Co. Leitrim


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:

6,361 in 1829; 602 in 1830

Number of voters:

436 in 1830


21 Mar. 1820LUKE WHITE 
5 Apr. 1824SAMUEL WHITE vice White, deceased 
20 June 1826SAMUEL WHITE 
 Robert Bermingham Clements, Visct. Clements212
 Luke White4

Main Article

A poor county of backward cultivation and limited manufactures, including the benighted Arigna iron works, Leitrim was sparsely populated and boasted few towns apart from Carrick-on-Shannon, where the elections were held, and Jamestown, the county’s other disfranchised borough, while Leitrim village was said to be a ‘miserable little place’.1 With a relatively large number of small, often absentee, proprietors, the county had seen a comparatively high turnover of its representatives in the eighteenth century, and the fact that there were four contests, with upwards of 6,000 voters in 1812, within the first 18 years of the Union attested to the continuing struggle between the leading families and, perhaps, to the growing assertiveness of the mainly Catholic population.2 The only peer with a sizeable interest was the head of the Clements family, the Whig 2nd earl of Leitrim, of Killadoon, county Kildare and Mulroy, county Donegal, who had estates at Manorhamilton and had sat for Leitrim, where he served as custos, until succeeding his father in 1804. From then the 1st earl’s first cousin, the Tory and anti-Catholic Colonel Henry John Clements of Ashfield Lodge, county Cavan, had established an influential position, holding the seat once occupied by his father and grandfather and becoming colonel of militia in 1807 and joint-governor in 1808. However, in 1818 Clements was defeated by the pro-Catholic interloper Luke White, a spendthrift Dublin banker turned country gentleman, who had been cultivating an interest since unsuccessfully bringing forward his son Thomas in 1806 and had got himself appointed as another governor in 1817, although his main estate, Woodlands, and electoral concerns lay in county Dublin. Since 1807 the other seat had been held by another Whig, John Latouche, who belonged to the prominent Dublin banking and parliamentary dynasty: his uncle Peter of Bellevue, county Wicklow, had represented the county in the Irish Parliament; his cousin, another Peter, had sat for Leitrim at Westminster in the 1802 Parliament, and his brother Robert was Member for county Kildare.3 Among the other minor players were the Beresfordite joint-governor Walter Jones of Headford, former Member for Coleraine, whose father Theophilus had sat for the county until 1802, and Sir Hugh Crofton of Mohill Castle, former Member for Tulsk, who in 1822 was said by Goulburn, the Irish secretary, to have ‘great property and influence’ in Leitrim.4

Latouche died at the end of January 1820, but no writ was issued before the dissolution the following month. Clements brought forward his brother, Lieutenant-Colonel John Clements of Glenboy, who, although a Tory, apparently coalesced with White; the latter, who declined to pursue the candidacy of his son and namesake in the neighbouring county of Longford, where he had recently been defeated in a by-election, thereby secured the valuable support of Crofton. This meant that there was no realistic chance for William Ormsby Gore* of Woodford, who had won the seat in 1806, or Lieutenant Francis Nesbitt of Derrycarne, who addressed the electors; White and Clements were returned unopposed.5 On the motion of Henry Clements, a loyal address to the king was agreed at a county meeting in Carrick, 11 Jan. 1821.6 After the death of Luke White in February 1824, when an anonymous freeholder called on the county to regain its independence by returning a resident Member, it was widely expected that one of the Latouches would offer, while Nesbitt was spoken of and Ormsby Gore issued an address. But Luke’s son Samuel was brought forward on his father’s Whig principles and, introduced by Robert Johnston of Oakfield and the leading Catholic gentleman Francis O’Beirne of Jamestown Lodge, he was returned unopposed.7 Over the following two years there were occasional references in the press to the likelihood of the sitting Members continuing at the next election, but it was also hinted that a high-ranking and independent candidate might appear.8 Dr. John McKeon, Catholic vicar-general of Ardagh, and O’Beirne headed the requisition for a meeting of the Catholics of the county, 19 Dec. 1825. The ensuing petitions were presented to the Commons by Spring Rice, Member for Limerick, and to the Lords by Lord Kingston, 9 May 1826, when the Catholics hosted a dinner in honour of McKeon in Carrick.9

It was the recently of age Viscount Clements, Leitrim’s eldest son, who offered as a liberal pro-Catholic at the general election of 1826, when realistic estimates of the size of the electorate varied between 6,000 and 8,000. Lord Clements opposed both his kinsman and White, who were roundly condemned for uniting their electoral interests despite their political differences and the fact that it was against John Clements’s brother that White’s father had first won his independent seat.10 At the last minute John Clements, whose mother was a Beresford, excused himself because of poor health, despite having a supposed majority of 1,500, and William Gregory, the Irish under-secretary, commented:

I do not think Johnny Clements has acted right by his Protestant friends in Leitrim, as there was no doubt of his success and the party by whom he was espoused could have brought in another candidate of the same principles had they received an earlier intimation of his intentions. The real cause of his declining to stand is from Lord Waterford refusing to advance part of the expense of the contest.11

An attempt was made to have John Clements put up, but his brother announced his withdrawal on the hustings. White (proposed by Charles Henry Tottenham of Glenfarne Hall and John Reynolds Peyton of Laheen House), who stated that he would have supported his former colleague in return for the backing he had received at the recent by-election, and Lord Clements (nominated by Peter Latouche and O’Beirne), who spoke in favour of Catholic relief, were elected unopposed. The Catholics met under O’Beirne’s chairmanship, 10 July 1826, to issue resolutions critical of White’s electoral conduct in comparison to that of his late father and of his brother Henry, who had just retained his seat for county Dublin.12

Following another gathering of Catholics in November 1826, petitions in favour of their claims were brought up in the Commons by Lord Clements, 21 Feb., and the Lords, 12 Mar. 1827, while another was presented to the Lower House, 7 Mar. 1828.13 After some delay, the Protestant gentry and clergy mustered for a county meeting, 20 Oct., when a Brunswick Club was established under Henry Clements’s presidency, and several local clubs were formed in the county that autumn.14 Lords Leitrim and Clements attended a dinner given by the friends of civil and religious liberty in the county in December 1828, but not the equally poorly attended meeting to address the recalled lord lieutenant, Lord Anglesey, the following month, while the Protestants again held a county meeting, 12 Jan. 1829.15 The ensuing hostile petitions from the town and county of Leitrim were brought up in the Commons, 18 Feb., 2 Mar., and the Lords, 19 Feb., 3 Mar., while one for Catholic emancipation was presented to both Houses by Clements and Anglesey, 25 Mar.16 Both Members voted for the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, yet the related Franchise Act, under which by July 1829 258 £10 freeholders had been newly registered in addition to the existing 269 £20 and £50 voters, favoured their opponents’ territorial influence. As one commentator recorded in Carrick:

The results of the registry are putting our country gentlemen into high good humour. With the recent measures they have no longer the fear of the priest before their eyes and do not hesitate to admit that after all the duke [of Wellington] and Peel kept a sharp look out for the Protestant interests.17

By 1 Jan. 1830 the electorate numbered 602, compared to 6,361 a year earlier, although this had risen to over 750 by the general election that summer.18

Amid calls for a truly independent candidate, John Clements offered again with the backing of ministers against the sitting Members. The government, despite his apparent hostility to their recently rescinded increase in Irish stamp and spirit duties, were also prepared to countenance the unpopular White, who, regardless of statements to the contrary, insisted that he would not withdraw but was still expected to lose.19 The resolutely Protestant Beresford clan were cautious of appearing complacent, but realized that John Clements was certain of success provided he was not tricked into accepting tests proposed to him on the hustings, so the contest was effectively between White and Lord Clements.20 John Clements (proposed by Johnston and the Rev. Charles Lyons Montgomery of Killaigue Glebe), who refused the request of a Catholic freeholder to pledge for reducing sinecures, took an early lead in the four-day poll, while White (nominated by Tottenham and Nesbitt), whose brother Luke was introduced as a safeguard, and Lord Clements (by Sir Josias Rowley* of Mount Campbell and O’Beirne) remained neck and neck; at one point their friends had to intervene to prevent a duel. After apparently only 436 voters had polled, John Clements was returned (and held a joint dinner) with White, whose majority of six over Lord Clements was the same as Luke White’s over Henry Clements in 1818.21 White, alarmed by his poor showing, called on his supporters to be more organized in registering their tenants, but the number of electors had only risen to 1,071 by May 1831.22 Nothing came of the proposed candidacies of O’Beirne, who as sheriff had organized an address congratulating Anglesey on his reappointment earlier that year, or Peyton, nor did Lord Clements come forward. Therefore at the general election of 1831 White and John Clements, respectively pro / and anti-reformers, were returned unopposed.23

Later that year Lord Leitrim became lord lieutenant of the county, where the Protestants were reluctant to forward their interests by meeting early in 1832, and his remained the leading electoral interest. On the eve of the reformed Parliament, he was credited with 158 votes, comfortably ahead of White (117), the Latouches (72), Crofton (49), Jones (46) and John Clements (28). At the general election of 1832, when there were 1,318 registered electors, White, who held his seat until 1847, and Lord Clements, who with two of his brothers occupied the other until 1852, were returned as Liberals after a contest with the Conservative John Clements.24

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 238-9; H.D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, ii. 144; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 252-6.
  • 2. Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 266-8; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 665, 666; PP (1829), xxii. 15.
  • 3. Late Elections (1818), 484; Oldfield, Key (1820), 326; Add. 40298, ff. 25, 26.
  • 4. Add. 37299, f. 275.
  • 5. Dublin Evening Post, 3, 12, 15, 17, 22, 29 Feb., 25, 30 Mar.; Belfast News Letter, 8 Feb., 3 Mar. 1820; Rosse mss D/7/112; 13/10 (NRA 25548).
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 30 Jan. 1821.
  • 7. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 6, 13, 27 Mar., 10, 17 Apr. 1824.
  • 8. Ibid. 23 July; Freeman’s Jnl. 14 Dec. 1825; Dublin Evening Post, 11 Sept. 1824, 27 Sept. 1825, 16 Feb. 1826.
  • 9. Dublin Evening Post, 17 Dec. 1825, 3 Jan.; The Times, 10 May; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 13, 20 May 1826; CJ, lxxxi. 338; LJ, lviii. 310.
  • 10. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 14 Jan., 27 May, 3, 10 June; Dublin Evening Post, 25, 30 May, 3 June 1826; PP (1825), xxii. 97.
  • 11. Add. 40334, f. 171; 40387, f. 212.
  • 12. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 24 June, 15 July 1826.
  • 13. Ibid. 11, 25 Nov. 1826; The Times, 22 Feb. 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 206; lxxxiii. 324; LJ, lix. 152.
  • 14. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 6, 20 Sept., 4, 18, 25 Oct., 8, 15, 29 Nov. 1828.
  • 15. Ibid. 13 Dec. 1828, 17, 24, 31 Jan. 1829.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxiv. 49, 94, 170; LJ, lxi. 56, 107, 282.
  • 17. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 20 June, 4 July; PRO NI, Carr Beresford mss T3396, Curren to Mahony, 6 June, 6 July 1829.
  • 18. PP (1830), xxix. 468; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 31 July 1830.
  • 19. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 8 May, 10, 17, 31 July; Dublin Evening Post, 6, 29 July; NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. Leveson Gower to Singleton, 18 July 1830; Add. 40338, f. 223.
  • 20. PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/176, 178.
  • 21. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 14, 21 Aug.; Dublin Evening Post, 17 Aug. 1830; PP (1830-1), x. 204.
  • 22. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 28 Aug., 18, 25 Sept. 1830; PP (1831), xvi. 201.
  • 23. Dublin Evening Post, 24 Mar., 5, 12 May; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 30 Apr., 7, 14, 21 May 1831.
  • 24. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 4, 11 Feb., 17 Nov., 22, 29 Dec. 1832.