Co. Westmeath


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 3,000 in 1815


16 July 1802WILLIAM SMYTH 
15 Nov. 1806WILLIAM SMYTH 
27 Feb. 1808 HON. HERCULES ROBERT PAKENHAM vice Smyth vacated his seat 
 Robert Stearne Tighe285
 Robert Morgan Tighe81

Main Article

The leading interests were those of George Rochfort, 2nd Earl of Belvidere, who was childless and who had been represented since 1798 by his kinsman Gustavus Hume Rochfort; and of George Frederick Nugent, 7th Earl of Westmeath, represented since 1783 by William Smyth. But the Marquess of Buckingham, who had intermarried with the Nugents; the Earl of Longford, whose interest had until recently been dormant; the Tighes of Mitchelstown; the Chapmans of Killua; William Handcock*, patron of Athlone, and Lord Granard, all wished to have their say in the representation. In a predominantly Catholic county, the question of Catholic relief emerged as a basis for alignment and contest, though only one contest proceeded to a poll in this period.

No opposition was offered to the sitting Members in 1802. In the spring of 1806 the Grenville ministry were informed: ‘Mr Handcock and Lord Delvin may perhaps be candidates at the general election, but the present Members are likely to remain’.1 At the dissolution, the ministry made no difficulty about supporting Rochfort and Smyth who professed friendship for them, but were embarrassed by Delvin’s candidature. As Westmeath’s heir, and with the apparent encouragement of the Marquess of Buckingham, he would normally have stood a fair chance, especially as he claimed to have government countenance. He did not, however, inform the Castle of his intentions until it was too late for them to retract, and having ‘mismanaged his game’ he declined a poll, finding the other two too strong for him. His promise of ‘constant attendance’ if elected may have reflected on Smyth’s poor record in this respect. It is clear that Delvin expected the support of the Catholic interest.2

In 1807 Robert Stearne Tighe of Mitchelstown was the pro-Catholic candidate but, like Delvin, he declined a poll. In February 1808 Smyth retired from Parliament in favour of Lord Longford’s brother, Hercules Pakenham. The Catholic party had endeavoured to delay Smyth’s retirement to boost their prospects at the by-election, but it came on before they could organize. The Marquess of Buckingham had been prepared to back Tighe as the candidate of the independent and Catholic interest, but Tighe did not come forward, and when Delvin did so his tactics were at once more questionable. He did not consult the marquess, who therefore assumed that he must be standing ‘on government politics’. He failed in a bid to secure William Handcock’s support by resigning the colonelcy of the county militia in his favour, and likewise in a bid for Granard’s support, which was pledged to Pakenham in exchange for previous support in county Longford and reserved for the future in case Granard’s second son offered for Westmeath when of age. The Marquess of Buckingham was thus disappointed of ‘a sharp contest against government’ and Delvin declined without a poll.3

In 1812 Delvin again canvassed, but declined on finding that he must pledge himself to Catholic relief to win votes. Robert Stearne Tighe, who had no such scruples, replaced him and, faced with a coalition of the sitting Members, put up his son with himself. Described in Rochfort’s camp as being set up ‘on the Catholic interest’ with ‘political principles ... little less extraordinary than Sir Francis Burdett’s’ and ‘very fond of making speeches’, Tighe was alleged by his opponents to be backed ‘by all the violent and ignorant Catholics, who would vote for anybody to turn out the present Members’. He counted on Delvin’s support, as well as that of Sir Thomas Chapman of Killua and of other gentlemen who had been pledged to Delvin. The Castle, on Rochfort’s appeal, endeavoured to frustrate this transfer of interest, assuring Delvin’s father, who wished to see him out of mischief with a revenue board place, that they did not regard Delvin as a culprit, but as an unwitting tool of the ‘Burdettite’ opposition. The viceroy hoped that such a ‘shocking fellow’ as Tighe would not succeed. Tighe and his son were easily defeated at the polls.4

Tighe again canvassed in 1818, but declined a poll on finding his prospects slender.5 The combined interest of the protestant magnates had proved too strong for him.

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. NLS mss 12925, Irish list, 1806.
  • 2. HMC Fortescue, viii. 385, 415, 435, 440; Add. 51661, Bedford to Holland, 2 Sept.; Fortescue mss, Grenville to Elliot, 15 Oct., Magan to Grenville, 24 Oct.; Dublin Evening Post, 1 Nov. 1806.
  • 3. HMC Fortescue, ix. 175; Fortescue mss, Moira to Grenville, 1 Feb., Granard to Moira, 8 Feb.; Fremantle mss, box 47, Buckingham to Fremantle [3 Feb.]; Wellington mss, Wellesley to Richmond, 10 Feb., to Trail, 11 Feb.; Dublin Corresp. 2 Mar. 1808.
  • 4. Add. 40185, ff. 47, 53; 40219, ff. 1, 3, 5, 6, 8; 40222, f. 149; 40237, f. 15; 40280, ff. 63, 64; NLI, Richmond mss 74/1857.
  • 5. Dublin Corresp. 22 June 1818.