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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen and 40s. freeholders

Number of voters:

about 1,400-1,800 in 1784 reduced to 865 in 1831


(1821): 23,250


2 Mar. 1801 RICHARD ARCHDALL vice Talbot, vacated his seat 
4 Feb. 1809 ROBERT WILLIAMS III vice Butler, vacated his seat 
 William Colles6
27 May 1814 HON. CHARLES HARWARD BUTLER vice Blunden, vacated his seat 

Main Article

By the late 18th century the earls of Ormonde and the Cuffe family (later ennobled as earls of Desart) had come to dominate the returns for this predominantly Catholic city, a major centre of woollen manufacture. Their interests were based upon their general standing in the county and their particular influence within the corporation which, through its capacity to create freemen, resident and non-resident, easily overcame the freeholders in effectively making the return. From 1784 the vast majority of voters were non-resident freemen, and some years later (1814) Lord Desart urged the chief secretary to examine closely a proposed bill which advocated the disfranchisement of non-resident freemen, ‘for the sake of Kilkenny’ and ‘half the boroughs in Ireland’.1 Desart’s remark reflected the fact that although the Kilkenny electorate had declined over the previous 20 years, the freemen still outnumbered the freeholders.

As the Union disfranchised one of the city’s seats, the two families came to an arrangement by which they shared the return. Talbot had been elected by ballot in 1801, and after he had decided to retire from Parliament the nomination fell to the 1st Earl of Desart, who arranged for the return of Archdall, a nominee of the government. It would appear, however, that the price of the seat was paid to James Wemys, the Member who had lost the seat by ballot in 1801 and who had presumably bought his return to the Irish house of commons at the election in 1797.2 Ormonde nominated the Member in 1802, and in 1806 it was confidently expected at the Castle that the return would revert to the 2nd Earl of Desart.3 Whether it did or did not is unclear as Ormonde’s brother was re-elected then and again in 1807. A possible explanation is that the 2nd Earl of Desart had, on his succession in August 1804, made an arrangement with Ormonde for the alternate return on a five-year basis. This would suggest that Ormonde nominated the Member in 1806 and 1807 and would explain the return of a government nominee by Desart in 1809.

In 1812 Lord Liverpool hoped that Desart would return another Englishman nominated by the government. Ormonde insisted, however, that Desart’s period of nomination should expire, as arranged, in 1814, thus making the seat an unattractive purchase. Moreover Peel, the chief secretary, had word of a growing opposition in Kilkenny to Ormonde and Desart influence, particularly when it led to the return of complete strangers to the city. He therefore advised the prime minister that a local person should be returned. In due course Desart selected his brother-in-law, Overington Blunden, whose family had some interest there. As was the case with several other Irish freeman-freeholder boroughs at the election of 1812, this did not forestall an opposition to established interests. Thus on nomination day, 23 Oct., Blunden was proposed on behalf of Desart, but was opposed by William Colles of Millmount, an independent candidate favourable to Catholic relief. Colles was ‘returned’ by acclamation but Blunden demanded a poll and Colles retired in the face of the overwhelming strength of Desart’s freemen.4

Some electors were plainly dissatisfied with Kilkenny’s electoral situation. Butler replaced Blunden without a contest in 1814, but in 1818 one Nowlan offered himself on the independent interest. On that occasion there was no poll, but two years later an anti-Desart candidate managed to attract 47 votes, 39 being those of freeholders.5

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Belfast News Letter, 13-16 Jan. 1784; Add. 40216, f. 248.
  • 2. Dublin SPO 518/108/1, Desart to Marsden, 6, 14 Aug. 1801; Add. 35713, f. 135.
  • 3. Spencer mss, Irish list, May 1806.
  • 4. Add. 40181, ff. 11, 19; 40216, ff. 15, 27; 40280, ff. 51, 54, 57, 59, 60; Dublin Corresp. 24, 26 Oct. 1812.
  • 5. Dublin Corresp. 17 June 1818, 15 Mar. 1820.