Co. Galway


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 13,000 in 1815


4 June 1804 HON. RICHARD TRENCH (Visct. Dunlo) re-elected after appointment to office 
8 June 1805 DENIS BOWES DALY vice Dunlo, become a peer of Ireland1505
 Giles Eyre462
10 May 1806 DALY re-elected after appointment to office 
17 Dec. 1806DENIS BOWES DALY3305
 Giles Eyre1770
10 Nov. 1812JAMES DALY5673
 Giles Eyre2575
25 July 1818JAMES DALY5293
 Denis Bowes Daly2766

Main Article

Galway, despite its extent, was one of the poorest and most thinly populated counties in Ireland. With its ‘barbarous manners’ it was ‘the dominion of Castle Rackrent’, where ‘neither law, arts, sciences or free trade penetrated’. According to a calculation made in 1799, one-fifth of the landed property was owned by Catholics and there is no doubt that Catholics predominated in the rapidly expanding electorate, yet in this period the religious question was largely obscured by the fact that nearly all candidates at parliamentary elections averred their support for Catholic relief. Thus Peel was correct in his comment in 1818 that religious animosity was not the root of the ‘terrible dissensions’ within Galway politics; the real cause lay with the candidates themselves. Of these the most spectacular was Richard Martin, whose Galway property contained 70 miles of sea coast and formed the largest territorial estate in the British Isles. His landed interest was said to be ‘commanding’; his weight with the ‘popular’ Roman Catholic interest substantial; himself unpredictable, garrulous and given to fits of violence. Of the other major interests, the most important belonged to Lord Clanricarde (de Burgh), Lord Clancarty (Trench), Giles Eyre (described as ‘weak even on the Turf, uneducated totally, prodigal and profligate’), and the Daly cousins, James of Dalystown and Bowes of Dunsandle, divided in politics, united as patrons of Galway town and determined to dominate county elections. Finally, there was a host of secondary interests to complicate the schemes and tax the resources of the magnates.1

The sitting Members at the Union were Richard Trench (styled Viscount Dunlo from 11 Feb. 1803, when his father became Earl of Clancarty) and Martin, who had been elected in the place of Joseph Henry Blake (Lord Wallscourt) in the summer of 1800. Both were Unionists and at the general election in 1802 were threatened with opposition from Sir John Hardiman Bourke, a country gentleman from St. Clerans and a professed anti-Unionist. Although Bourke evidently succeeded in obtaining the interests of Lords Clanricarde, Sligo, Wallscourt and Ashtown, he did not attempt to poll his strength. Trench therefore informed the Castle on 15 July: ‘Martin and I shall be returned without opposition, unless Mr High Sheriff shall trump up an opponent in order to touch certain sums for booths, agents etc. etc., of which he is fully capable, but as this goes only to our purse, and not to your politics, you are unconcerned in it’.2

The by-election of 1804 was uncontested, but that of 1805 produced as candidates Bowes Daly, an ardent Whig ‘devoted to the Catholic interest’, and, after Charles Blake had resigned in his favour, the supposedly disreputable Giles Eyre, ‘possessed for life of an immense estate, perhaps £12,000 per annum’, associated with the ‘high protestant party’ and a potential supporter of government. The Castle naturally hoped that Martin would support Eyre and after protracted negotiations had good reason to suppose that he would. At the last moment, however, Bowes Daly successfully persuaded the Prince of Wales to influence Martin in his favour. As Martin’s votes were regarded as ‘preponderating’ at that particular moment in the life of the electoral register, Eyre promptly abandoned the poll.3

A year later Martin, Bowes Daly and Eyre joined battle again. Martin opened his campaign from the hustings on 20 Nov. by suggesting that neutral assessors declare the winners from a study of the registration books and so preclude an unnecessary and, from Martin’s point of view, embarrassingly expensive contest. He then went on to declare that he had formed a coalition with Bowes Daly for the single purpose of securing Catholic relief. Eyre’s reaction was not to bow down to what were presented to him as unbeatable odds: instead he stated that he did not care about expense and would pursue a contest for as long as he liked. There ensued a long and expensive struggle, in which the sheriff deliberately kept the poll open beyond the limits laid down by royal proclamation, in order to secure Martin’s return and Eyre’s defeat. In fact the election did not terminate until two days after Parliament had reassembled, an event which stung the government into considering means of placing statutory limits on the duration of Irish elections.4 In 1807 this three-cornered contest was repeated in the form of a canvass, but not taken to a poll. As Martin and Bowes Daly supported Catholic relief, the Castle supported Eyre and strove to secure other interests for him, in particular the increasingly important votes of James Daly. In this, however, they were unsuccessful and Eyre declined another expensive poll.5

After 1807 there was feverish registration of freeholders in anticipation of the next election, and by 1812 the electorate had probably doubled. This activity undoubtedly worked to the advantage of James Daly and the Marquess of Sligo. By accident, however, Martin left the registration of his 2,300 freeholders until the last moment and then found they had been registered too late to vote at the election in October 1812. He therefore had no real confidence in his prospects, especially as, in addition to Bowes Daly, three other candidates emerged: James Daly, Giles Eyre and James D’Arcy, a protestant member of an established family of local Catholic gentry. The Castle’s position was clear enough: they supported James Daly and preferred Martin to Bowes Daly, though admittedly not with any great enthusiasm in view of his less than respectable character. For his part, Martin subsequently did little to improve his reputation in official circles. He began his campaign by calling upon Bowes Daly to make public the terms of their coalition at the previous election and to submit them to arbitration to determine whether they obliged either one or other of them to withdraw on this occasion. Bowes Daly refused and Martin evidently challenged either Bowes or his cousin James to retire or fight a duel with him. Bowes Daly later brought an action against Martin on these grounds. Having failed with this stratagem, Martin then tried to persuade D’Arcy and Eyre to peruse the registration books with the object of having the two weakest candidates retire and give their support to the strongest, who, to Martin’s mind, was himself. D’Arcy at first assented and then disagreed. Martin’s prospects were now dim. He had been disappointed elsewhere by lack of support from three key civil servants and by the sudden defection of Sir Thomas Burke, who was alleged to have said: ‘It is true when Martin asked my support I told him I should be the most inconsistent man in the world if I did not as twice before support him—but I have a right to be inconsistent if I choose it’. Martin therefore withdrew and gave his interest to Eyre in a speech which castigated Bowes Daly’s Whig politics on the Catholic question and was no doubt intended to impress the Castle and the popular Catholic interest in Galway at one and the same time. He then retired to bed. D’Arcy declined a poll on 21 Oct., and nearly three weeks later Eyre found himself once again bottom of the poll.6

Despite the disappointments of 1812 Martin was determined to recapture his seat in 1818. He began his canvass in that year with ‘an extraordinary letter’ to the Prince Regent requesting his support at the forthcoming election. The Regent’s secretary answered ‘by disclaiming on the part of the Regent any interference in any election’ but did inquire of a Castle official how government stood with respect to Galway politics. The official replied ‘that it was not the intention of the Irish government to support such a man as Martin, that I knew how revolting it was to the feelings of the gentlemen of that county to be represented by him’. The official proved to be wrong in one respect at least, for Peel saw the Castle’s chief objects as the return of James Daly and the unseating of his cousin Bowes, even if this meant the unreliable Martin taking his place. He therefore attempted to persuade James Daly, Lord Clancarty and Eyre to give their second votes to Martin, a policy that evidently met with only limited success because of the dislike that all three men shared for him. The most they promised was to preserve a strict neutrality. Elsewhere Peel’s influence was somewhat more successful and certainly instrumental in securing Martin the support of Michael Burke, a distant relation of Lord Clanricarde, and through him the interest of Lord Riverston, thought to be in the order of 400 votes. The sitting Members and Martin therefore proceeded to a poll in the following array: James Daly with ‘not one interest ... undecided in my favour except Martin’s’; Bowes Daly, with the support of the most active sections of the Catholic movement because of his longstanding Whig and Catholic sympathies; and Martin, supported by a few of the secondary interests and at least not opposed by the leading ones. Nevertheless Martin eventually pushed Bowes Daly into third place, a testimony to his perseverance and personal tenant strength, if not to his popularity. Nothing came of a bid to unseat Martin by petition.7

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Sidmouth mss, bp. of Clonfert to Sidmouth, 6 Sept. 1805; G. C. Bolton, The Passing of the Irish Act of Union, 144-6; Add. 38195, f. 91; Wakefield, Account of Ireland, i. 259-60; ii. 305.
  • 2. Drogheda News Letter, 20-24 July 1802; Dublin SPO 520/131/7; Add. 35735, f. 226.
  • 3. Add. 31229, ff. 173, 223, 253, 257; 35739, f. 299; 35759, f. 94; 40222, f. 406; Sidmouth mss, loc. cit.
  • 4. Dublin Corresp. 24 Nov.; NLS mss 12918, Fremantle to Elliot, 21 Dec. 1806.
  • 5. Drogheda News Letter, 30 May; Wellington mss, Clancarty to Wellesley, 9, 11 May, Wellesley to Westmeath, 16 May 1807.
  • 6. Dublin Corresp. 16, 21 Oct.; The Times, 17 Nov. 1812; Add. 40217, f. 397; 40222, ff. 139, 232, 250, 406.
  • 7. Add. 40205, f. 259; 40210, f. 320; 40278, ff. 256, 258; 40279, ff. 37, 89, 120; 40291, f. 108a; 40295, ff. 133, 135; Dublin Corresp. 27 July 1818; CJ, lxxiv. 61, 86, 180, 187.