Co. Longford


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:

1,562 in 1829; 367 in 1830


16 Mar. 1820GEORGE JOHN FORBES, Visct. Forbes 
19 June 1826GEORGE JOHN FORBES, Visct. Forbes 
20 Mar. 1828FORBES re-elected after appointment to office 
11 Aug. 1830GEORGE JOHN FORBES, Visct. Forbes 
9 May 1831GEORGE JOHN FORBES, Visct. Forbes211
 Luke White130
 Joseph Denis Mullen18

Main Article

Longford produced mainly oats, potatoes and butter and had ‘scarcely any manufactures’. There were ‘few resident noblemen or gentry of large estates’ and ‘few parts of Ireland in which persons of limited income’ could ‘live cheaper or better’. The principal market towns were Ballymahon, Colehill and Edgeworthstown, and the disfranchised boroughs of Granard, Lanesborough, St. Johnstown and Longford, the venue for county elections.1 The representation continued to be dominated by the Rosse interest, headed since 1807 by the dowager Lady Rosse, whose nominee Sir Thomas Fetherston had sat undisturbed since the Union. On his death in 1819 Lady Rosse put up his anti-Catholic son Sir George Fetherston, who was opposed by the pro-Catholic Luke White of Rathaline, third son of the Dublin plutocrat and Member for county Leitrim, 1818-1824. After a four-day poll Fetherston was returned with the active support of the other sitting Member Lord Forbes, son of the 6th earl of Granard, who had sat undisturbed since 1806 on his family’s ‘then very powerful’ but steadily declining interest.2

At the 1820 general election Forbes and Fetherston offered again with Lady Rosse’s support. White, who had promised to get up another opposition, declared, but was prevented by ill health from canvassing personally. Shortly before the nomination he withdrew, citing the ‘unprepared state of the registry’ and his unwillingness to mount ‘a mere angry display of resistance’. Only a ‘closer attention to the registry’, he contended, ‘will enable the friends of the independence of the county’ to ‘reassert their rights’ and elect ‘one of their own representatives’. Forbes and Fetherston were returned unopposed.3 Both continued to support the Liverpool ministry, but Forbes supported and Fetherston opposed Catholic claims. In September 1821 Lady Rosse’s son reminded Lord Liverpool of his mother’s ‘anxious wish’ for an Irish living for a nominee, noting that in 1819 she had borne the ‘entire expenses, which were considerable’, of Fetherston’s return.4 Meetings to condemn the rejection of the Catholic relief bill were held at the Longford Chapel in October 1825, following which a series of ‘outrages’ occurred.5

At the 1826 general election Forbes, whom the Catholic press praised as ‘a liberal and emancipator’, and Fetherston, whom they denounced ‘as the reverse’, offered again. Talk of an opposition to the ‘Orange Fetherston’ came to nothing and they were returned unopposed, the Dublin Evening Post lamenting that if ‘certain individuals’ had ‘been aware of the position now taken by the Catholic clergy of Ireland with respect to ... general election[s], a gentleman of great worth and eminence’ might have opposed Fetherston, against whom ‘measures’ would now ‘be taken for the next occasion’.6 The Members continued to take opposite sides on Catholic claims, for which petitions were presented to the Commons, 8 Dec. 1826, 28 Apr. 1828, and the Lords, 14 Feb. 1827.7 Following Forbes’s appointment to office in the Irish household he was re-elected unopposed in March 1828, having been proposed by Lovell Edgeworth of Edgeworthstown.8 That July Lord Anglesey, the Irish viceroy, informed Peel, the home secretary, that at the Longford assizes Forbes had found the ‘priests and their flocks’ who ‘formerly were communicative and gave much intelligence ... all silent and reserved’, and that there was ‘a general impression amongst them that some great event is at hand’.9 On 3 Nov. an inaugural Brunswick Club meeting was held at Longford, attended by Lord Longford and Fetherston, who denounced the Catholic Association’s ‘evil counsels of designing demagogues’ but recommended ‘firmness and moderation’.10 Forbes attended a preliminary counter-meeting at Longford later that month, but objected to proposals for a vote of thanks to Daniel O’Connell* and the Association and declined to attend the ensuing liberal meeting of 25 Nov., which was chaired by Lords Rossmore and Cloncurry.11 On 20 Nov. 1828 Forbes warned Anglesey that the ‘very violent and foolish high sheriff’ intended ‘calling together the Protestants of this county’ to ‘prevent the slightest impression of popular feeling’ at the Catholic meeting, and asked ‘whether the police and the military would be under the command of the high sheriff or of the custos rostolorum’ in the event of a ‘collision’, which he feared might lead to ‘general insurrection throughout the country’.12 Three days previously an Orange mob had opened fire at Ballymahon causing widespread panic among the Catholic inhabitants, some of whom had fled undressed into the night. After the magistrates failed to act a ‘bill of indictment’ was brought against five of them, but to the ‘utter astonishment’ of the prosecutor, one Cumins, it was ‘thrown out’ by the grand jury, whose members included Fetherston, Edgeworth and a ‘brother of two of the principal aggressors’. In an article entitled ‘Longford Justice’, which was reprinted by The Times, the Catholic press protested that the ‘excitement produced in the minds of the people’ would ‘not subside for many a day’.13 On 13 Jan. 1829 a meeting was held to establish a Longford Liberal Club, at which 80 members were enrolled and an address condemning the recall of Anglesey as viceroy was prepared.14 Its secretary, one Slevin, was later described as a ‘£10 tenant of Mr. Greville’, whose interest ‘goes with Forbes’.15 The Members took opposite sides on the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, for which petitions were presented to the Commons, 12, 23 Feb., 11, 20 Mar., and the Lords, 27 Feb., 12 Mar. Hostile ones reached the Lords, 10, 12 Feb., 6 Mar., and the Commons, 23, 27 Feb.16 By the accompanying alteration of the franchise the registered electorate was reduced from 1,562 to 367, of whom 132 qualified at the new minimum freehold of £10, 67 at £20 and 168 at £50.17 A petition was presented to the Lords for repeal of the Irish Vestry Act, 27 Feb., and one against the Subletting Act reached the Commons, 16 Apr.18 In August 1829 Forbes informed Anglesey that ‘we are very quiet here’ and that the Catholics had ‘behaved well to me and by their determination put an end to the plans’ of those ‘who are determined to oust me from the representation’.19 A petition against assimilation of English and Irish stamp duties was presented to the Commons, 1 July 1830.20

Two months before the 1830 general election Anthony Lefroy, eldest son of Thomas Langlois Lefroy* of Carrickglass, near Longford, began to solicit support. On 22 June Charles Fox, whose father commanded the Longford militia from Fox Hall, urged his kinsman Henry Maxwell, Member for county Cavan, not to ‘assist Lefroy’s views in Longford’, as he was ‘most anxious that Lord Forbes should hold his seat and the gentlemen of my native county should return one Member’. Lady Rosse, he explained, had ‘long supported’ the return of Fetherston and Forbes, but

she now gives her second votes, without any previous intimation to Forbes, to Lefroy, her granddaughter’s husband [despite] Lefroy not possessing one acre in the county and not having one of the gentry of the county to support him. She takes advantage of our defective registry, we not suspecting her intentions, and she pushes for a second man ... [which] rouses the feelings of any man of independence in the county. The duke of Leinster’s family would not attempt it in Kildare, nor would the Farnham family in Cavan. I have done all I could by going amongst the Longford gentry and I will keep open the county. Lefroy I know and approve of everything I have seen of him, but ... would you think it handsome of a man ... to canvass during the sitting Member’s absence in Parliament [and] by letter and personal application directly and indirectly to solicit ... the votes of landlords who oppose him?21

On 21 July Fox chaired a Longford meeting of the ‘friends of independence’, at which £2,455 was subscribed towards Forbes’s re-election, including £500 from White, and resolutions were passed against the ‘influence of a powerful family in their county’ being ‘unduly exerted’.22 On 7 July Lord Francis Leveson Gower, the Irish secretary, asked Archdeacon Singleton ‘to make it understood as widely as possible’ that the government ‘gives every support’ to Forbes.23 At the general election Fetherston offered again and Lefroy came forward, refuting the ‘odious imputation’ that they had formed a coalition and claiming support from ‘all parties’ who were ‘free to vote’ according to their conscience. Forbes held back, whereupon Henry Bevan Wilson Slator of White Hill, Edgeworthstown offered to stand ‘if no better man was found’, in order to give the electors the ‘power of choosing between making your county a close borough, to represent the feelings and interests of one family, or to make it a free and fair constituency’. He was joined by Richard Cruise of Longford, who urged the electors to ‘send us to Parliament hand in hand’. A few days before the nomination, however, Fetherston unexpectedly retired without explanation, leaving the way open for Forbes, who promptly declared ‘upon the Catholic interest’, as Anglesey later described it.24 At a celebration meeting Forbes’s supporters resolved to ‘discourage any attempt to start another candidate’ and urged the freeholders to ‘pay a closer attention to the registry, by which means they may, at a future period, place their county’s independence on a broader basis’. (An analysis of the voters remaining on that year’s register revealed 247 Protestants, 97 Catholics, and 13 beneficed clergy.)25 Slator and Cruise withdrew, and Forbes and Lefroy were returned unopposed.26

A petition for repeal of the Union reached the Commons, 6 Dec. 1830.27 Both Members opposed the Grey ministry’s English reform bill. Shortly after the dissolution it was reported to Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, that they would offer ‘upon the same interest’, and that White ‘thinks of starting an opposition’.28 At the 1831 general election Forbes duly offered again as an opponent of reform, having applied for Tory party funds to Charles Arbuthnot* and informed Sir Henry Hardinge* that he would ‘be safe with £1,000’.29 Lefroy joined him, condemning the reform bill as a ‘traitorous conspiracy’ but offering to ‘support such constitutional measures’ as may ‘purify the representation’. White came forward as a reformer, asserting that it was ‘unnecessary to explain any seeming inconsistency’ with his earlier support for Forbes, who in a ‘scandalous abandonment of principle’ had entered into a ‘most odious and unprincipled coalition’ with his former opponent. Forbes demanded a ‘retraction’ of these ‘false and calumnious’ allegations or ‘satisfaction’, but White refused to meet him until after the election. Informing Lord Duncannon*, the government whip, that White had the ‘finest prospects’, O’Connell explained that ‘he has 50 votes, there are about 150 Catholics who will vote with him to a man, about 20 independent Protestants who support him as a reformer, and 255 would secure a majority’. The Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, however, deemed the return of Forbes and Lefroy to be ‘beyond doubt’, citing the addition of ‘101 Protestants’ to the 247 registered at the last election, and ‘140 Catholics’ to the previous 97, which together with 13 clergymen gave the Protestants a majority of 124.30 Convinced that two candidates might ‘succeed as easily as one’, O’Connell called on Percy Fitzgerald Nugent of Donore, county Westmeath, a ‘respectable Catholic’, to stand, but in the event he opted for his native county. At the nomination one Joseph Denis Mullen was proposed instead, but he quickly withdrew ‘lest he might injure’ White. By the end of the second day Forbes had 195 votes, Lefroy 172 and White 124; next day White resigned. Following the declaration he and Forbes were ‘put under arrest by Colonel Osborne and bound in recognizances in the sum of £5,000 each, with two sureties for each in the several sums of £2,500’, against which Forbes protested, alleging that White had ‘first insulted me’ and then ‘refused me the satisfaction due to a gentleman’.31 ‘Vexed’ at the manner in which Forbes had ‘turned around at the late election’ and been ‘brought in by the opposite party’, Anglesey tried to prevent him becoming the county’s first lord lieutenant that autumn, but he remained the ‘only fit person’. His appointment was condemned by O’Connell.32 Petitions were presented to the Commons against the grant to the Kildare Place Society, 5, 19 Sept., and for repeal of the Union, 26 Sept. 1831.33 Ones against the new plan of Irish education reached the Commons, 5, 19 Mar., 2 July 1832.34 Petitions for the abolition of Irish tithes were presented to the Lords, 19 Mar., and the Commons, 30 Mar.35 Protestant petitions for repeal of Catholic emancipation were presented to the Lords, 22 June, and the Commons, 6 July 1832.36

Both Members continued to oppose the English reform bill, but only Lefroy was present to vote against the Irish measure, by which 39 leaseholders were added to the freeholders, who had increased by the end of 1832 to 1,294 (951 registered at £10, 112 at £20 and 192 at £50).37 One-thousand-two-hundred-and-fifty-five (97 per cent) polled at the 1832 general election, when the Conservatives Forbes and Lefroy were defeated by White and another Liberal, James Rorke. Forbes and Lefroy were seated on petition the following year and survived a challenge from White and his brother Henry White* in 1835. Following the death of Forbes in 1836 White became lord lieutenant and at the by-election defeated the Conservative Fox, but was turned out on petition. Further contests and petitions involving these rivals followed.

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 306-10.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 672; NLI, Farnham mss 18613 (4), C. Fox to H. Maxwell, 22 June 1830.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 2, 9, 14, 25 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Add. 38575, f. 34.
  • 5. Westmeath Jnl. 27 Oct., 17 Nov. 1825.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 13, 17, 20, 22 June; Westmeath Jnl. 22 June 1826.
  • 7. CJ, lxxxii. 108; lxxxiii. 277; LJ, lix. 73.
  • 8. Westmeath Jnl. 27 Mar. 1828.
  • 9. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/26/C/75, 76.
  • 10. Westmeath Jnl. 6 Nov. 1828.
  • 11. Ibid. 28 Nov. 1828.
  • 12. Anglesey mss 32A/2/157.
  • 13. Dublin Evening Post, 10 Jan.; The Times, 15 Jan. 1829.
  • 14. Dublin Evening Post, 15 Jan. 1829.
  • 15. Farnham mss 18613 (4), Fox to Maxwell, 22 June 1830.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxiv. 25, 76, 89, 124, 154; LJ, lxi. 22, 29, 87, 129, 179.
  • 17. PP (1830), xxix. 462, 463.
  • 18. LJ, lxi. 87; CJ, lxxxiv. 237.
  • 19. Anglesey mss 32/A/3/1/193.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxv. 602.
  • 21. Farnham mss 18613 (4).
  • 22. Dublin Evening Post, 29 July 1830; Derby mss 920 Der (14) 121/2, Gosset to Smith Stanley, 26 Apr. 1831.
  • 23. NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. M.738/194.
  • 24. Anglesey mss 27/B/47, Anglesey to Holland, 3 Sept. 1831.
  • 25. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 7 May 1831.
  • 26. Dublin Evening Post, 29 July, 3, 10, 14, 19 Aug.; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 14, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxvi. 148.
  • 28. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 121/2, Gosset to Smith Stanley, 26 Apr. 1831.
  • 29. Farnham mss 18606 (1), Arbuthnot to Farnham, 6 May 1831.
  • 30. Dublin Evening Post, 3, 5 May; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1800.
  • 31. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1799, 1800; Dublin Evening Post, 12 May; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 14 May 1831.
  • 32. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 119/2, Anglesey to Smith Stanley, 21 Mar.; Anglesey mss 27/B/47, Anglesey to Holland, 3 Sept. 1831; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1853.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxvi. 817, 855, 866.
  • 34. Ibid. lxxxvii. 163, 204, 448.
  • 35. LJ, lxiv. 105; CJ, lxxxvii. 235.
  • 36. LJ, lxiv. 315; CJ, lxxxvii. 470.
  • 37. PP (1833), xxvii. 301.