Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number qualified to vote:



8,035 (1821); 9,012 (1831)


15 June 1826CHARLES WILLIAM BURY, Lord Tullamore
6 Aug. 1830CHARLES WILLIAM BURY, Lord Tullamore
 Francis Bruen
7 May 1831CHARLES WILLIAM BURY, Lord Tullamore

Main Article

Carlow, a county town situated on the River Barrow at a point ‘navigable for barges’, was a ‘considerable mart for agricultural produce’, from which ‘vast quantities of corn and butter’ were ‘transmitted to Waterford for exportation’. Charles William Bury, 1st earl of Charleville, retained complete control over the representation and management of its self-elected Protestant corporation of 13 burgesses, in whom the right of voting had been ‘exclusively vested’ by royal charter, 24 Dec. 1674. Two of the burgesses were resident and served as sovereign in alternate years on a salary of £100, three lived within seven miles and the remainder, most of whom were related to each other, were non-resident. No freeman was entitled to vote under the charter, but of the 22 in existence in 1830, three were resident and enjoyed exemption from a toll levied by the corporation on everything sold in the public market, except potatoes.1 Charleville continued to place the borough at the disposal of the Liverpool ministry until the 1826 general election, when Charles Harvey, a supporter of Catholic emancipation who had ‘never visited the town’ and been threatened with a token opposition by a ‘resident gentleman’ in 1820, made way for Charleville’s son and heir Lord Tullamore, now of age.2 Tullamore was returned without opposition, but was ‘not present’ with his father, who had ‘arrived in the town preparatory to the election’.3 He opposed emancipation, for which petitions reached the Commons, 5 May 1828, and the Lords, 15 Apr. 1829.4

In 1830 about 150 inhabitants, including some Catholics, applied to be admitted to the freedom as ‘settlers’ on the tender of £1 to the sovereign but were refused, whereupon they ‘took the freeman’s oath before a justice of the peace for the county’.5 A petition in support of their claims, arguing that freemen had voted in 1703 but ‘at some period unknown’ had been disfranchised by the corporation, which had ‘destroyed all the ancient records’, and complaining of abuses ‘in the mode of levying customs and tolls’, was presented and endorsed by Daniel O’Connell, 4 June 1830.6 Tullamore, in reply, insisted that only the sovereign and burgesses had polled in 1703 and praised the corporation’s ‘voluntary’ abolition of the tolls on potatoes, which had been ‘found to press on the productive classes’, in 1818. The petition was referred to the select committee on Irish customs and tolls, but their report of 16 July 1830 did not mention it. A resolution thanking O’Connell was passed at a meeting of the Carlow Liberal Club, chaired by Simeon Clarke and its secretary Thomas Haughton, who on 16 June informed O’Connell that ‘the whole corporation party are quailing and appear to expect nothing short of an ultimate defeat’ and that Francis Bruen of Coolbawn, county Wexford, the younger brother of Colonel Henry Bruen*, had offered to challenge Tullamore ‘on the first vacancy, let the expense or the result be what it may’. Haughton acknowledged that Bruen, whose family were ministerialists, was ‘not exactly the person who might be chosen if we were "great, glorious and free"’; but noting ‘that the town is comparatively speaking very poor’ and that ‘a battle of this kind cannot be fought and won without ample means’, urged the club to support him ‘on the present occasion’. Some of its other members, however, ‘heaped all manner of abuse on those who should declare for Bruen’, and under the leadership of Patrick Finn, who had ‘an uncompromising hostility against Colonel Bruen’, talked about inviting Sir Thomas Butler of Ballintemple or Sir John Milley Doyle* of Knockbrack, to stand, both of whom declined. Finn’s brother, ‘Counsellor’ William Finn, also refused, saying that ‘he would not expend £20’, and rumours that Nicholas Philpot Leader* was ‘ready to start’ proved groundless.7

At the 1830 general election Tullamore offered again. Bruen was proposed by Clarke, ‘one of the new freemen’, and seconded by Thomas Cox, to ‘deafening shouts of applause’, but the sovereign Edward Butler refused to grant a poll, saying ‘none but a burgess can demand it’, and with the seven non-resident burgesses present declared Tullamore ‘duly elected’. An ‘unofficial poll’ of the freemen ‘who had previously gone through all the forms prescribed by the rules and regulations’ gave Bruen 80 votes and Tullamore eight.8 A petition against the return complaining that Bruen had been ‘peremptorily refused’ a poll was presented to the Commons, 4 Nov., but lapsed, 19 Nov. Another from those ‘claiming a right to vote’, asserting that the franchise had been illegally usurped by Charleville was presented, 15 Nov. 1830. A committee was appointed, 17 Feb., but determined that ‘freemen have no voice or right to vote’ and upheld Tullamore’s return, 21 Feb. 1831.9 Tullamore opposed the Grey ministry’s reform bill, in favour of which petitions reached the Commons, 26 Feb., 25 Mar., and the Lords, 15 Apr. 1831.10 At the ensuing general election Tullamore was again returned unopposed, the Catholic press commenting that ‘for the present’ he will ‘represent the little knot who constitute the burgesses of this place. Let him. It will be the last time. Before next Christmas Carlow will be free’.11 He continued to oppose reform and voted against the Irish bill.

Finding that the existing limits of the borough were ‘very imperfectly known’ and ‘not connected in any way with the elective franchise’, the boundary commissioners proposed the addition of the suburb of Graigue on the opposite side of the Barrow in Queen’s County, which was ‘connected by a bridge with the main portion of the town’. It was estimated that the resulting constituency would have 380 £10 householders (including 30 in Graigue) and three resident burgesses, but the registered electorate numbered only 275, of whom 265 polled at the 1832 general election, when the ‘personal influence’ of Charleville ceased and Tullamore retired.12 Bruen offered as a Conservative, but was defeated by another local man, the Liberal Nicholas Vigors. Bruen defeated Vigors in 1835 but was beaten in 1837 and unseated on petition following his re-election in 1839.

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1829), xxii. 4; (1830), xxxi. 323; (1831-2), xliii. 17-20; (1835), xxvii. 365-70.
  • 2. Ramsey’s Waterford Chron. 4, 21 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. Wexford Evening Post, 22 June; Dublin Evening Post, 15, 20, 27 June; Westmeath Jnl. 22 June 1826.
  • 4. CJ, lxxxiii. 313; LJ, lxi. 401.
  • 5. PP (1835), xxvii. 366, 367.
  • 6. CJ, lxxxv. 513, 514.
  • 7. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1681.
  • 8. Kilkenny Moderator, 11 Aug.; Dublin Evening Post, 12 Aug.; Wexford Herald, 1 Sept. 1830.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxvi. 32, 76, 109, 258, 273.
  • 10. Ibid. 310, 435; LJ, lxiii. 439.
  • 11. Dublin Evening Post, 5 May 1831.
  • 12. PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 620; xliii. 17-20; (1835), xxvii. 370.