PARNELL HAYES, William (1780-1821), of Avondale, co. Wicklow.

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



12 Aug. 1817 - 2 Jan. 1821

Family and Education

b. 17 Aug. 1780, 3rd s. of Sir John Parnell, 2nd Bt.*, and bro. of Henry Brooke Parnell*. educ. Eton 1796; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1794 [sic]. m. 1 Oct. 1810, Frances, da. of Hon. Hugh Howard, MP [I], 4th s. of Ralph, 1st Visct. Wicklow [I], 1s. 1da. suc. fa. to Avondale estate and took additional name of Hayes 1801.

Offices Held


Parnell possessed a fair share of his family’s talents, joined in their opposition to the Union and in 1805 published, as ‘an Irish country gentleman’, a pamphlet entitled An enquiry into the causes of popular discontents in Ireland. He showed a keen interest in his brother Henry’s political career and was highly regarded by Charles James Fox*, who described him in 1806 as ‘one of the best as well as one of the cleverest men I ever knew’, and added (in a further letter to the Irish viceroy) ‘He is perhaps rather romantic, but is an excellent man with great talents, and if he takes a right turn may be of great service to you’.1 On 5 Jan. 1807 George Ponsonby informed Lord Howick that Parnell was

one of the greatest instigators of the Catholic petition of this moment. He is a very clever and I believe honest but certainly wild young man. Lord Holland and King have influence over him but the latter most.2

Parnell went on to publish an Historical apology for the Irish Catholics that year, which went into its third edition in 1808.

As a magistrate and deputy governor of Wicklow, where he had inherited the Avondale estate left to his father by Samuel Hayes, MP [I], Parnell could be counted on to support Earl Fitzwilliam’s interest, while his marriage in 1810 allied him to one of the foremost ministerial interests in the county. On 31 May 1813 he wrote to Fitzwilliam:

A greater increase of my property than I expected, allows me without imprudence to look forward to the representation of this county, and to offer myself to your lordship’s notice, in case that upon a dissolution taking place, your lordship’s support might not be engaged by a more worthy candidate.3

On the death of Hume, one of the Members, in November 1815, Parnell applied again, but pointed out that he would not be offended by a refusal. Fitzwilliam had other plans and even when the other Member Tighe died in March 1816 he preferred George Ponsonby to Parnell, though he admitted that, if Ponsonby declined, Parnell would be ‘as proper a country gentleman as can be found’. Ponsonby also conceded that Parnell was ‘a man of an independent spirit’, though allegedly, ‘of a whimsical and impracticable disposition’.4 Parnell patiently asserted his chief asset to the Whigs, in being able to ‘draw off’ ministerialist voters. On the day of Ponsonby’s death in July 1817, Parnell’s brother pressed Fitzwilliam to support him this time and Fitzwilliam agreed. With reference to the death of Parnell’s wife, his brother admitted, ‘But I cannot bring myself to feel quite certain that he will be willing to embark in public life, as he has very much given himself up to a very retired habit of life, ever since the family misfortune which lately befell him’. Lord Carysfort, Fitzwilliam’s chief ally in Wicklow, also confided: ‘He is very much to be liked for many excellent, and agreeable qualities, but does not always think, and talk, like the vulgar of mankind’. Other Whigs were surprised or disappointed that Parnell had been preferred by Fitzwilliam to the Hon. George Ponsonby*, but Henry Brougham*, expressing this view privately, added, ‘He will be an excellent Member, being clever and stout, though he may be crotchety now and then’.5

Parnell was returned unopposed, stressing his independence, so he assured Fitzwilliam, ‘to avoid obloquy’, but prepared to regard himself as a locum tenens for Fitzwilliam’s grandson.6 On 13 Apr. 1818 he was in the minority on the marriage grants to the royal dukes, but in his maiden speech on 15 Apr. supported ministerial recommendations on the subject. On 21 Apr. he supported the repeal of the Irish window tax, with reflections on Ireland’s plight, and on 7 May called for the reform of Irish police and the mitigation of harsh punishments. He was also a critic of the Irish collective fines system to deal with illicit distillation, 30 May. He voted with opposition on the resumption of Bank payments in specie, 1 May, on the aliens bill, 7, 22 May and on bank-note forgery, 14 May. On 26 May 1818 (and again on 4 May 1819) he denounced public lotteries, On 2 June he could not stomach Burdett’s proposals for parliamentary reform, describing himself as ‘a step by step reformer’.7

In the Parliament of 1818, Parnell remained an independent in opposition. On 6 Apr. 1819 he reproached the Irish government for parsimony in dealing with public health and on 27 Apr. sought leave for a bill to protect children working in Irish factories. He voted with the minority on the questions of the Admiralty board, 18 Mar., the royal household bill, 19 Mar., the case of Wyndham Quin*, 29 Mar., the Irish window tax, 5 May, and the reform of the Scottish burghs, 6 May. He then paired with Gen. Hart to return to Ireland, informing Lord Milton that he could not stay for Tierney’s censure motion, for which he had in any case no strong sympathy. Setting sail in the same packet as ‘sixty violent alarmists’, he resumed attendance in November and voted steadily, though he spoke only once, against the repressive legislation then introduced. On 14 Dec. 1819 he pleaded for more English capital investment in Ireland. Before he died, 2 Jan. 1821, he was engaged in sponsoring legislation to redeem the plight of the Irish poor. As a member of the Irish board of education, he translated the sermons of Massillon and Bourdaloue for use in Irish country schools and dedicated his tale of The Priest of Rahery to ‘the Catholic priesthood of Ireland’.8

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Fox Corresp. iv. 136, 143.
  • 2. Grey mss.
  • 3. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F93/50.
  • 4. Ibid. F82/13, 16, 25, 33; Fitzwilliam mss X515/14.
  • 5. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/74, 75, 77, 80; F82/59; Brougham mss, Brougham to Lambton [23 Aug. 1817].
  • 6. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/81.
  • 7. Life of Wilberforce (1838), iv. 377.
  • 8. Fitzwilliam mss X515/13; Pope of Holland House ed. Lady Seymour, 210; DNB.