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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:



2,399 (1821);1 6,116 (1831)


11 Feb. 1828HON. ARTHUR HENRY COLE vice Magenis, vacated his seat

Main Article

Enniskillen, the county town of Fermanagh, was located on an island in a narrow section of Lough Erne, ‘Ireland’s Windermere’, and extended into suburbs on the eastern and western banks, which lay in the parishes of Enniskillen and Rossory respectively. With prosperous trades in timber, coal, slates and linens, in 1834 Henry David Inglis thought it ‘one of the most respectable-looking towns I had seen in Ireland’, and two years later Robert Graham of Redgorton observed that the ‘population of the town is about 7,000, about one third Protestant, and it seems a busy and thriving place’.2 The Enniskillen Chronicle was rivalled after 1825 by the similarly Tory Impartial Reporter, and they were joined in 1830 by the Ultra Enniskillener or Fermanagh Constitution, but politically the town, as distinct from the county in which it lay, was largely quiet during this period.3

This was mainly owing to the dominance of the Coles, earls of Enniskillen, of nearby Florence Court, who had held property there since the plantation of the early seventeenth century.4 They controlled the exclusively Protestant corporation, which comprised a provost (who also acted as returning officer) and 14 other free burgesses, who were effectively the sole electors. Although the vote was technically in the commonalty, the one or two dozen freemen, whose number was made up by infrequent admissions and who were usually non-resident, played no role in borough affairs.5 They were, therefore, excluded from the franchise and the Coles, several of whom sat on the corporation, were able to nominate the Members. The Tory and Orangeman 2nd earl, who inherited the title and estates in 1803, when the family’s traditional Fermanagh seat passed from him to his brother Galbraith Lowry Cole* of Marlbank, at first returned government seat-warmers, being short of money. However, from 1812 he returned his largely inactive brother-in-law, Richard Magenis of Chanter Hill, as a supporter of Lord Liverpool’s administration.6 He was returned unopposed for Enniskillen at the general elections of 1820, when the return was signed by the provost and eight burgesses, and 1826.7

Anti-Catholic addresses to the king were agreed in 1821 and 1823, and a hostile petition was presented to the Commons, probably by Archdall, the county Member, 22 Apr. 1823.8 Catholic rent was raised in the town in late 1824, but the local priest, Father Shiel, did much to assuage sectarian ill feeling.9 An anti-Catholic petition from the parish was brought up in the Commons, 2 Mar., and in the Lords, 6 Mar. 1827, apparently by Archdall and Enniskillen.10 The substitution for Magenis of Enniskillen’s brother Arthur Cole, who had recently returned from civil office in India, in February 1828 did not change the character of the representation as the new Member, another Tory, likewise voted conscientiously against Catholic relief.11 However, the Catholics’ petitions were presented to the Commons by Lord Mount Charles, Member for Donegal, 6 May 1828, 17 Mar. 1829, and the Lords by Lord Plunket, a native of the town, 20 Mar. 1829. The Protestants, who formed themselves into a Brunswick Club under Enniskillen’s presidency on 7 Nov. 1828, had their petitions against emancipation brought up in the Commons, 4 Mar., and the Lords, 23 Mar. 1829, apparently again by Archdall and Enniskillen.12 In January 1829 a town meeting approved plans to implement the general provisions for lighting and watching, but nothing came of this.13 Anti-slavery petitions from the Wesleyan Methodists were presented to the Commons, 29 Mar., and the Lords, 18 Apr. 1831.14

Cole, who was returned unopposed at the general election of 1830, was an opponent of parliamentary reform, like his brother Enniskillen. The latter was the unlikely recipient of praise as a benevolent landlord in April 1831, when Daniel O’Connell* commented that although he should be deprived of his borough, he should nevertheless be allowed to retain his due influence. As expected, Cole was not challenged at the general election the following month, but Enniskillen, knowing that the reform bill would ‘probably deprive me of my borough’, succeeded in regaining the family seat for Fermanagh, in compensation for this future loss, by putting up his eldest son Lord Cole.15 In July 1831 a resentful Lord Belmore of Castle Coole wrote to his eldest son Lord Corry, who had had to vacate his Fermanagh seat, that

the borough of Enniskillen will now be opened, and although Lord Enniskillen will always maintain a strong interest therein, it will not be by any means irresistible ... Castle Coole is contiguous to Enniskillen, and all the property around the town belongs to me. Besides the fee alone of the property belongs to the landlords: the tenants for the most part are more dependent on us for the land they hold. On this I recommend you to keep a steady eye.16

No reform petitions were apparently forthcoming from the borough, one of those which Dominick Browne, Member for Mayo, unsuccessfully proposed to disfranchise in order to make seats available elsewhere in Ireland, 9 July 1832.

According to the boundary commissioners, who recommended that the limits of the constituency be confined to the town and suburbs only, there was a population of 6,796 in 1831, and it was calculated that the 278 occupied £10 houses, five £10 leaseholders and three reserved rights voters (burgesses) would produce an electorate of 286.17 There were, in fact, 212 registered electors at the general election of 1832, when Arthur Cole, emphasizing the ‘intimate connection and good feeling’ between his family and the borough, was again returned unopposed.18 Despite expectations to the contrary, Enniskillen, a member of the corporation, like Magenis, Arthur Cole, Lord Cole and several of the family’s professional connections, continued to exercise the principal interest in it and he was heavily criticized, including for intimidation, in the Irish municipal corporations report.19 Yet his family maintained an almost unbroken run of Conservative Members until the third Reform Act, Arthur Cole being succeeded by his nephews Henry Arthur, 1844-51, and John Lowry, 1859-68, while the 2nd earl’s grandson, another Lord Cole, held the seat from 1880 to 1885.

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. The anomalous 1821 figure may refer only to the population of the island.
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xliii. 73; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 605-7; H. D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, ii. 150-3; Scottish Whig in Ireland ed. H. Heaney, 287.
  • 3. W.C. Trimble, Hist. Enniskillen, iii. 1020-3; P. Livingstone, Fermanagh Story, 520-2.
  • 4. Lord Belmore, Parl. Mems. of Fermanagh, 2, 3; Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 238.
  • 5. PP (1824), xxi. 684; (1829), xxii. 266; (1830), xxxi. 330; (1831), xvi. 211; (1831-2), xxxvi. 628; (1836), xxiv. 63-67, 69, 85-87.
  • 6. Oldfield, Key (1820), 325; Key to Both Houses (1832), 325-6; HP Commons, 1790-1820, i. 103; ii. 654, 655; iii. 484.
  • 7. PP (1824), xxi. 684.
  • 8. Trimble, iii. 999-1003; CJ, lxxviii. 238; The Times, 23 Apr. 1823.
  • 9. Livingstone, 396-8.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxii. 256; LJ, lix. 135; The Times, 3, 7 Mar. 1827.
  • 11. Enniskillen Chron. 7, 14 Feb. 1828.
  • 12. Ibid. 13 Nov. 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 319; lxxxiv. 103, 145; LJ, lxi. 240, 251.
  • 13. Enniskillen Chron. 1, 22 Jan. 1829; PP (1836), xxiv. 69.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxvi. 456; LJ, lxiii. 445.
  • 15. Impartial Reporter, 14 Apr., 5 May; Enniskillen Chron. 12, 19 May 1831.
  • 16. PRO NI, Belmore mss D3007/H/7/21; 14/21.
  • 17. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 73-75.
  • 18. Enniskillen Chron. 13 Sept., 20 Dec. 1832.
  • 19. PP (1836), xxiv. 73-75, 85-87; P.J. Jupp, British and Irish Elections, 1784-1831, pp. 180-2.