Co. Cork


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:

5,448 in 1829; 3,138 in 1830


 EDWARD KING, Visct. Kingsborough
21 June 1826RICHARD HARE (Visct. Ennismore)
4 Dec. 1827HON. JOHN BOYLE vice Ennismore, deceased
12 Aug. 1830RICHARD BOYLE, Visct. Boyle
12 May 1831RICHARD BOYLE, Visct. Boyle

Main Article

Ireland’s largest county of Cork, with an overwhelmingly Catholic population, had a valuable copper and mineral mining industry and extensive farms producing wheat, oats and barley, much of which was exported, but the condition of its numerous peasantry, who subsisted mainly on potatoes, was ‘very wretched’. There were several market towns, including the disfranchised boroughs of Baltimore, Castlemartyr, Charleville, Clonakilty, Doneraile, Midleton, and Rathcormack, and the parliamentary boroughs of Bandon Bridge, Cork, the venue for county elections, Kinsale, Mallow and Youghal. The representation continued to be dominated by the leading magnates: the 3rd earl of Kingston, a former Whig who had come over to the Liverpool government in search of patronage following the return of his heir Lord Kingsborough, a supporter of Catholic claims, in 1818; the 3rd earl of Shannon, who had allied himself with Kingston in 1817 in an attempt to bolster his interest; the Whig 6th duke of Devonshire, whose influence declined in this period, and Viscount Ennismore, later earl of Listowel, whose heir Richard Hare had sat as a ministerialist with the support of the ‘high church’ Protestant gentry since 1812. The earls of Bandon, Cork and Donoughmore could also command votes, and there was a growing Catholic interest led by the editor of the Freeholder, John Boyle of Cork, who, in order to interrogate the candidates at the hustings, had stood unsuccessfully in 1818.1

Shortly before the 1820 dissolution Hare complained to Lord Liverpool that owing to the government’s ‘neglect’ of his ‘numerous’ patronage requests on behalf of those who had ‘so strenuously supported’ him at the last election, ‘should a contest again arise between candidates, the results might be very different’. He cited their refusal to promote the nephew of Robert Hodges Eyre of Macroom, ‘whose interest is more considerable than that of any other individual’.2 At the general election Hare and Kingsborough stood again. A number of potential challengers to the anti-Catholic Hare were spoken of, including Shannon’s nephew John Hyde of Castle Hyde, William Deane Freeman of Cork and George Ponsonby, Whig Member from 1806 until his defeat by Hare in 1812.3 Expectation of a ‘third candidate’ prompted Lord Midleton to ‘decline any engagement’ when pressed for support by Kingston on behalf of his son, 22 Feb., but no one had started by early March, when it seemed that there would only be the token opposition of Boyle. Shannon has ‘no intention of bringing forward a candidate’ and ‘it is generally supposed the old Members will come quietly in’, reported William Davis to Sir Richard Brooke, 2 Mar.4 On the 10th Boyle declined. ‘His reason is a curious one’, observed the press, ‘and proves at least his indisposition to put the county to expense: it is the late elective franchise bill’. A few days later Ponsonby ‘unexpectedly’ came forward on the Devonshire interest, with the reputed support of Kingston, Shannon, Cork and Donoughmore and an ‘imposing army of the gentry’. A committee was appointed to ‘consider and report whether it would be expedient to put him in nomination’, but Hare’s majority on the registers appeared unchanged since 1818 and Ponsonby was forced to decline. Hare and Kingsborough were re-elected unopposed.5

At a county meeting on the Queen Caroline affair in January 1821 the ‘ministerialists sustained a complete defeat’ in their attempts to resist calls for ‘discussion’ by William Wrixon Becher, Member for Mallow, James Ludlow Stawell of Kilbrittain Castle and Arthur Creagh of Laurentinum.6 There were widespread disturbances in the south later that year but by February 1822 ‘tranquillity’ had been restored.7 Following a succession of ‘deeply organized’ fatal attacks on property in the neighbourhood of Doneraile that autumn, it was noted by Lord Hutchinson, brother of Christopher Hely Hutchinson, Member for Cork, that ‘many magistrates both Protestant and Catholic have been dismissed who ought to have been retained, and many retained who ought to have been dismissed’.8 A bill for an extra quarter sessions was introduced by Goulburn, the Irish secretary, ‘with a view of expediting the trial of offenders’, 3 July, and received royal assent, 18 July 1823 (4 Geo. IV, c. 93).9 A petition against the Tithes Composition Act was presented to the Commons, 25 Mar. 1824.10 At an aggregate meeting of the Catholics attended by Boyle and ‘several Protestants’, including Stawell, 11 June 1825, Kingsborough was praised for his support for emancipation and a campaign to return a second pro-Catholic was started. Votes of thanks to Daniel O’Connell* were proposed by one Richard Ronayne at another meeting held in August. During the rumours of a dissolution in September 1825 it was reported that the brother of a local Catholic ‘of great wealth’ (possibly Garrett Standish Barry of Lemlara, the Member, 1832-41), would come forward backed by the earls of Glengall and Llandaff.11

At the 1826 general election Kingsborough retired on account of ill health in favour of his younger brother Robert King. Hare, who had become Viscount Ennismore on his father’s elevation to an earldom in 1822, offered again, regretting that there was ‘insufficient time’ for him to canvass. In a public row with the Southern Reporter, which had attacked him for failing to vote in the 1825 divisions on Catholic relief, ‘upon which every man ere now ought to have formed an opinion’, he accused the paper of a ‘misstatement’, insisting that his name had been omitted from the hostile minority, which they denied, saying ‘his memory has been somewhat treacherous’. Stawell was rumoured, and a meeting of those who objected to the county remaining a ‘close borough’ was convened on 19 June at Conway’s Hotel to support an ‘independent candidate’. By the eve of the election, however, no one had started. ‘It would seem improbable that anything will rouse the electors from the degraded condition to which they are reduced’ by having Members ‘nominated by two or three aristocratic families’, lamented the Southern Reporter. At the nomination Stawell and Boyle carried out a lengthy ‘catechizing’ of Ennismore, who defended his opposition to emancipation ‘without securities’ to the accompaniment of ‘hisses’. King promised to support Irish tithe reform and emancipation as ‘a measure of justice’, but was ‘neither able nor disposed to answer’ questions about parliamentary reform. They were returned unopposed, Ennismore allegedly ‘a little shaken at the feeling evinced ... on the subject of emancipation’.12 (It was later observed that the ‘great registry’ made by Hare in 1817, following Shannon’s desertion to the Whigs, had ‘entirely expired’ by September 1825, and that if ‘he had been opposed by a liberal ... his defeat would have been certain’.)13 In the House King duly supported Catholic claims, for which petitions reached the Commons, 12, 14 Feb., 2, 6 Mar. 1827, 18, 19, 27 Feb., 24 Apr. 1828, and the Lords, 19, 22 Feb., 2 Mar. 1827. A hostile Protestant petition was presented to the Lords, 20 June 1827.14 Petitions for repeal of the Irish Vestry and Subletting Acts reached the Commons, 18 Feb. 1828, 12 Mar., 7 May, 24 June 1829, 3, 11 June 1830, and the Lords, 19, 24 Feb., 6, 9, 26 Mar. 1829, 4 June 1830.15

In September 1827 a vacancy was created by the death of Ennismore, whose name in that year’s division on Catholic relief had appeared in both the minority and majority lists. A number of candidates were rumoured, including Stawell, John Smith Barry of Fota Island, an ‘uncompromising supporter of the constitution in church and state’, Lords Dungarvan, Bernard and Berehaven, respectively the eldest sons of Cork, Bandon and the earl of Bantry, and William Smith Bernard, Bandon’s second son. Talk of Lord George Beresford*, son of the marquess of Waterford, who had been ousted from county Waterford by the Catholic Association in 1826, was dismissed as ‘idle rumour’, as were reports of a ‘second man’ being brought forward by Kingston, who had ‘the means of winning the second seat’, but was ‘too well skilled in electioneering tactics’ to commit such an ‘unpalatable act’. Wrixon Becher, who had retired from Mallow, was spoken of by the independents as a fitting successor to his cousin Ennismore and a ‘likely’ recipient of support from Kingston and Shannon, who together had a ‘clear majority’ on the registry, but he declined. Shortly thereafter it was reported that the earls ‘intended to put the representation in the custody of some locum tenens’, who would ‘just keep the seat warm’ until Shannon’s heir came of age. On 10 Oct. they brought forward Cork’s son, John Boyle of Marston, Somerset, who was described as ‘a student’.16 He ‘will be returned’, observed Lord Lansdowne, the home secretary, to Lord Holland, 21 Oct.

but the means by which this is effected are worthy the attention of those who admire that bulwark of popular rights, the 40s. a year freehold. He ... has never resided in the county, scarcely even seen it. But Lords Shannon and Kingston have two battalions of organized freeholders raised upon their estates ... who together outnumber all the rest, and it suits them for private and political reasons to have it so represented.17

The Southern Reporter believed that the ‘county would revolt at such a step’, and a few days later Boyle of Cork started in ‘opposition to his namesake’, who had been ‘silent on the Catholic question’. During the ensuing canvass, however, John Boyle declared his ‘unequivocal’ support for Catholic emancipation, to widespread approval. At the nomination the other Boyle announced his withdrawal, explaining that ‘whenever I took the hustings of this county, or of this city ... there was some obnoxious candidate to be grappled with’, but ‘such is not the case on the present occasion’. After a plea by Stawell for attention to local taxation and grand jury abuses, John Boyle was returned unopposed.18

In September 1828 a county Brunswick Club was established with the support of the high sheriff John Longfield of Longueville and John Swete, Bandon’s land agent, but it attracted few ‘Protestant gentry of rank, fortune, and talent’. A Protestant declaration got up in favour of Catholic claims that November was signed by King, Kingsborough, Stawell and Wrixon Becher. On 16 Jan. 1829 a Catholic meeting was held in support of Lord Anglesey, the recalled Irish viceroy.19 Both Members supported the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, for which petitions reached the Commons, 12 Mar., and the Lords, 12, 17, 19, 24 Feb., 9 Mar. 1829. Hostile Protestant petitions were presented to the Commons, 17, 23 Feb., and the Lords, 27 Feb.20 By the accompanying alteration of the franchise the registered electorate of 1829 was reduced from 5,448 to 3,138, of whom 440 qualified at the new minimum freehold value of £10, 449 at £20 and 2,249 at £50. (It was noted, however, that of these ‘many ... must be dead and may have lost their freeholds by the diminution in value of lands and expiration of their titles’.)21 A petition against militia reductions citing the ‘situation they were left in’ in 1822 was presented to the Commons, 25 Mar. 1829.22 Following a series of assassination attempts in Doneraile on the high sheriff Michael Creagh and the magistrates Henry Evans and George Bond Low, four men were successfully prosecuted for ‘general conspiracy’ to murder in October 1829 by John Doherty*, the Irish solicitor-general, whose speeches were ‘much liked by the country gentlemen’. The case of the remaining four defendants was taken up by O’Connell, whose discrediting of the witnesses resulted in a mistrial and the jury’s discharge. In the House, 10 May 1830, O’Connell accused Doherty of withholding evidence which would have led to an acquittal and the magistrates of irregular conduct.23 Petitions for repeal of the Union reached the Commons, 27 May, and the Lords, 4 June 1830.24

At the 1830 general election King offered again and John Boyle made way for Shannon’s heir Viscount Boyle, who had recently come of age. Smith Barry was pressed to stand by John Dillon Croker, but, following protests that he was a Brunswicker, he declined, referring to the ‘melancholy situation of the near relative of one of the late Members’. (Kingston had had a mental breakdown and Kingsborough had assumed control of the family interests.) ‘Strenuous efforts’ were made by the independents to ‘bring forth a third candidate’ and ‘redeem the county from being a borough’. John Townsend of the 14th Hussars, grandson of Richard Townsend, Member in the Irish Parliament, 1759-83, was spoken of, but on inquiry his family at Castle Townsend ‘knew nothing’. Ronayne, who claimed to be ‘a cousin’ of O’Connell, was ‘importuned to offer’, but refused, ‘despairing of success in the present state’ of the registry. On the hustings Viscount Boyle professed support for economy and reduced taxation and was unexpectedly endorsed by Boyle of Cork as the ‘legitimate representative of the House of Shannon’. King defended his vote with ministers for an unpopular pension and criticized Smith Barry’s mention of his father’s illness, blaming the state of the registry for his failure to stand. In a lengthy harangue, Ronayne declared that it was ‘useless to seek pledges’ from Members who were ‘not chosen by the county’ and deprecated ‘this mode of filling the Commons’ as a ‘contemptible farce’. King and Viscount Boyle were returned unopposed.25 Both supported the Grey ministry’s reform bill, although Boyle was absent from the division on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election King offered again as a ‘determined supporter’ of reform and the abolition of slavery. Boyle was initially confined by ‘indisposition’ to London, from where he promised if re-elected to support ‘such a fair constitutional reform as will suit the times in which we live and ... uphold the rights of the crown, the aristocracy, and the people’. ‘Nothing like a contest’ was threatened, but at the nomination Boyle of Cork demanded to know if Boyle would ‘support the bill, the whole bill and nothing but the bill’, to which Wrixon Becher, who had proposed King, objected, saying that Members could not pledge support for details which were not yet ‘perfectly understood’. Viscount Boyle, however, promised to support the bill ‘to the last’, following which he and King were again returned unopposed.26

Petitions were presented to the Commons against the grant to the Kildare Place Society, 14, 26 July, and for the re-establishment of the Cork naval depot, 26 July 1831.27 One against repeal of the Union and for measures to arrest the ‘progress of revolutionary and disloyal spirit’ reached the Lords, 16 Mar., and the Commons, 20 Mar. 1832.28 A petition against the new plan of Irish education was presented to the Lords, 12 May, and the Commons, 9 Aug.29 One for the abolition of tithes reached the Lords, 12 July, and the Commons, 25 July.30 In November 1832 a declaration signed by Shannon, Kingsborough, Wrixon Becher and the Hares was got up in support of the Union, advocating a ‘complete reformation’ of tithes, Irish grand juries and church property.31

By the Irish Reform Act, 687 leaseholders (553 registered at £10 and 134 at £20) and 32 rent-chargers (14 at £20 and 18 at £50) were added to the freeholders, who had decreased slightly to 3,116 (1,735 registered at £10, 473 at £20 and 908 at £50), giving a reformed constituency of 3,835. Three-thousand-and-twenty-two polled at the general election of 1832, when Boyle retired and King stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal against another Liberal, Standish Barry, two Conservatives, and the Repealer and future Chartist Feargus O’Connor.32 (Ministers had been confident of King’s success and O’Connell had hoped to return two Repealers.)33 Following his re-election with Standish Barry in 1835, O’Connor was unseated on petition. His replacement, Longfield, and King stood unsuccessfully as Conservatives in 1837.

Author: Philip Salmon


See I. D’Alton, Protestant Society and Politics in Cork.

  • 1. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 563-5; D’Alton, 7, 8, 124-6; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 635-7.
  • 2. Add. 38282, f. 371.
  • 3. The Times, 17 Feb. 1820.
  • 4. Surr. Hist. Cent. Midleton mss 1248/12, ff. 112-14; PRO NI, Brooke of Killeagh mss T2975/5/43.
  • 5. Dublin Evening Post, 9, 11, 14, 16, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. The Times, 30 Jan. 1821.
  • 7. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 14 Feb. 1822.
  • 8. TCD, Donoughmore mss F/13/72.
  • 9. The Times, 24 Sept., 8 Oct. 1822.
  • 10. CJ, lxxix. 211.
  • 11. Dublin Evening Post, 16, 18 June, 22 Sept.; The Times, 3 Sept. 1825.
  • 12. Southern Reporter, 6, 8, 15, 17, 20, 22, 24 June; Constitution, 8, 22 June 1826.
  • 13. Southern Reporter, 2 Oct. 1827.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxii. 149-50, 166, 264, 286; lxxxiii. 78, 83, 109, 264; LJ, lix. 83, 92, 123, 428.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxiii. 78; lxxxiv. 128, 270, 415; lxxxv. 505, 542; LJ, lxi. 59, 78, 137, 149, 293; lxii. 603.
  • 16. Southern Reporter, 25, 27 Sept., 2, 4, 6, 13 Oct. 1827.
  • 17. Add. 51687.
  • 18. Southern Reporter, 18, 30 Oct., 29 Nov., 4 Dec. 1827.
  • 19. Ibid. 13 Sept., 1, 13 Nov. 1828, 15, 17 Jan. 1829.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxiv. 41, 76; LJ, lxi. 84.
  • 21. PP (1830), xxix. 472.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxiv. 170.
  • 23. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1616, 1674.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxv. 488; LJ, lxii. 603.
  • 25. Southern Reporter, 10, 29 July, 12 Aug.; Constitution, 13, 20, 27 July, 12, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 26. Southern Reporter, 28 Apr., 3, 7, 12 May; Constitution, 3, 14 May 1831.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxvi. 655, 697.
  • 28. LJ, lxiv. 101; CJ, lxxxvii. 208.
  • 29. LJ, lxiv. 204, 205; CJ, lxxxvii. 571.
  • 30. LJ, lxiv. 373; CJ, lxxxvii. 521.
  • 31. The Times, 13 Nov. 1832.
  • 32. PP (1833), xxvii. 294.
  • 33. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 125/4, Barrington to Smith Stanley, 16 Nov. 1832; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1921, 1930.