CONOLLY, Edward Michael (1786-1849), of Castletown, co. Kildare and Cliff, co. Donegal

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



1831 - 4 Jan. 1849

Family and Education

b. 24 Aug. 1786, 1st s. of Capt. Hon. Thomas Pakenham, RN, MP [I], of Conline, co. Westmeath and Louisa Anne, da. of John Staples† of Lissane, co. Tyrone. m. 25 May 1819, Catherine Jane, da. of Chambré Brabazon Ponsonby Barker, MP [I], of Kilcooley, co. Tipperary, 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da. suc. gt.-aunt Lady Louisa Augusta Conolly to Castletown 1821 and took name of Conolly by royal lic. 27 Aug. 1821; fa. 1836. d. 4 Jan. 1849.

Offices Held

Sheriff, co. Donegal ?1819-20, co. Kildare.

2nd lt. R. Artillery [I] 1800, R. Artillery [UK] 1801, 1st lt. 1802, capt. 1807, ret. 1811; lt.-col. co. Donegal militia.


This Member’s father was a younger son and namesake of Thomas Pakenham (1713-66) of Pakenham Hall, Westmeath, who was given the Irish barony of Longford in 1756, and his wife Elizabeth, who was created countess of Longford in 1785. Having been rapidly promoted in the navy during the American war of independence, Thomas junior followed in the family tradition by gaining a seat in the Dublin Parliament (for Longford borough, 1783-90 and 1797-1800, and for Kells during the intervening period) and giving solid support to administration, including for the Union. Successively surveyor, lieutenant and master-general of the Irish ordnance, the lord lieutenant Lord Cornwallis commented in 1799 that ‘although he is the best man at the board, he is rather light-headed and has not much method’.1 As colonel of the Royal Irish Artillery, he introduced his eldest son, whose names Edward Michael were commonly repeated in the family, into the armed forces shortly before his fourteenth birthday. He continued with the regiment on its amalgamation with the Royal Artillery immediately following the Union and apparently saw service in the West Indies, but retired (on full pay until 1836) before the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.2 By then he was well connected through his father’s relations, being a first cousin of the 2nd earl of Longford, Colonel Hercules Robert Pakenham* and Kitty, duchess of Wellington.

However, it was through his mother that Pakenham came into substantial estates, if not great wealth. Her father, a long-serving Irish Member, was politically associated with his brother-in-law, Tom Conolly, the prominent but erratic opposition Whig, who represented county Londonderry at Dublin and had sat for Malmesbury and Chichester at Westminster. Conolly, whose fortune had descended to him from his great-uncle, the early eighteenth-century Irish Speaker of the same name, apparently intended to make his nephew George Byng, Member for Middlesex, his heir, but by his will of 27 May 1799 he disinherited Byng, with whom he had quarrelled over a law suit.3 Instead, after passing to his wife Lady Louisa, who inherited a life interest in the property on his death April 1803, Castletown, possibly the finest Georgian house in Ireland, was bequeathed to Edward Michael Pakenham, the eldest child of her favourite niece. Yet, the estate was encumbered by debts amounting to nearly £50,000 in 1797, and in June 1803 Thomas Pakenham reported that ‘Conolly anticipated by drafts, all his income and Lady Louisa will have at least £10,000 of interest to pay with the half year’s rent of this estate ... I see no chance of Edward having one farthing from the property’. The executors considered selling Castletown in order to settle the debts, but by good management Lady Louisa was able to maintain her beloved home, as well as her charitable lifestyle, until her death on 6 Aug. 1821, when it passed to her great-nephew. Later that month, in accordance with his great-uncle’s will, he changed his name to Conolly.4

The inheritance included a large estate near Ballyshannon in county Donegal, and it was there that Conolly became involved in politics. He nominated the Protestant sitting Member George Hart at the general election of 1826 and seconded the adoption of an anti-Catholic petition at the county meeting in January 1827. His was the first signature on the requisition for a county meeting against the introduction of poor laws to Ireland in April 1830 and, perhaps because Hart was expected to retire, it was thought that he would be a candidate at the general election that summer.5 Following the dissolution in the spring of 1831 he was requested to stand by many freeholders, including Hart, who had been forced to retire, and he duly offered. Declaring that he had long declined doing so from ‘prudential motives’ and in the hope that a resident landowner would have come forward, he coalesced with another new candidate, Sir Edmund Hayes, also a Protestant Tory, and, having condemned the Grey ministry’s reform bill and urged further economies, was returned with him after a contest against two reformers. No doubt stung by the criticisms of his having destroyed the linen manufacture in Ballyshannon, he subsequently supported improvements there, notably to the harbour.6

Conolly made his maiden speech on the address, criticizing ministers for their complacency towards Ireland, 21 June 1831, when, with Waldo Sibthorp and Lord Stormont, he was described by John Cam Hobhouse* as being ‘amongst the most obstreperous of the minority’.7 Thereafter he made frequent, telling and original interventions on Irish affairs, such as those in vindication of the yeomanry, 12, 18 July, 11 Aug. Having voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, he denounced it as a general attack on property rights, 12 July, when he divided at least once for adjourning the House, and he was in the minorities for using the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B, 19 July, and postponing consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He defended the Kildare Place Society, of which he was a member, 14 July, 9 Sept., and divided against the Maynooth grant, 26 Sept. Desiring closer co-operation between government and its officials in Ireland, as he stated on urging the establishment of a board of trade in Dublin, 16 Aug., he welcomed the bill to provide for lord lieutenants in counties, 20 Aug., but damned it as a purely partisan measure, 6 Oct., when he raised the issue of clerical distress caused by the non-payment of tithes. He spoke and voted for censuring the Irish government’s interference in the Dublin election, 23 Aug., and the following day strongly condemned Hunt’s attempt to extend the vote to those he characterized as the irresponsible lower orders. He was in minorities for Waldo Sibthorp’s complaint of a breach of privilege against The Times and inquiry into the effects of the renewal of the Sugar Refinery Act on the West India interest, 12 Sept., when he was also in one against the committal of the truck bill. He voted against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., but was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831.

He signed the requisition for and was present at the abortive anti-reform meeting in county Donegal, 14 Jan., when he was ridiculed in a radical paper as an ‘aged dotard’, and moved a resolution condemning ministers over reform at the Protestant meeting in Dublin, 17 Jan. 1832.8 He sided with opposition against the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. He revealed that he had resigned his commission as a justice of the peace in protest at government’s failure to support magistrates’ efforts to preserve law and order, 7 Feb., and argued that the authorities should enforce the payment of tithes, 13 Mar.; he raised the problems of lawlessness in Westmeath, 15 Mar., and Queen’s County, 23 May. He presented and endorsed petitions against the ministerial plan of Irish education, 13 Feb., 16 Apr., and attacked this as a ludicrous and unrealistic scheme, 6 Mar., 28 June. He advocated a lower duty on malt to curb illicit distillation in Ulster, 17 Feb., reprobated the threatened reduction in maritime communications between Ireland and the mainland, 23 Feb., 4 Apr., and introduced the Irish baking trade bill, 30 Mar. He objected to the inconsistent treatment of Midhurst, 23 Feb., and the granting of seats to such places as Bradford rather than to Irish towns, 2 Mar., and voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. He divided in the Conservative majority for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May, and spoke and voted against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, when, as on 18 June, he clashed with Daniel O’Connell on claiming that the measure would ‘democratize’ the representation of boroughs and that counties were already sufficiently independent. He opposed the introduction of poor laws to Ireland, 19 June, when he voted against an absentee tax to this end, and entered a solemn protest against the Irish party processions bill, 25 June, for which he was praised by the Donegal Orangemen. Like his colleague, he was included in the likely membership of the Protestant Conservative Society of Ireland that summer.9 In mid-July he paired off with Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, in order to attend the assizes.10 Conolly, who in March was a founder member of the Carlton Club, was returned unopposed for Donegal as a Conservative at the general election of 1832 and sat until his death in January 1849. He was succeeded by his eldest son, another Tom Conolly (1823-76), Conservative Member for Donegal, 1849-76, who was even more eccentric and spendthrift than his eighteenth-century predecessor.11

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. W.R. O’Byrne, Naval Biog. ii. 851; Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 112; Hist. Irish Parl. vi. 7-8.
  • 2. Officers of R. Regt. of Artillery, 1716-1899, p. 30.
  • 3. Hist. Irish Parl. vi. 322-4; Gent. Mag. (1803), i. 596; Farington Diary, vi. 2130.
  • 4. Hist. Irish Parl. iii. 467-74; Gent. Mag. (1821), ii. 180; L. Boylan, ‘Conollys of Castletown’, Irish Georgian Soc. xi (1968), 42-44.
  • 5. Strabane Morning Post, 4 July 1826, 13 Apr. 1830; Belfast News Letter, 26 Jan. 1827; Belfast Guardian, 13 July 1830.
  • 6. TCD, Conolly mss 1710 (NRA 20081); Enniskillen Chron. 12 May, 2 June, 20 Oct.; Strabane Morning Post, 24 May 1831.
  • 7. Broughton, Recollections, iv. 117.
  • 8. Ballyshannon Herald, 13, 20 Jan.; Newry Examiner, 18 Jan.; Enniskillen Chron. 26 Jan. 1832.
  • 9. NLI, Farnham mss 18611 (3), Lefroy to Farnham, 4 June 1832.
  • 10. Ballyshannon Herald, 6, 20 July 1832.
  • 11. Ibid. 12 Jan. 1849; Gent. Mag (1849), i. 204-5; Boylan, 44-45.