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 freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

105 by 18301


15,590 (1821); 12,256 (1831)


22 Feb. 1830EYRE COOTE vice Massy (Dawson), vacated his seat
6 Aug. 1830EYRE COOTE
9 May 1831EYRE COOTE

Main Article

Clonmel, a ‘prosperous’ crossing point on the banks of the navigable River Suir, connected by bridges to an island (Long Island), straddled the border between counties Tipperary to the north and Waterford to the south. There was a considerable export trade in corn and an ‘extensive’ cotton manufactory employing about 200 operatives. The streets were paved and from 1824 the town was lit by gas. Its self-elected and exclusively Protestant corporation of 20 free burgesses (of whom one was elected annually as mayor and two as bailiffs) and an unlimited number of freemen continued to be controlled by the Bagwells of Marlfield, headed since 1816 by William Bagwell, Member from the Union until his transfer to county Tipperary in 1819. His ‘wishes were always attended to in the appointment of mayor, burgesses and the other officers’, who in turn created freemen at their ‘pleasure’. Attempts to restore the ancient chartered rights of admission by birth, marriage or servitude were largely unsuccessful, although the municipal corporations commissioners observed in 1835 that claims ‘by right’ had been ‘lately revived’, with the admission of 68 persons since March 1831.2

At the 1820 general election James Massy of Ballynacourty, a kinsman of the 2nd Baron Massy, offered as Bagwell’s nominee. It was reported that ‘a great portion of the inhabitants’ were ‘determined to follow the example of Galway and Limerick by establishing their respective rights to the freedom’, continuing efforts which had been ‘commenced by some spirited fellows a few years back’. Rumours that the 1st earl of Donoughmore’s nephew John Hely Hutchinson I*, whom they were ‘determined to support’, would offer on the ‘independent interest’, however, came to nothing, and Massy was returned unopposed.3 In the House he supported Catholic claims, for which petitions reached the Commons, 24 May 1824, and the Lords, 9 June 1824.4 Petitions were presented to the Commons against alteration of the Irish butter trade regulations, 14 Apr. 1825, and for the abolition of slavery, 12 Apr. 1826.5 At that year’s general election Massy was quietly returned.6 On the death of Bagwell later that year control of the interest passed to the trustees of his nephew and heir John Bagwell (Liberal Member, 1857-74) during his minority.7 Petitions for Catholic claims, which Massy continued to support, reached the Lords, 21 Feb. 1827, 9 Mar. 1828, and the Commons, 2 Mar. 1827, 15 Feb. 1828.8 Petitions for repeal of the Irish Vestry and Subletting Acts were presented to the Commons, 30 Apr., 5 May 1828, 3, 31 Mar. 1829, and the Lords, 9 Mar. 1829.9 In August 1828 Clonmel hosted a Munster provincial meeting of the Catholic Association, at which Thomas Wyse* urged the formation of local committees ‘for the purpose of detecting municipal abuses and ascertaining the rights and franchises ... in close boroughs such as Clonmel’.10 A Liberal Club was duly established and held its inaugural dinner, 8 Jan. 1829. Meetings were held in support of the recalled Irish viceroy Lord Anglesey, 18 Jan., and the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation, 11, 21 Jan., for which Massy Dawson (as he now styled himself) voted and a petition reached the Commons, 3 Mar. 1829.11 In January 1830 Massy Dawson retired in favour of his son-in-law Eyre Coote, a nephew of William Bagwell with a ‘splendid fortune’, who offered as the ‘grandson of the late John Bagwell’. At the nomination James Thompson of Fethard, the son of a freeman who had been repeatedly ‘denied his rights’, unsuccessfully demanded his freedom and threatened to petition against the return. He was ignored and Coote, who had been unable to attend owing to ‘unavoidable circumstances’, was returned unopposed.12 Petitions against the assimilation of English and Irish stamp and spirit duties were presented to the Commons, 17 May, and the Lords, 17 May, 4 June 1830.13

At the 1830 general election Coote sought re-election and appeared in person.14 The proceedings were again interrupted by Thompson, who complained that he had unsuccessfully tried on three occasions to obtain the freedom by which his son might be entitled to attend the Free School. ‘Is this boy to be debarred from a good education through the unjust machinations of the party who rule this borough?’, he asked, adding, ‘I shall seek justice in another quarter’. A Captain Morton was then proposed as a ‘popular’ representative by one John Meagher, who denounced Coote as ‘a stranger’ ignorant of ‘our wants’ and mocked, ‘Can the corporation import a representative from Algiers?’ Morton’s candidature, however, was dismissed by the mayor on the ground that only a freeman could speak, whereupon one Hackett came forward, citing his right to the freedom by ‘birth, servitude and residence’ and as ‘an independent householder paying scot and lot’, and demanded to know if Coote would oppose the assimilation of Irish taxes. Pressed repeatedly to answer, Coote declared, ‘I did oppose the assimilation of taxes in the last Parliament and I now pledge myself to oppose them in the new’. He was returned unopposed. Noting the growing ‘spirit of independence’ within the borough, the Tipperary Free Press opined:

The mayor might with more safety to this snug borough’s existence have held the election ... for this pure corporation in his drawing room or study, than in an open court, through which there breathed the respiration of the MOCKED inhabitants of Clonmel.15

Thompson’s petition complaining that the corporation had unlawfully refused his freedom, thereby depriving his son of the advantages of an education in the endowed school, reached the Commons, 9 Dec. 1830.16 Petitions for repeal of the Union, for which a meeting was held, 28 Nov. 1830, reached the Commons, 8 Feb., and the Lords, 11 Mar. 1831.17 Anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Commons, 23, 29 Mar.18 Coote opposed the Grey ministry’s reform bill and at the 1831 general election was returned unopposed in absentia.19 A petition in support of the bill reached the Lords, 1 July 1831.20 One from the Protestants for unrestricted use of the Bible in the new plan of Irish education was presented to the Commons, 6 Mar., and the Lords, 15 Mar. 1832.21 Petitions for the abolition of tithes reached the Commons, 9 Apr., 5 July.22 Petitions for an Irish reform bill as extensive as that for England were presented to the Commons, 15 June, and the Lords, 27 June 1832. Two days later one for additional Irish representation reached the Lords from the Independent Club, which had recently been relaunched under the presidency of Viscount Galmoy, with the assistance of Richard Sheil*.23

The boundary commissioners did ‘not conceive it to be the intention of government to extend the right of voting over so great space’ as the existing limits of the borough, which included ‘about 4,800 acres of the surrounding country’, and recommended restricting them to the ‘actual town’ and Long Island, thereby excluding many ‘mud cabins and houses of inferior value’ along the southern banks of the river. They estimated that 604 £10 householders would be added to the 48 resident freemen with reserved rights, creating a reformed constituency of 652. In the event, however, the registered electorate numbered 521, of whom 493 qualified as householders and 28 as freemen.24 The 2nd earl of Donoughmore had predicted that it would be ‘impossible to carry ... Clonmel without a very expensive contest’ after reform, as it would ‘have 400 or 500 voters, 300 of whom will sell themselves’, so that ‘the elections will either be venal, or the most decided Radicals will be returned’.25 Four-hundred-and-seventy-four polled at the 1832 general election, when Coote retired. His cousin John Bagwell, now of age, came forward as a Conservative, but was defeated by the Repealer Dominick Ronayne, a local barrister in whose support ‘a union of the different trades’ had been formed.26 The repeal interest remained influential until the 1850s, when Bagwell recaptured the seat as a Liberal.

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1830), xxxi. 324.
  • 2. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 369, 370; PP (1831-2), xliii. 31; (1833), xxxiv. 148; (1835), xxviii. 35-45.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 4, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. CJ, lxxix. 403, 404; LJ, lvi. 360.
  • 5. CJ, lxxx. 303; lxxxi. 230.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 20 June; Southern Reporter, 22 June 1826.
  • 7. W. Burke, Hist. Clonmel, 321; PP (1835), xxviii. 40.
  • 8. LJ, lix. 90; lxi. 140; CJ, lxxxii. 264; lxxxiii. 73.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxiii. 287, 313; lxxxiv. 98, 186; LJ, lxi. 149.
  • 10. Tipperary Free Press, 30 Aug., 3 Sept. 1828.
  • 11. Ibid. 10, 14, 21, 24 Jan. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 98.
  • 12. Clonmel Herald, 13 Feb., 3 Mar.; Southern Reporter, 25 Feb.; Dublin Evening Post, 25 Feb. 1830.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxv. 431; LJ, lxii. 429, 603.
  • 14. Clonmel Herald, 4 Aug. 1830.
  • 15. Tipperary Free Press, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxvi. 160.
  • 17. Clonmel Herald, 1 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 222; LJ, lxiii. 315.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxvi. 423, 456.
  • 19. Southern Reporter, 17 May 1831.
  • 20. LJ, lxiii. 779.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxvi. 160; LJ, lxiv. 99.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxvii. 262, 461.
  • 23. Ibid. 403; LJ, lxiv. 328, 334; Tipperary Free Press, 8 Aug. 1830; F. O’Ferrall, Catholic Emancipation, 275.
  • 24. PP (1831-2), xliii. 29-31; (1833), xxvii. 306.
  • 25. TCD, Donoughmore mss G/7/61, 67.
  • 26. PP (1833), xxvii. 306; The Times, 8 Dec. 1832.