KAVANAGH, Thomas (1767-1837), of Borris House, co. Carlow

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



6 Apr. 1826 - 1831
1835 - 20 Jan. 1837

Family and Education

b. 10 Mar. 1767, 4th s. of Thomas Kavanagh (d. 1790) of Borris and Lady Susanna Butler, da. of Walter Butler, de jure 16th earl of Ormonde [I]. m. (1) 24 Mar. 1799, his cos. Lady Elizabeth Butler (d. 14 Dec. 1823), da. of John Butler, MP [I], 17th earl of Ormonde [I], 1s. d.v.p. 9da.; (2) 28 Feb. 1825, Lady Harriet Margaret Le Poer Trench, da. of Richard Le Poer Trench†, 2nd earl of Clancarty [I], 3s. 1da. suc. bro. Walter Kavanagh 1813. d. 20 Jan. 1837.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1797-9.


Kavanagh, Member of the Irish House of Commons for Kilkenny, 1797-9, was a direct descendant of the ancient Catholic kings of Leinster, whose head was known as ‘The MacMorrough’ or ‘monarch’ in county Carlow. At an ‘early period in his life’ he entered the Austrian service, in which his uncle Field Marshal O’Kavanagh, governor of Prague, had been a ‘highly distinguished’ officer, and ‘served throughout the war’. Following the death of his last surviving elder brother in 1813 Kavanagh, an ‘unostentatious Christian’ who had evidently conformed to the established church, succeeded to the family’s ‘extensive’ estates in the counties of Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford and so became ‘one of the largest landed proprietors in Ireland’.1 A resident landlord, he was considered ‘charitable and benevolent’ even by his political opponents.2 In April 1826 he was returned unopposed on a vacancy for county Carlow, but owing to a ‘severe illness’ was not present to witness the rescue ‘from death’ of his ‘personal representative’ in the ensuing riot. He was too unwell to attend the general election two months later, when he came in unopposed with the sitting Member, his son-in-law Henry Bruen.3

Kavanagh, a lax attender, voted in the protectionist minority against the corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827. He presented a county Carlow petition for Catholic relief, 5 May, and divided thus, 12 May 1828. He denied that his constituents were ‘hostile to the Catholic claims’ and presented a Carlow petition in support of the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, 9 Mar. 1829, but was absent from the divisions on the issue that month, having been predicted to vote ‘with government’ by the patronage secretary Planta. He presented constituency petitions against the Subletting and Vestry Acts, 9 Mar. 1829, and the assimilation of Irish and English newspaper stamp duties, 29 May, 23 June 1830. He was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 10 Mar., but was present to vote against reducing the grant for South African missions, 7 June. (His physician was highly recommended to the duke of Wellington by Lady Ormond that month.)4 He presented petitions against increased taxation, 15 June, and the Irish spirit and stamp duties, 30 June 1830. At the 1830 general election he offered again for Carlow, where an opposition was started by the Catholic freeholders against the Members who ‘do not represent them and who only now and then appear in Parliament to vote for ministers’. After a short contest he was returned in second place.5 He was listed by the Wellington ministry as one of their ‘friends’, but was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, and from those on the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing dissolution Kavanagh, allegedly rather ‘than risk the peace of the county’, resigned, citing ‘continued ill health’.6

At the 1832 general election he stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative for county Carlow. He was returned in 1835, but the result was challenged on petition and subject to a lengthy inquiry, during which he reminded the new premier, Sir Robert Peel, ‘not to suffer to pass unnoticed and unremedied the outrageous practices of the Irish priests’, as ‘the result of future Irish elections will much materially depend on this being done’.7 The original result being overturned he was defeated in the ensuing contest, but seated on petition later that year. Kavanagh died at Borris in January 1837. It was said of him that ‘descended from a line of princes, he was princely in thought, word, and deed’. His funeral, 7 Feb. 1837, was reportedly attended by 10,000 mourners.8 His estates and the ‘MacMorrough’ title passed through his two eldest sons (both of whom had died unmarried in their early twenties) to his third son Arthur (1831-89), Conservative Member for county Wexford, 1866-8, and county Carlow, 1868-80.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1837), i. 318; Burke’s Irish Fam. Recs. (1976), 651-2.
  • 2. Carlow Morning Post, 2 May 1831.
  • 3. Westmeath Jnl. 13, 20 Apr., 8, 22 June; Wexford Evening Post, 23 June 1826.
  • 4. Wellington mss WP1/1119/2.
  • 5. Fitzwilliam mss, Rochfort to Milton, 7 June; Kilkenny Moderator, 11 Aug. 1830.
  • 6. Carlow Morning Post, 28 Apr. 1831.
  • 7. Add. 40417, f. 35.
  • 8. Gent. Mag. (1837), i. 318