Co. Mayo


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:

24,417 in 1829; 1,055 in 1830

Number of voters:

624 in 18301


24 June 1826GEORGE CHARLES BINGHAM, Lord Bingham 
14 Aug. 1830JAMES BROWNE402
 Joseph Myles Mcdonnell217
 George Vaughan Jackson1
 Joseph Myles Mcdonnell206

Main Article

Mayo, a predominantly Catholic county, produced mainly oats, potatoes and barley and had an ‘extensive’ manufactory of linens, based chiefly in ‘cabins of the poor ... furnished with a loom’. Its population of 293,112 in 1821 had grown to 367,956 by 1831, making it the third largest after Cork and Tipperary. There were several market towns, including Ballinrobe, Ballyclare, Foxford and Killala, and the disfranchised boroughs of Castlebar, the venue for county elections, and Westport, the ‘chief market’ for its linens.2 The representation continued to be dominated by the Brownes of Westport, headed by the 2nd marquess of Sligo, whose uncle Denis Browne, Member since the Union, had for many years held ‘paramount sway over the internal politics’ of the county.3 In 1818 he had vacated his seat in favour of his eldest son James, like him a supporter of the Liverpool ministry and Catholic claims, to which all the Members were favourable. The second seat had been held since 1814 by their radical kinsman Dominick Browne of Castle Macgarrett, who had taken over from his influential brother-in-law Henry Dillon Lee with the combined support of the families after an unprecedented 57-day contest. Thereafter Sligo, ‘in order to avoid a similar demand’ on his purse, had attempted to ‘divide’ the independent opposition, centred around the baronetcies of Brabazon and O’Donel and the Binghams of Castlebar House, earls of Lucan, ‘so as to secure the support of some of them for myself and to neutralize others’. This policy, he reckoned in 1825, had saved him ‘some thousands’.4

Shortly before the 1820 general election there were reports of disturbances by the ribbonmen, against which Denis Browne was noted by the Liverpool ministry to be ‘very valiantly defending’ the county.5 Dominick and James Browne offered again and were returned unopposed.6 The Brownes’ omission from the signatories of a loyal address from Mayo was noted by George IV in April 1821, and another was forwarded by Denis Browne to Peel, the home secretary, for presentation at the next levee, 1 May 1822.7 Attempts by Denis Browne to secure the county governorship and the admiralty of Connaught for Sligo that July came to nothing, prompting him to complain to his nephew of the ‘ruinous’ effects of his neglect of ‘persons in power’ and absenteeism, and to plead, ‘for God’s sake, while yet there is time, change it. Come to your house and live there’.8 On 11 Sept. he advised Sligo to refuse to be patron of a Mayo savings bank in conjunction with Thomas Spencer Lindsey of Hollymount, the ‘secretary’, who served as high sheriff in 1822, and his cousin Lord Bingham, an ‘honorary member’, as it was ‘one of the many attempts that have been made since the death of your father to separate our interests and thereby to weaken and destroy us’. Next day he contended that Lindsey was engaged in a ‘systematic plan’ for ‘lowering the great power of our family’ and related how, with the support of his ‘new ally’ Dominick Browne, he had established a charity committee at the assizes, ‘thus bestowing on him more patronage than we have got for five years’. ‘I state to you this plan of hostility plainly’, he declared, adding, ‘if you support me I will, old as I am, quash and pull it down’.9 Confirming a ‘junction of party against us, the nucleus of which is Lindsey’, 15 Oct. 1822, Peter Browne* urged his cousin Sligo to ‘oppose and frustrate their efforts’, observing, ‘I need not tell you ... how necessary above all things is a complete silence outside the Browne circle. We can trust no one an inch from it, for we are hated by all who want to upset us, that they may take the place we have got’.10 Thereafter Sligo became more active, reminding Peel of his efforts to ‘divide the opposing interests’ of the county and requesting preferment for a clergyman whose abandonment of a property claim had secured the ‘formidable interest’ of Sir Neal O’Donel of Westport, after which ‘no contest has been talked of’.11 A petition from the linen manufacturers against the removal of bounties on coarse linens reached the Commons, 4 May 1824.12 In February 1825 Lindsey informed Daniel O’Connell* that he had had a ‘confidential communication’ with Dominick Browne about a petition for Catholic claims, in which he ‘made use of the county political connection’ between Dominick Browne and the Browne family, ‘who at present rule with despotic sway here’, and found ‘from all the information I could collect that their determination was to have met my requisition with a counter one, and this by way of ingratiating themselves with what is called the High Protestant party’. Adding that Denis and James Browne ‘had taken their departure’ from the county for England, which was ‘a novel mode of giving energy to the requisition’, he advised him that ‘Lucan and his son Lord Bingham’s names with their friends and supporters’ would still appear along with Dominick Browne, and that

Bingham will certainly give the electors of this county an opportunity at the next election of exercising their franchises, and I trust and, indeed, hope that they will seize it in such a manner as to show their hatred and contempt for empty professions of liberality at the other side of the water, as well as the grossest bigotry and oppression on this.13

The ensuing petition was presented by Dominick Browne, 19 Apr. 1825, and reached the Lords the same day.14

On 26 Apr. Sligo informed Canning, the foreign secretary, that Denis Browne’s ‘unguarded, and, as he says, misrepresented evidence’ against the Catholic priests before the Irish committee had ‘raised such a breeze in Mayo’ that

at the approaching election we expect a very severe contest ... The period at which this election may take place will have a great effect on the result of it, in consequence of the date of the different registries. If therefore you may happen to feel yourself at liberty to say when you think it likely to take place it will be a great obligation if you will let me know it, as it will enable me to make preparations.15

During the rumours of a dissolution in September 1825 Peel was advised that the Catholics were ‘determined to punish the Brownes in Mayo’, where Denis had ‘grievously offended the priesthood, although he still retains much of the laity’.16 In May 1826 Martin Kirwan of Dalgin, who had unsuccessfully opposed Dominick Browne in 1814, considered standing again, telling Bingham’s kinsman Lord Spencer:

I have not heard the slightest objection made to me by any of Bingham’s friends except that I being a candidate myself interfere in the election of the other Member, by myself and my immediate friends giving our second votes to James Browne, whose friends in return support me. Such an arrangement I admit generally is open to objection, but I think in Mayo it is to be justified.17

At the 1826 general election Dominick and James Browne offered again, citing their support for Catholic relief. Bingham came forward as an ‘independent’, promising to support emancipation and overturn the ‘coalition’ of leading interests which had ‘taken deep root’ in the county. He was supported by O’Donel, who broke an earlier agreement to back Dominick Browne and exhorted his tenantry of 3,000 freeholders to give Bingham plumpers. Kirwan did not stand and it was reported that James Browne had lost his ‘very considerable’ interest ‘in consequence of the part the Sligo family were playing in Galway’. A ‘fierce and costly’ struggle between Bingham and James Browne was therefore anticipated, but a week before the election Dominick Browne, who was expected to ‘ride the first horse’, unexpectedly withdrew, blaming the ‘indefinite expense of a poll of 23,000 voters’ and the Catholic clergy’s unaccountable interference in favour of Bingham, ‘an untried man’. Dominick Browne has ‘retired on account of the expense’, George Dawson*, home office under-secretary, informed Peel. ‘The independents of Mayo have done a mischief: by the piques of county politics, they have given two Members to the treasury, and thrown out a steady reformer’, complained the Dublin Evening Post. Bingham and James Browne, who at the nomination was received with ‘unequivocal marks of disapprobation’, were returned unopposed. Afterwards an affray broke out in which five men were allegedly killed.18 James Browne, who was assaulted, later accused the high sheriff Sir William Brabazon of Brabazon Park of being a party to murder by failing to take sufficient steps to preserve the peace. Brabazon successfully sued him for libel in 1828, but a request by Dominick Browne to ‘reinstate’ him on the commission was turned down by the then Irish secretary Leveson Gower in July 1830.19 On 16 Aug. 1826 Denis Browne informed Peel of the ‘torrent of abuse’ his vote against the Catholic Association had brought him, and implored him to procure an East India cadetship for the Jacksons of Carramore, ‘a family whose interest turns the scale of election ... and gives my son the power of this county or a great hold on it’.20 Sligo evidently wrote in similar terms to Goulburn, the Irish secretary, but Dawson privately advised Peel not to place too much ‘reliance’ on his statements, as

the conduct of the priests in Mayo is just what might have been expected from any body of men attacked in the manner in which they were attacked by Denis Browne in his evidence before the committee in 1825. Their hostility was personally directed against the family of Lord Sligo, but I have the authority of Dominick Browne and others to say that they conducted themselves at the election with great temper and discretion ... and they by no means deserve the character given of them in Lord Sligo’s letter.21

Both Members voted for Catholic claims, for which petitions reached the Commons, 5 Dec. 1826, 14 Feb. 1827, 4, 5, 27, 28 Feb. 1828, and the Lords, 14 Feb., 16 Mar. 1827, 19 Feb. 1828.22 One for repeal of the Test Acts was presented to the Commons, 26 Feb. 1828.23 Shortly before his death in August, Denis Browne complained to Sligo of an ‘affront’ at being passed over as foreman at the assizes by Dominick Browne, in ‘defiance of my rank’ and ‘my having, tender and sanguine, given him any place in the county at all’.24 On 10 Aug. 1828 a grand Catholic meeting was held at Castlebar, at which the chairman Joseph Myles McDonnell of Caranacon, eldest son of Myles McDonnell of Doo Castle, Ballaghadereen and a member of the Association, urged the freeholders to follow the example of county Clare and return a Catholic at the next election. Dominick Browne paid tribute to O’Connell and promised to offer again.25 That month rumours that Brabazon would also come forward were dismissed on the ground that he ‘would not have a least chance’ in a report to Sligo, who was advised that if he accepted the custos rotularum he would not be ‘bound to support the government’.26 He was soon in place. In November a county Liberal Club was started, with McDonnell as its vice-president. A meeting to collect Catholic rent and in support of O’Connell was held at Castlebar, 9 Dec. 1828.27 Following a requisition signed by Bingham, Brabazon, Dominick Browne, Lindsey and McDonnell, a ‘crowded meeting’ was held in support of Lord Anglesey, the recalled Irish viceroy, 14 Jan. 1829.28 Dominick Browne, who moved the address, later complained, ‘Where was Lord Sligo? Did he stir? No’; but a rival meeting of Sligo’s freeholders had been held at Westport, 11 Jan., when similar resolutions were passed and a petition for Catholic claims was started. Another meeting in support of Anglesey was held at Ballina, 28 Jan.29 Both Members voted for the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, in support of which petitions reached the Commons, 23 Feb., 23, 24 Mar., and the Lords, 20 Feb., 1 Apr. 1829.30 By the accompanying alteration of the franchise the registered electorate was reduced from 24,417 to a mere 1,055, of whom 197 qualified at the new minimum freehold value of £10, 322 at £20 and 536 at £50.31 Following a county meeting a petition against tax increases was drawn up and presented to the Commons, 18 June 1830.32

At the 1830 general election James Browne offered again, Sligo having secured the additional interest of Mrs. Palmer of Castle Lacken in return for promising to support the candidature of Sir William Henry Palmer. Dominick Browne also started, denouncing the ‘coalition’ between Sligo and Palmer and their ‘reciprocal promise of second votes’, which, as the Catholic bishop of Killala observed, was ‘thought by many’ to compromise ‘the independence of the voters, and may eventually be prejudicial to both’. At a meeting of the magistrates James Browne’s brother, John Denis Browne, defended the arrangement as ‘nothing more than the legitimate exercise of a friendly feeling towards the other’, but in the event Palmer, who denied the existence of any coalition, declined to stand.33 Threatened with a contest, Bingham solicited government support from Peel, who considered that he had ‘much better claims to the county of Mayo than Dominick Browne’, also an applicant, and recommended him to Gregory, the Irish under-secretary, and the duke of Northumberland, the viceroy.34 Leveson Gower duly informed Dominick Browne that he was unable to meet his ‘appeal for neutrality in the approaching contest’, as they had ‘received a steady support’ from Bingham, whom they would support ‘by any legitimate means’.35 Joseph McDonnell also entered the field as a ‘man of the people’, attacking the ‘repugnant’ system of noblemen returning their nominees and promising to ‘use the influence of high station less to promote personal aggrandisement than the prosperity of every class’. Two weeks before the election Bingham withdrew without explanation, whereupon Gower advised Dominick Browne that the Irish government had no ‘reason to indulge the expectation of support from any of the present candidates, more than from yourself’. Rumours circulated that Brabazon, Sir Richard O’Donel of Westport and George Vaughan Jackson of Enniscoe House would offer, but no one else was proposed at the nomination, when McDonnell charged the Brownes with ‘jobbing’ on the grand jury and of coalescing against him. A ‘sharp’ three-day contest ensued, in which James Browne secured an early lead and McDonnell complained of ‘illegal practices’. Shortly before the close of the poll and the return of James and Dominick Browne, Jackson was nominated and obtained a single vote.36 Informing William Browne Ffolkes* of his victory, 14 Aug., Dominick Browne reported:

You are aware I dare say that Sligo coalesced against me, but I have long since put Palmer and Bingham to flight, and McDonnell stood supported by the Catholic Association and some (not all) priests, having no claim but as a Catholic himself. This was most ungrateful to me, but what is to be expected from men politically and morally degraded by unjust laws for centuries?

Writing to Ffolkes the same day, Sligo remarked:

What a change between 23,000 freeholders and 850, of whom 630 alone voted, and I don’t think there exists producible above 70 more. It has not been an expensive affair, but Dominick was near losing it by his too long continuance in his foolish non-canvassing system. We have had a good deal of sparring and mutual caustic speeches, but I trust it has done no harm.37

On 16 Nov. a petition from McDonnell was presented against the return, complaining that ‘menaces and intimidation’ had been used against his supporters and of ‘bribery and corruption’ by Dominick Browne, who had admitted on the hustings to having ‘bought’ the county. Another in similar terms was presented, 19 Nov. 1830. A committee was appointed, 11 Mar., but upheld the return, 18 Mar. 1831.38

Petitions against further grants to the Kildare Place Society reached the Lords, 15 Nov., and the Commons, 2, 6 Dec. 1830. That day one from Westport for the continuation of the Irish fishery bounties reached the Commons.39 Anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Lords, 15 Nov. 1830, 20 Apr. 1831.40 One reached the Lords for repeal of the Union, 15 Feb., and the Commons for measures to relieve distress, 22 Mar.41 Both Members voted for the Grey ministry’s reform bill, for which petitions were presented to the Lords, 22 Mar., 21 Apr., and the Commons, 25 Mar. 1831.42 At the ensuing general election James Browne unexpectedly retired, saying that it was ‘impossible’ for him to support ‘all parts of the reform bill’. His younger brother John came forward as its ‘decided advocate’, citing his family’s service as representatives over ‘an uninterrupted series of 70 years’. He was promised ‘unqualified support’ at a meeting of the freeholders at Westport, 3 May. Dominick Browne sought re-election, promising to vote for the ‘entire bills proposed’, but hoping for more Members to be given to Ireland and ‘Mayo or its towns’. McDonnell also offered as a ‘staunch reformer’ and opponent of tithes, citing the ‘great pecuniary loss’ of his unsuccessful petition. At a meeting of the freeholders at Carr chaired by Michael Byrne, 4 May, resolutions were passed to ‘return him free of expense’. In the three-day contest McDonnell trailed throughout and ‘never had a chance’. Rumours that he would petition again came to nothing.43

In June 1831 Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, offered Sligo the lord lieutenancy of the county, to which he was appointed the following year.44 Both Members continued to support reform, for which petitions were presented to the Lords, 18 July, and the Commons, 17 Oct.45 On 22 June a petition was presented to the Commons complaining that 16 of the 25 counties receiving additional Members were ‘inferior in population’ to Mayo, which was entitled to four representatives. Petitions in similar terms reached the Commons, 13 July 1831, and the Lords, 23 July 1832.46 John Browne complained of the ‘injustice’ of leaving Mayo, with a population of 380,000, only two Members, 19 Jan., and seconded Dominick Browne’s unsuccessful motion for another representative, 9 July 1832. A petition for the abolition of tithes reached the Commons, 8 Mar., and the Lords, 19 Mar.47 Petitions for the new Irish education plan were presented to the Lords, 14, 21, 25 June, and the Commons, 22, 28 June, 2 July, and against to the Lords, 15 June.48

By the Irish Reform Act, six leaseholders (five registered at £10 and one at £20) and 24 rent-chargers (nine at £20 and 15 at £50) were added to the freeholders, who had increased to 1,320 (742 registered at £10, 277 at £20 and 301 at £50), giving a reformed constituency of 1,350.49 Dominick Browne had advised Smith Stanley that he would retire at the 1832 dissolution because of the ‘wide extent of support for repeal’, the unpopularity of his support for the Irish tithes bill and the £30,000 he had ‘already spent on elections’.50 In the event, however, he and John Browne stood successfully as Liberals against the Repealer Brabazon, in a contest in which 1,234 polled.51 John Browne was defeated by Brabazon in 1835 and stood unsuccessfully at the by-election which followed Dominick Browne’s elevation to the peerage in 1836.

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1830-1), x. 199.
  • 2. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 350-6.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 23 Aug. 1828.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 676; Add. 40357, f. 268.
  • 5. Add. 38458, f. 298; PRO NI, Sligo mss MIC/292/2, J. Daly to Sligo, 5 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 28 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Geo. IV Letters, ii. 913; Add. 40347, f. 5.
  • 8. TCD, Sligo mss 6403/85-87, 89, 90.
  • 9. Ibid. 6403/92, 93.
  • 10. Ibid. 6403/94.
  • 11. Add. 40357, f. 268.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxvii. 394.
  • 13. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1162.
  • 14. CJ, lxxx. 319; LJ, lvii. 594.
  • 15. Harewood mss.
  • 16. Add. 40381, f. 208; 40331, f. 147.
  • 17. Add. 76135, Kirwan to Spencer, 6 May 1826.
  • 18. Dublin Evening Post, 25 May, 1, 6, 10, 17, 20, 22, 27 June; Add. 41087, f. 212; The Times, 4 July 1826.
  • 19. The Times, 24 Apr., 7 June 1828; NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. 7. B3. 33, Leveson Gower to D. Browne, 19 July 1830.
  • 20. Add. 40388, f. 283.
  • 21. Add. 40389, f. 80.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxii. 88, 164; lxxxiii. 14, 17, 109, 113; LJ, lix. 73, 167; lx. 52.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxiii. 105.
  • 24. TCD, Sligo mss 6403/135.
  • 25. Dublin Evening Post, 19 Aug. 1828.
  • 26. TCD, Sligo mss 6403/137, 139.
  • 27. Dublin Evening Post, 13, 15, 22 Nov., 16 Dec. 1828.
  • 28. Ibid. 10, 17, 20 Jan. 1829.
  • 29. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 126/5, D. Browne to Smith Stanley, 3 Nov. 1832; Dublin Evening Post, 29 Jan., 12 Feb. 1829.
  • 30. CJ, lxxxiv. 76, 160, 165; LJ, lxi. 60, 325.
  • 31. PP (1830), xxix. 470.
  • 32. CJ, lxxxv. 566.
  • 33. Dublin Evening Post, 17, 24 July; NLI, Moore mss 889, Louisa Moore to MacHale, 30 June 1830; TCD, Sligo mss 6403/173.
  • 34. Add. 40327, f. 182; 40334, f. 316.
  • 35. Leveson Gower letterbks. 7. B3. 33, Leveson Gower to D. Browne, 19 July 1830.
  • 36. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 1023; viii. 3191; Leveson Gower letterbks. M. 738, Leveson Gower to Browne, 4 Aug.; Dublin Evening Post, 24, 27, 29, 31 July, 14, 19 Aug.; The Times, 23 Aug. 1830.
  • 37. Norf. RO, Browne Ffolkes mss NRS 8741.
  • 38. CJ, lxxxvi. 93-94, 109, 197, 363, 398.
  • 39. LJ, lxiii. 50; CJ, lxxxvi. 145, 148.
  • 40. LJ, lxiii. 49, 490.
  • 41. Ibid. 228; CJ, lxxxvi. 419.
  • 42. LJ, lxiii. 352, 354, 499; CJ, lxxxvi. 435.
  • 43. Mayo Constitution, 28 Apr., 2, 5, 12, 16 May; Dublin Evening Post, 30 Apr., 5, 7, 19 May 1831.
  • 44. TCD, Sligo mss 6403/184, 246.
  • 45. LJ, lxiii. 830; CJ, lxxxvi. 923.
  • 46. CJ, lxxxvi. 534, 650; LJ, lxiv. 399.
  • 47. CJ, lxxxvii. 174; LJ, lxiv. 105.
  • 48. LJ, lxiv. 292, 298, 311, 321; CJ, lxxxvii. 424, 439, 448.
  • 49. PP (1833), xxvii. 304.
  • 50. Derby mss 126/5, D. Browne to Smith Stanley, 3 Nov. 1832.
  • 51. PP (1833), xxvii. 304.