O'HARA, James (1796-1838), of West Lodge, co. Galway

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

Constituency

Dates

1826 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 1796, s. of James O’Hara, recorder of Galway, of Lenaboy, co. Galway and Margaret, da. of Richard Moore. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1811; King’s Inns 1815, called [I] 1819. m. 15 Apr. 1823, Anne, da. of Hon. and Most Rev. Power Le Poer Trench, abp. of Tuam, 2s. 4da. suc. fa. 1838. d. 23 Dec. 1838.

Offices Held

Recorder, Galway 1819-26, 1831-d.; sheriff, co. Galway 1835-6.

Commr. of bankrupts [I], fisheries [I] 1829.

Biography

O’Hara’s family came originally from county Sligo, so he may have been distantly related to Charles O’Hara*, its representative for nearly 40 years. His grandfather, another James, married the daughter of Robert Shaw (perhaps the former Galway Member of that name) in 1744 and from that time onwards the family occupied a prominent place in the offices of the corporation. An O’Hara held the position of town clerk from 1757 until at least the 1830s, and this Member’s father (b. 1748), who graduated at Trinity, Dublin in 1768 and was called to the Irish bar in 1771, was its recorder, 1772-3, and again from 1774.1 Following in his father’s footsteps, O’Hara was elected recorder in 1819 and at the general election of 1820, when he acted as assessor, he apparently threatened with imprisonment any Catholic tradesmen who presented themselves to vote against the Tory patron James Daly’s* nominee.2 In 1823 he received plaudits for opposing the establishment of an Orange lodge and suppressing partisan disturbances.3 That year he married the granddaughter of the 1st earl of Clancarty; her father and uncle, the 2nd earl, were prominent among the Protestant Tories in county Galway.

At the general election of 1826, when a contest was expected between Daly’s nominee and a candidate to be put up by the powerful independent interest, O’Hara emerged as a last minute compromise, his unexceptionable character and good legal stewardship making him acceptable to all parties. He staked his claim to being unattached, distancing himself from the dominant interest by promising to open the corporation, and defeated an ostensible challenger in a fierce contest; it was soon suspected, however, that his loyalties secretly lay with Daly, who had been anxious to neutralize a potential challenge to his authority in the borough in order to safeguard his county seat.4 A petition against him was not pursued. O’Hara was the assessor in the violent county contest that year and gave evidence to the subsequent election committee, 23 Mar. 1827, when he denied that he or the other officials had shown any partiality to Richard Martin (who was unseated).5 He signed the requisitions for meetings of the pro-Catholic Protestants of the county and town of Galway in the autumn of 1826, when he apparently handed the recordership back to his father, and at the borough gathering (on 15 Sept.) he moved the resolution in favour of Catholic claims.6 He brought up the ensuing town petition, 2 Mar., and voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827.7 He was granted six weeks’ leave on account of his wife’s illness, 10 Apr., and returned early from Parliament to be with her.8 That winter he was active in promoting improvements in the town and took the opportunity to underline his independent and pro-Catholic principles, though during the following one he had to defend himself against criticisms of having failed to make progress on the development of the port or to alter the composition of the corporation.9 He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828, and signed the Irish Protestant declaration in favour of the Catholics that autumn.10 He voted for emancipation, 6 Mar., and, after returning to Galway, paired for it, 30 Mar. 1829.11

Although he had been attacked for being too close to Daly and declining to contribute to the national subscription to Daniel O’Connell* that year, he was warmly applauded for supporting the legislative campaign for enfranchising the borough’s Catholic tradesmen at a meeting in Galway, 30 Aug., and for stating that he would honour his election pledges at another, 25 Oct. 1829.12 He chaired other gatherings on the subject of the Galway franchise bill, 10 Jan., 11, 12 Apr. 1830, although when this was raised in the Commons, he confined himself to saying, in what amounted to almost his only known speech, 4 Mar., that ‘I think the great object we should have in view is the promotion of peace and happiness by the union of all classes in society; and I shall be ready to vote for any measure calculated to promote that union’.13 O’Hara, who divided against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., brought up petitions to extend the franchise at Galway, 10 Mar., 26 Apr. He was reported to have voted against O’Connell’s bill to alter the Irish vestry laws, 27 Apr., but was listed in the minority for repeal of the Irish coal duties, 13 May. Having attended a meeting of the Irish Members who were opposed to the increased Irish spirit and stamp duties, he presented other petitions from his constituents against them, 11, 17 May 1830.14

Having secured the passage of the Galway docks bill, if not of the franchise measure (which was defeated in the Lords), he offered again on the basis of his record at the general election of 1830, when he denied the allegations of his opponent, the former Member Valentine Blake†, that he was a creature of the corporation and declared in favour of limited parliamentary reform.15 After ugly scenes on the hustings, where he denied that he would resort to polling non-resident freemen, he led throughout the contest, and even received a modest endorsement from O’Connell. He promised to maintain an independent line, but plumped for Daly in the county contest.16 Listed by Pierce Mahony† as ‘pro-government’ in his analysis of the Irish results and by ministers among their ‘friends’, he was credited with voting in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov.; conflicting newspaper reports had it that he intended to side with opposition, but had been shut out.17 On 6 Dec. 1830 he raised no objection to extending the period in which recognizances could be entered into for the petition against his return, the proceedings on which he survived the following year. He signed the requisition for the county Galway reform meeting in January and voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.18

It was initially believed that he would persist at the ensuing general election, or, if not, that his kinsman John, the town clerk, would offer in his place. However, boasting that the independence of the town had been secured, he gratefully retired back into private life, leaving the seat free for an advanced reformer.19 He probably resumed the recordership later that year and thereafter played little part in politics, although he proposed Daly’s Conservative son Denis for the borough at the general election of 1837.20 Only narrowly surviving his father, whose death occurred on 22 Nov. 1838, he died a month later, when he was remembered for his disinterested attitude to politics. He was succeeded in his estates, including Lenaboy, by his elder son James (1832-1903), an army officer, while the recordership passed to his cousin William O’Hara of Nile Lodge.21

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. Burke Irish LG (1904), 458; J. Hardiman, Hist. Galway (1820), 230.
  • 2. CJ, lxxxii. 95; lxxxvi. 115.
  • 3. Galway Weekly Advertiser, 11 Jan., 28 June 1823.
  • 4. Connaught Jnl. 29 May, 12, 15, 19, 22 June; Dublin Evening Post, 27, 29 June, 11 July 1826.
  • 5. PP (1826-7), iv. 962-5.
  • 6. Connaught Jnl. 17 Aug., 11, 18 Sept. 1826; Galway Weekly Advertiser, 17 July 1830.
  • 7. The Times, 3 Mar. 1827.
  • 8. Connaught Jnl. 23 Apr. 1827.
  • 9. Ibid. 1, 12, 22, 26 Nov. 1827, 15, 29 Dec. 1828, 5, 15 Jan. 1829.
  • 10. Dublin Evening Mail, 8 Oct. 1828.
  • 11. Connaught Jnl. 30 Mar. 1829.
  • 12. Ibid. 26 Feb., 5 Mar., 25 June, 17, 31 Aug., 26 Oct. 1829.
  • 13. Ibid. 7, 11, 14 Jan., 12, 15 Apr. 1830.
  • 14. Ibid. 10 May; Freeman’s Jnl. 15 June 1830.
  • 15. Connaught Jnl. 31 May, 14, 21, 28 June, 5, 8, 19, 26 July; Galway Weekly Advertiser, 17 July 1830.
  • 16. Connaught Jnl. 2, 5, 9, 12, 16, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 17. Ibid. 25 Nov., 13, 16 Dec. 1830.
  • 18. Ibid. 20 Jan. 1831.
  • 19. Ibid. 25, 28 Apr., 2, 9 May 1831.
  • 20. PP (1835), xxvii. 521; Galway Weekly Advertiser, 5 Aug. 1837.
  • 21. Galway Patriot, 28 Nov. 1838, 2, 9 Jan. 1839.

Go To Section