure him a pension, ‘not a very creditable thing’ for a county Member. By April 1803 he had taken his seat, under pressure from his constituents, to pilot the Sligo port improvement bill through the House in the absence of his colleague Cooper. At the end of the session he discovered that his prospects for the next election were fair and that there was talk of bringing him in gratis for having undertaken the Sligo port bill, passed on 3 June, so he gave up the notion of vacating his seat: but he was evidently muzzled by the fear of exposure.3

On 28 Feb. 1804 O’Hara was reported to be sailing from Ireland as a last-minute recruit to the Prince of Wales’s Irish friends. Not long afterwards he was reported to be in Ireland and likely to ‘make terms’, if Pitt returned to power. A letter from Walker King on 14 June suggested that O’Hara had not taken his seat that session and that his scruples about his qualification were reinforced by doubts as to which side to take in politics. His mentor advised him to give up any expectations he might have formed from private friendship with the Ponsonbys, and to come to terms with Pitt’s ministry, whom Walker King had informed that O’Hara wanted an office for himself or his son, though he admitted that the ministry was precarious and thought O’Hara must judge for himself. O’Hara was listed ‘Irish Pitt’ in September 1804, ‘doubtful’ in December 1804 and ‘Pitt’ in July 1805, but there is no evidence that he attended that session either: on 4 June he had declined a government whip, adding ‘could I properly mention the reason, you would acknowledge that I ought not to do so’.4

By 1806, when the Grenville ministry made him an Irish treasury commissioner, O’Hara’s fears had vanished and he resumed parliamentary attendance. On 3 Feb., when he opposed the public payment of Pitt’s debts and the erection of a monument to Lord Cornwallis, he had called for the repeal of the Act of Union, which he considered had failed. On 14 Mar. he was offered office and on 30 Apr. appeared in one at least of the majority lists on ministers’ repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act. He digressed in the debate on bounties, 30 May, and suggested an improvement in the Irish election bill, 19 June. His re-election in 1806 presented no anxieties, but he was less confident in 1807, when his friends were dismissed from office. He was not present to vote with them on Brand’s motion, 9 Apr., but evidently did so on Lyttelton’s similar motion of 15 Apr. and expected government to stir up an opposition to him in the county. Nothing came of it, but he claimed to sympathize with the loyal address moved by his county and, though disappointed in his wish for the county militia colonelcy for his son, reinforced his standing by an alliance with his colleague Cooper that effectively prevented any future contest. His financial security was due to a loan of £10,000 from Abraham Boyd, a Sligo barrister with whom O’Hara had an ‘unspoken’ bargain that he should try to obtain a silk gown for him.5

After voting with opposition on Whitbread’s motion of 6 July 1807 and next day for Cochrane’s motion against places and pensions, O’Hara, though described by the Castle as in opposition, did not stay the session of 1808. On 21 Feb. 1809 he voted against the convention of Cintra and on 17 Mar. against Perceval’s resolution on the Duke of York’s misconduct of army patronage, explaining three days later that he disagreed with both sides, believing Parliament had no call to interfere with the royal prerogative, and that he would support any resolution suggesting that no improper military promotions had resulted from the duke’s liaison with Mrs Clarke. On 1 May he supported Ward’s motion on the Dutch commissioners and on 24 May Foster’s amendment to the Irish distilleries regulation bill. (In March 1810 he made an unsuccessful bid to secure the remission of the collective fines.)

In response to the opposition leadership’s circular, O’Hara attended in January 1810 to vote against government on the Scheldt inquiry and he further joined the minority on the Irish tithe question, 13 Apr.; on Romilly’s privately stealing bill, 1 May; on sinecures, 17 May, and on the droits of Admiralty, 30 May. He spoke and voted against the Catholic claims, 1 June, despite pressure from Catholic leaders in his county, who affected to believe that he had secretly supported them all along and that this was the opportunity to come out into the open. He refused to disavow his sentiments, despite the threat of Catholic hostility at future elections, regarding the concessions of 1793 as final, and confident that his stance had the support of the Sligo gentry in general. He was in fact prepared to support opposition on every question but the Catholic one, as his conduct during the Regency divisions soon bore out. He voted against Irish newspaper duties, 16 May 1811; for the abolition of McMahon’s paymastership, 24 Feb. 1812; against the orders in council, 3 Mar., and against McMahon’s appointment as private secretary to the Regent, 14 Apr. Although he resisted pressure to change his mind on the Catholic question that year, having, as he explained, no ambition for office if his friends came to power, he seems to have avoided dividing on the question, though he was in the majority who voted for a stronger government, 21 May 1812.6 On 2 Mar., 11 and 24 May 1813 he resumed opposition to Catholic relief and on 29 Mar. voted for sinecure reform. He was one of two Irish Members added to the corn trade committee on 3 May. On 19 May he introduced an ‘inaudible’ motion on Irish finance, on which he was a select committeeman that session, claiming that Ireland was over-charged at the Union: it was a failure. On 17 June he criticized the Irish distillation bill and on 25 June supported Creevey’s motion on breach of privilege.

O’Hara’s attendance tailed off after 1813, though minority votes were reported in April and May 1814, May 1815 and April and May 1816. His last recorded vote before 1820 was against Catholic relief, 21 May 1816. He was advised by a committee of his supporters to retire in favour of his son in 1818, but declined to do so and retained the seat until his death, 19 Sept. 1822.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Procs. R. Irish Acad. lvi. sec. C, no. 3 (1954), 267; lix. sec. C, no. 1 (1957), 40; Add. 33107, ff. 153, 155, 157.
  • 2. PRO 30/9/13, pt. 2; NLI, O’Hara mss, King to O’Hara, 3 Dec. 1800; Burke Corresp. vi. 29; vii. 82.
  • 3. O’Hara mss, O’Hara to King, 4 July, reply 18 July, 4 Aug., reply 13 Aug., King to O’Hara 3 Sept., reply 14 Sept., 27 Oct., reply 3 Nov., 25 Dec. 1802, reply 4 Jan.; O’Hara to King, 15 Mar., reply 22 Mar., 2, 12 June 1803.
  • 4. Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1827; O’Hara mss; Add. 31230, f. 21.
  • 5. Rose Diaries, ii. 244; NLS mss 12914, p. 4; 12920, Vincent to Elliot, 3 May 1806; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 19; Dublin Evening Post, 23 Apr.; Morning Chron. 22 June; O’Hara mss, O’Hara to Cooper, n.d., 27 May, to his son Charles, 1, 8 June, 13 July 1807.
  • 6. O’Hara mss, Ponsonby to O’Hara, 2 Dec. 1809, Everard to same, 31 Jan., 17 Feb., 14 Oct., O’Hara to Everard, 16 Oct., to Ponsonby, (‘never sent’) n.d. [1810], to Everard, 12 Feb. 1812.