Co. Carlow


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

Background Information

Number of registered freeholders:

1,510 in 1829; 530 in 1830

Number of voters:

371 in 1830


18 Mar. 1820HENRY BRUEN 
6 Apr. 1826THOMAS KAVANAGH vice Burgh, became a peer of Ireland 
19 June 1826HENRY BRUEN 
12 Aug. 1830HENRY BRUEN242
 Horace William Noel Rochfort174

Main Article

Carlow had a considerable trade in grain along the River Barrow to Waterford and the River Slaney to Wexford and possessed ‘habitations of the peasantry’ which were ‘of a far better description than in many other parts of the country’.1 By 1820 the representation was dominated by the Protestant convert Thomas Kavanagh of Borris, one of the largest landed proprietors in Ireland and a direct descendant of the ancient Catholic kings of Leinster, who was known locally as the ‘monarch’, and his son-in-law Henry Bruen of Oak Park, Member since 1812 and governor since 1816. Others with influence included the former Member Walter Bagenal of Killedmond, whose son-in-law Sir Ulysses Bagenal Burgh of Athy, county Kildare, had sat since 1818, the opposition whip Lord Duncannon*, heir to the 3rd earl of Bessborough’s seat at Garryhill, near Muine Bheag, and the Latouches of Upton, who had returned their relatives since 1802 but declined a contest in 1818.

At the 1820 general election Bruen and Burgh offered again as supporters of the Liverpool ministry. Rumours that ‘one or two new candidates’ would start on the independent interest came to nothing and they were returned unopposed. During their chairing they threw ‘a great quantity of silver amongst the mob’.2 In the House Burgh, who on the day of his return was appointed to the ordnance, voted against Catholic claims in 1821, but joined Bruen in supporting the relief bill of 1825, in favour of which a county meeting was held at Carlow, 15 Apr. 1825, attended by Richard Sheil* of the Catholic Association.3 Petitions were presented to the Commons against increased butter duties, 7 June 1822, the warehoused wheat bill, 13 May 1824, and alteration of the corn laws, 29 Apr. 1825.4 There was no attempt ‘to disturb the present Members’ when a dissolution was rumoured later that year.5 In March 1826, however, Burgh succeeded to his cousin’s Irish barony of Downes, by which he was disqualified from sitting for an Irish constituency. A number of ‘very estimable’ men were mentioned for the resulting vacancy, including William Browne*, son of the 1st earl of Kenmare of Killarney, county Kerry, William Tighe of Woodstock, Kilkenny, and the local magistrates Philip Newton of Dunleckny and Thomas Bunbury of Lisnavagh, but all their ‘claims’ were said to ‘turn upon the Kavanagh or Bessborough interest’. In the event Kavanagh himself came forward with support from the ‘leading interests’, prompting calls for an opposition from the Dublin press, who feared that he would ‘vote against the rights of those who continue in the religion which he formerly possessed’ and that his election would turn the county into a ‘close borough ... bound at the footstool of the father-in-law and son-in-law’. Their hope that Colonel John Staunton Rochfort of Cloghrenan would offer as ‘a friend of the people’ came to nothing, however, and Kavanagh was returned unopposed in absentia, owing to a ‘severe illness’. During the chairing his representative, John Bennett of Viewmont, was thrown from the decorated chair by the ‘unruly and boisterous populace’ while ‘showering silver’ and was rescued only by the ‘utmost efforts ... from death’. It was reported that in the affray Rochfort was ‘struck with a stone on the back of the head’ and ‘a poor little girl, who was in the act of picking up a shilling from the ground, had two of her fingers ... struck off by the iron-heeled brogue of some nameless savage’.6 The chairing was evaded at the general election two months later, when Bruen, who promised to ‘preserve inviolate our constitution’, and Kavanagh, who was proposed by Rochfort and was again absent, were returned unopposed.7 Both supported Catholic claims, in favour of which petitions reached the Commons, 26 Feb., 8 Mar. 1827, 5 May 1828, and the Lords, 12 Mar. 1827.8

Attempts to establish a county Brunswick Club during 1828 were unsuccessful, the sheriff refusing permission for meetings, and although an inaugural meeting was eventually held in January 1829, there were no prominent individuals present and ‘the great bulk of the meeting was composed of some companies of yeomanry’. On 19 Jan. a county meeting was chaired by Walter Blackney of Ballyellin and Michael Finn, secretary of the local Catholic Association, and attended by Dr. James Doyle of Broganza House, the prominent Catholic bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, at which resolutions were passed in support of the Association and its collection of the Catholic rent, condemning the recall of Lord Anglesey, the Irish viceroy, and urging ‘an immediate registry of every independent freehold’.9 Only Bruen attended the House to vote for the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, for which Kavanagh presented a petition, 9 Mar.10 By the accompanying alteration of the franchise the registered electorate of 1829 was reduced from 1,510 to 530, of whom 139 qualified at the new minimum freehold value of £10, 93 at £20 and 298 at £50.11 A petition was presented against the assimilation of Irish and English newspaper stamp duties, 29 May 1830.12

Shortly before the 1830 dissolution Rochfort’s eldest son Horace William Noel Rochfort, who was just of age, approached the Whig Lord Milton*, son of the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam and a friend of his maternal uncle Sir Robert Heron*, to beg him ‘to obtain from Lord Duncannon a permission for me to canvass his tenantry’, explaining:

There is a strong spirit of independence in this county. It would be a pity to shackle them again with Members who do not represent them and who only now and then appear in Parliament to vote for ministers ... I have no weight of family property to secure me, and I depend solely on free and conscientious suffrages. There are some tenants also of Earl Fitzwilliam’s residing on the border of the county; they would certainly vote for me if ... such was your Lordship’s wish.13

Heron, who until recently had ‘had no confidence’ in his nephew’s politics, assured Milton that he would not have asked for assistance had he not ascertained that Rochfort ‘generally concurred with you’ and had ‘declared himself as perfectly agreeing with me’. Rochfort also promised Milton that ‘if returned’ he would ‘follow a conscientious and liberal line of politics’, adding, ‘my family has been settled in the county for upwards of two hundred years and during that time has been almost constantly resident there. My grandfather [John Staunton Rochfort, Irish Member for Coleraine, 1786-7, and Fore, 1798-1800] lost his election by only fourteen votes in the year 1783’.14 At the general election the sitting Members offered again, citing their ‘past conduct’ but refusing to commit themselves politically when pressed by the local newspapers. Rochfort came forward urging the electors to ‘throw off and reject forever’ the ‘family coalition’ that had ‘degraded’ and ‘usurped’ the representation, and pledged his support for retrenchment, liberty of the press, the abolition of sinecures, and giving ‘employment to the thousands of our peasantry ... now sunk in the lowest scale of misery’. He was backed by Blackney, who at the nomination accused Kavanagh of being ‘intoxicated with his own dignity ... were he even the descendant of kings’ and ‘absolutely unfit to be a Member’. A three-day contest ensued, mainly fought between Kavanagh and Rochfort, who at the close was 42 votes behind.15 Bruen, who led throughout, was supported by 65 per cent of the 371 who polled (185 as split votes shared with Kavanagh, 48 shared with Rochfort, and nine as plumpers). Kavanagh received a vote from 58 per cent (28 shared with Rochfort and three as plumpers), and Rochfort from 47 per cent (98 as plumpers).16 At the declaration Rochfort, who had ‘been supported by the undivided votes of one-third of the £50 freeholders’, accused Bruen and Kavanagh of ‘mutually handing over their second votes’ and intimidating their tenantry with ‘menaces and threats’. ‘Had not this coalition trampled upon the independent feeling of the county’, he declared, ‘I fearlessly assert I should have been 70 votes ahead’. (The Carlow Morning Post, however, complained of the ‘apostacy of some of his friends’, who ‘when the day of trial approached turned their backs upon the good cause’.) Bruen denied the charges, whereupon Rochfort promised to offer again and ‘put down’ the ‘coalition now trampling upon your fine county’. After the return there was a riot, which Rochfort helped to quell.17

In the House Bruen opposed the Grey ministry’s reform bill, in support of which he brought up a Borris petition, 28 Mar. 1831.18 At the 1831 dissolution he and Kavanagh, who was absent from the reform divisions, offered again. Bruen’s unsuccessful canvass was satirized by The Times, which reported that the daughter of a former supporter had asked if he was ‘a refomer to the extent of Lord John Russell’, to which he had replied, ‘I cannot say that I am’, whereupon she declared that her father would ‘never vote against his country’ and Bruen ‘hastily’ departed, allegedly ‘mortified at the feeling of indignation which pervaded the female portion of the community on his declared hostility to their country’.19 Rochfort offered again, but to the fury of his former allies, this ‘young stripling’ and ‘political weathercock’ now threw himself ‘into the arms of oligarchy’ and was ‘as hostile to the present bill of reform as was his uncle, the slashing parson, to the unfortunate Papists in 1798’.20 Explaining his opposition to Milton’s agent, Robert Chaloner*, Rochfort protested that its effects in Ireland would ‘give a preponderance of power to one sect over another, a power not likely to be used with moderation towards either property or religion’. ‘He is a dirty dog’, Chaloner told Milton, adding, ‘I have of course taken steps to withdraw any interest you have’.21 Infuriated by his ‘apostacy’, Sir Thomas Butler of Ballin Temple, who had proposed Rochfort in 1830, started as a reformer, but promptly withdrew owing to the ‘dangerous illness’ of his wife. Blackney also came forward, promising to support the bill and ‘be in the ranks with Ireland’s best friend, Daniel O’Connell’, and was joined by another reformer, Sir John Milley Doyle of Knockbrack, ‘an old soldier ... well known for his love of liberty’. Faced with a certain contest Kavanagh retired, citing ‘continued ill health’, while Bruen sought a compromise that would secure his return and allow the reformers ‘to nominate any Member they thought proper’. Angered by Bruen’s boast that he would be returned ‘by the strength of his own and his father-in-law’s tenantry’, however, the reform committee, chaired by Nathaniel Vigors of Old Leighlin, declared ‘any compromise’ to be ‘utterly impossible’, and with the assistance of the priests launched a campaign of ‘intimidation’ against Bruen’s supporters.22 On the eve of the election some ‘sixty voters, tenants of Lord Downes, Bruen and Kavanagh’, were allegedly ‘taken from their horses and concealed by the priests and the mob’. ‘Sooner than risk the peace of the county, and the lives of his tenants’, later that day Bruen retired, leaving the gentry ‘no time to put forward another candidate in the Protestant interest’. (Lord Beresford later informed the duke of Wellington that ‘in Carlow ... the government allied itself with Dr. Doyle, whose priests ... actually carried off the freeholders at night by direct force’.)23 Denied ‘the united assistance of the gentry’, Rochfort decided that he had ‘no chance’ and withdrew at the nomination, denouncing the ‘threats’ that had been made and the ‘forcible seizure and detention’ of ‘freeholders who had promised me their support’. Blackney and Doyle, who praised Bruen for averting ‘certain bloodshed and battery’, were returned unopposed. A dinner to celebrate the ‘freedom’ of the county was held, 18 May 1831.24

In the House, 11 Oct. 1831, Blackney recounted how under the motto ‘the king, the bill, and the people’, some ‘thirty thousand’ had ‘assembled on the first day of the election, free from the slightest tendency to riot or outrage, and had the poll proceeded, we should have had on the polling day double that number of patriots to witness the triumph of the reformers’. Sheil later dubbed Dr. Doyle the ‘nominator’, who had turned Doyle and Blackney into Members ‘with a single touch of his magic crosier’:

Who could have conjectured that ... a professor of dogmatic divinity in the Sacerdotal College of Carlow should ... accomplish that which not a peer in the empire could have effected! Where is the man, except [the] ... bishop of Leighlin and Kildare, who could return two county Members? Even the great Daniel could not achieve so much in a single Irish county ... These gentlemen were not only placed in Parliament by Dr. Doyle, but Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Bruen, the heads of the old Protestant aristocracy, did not even venture to enter the lists against them.25

Both Members supported reform and campaigned for the disarming of the Irish yeomanry (a drunken party of whom Doyle alleged had fired at him during his canvass, 9 Sept.), for which petitions reached the Commons, 31 Aug., 6 Sept.26 One from Dunleckny against the grant to the Kildare Place Society was presented by Blackney, 31 Aug. 1831.27 That day a petition reached the Commons complaining that under the Irish registration system the franchise was ‘a mere nominal right’ and the county ‘a close borough ... under the control of 32 barristers’; it went no further.28 Following the massacre at Newtownbarry, county Wexford, the Carlow grand jury were alleged to have drunk toasts to the accused yeomanry, prompting calls for their dismissal and widespread local unrest.29 On 30 Aug. 1831 the Irish secretary Smith Stanley advised Anglesey, the viceroy, that

the magistrates want a hint in that county, and Bruen more than any of them. Duncannon’s appointment should be made out, and be put in immediate communication with the chancellor. These gentlemen should feel they have a master in Ireland. I believe Carlow and Wexford, but for the Protestants, to be well disposed.30

The ensuing appointment of Duncannon, a member of the government, as the first lord lieutenant of Carlow was welcomed by the Members and the Catholic press, who were delighted that Bruen and his ‘high functionaries will be virtually superceded in their office’ and hoped that a ‘purge’ of the commission would remove the ‘burnings and feuds, to which this fertile district has been so long subject’.31

A county meeting in support of reform was announced for 15 Nov. 1831.32 On 14 June 1832 a Borris petition complaining that the Irish reform bill would ‘not give twenty new voters to the county’ was presented by Blackney, who reported that of the 150 individuals who had recently submitted claims, only three had been permitted to vote under the ‘abominable system’ of Irish registration.33 By the Irish Reform Act, however, 136 leaseholders (119 registered at £10, 16 at £20 and one at £50) and 35 copyholders were added to the freeholders, who had increased in number to 1,075 (749 registered at £10, 108 at £20, and 218 at £50), giving a reformed constituency of 1,246.34 At the 1832 general election Doyle, who had taken a military commission abroad, retired and Blackney and Thomas Wallace II* of Donnybrook, county Dublin, were returned as Liberals after a contest with the Conservatives Kavanagh and Bruen, at which 1,160 polled.35 The county was keenly contested on party lines in the 1830s, but, apart from the tenure of a Liberal, 1852-7, was in Conservative hands from 1841 until 1880.

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 255-60.
  • 2. The Times, 17 Feb.; Ramsey’s Waterford Chron. 21 Mar.; Dublin Evening Post, 21, 22 Mar. 1820; R. Malcomson, Carlow Parl. Roll, 34.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 21 Apr. 1825.
  • 4. CJ, lxxvii. 324; lxxix. 358-9; lxxx. 354.
  • 5. Dublin Evening Post, 8 Aug. 1825.
  • 6. Ibid. 28 Mar., 1, 8 Apr.; Westmeath Jnl. 13, 20 Apr. 1826; Malcomson, 35.
  • 7. Westmeath Jnl. 8 June; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 10 June; Dublin Evening Post, 10, 20 June 1826.
  • 8. CJ, lxxxii. 231, 294; lxxxiii. 313; LJ, lix. 152.
  • 9. Dublin Evening Post, 20 Nov. 1828, 13, 27, 29 Jan. 1829.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxiv. 114.
  • 11. PP (1830), xxix. 464.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxv. 499.
  • 13. Fitzwilliam mss, Rochfort to Milton, 7 June 1830.
  • 14. Ibid. Heron to Milton, 22 June, Rochfort to same, 22 June 1830; Malcomson, 25.
  • 15. Dublin Evening Post, 3, 12 Aug.; Carlow Morning Post, 5, 9 Aug. 1830; Malcomson, 36, 37.
  • 16. Calculated from Rochfort’s statement of plumpers (Dublin Evening Post, 12 Aug. 1830).
  • 17. Carlow Morning Post, 12, 16 Aug.; Dublin Evening Post, 12, 17 Aug.; Kilkenny Moderator, 18 Aug. 1830.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxvi. 446.
  • 19. The Times, 11 May 1831.
  • 20. Carlow Morning Post, 5, 9 May 1831.
  • 21. Fitzwilliam mss, Rochfort to Chaloner, 29 Apr., Chaloner to Milton, 7 May 1831.
  • 22. Carlow Morning Post, 9, 12 May; Wexford Independent, 3 May; Kilkenny Moderator, 30 Apr., 4 May 1831.
  • 23. Wellington mss WP1/1185/7.
  • 24. Kilkenny Moderator, 14 May; Carlow Morning Post, 12, 16, 19 May 1831; Malcomson, 38-40.
  • 25. R. Sheil, Sketches, Legal and Political ed. M. Savage, ii. 348, 349.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxvi. 802, 827.
  • 27. Ibid. 802.
  • 28. Ibid. 795.
  • 29. Dublin Evening Post, 4 Oct. 1831.
  • 30. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/31D/59.
  • 31. Dublin Evening Post, 4 Oct. 1831.
  • 32. The Times, 9 Nov. 1831.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxvii. 398.
  • 34. PP (1833), xxvii. 292.
  • 35. The Times, 12 Oct., 11, 25 Dec. 1832.