Co. Wicklow


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

Background Information

Number of registered freeholders:

1,139 in 1829; 785 in 1830


9 Feb. 1821JAMES GRATTAN vice Parnell Hayes, deceased
22 July 1829RALPH HOWARD vice Proby, vacated his seat

Main Article

Wicklow was ‘mountainous and rugged’ in the centre with a ‘rich and fertile perimeter’, so that it resembled ‘a frieze cloak with a lace border’.1 There were several market towns, including the disfranchised boroughs of Blessington, Carysfort, Baltinglass and the port of Wicklow, the venue for county elections, and the post towns of Arklow, Bray, Carnew and Rathdrum. The representation continued to be dominated by a Whig grandee, the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam of Coollatin Park, who, as the largest proprietor, was noted for his ‘liberal measures’ and efforts to cultivate the ‘more improvable mountains’. Lesser interests were those of the 1st earl of Carysfort of Glenart Castle, whose younger son Granville Leveson Proby had sat with Fitzwilliam’s support since 1816, and the Howard family of Shelton Abbey, headed since 1818 by the 4th earl of Wicklow, a Tory representative peer from 1821. His uncle Hugh Howard was the father-in-law of Proby and Fitzwilliam’s nominee William Parnell Hayes of Avondale, who had sat with the backing of Carysfort since 1817.2

At the 1820 general election Proby and Parnell Hayes offered again, the latter having informed Fitzwilliam that he did ‘not foresee any opposition’ as one ‘Gun, who would have given some, has been obliged to go abroad on account of the embarrassment of his circumstances’. They were returned unopposed and continued to act with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry.3 In January 1821 Fitzwilliam initiated a requisition to the sheriff for a county meeting in support of Queen Caroline, but Carysfort warned that it would ‘answer no end beneficial to the public’ and it came to nothing.4 Parnell Hayes’s death that month created a vacancy, for which the Whig Commons leader George Tierney anticipated that William Frederick Tighe of Rossana, son of the former Member William Tighe would be brought in. On finding that ‘young Tighe was abroad’, however, Fitzwilliam fixed on James Grattan of Tinnehinch, elder son and successor of the recently dead Whig champion of Catholic relief Henry Grattan I*, to the ‘great disappointment’ and ‘soreness’ of Mrs. Tighe, who protested that William’s younger son Daniel’s ‘canvassing for his brother till he could appear himself would have removed all difficulty’.5 Carysfort welcomed Fitzwilliam’s choice and instructed Proby to ‘not lose a moment in declaring my support’.6 Grattan, who stood on his father’s principles, was returned unopposed.7 Both Members of course supported Catholic relief.

In August 1824 Lord Milton*, Fitzwilliam’s son, was warned that at the next general election another candidate would offer in opposition to the sitting Members, whom he pledged to support.8 Thanking Milton for his hope that there would be ‘no symptoms of trouble’ early in 1826, Proby explained:

I have been examining the registry, which I find totally neglected except by Lord Fitzwilliam and my father: the consequence you well know is that at the approaching election Lord Fitzwilliam may have as complete a command over the return as he has at Higham Ferrers, and I can truly say that the seat is not less agreeable to me because I owe it so much to his support.9

Shortly before the 1826 dissolution, however, it was reported that one Ogle Moore had been requested to come forward on the high Protestant interest by the junior minister George Dawson*.10 At the general election Proby was proposed by Hugh Howard’s son, his brother-in-law Ralph Howard of Bushy Park. Grattan, who defended his recent Irish poor law proposals and denounced Dawson as ‘a firebrand, traducing the memory of his father’, was proposed by William Wentworth Fitzwilliam Hume of Humewood. The Orangemen allegedly ‘threatened hard to do them mischief’, but in the event no other candidate came forward and they were returned unopposed.11

They continued to support Catholic relief, for which petitions reached the Commons, 13 Dec. 1826, 26 Feb. 1827, 6, 31 Mar., 8 May 1828, and the Lords, 9, 15 Mar., 3 May 1827. Hostile ones were presented to the Commons, 2 Mar. 1827, 29, 30 Apr., 6, 8 May 1828, and the Lords, 16 Mar., 8, 31 May 1827, 12, 16 May, 6 June 1828.12 That autumn meetings to form Brunswick Clubs were convened at Rathdrum by the Rev. Gunne, and at Newtown Mount Kennedy by Lord Rathdowne, but ‘no respectable gentlemen’ joined, prompting the Catholic press to demand, ‘What do the gentlemen who gravely tell us the county’ is ‘exclusively Orange, say to this?’13 The Members supported the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation, for which petitions were presented to the Commons, 10, 20, 24 Mar., 16 Apr., and the Lords, 12, 16, 17 Mar., 13 Apr. 1829. Hostile ones reached the Commons, 12, 18 Feb., 16, 27, 28 Mar., and the Lords, 19, 20, 23, 30 Mar.14 By the accompanying alteration of the franchise the registered electorate of 1829 was reduced from 1,139 to 785, of whom 393 qualified at the new minimum freehold value of £10, 113 at £20 and 279 at £50.15 That April Proby, whose insane bachelor brother John had succeeded their father as 2nd earl of Carysfort the previous year, arranged to retire in favour of Ralph Howard. Clarifying the agreement, 5 Apr., Milton explained that he was ‘perfectly willing’ to make a declaration in Howard’s favour at ‘the present time’, but that in future his eldest son William Charles ‘might wish to stand’, in which case ‘we could not consider ourselves bound to continue our support to Mr. Howard, as we can never desert Grattan’, adding:

I had rather it was not further divulged ... all over the county that William is to stand, which would obviously be very undesirable, and, indeed, very untrue, for though I may foresee the contingency, I am very far from looking on it as a certainty.16

Proby vacated on 19 June 1829 and next month Howard was returned unopposed.17 It was later reported to Lord Holland that Proby had agreed to support Fitzwilliam’s nominee ‘on future occasions’, which if ‘Carysfort should ever get well’ might ‘create an awkwardness ... because he probably would not think himself bound by his brother’s agreement ... but this difficulty is not likely to occur’.18

At the 1830 general election Grattan offered again, citing his efforts to ameliorate the condition of the Irish poor and support for tax reductions. Howard, who had acted with opposition but said he would vote for ministers ‘when their measures entitled them to his support’, also stood. Rumours of a contest came to nothing and they were returned unopposed.19 In the House, 9, 19 Nov. 1830, Grattan dismissed Daniel O’Connell’s claims that 800 tenants were to be evicted from the Fitzwilliam estates by his Wicklow agent Robert Chaloner*, explaining that the notices were required under the terms of the Irish Subletting Act. On 14 Jan. 1831 Chaloner warned Milton:

You have not a tenant who ... if left to himself, would give Grattan a vote and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to induce them to return him if a third candidate were to offer, which at present appears to be certain in the person of Mr. Green of McKennedy ... If it were generally known that Grattan were a locum tenens for your son it would do something, but I fear not enough. If you were to fix upon someone in the county you could hardly insure the seat for William when old enough to hold it. The person most fit to represent the county is Daniel Tighe ... but then you would have to wait for an opportunity to offer William; pray think this over and let me know.

Two days later Chaloner added:

I guess, indeed I almost know, your opinion on the subject of the Union, in which as a general principle I concur, but ... rely upon it, there is not common honesty and common sense sufficient amongst that class of people from which two Houses of Parliament must be formed, to conduct the affairs of the country. Let me pray of you not to let your opinions upon the repeal be known. To England it would not be of much consequence, but to Ireland in its present state it must be perdition. The petition got up by Howard has been sent here; it is very short and tolerably mild. I shall endeavour to get it well signed ... I send a list of all the notices served.20

A petition from the landowners and magistrates against repeal of the Union and its ‘pernicious agitation’ reached the Lords, 4 Mar., and the Commons, where it was endorsed by Howard, 24 Mar. One from Bray in favour was presented to the Commons, 28 Mar.21 A petition for the abolition of Irish tithes was presented to the Lords, 7 Mar., and the Commons, 16 Mar.22 One for Irish education reform reached the Commons, 28 Mar.23 Both Members voted for the Grey ministry’s reform bill. At the 1831 general election they stood as reformers. Howard’s ‘dear cousin’, Lord Wicklow, allegedly ‘did his best to turn him out, but could not succeed’, and shortly before the nomination Chaloner advised Milton that there would be ‘no contest’ and ‘therefore no use in canvassing’ the other ‘question at present’.24 Grattan and Howard were returned unopposed.25 A petition from Bray for repeal of the Union reached the Lords, 24 June 1831.26 The appointment of Wicklow as the county’s first lord lieutenant later that year was condemned by O’Connell, who asserted that he was ‘actively’ trying to ‘organize the return of two Tories’ and urged the whip Lord Duncannon* to strike him off, 4 Dec. 1831.27 Petitions for the abolition of tithes were presented to the Commons, 16 Feb., 12 July, 6 Aug., and the Lords, 19 July 1832.28

By the Irish Reform Act 149 leaseholders (123 registered at £10, 24 at £20, and two at £50) and 20 rent-chargers (16 at £20 and four at £50) were added to the freeholders, who had increased in number to 1,397 (1,013 registered at £10, 153 at £20, and 231 at £50), giving a reformed constituency of 1,566.29 At the 1832 general election Grattan and Howard successfully stood as Liberals against two Conservatives in a contest in which 1,384 polled. They were undisturbed in 1835 and survived another Conservative challenge in 1837, but at the 1841 general election Grattan was defeated.

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. G. Wright, Guide to Co. Wicklow (1827), p. vii.
  • 2. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 716-18; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 702-4.
  • 3. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F49/56; Dublin Evening Post, 7 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Fitzwilliam mss 104/4.
  • 5. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 10, 13 Jan. 1821.
  • 6. Fitzwilliam mss, Carysfort to Fitzwilliam, 12 Jan. 1821.
  • 7. Dublin Evening Post, 20 Jan., 13 Feb. 1821.
  • 8. Fitzwilliam mss 731, p. 78.
  • 9. Ibid. Proby to Milton [Jan. 1826].
  • 10. Dublin Evening Post, 22 June 1826.
  • 11. Ibid. 6, 20, 22 June; Wexford Evening Post, 20, 23 June 1826.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxii. 116, 231, 253, 254, 256; lxxxiii. 139, 216, 282, 287, 319, 332; LJ, lix. 150, 161, 168, 267, 282, 369; lx. 426, 455, 513.
  • 13. Dublin Evening Post, 13 Nov. 1828.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxiv. 24, 49, 121, 154, 165, 177, 237; LJ, lxi. 181, 196, 213, 214, 224, 233, 237, 252, 313, 394.
  • 15. PP (1830), xxix. 474.
  • 16. Fitzwilliam mss, Milton to Proby, 5 Apr. 1829.
  • 17. Dublin Evening Post, 9, 16, 21, 25 July 1829.
  • 18. Add. 51534, Grenville to Holland, 8 Sept. 1829.
  • 19. Dublin Evening Post, 12 July, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 20. Fitzwilliam mss.
  • 21. LJ, lxiii. 294; CJ, lxxxvi. 428, 451.
  • 22. LJ, lxiii. 298; CJ, lxxxvi. 384.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxvi. 451.
  • 24. Hants RO, Carnarvon mss 75M91/L3, H. Howard to Lady Porchester, 12 May; Fitzwilliam mss, Chaloner to Milton, 7 May 1831.
  • 25. Dublin Evening Post, 12 May 1831.
  • 26. LJ, lxiii. 748.
  • 27. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1853.
  • 28. CJ, lxxxvii. 114, 483, 557; LJ, lxiv. 393.
  • 29. PP (1833), xxvii. 310.