PLUNKETT, Arthur James, Lord Killeen (1791-1869).

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



22 Feb. 1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 29 Mar. 1791, at Geneva, o. surv. s. of Arthur James Plunkett, 8th earl of Fingall [I], and Frances, da. of John Donelan of Ballydonnellan, co. Galway. m. 11 Dec. 1817, Louisa Emilia, da. of Elias Corbally of Corbalton Hall, co. Meath, 6s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). styled Lord Killeen 1793-1836; suc. fa. as 9th earl of Fingall [I] and 2nd Bar. Fingall [UK] 30 July 1836; KP 21 Oct. 1846. d. 21 Apr. 1869.

Offices Held

PC [I] 31 Oct. 1834; ld. in waiting 1837-41.

Ld. lt. co. Meath 1849-d.


Killeen’s father, a leading Catholic in the campaign for emancipation, succeeded to his family’s Irish peerage and estates in 1793 and took an active part in suppressing the rebellion of 1798. Killeen joined Brooks’s, 19 May 1812, sponsored by Lord King. The following month, at a meeting of the Catholics of Ireland in Dublin, he proposed resolutions regretting the failure of the relief bill.1 A founding member of the Catholic Association, many of whose preliminary meetings he chaired, 1822-3, he took custody of its funds on its dissolution in March 1825, Daniel O’Connell* explaining that

the only legal disposal of the Catholic rent that can now be made is by vesting it in some one individual of such integrity and honour as to be a sufficient assurance of the faithful and delicate execution of the confidential character which such a donation naturally requires. It is perfectly plain that if Lord Killeen will accept this donation we shall have such an individual as we could desire.

In October O’Connell described him as ‘the proper person’ to ‘be applied to with respect to any disposal’ of the rent.2 He attended a Meath meeting to petition against alteration of the corn laws, 21 Apr., and chaired one to promote Catholic claims, 30 Aug.3 In November 1825 Lord Camden reported that it was ‘the decided wish of the more moderate party amongst the Catholics, Lord Killeen at their head, not to have the Catholic question agitated this year and before the probable dissolution’, for fear that ‘if the Catholics are violent, the Protestants will also be so and the next Parliament chosen, will be less friendly’, and that these feelings were known to Canning and Lord Harrowby and led to the cabinet’s decision.4 At the 1826 general election Killeen proposed the pro-Catholics Sir Marcus Somerville* in Meath and Richard Talbot* in county Dublin, where he appeared on a hustings for the first time.5 He attended meetings of the revived Catholic Association, but was critical of O’Connell’s plans for a mission to England to combat anti-Catholic prejudice at the end of 1827.6 He presided over the Meath Liberal Club, established on 1 Oct. 1828 to counter an Independent one got up by ‘Honest Jack’ Lawless, and congratulated Leinster on its ‘happy union of Protestants and Catholics’ at a meeting of the province’s ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’, 20 Oct. 1828.7 He chaired Meath meetings in support of Lord Anglesey following his recall as Irish viceroy, 19, 26 Jan., and attended one for the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’ at the Rotunda, Dublin, 20 Jan. 1829. James Naper reported to Lord Downshire, 5 Feb., that it was

clear from the conduct of Lord Killeen, Mr. [Thomas] Wyse* and others of the Catholics that they felt as we all do, how much harm to the cause the violent members of the Association do, and how impossible it is to control them unless the Protestants will come forward and give their weight to those Catholics who ... oppose the violence we so much lament.8

At an Association meeting on 23 Jan. Killeen offered his services to O’Connell, saying that he would ‘gladly attend him to London’, but at another held on 7 Mar. he questioned the ‘prudence’ of his proposal to petition against the disfranchisement of the Irish 40s. freeholders. He was a member of the committee established for the O’Connell testimonial, 25 Mar. 1829.9

In November 1829 he came forward for a vacancy in Meath, prompting the duke of Wellington, the premier, to comment that if he ‘would keep clear of radical Roman Catholic politics he would make a suitable Member’, and Peel, the home secretary, to ‘hope’ that Naper would offer and defeat him. Wellington advised the duke of Northumberland, the viceroy, not to support him, but he obtained Anglesey’s backing as a counter-weight to O’Connell, Charles Hare observing that his return might help to ‘detach the real gentry from among the Roman Catholics, from the upstart pretenders’.10 At the nomination Killeen declared that he was ‘unpledged to any party’ and would not support ministers unless convinced that their measures would benefit Ireland, and promised his support for reduced taxation and ‘assimilating the laws and institutions of both countries’. A rumoured opposition came to nothing and he was returned unopposed.11 He took his seat, 22 Mar., voted steadily for civil and military reductions from that month onwards, and divided for parliamentary reform, 28 May 1830. He presented petitions and divided for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, when he argued that it would ‘promote the principle of Christianity’. He was granted a week’s leave on account of family illness, 25 Apr. He seconded and voted for a motion for repeal of the Irish coal duties, 13 May. He presented petitions against the increased spirit duties, 24 May, the assimilation of Irish stamp duties, 21, 24 May, and tax increases, 15 June. He agreed that the Irish Vestry Act required amendment, 10 June, and, after expressing ‘some difficulty in knowing’ which measure to vote for, was in the minority of 17 for O’Connell’s repeal bill. He supported a petition against the compulsory attendance of British Protestant soldiers at Catholic services when overseas, as ‘no man ought to be called upon to do any act against his conscience’, 16 June. He voted against government changes to the libel law amendment bill, 9 July, and for the abolition of colonial slavery, 13 July. That month he applied through Lord Conyngham for ministerial support at the impending general election, which Wellington gave, commenting that ‘there is no reason to disturb the existing Members’.12

He stood as a ‘friend to parliamentary reform’ who had ‘endeavoured to pursue a course of strict independence’ and was returned unopposed.13 He welcomed the French revolution in a letter read to a Dublin meeting, 15 Sept. 1830.14 He voted for repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov., saying that it ought ‘not to have anything but a prospective operation on the contracts between landlords and tenants’, and presented multiple petitions in the same terms, 6 Dec. 1830, 28 Mar. 1831. He divided for reduction of the duty on Irish wheat imports, 12 Nov. 1830. He had been listed by ministers as one of the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’ and an ‘enemy’, but by Pierce Mahony† as one of the ‘neutrals’, and he voted against them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. That month O’Connell recommended that Irish petitions on education ‘should be presented by independent Irish Members’ such as Killeen, Wyse and More O’Ferrall.15 Killeen implored the Grey ministry to introduce a vestry bill ‘satisfactory to the country at large’, 9 Dec. On 14 Dec. 1830 he defended the Union, which was ‘calculated to promote the prosperity’ of both countries, and predicted that its repeal would be ‘made the touchstone of the support of most candidates’ at the next election, when he might ‘become the victim of this declaration’. On 8 Feb. 1831 the Meath landowner Lord Darnley advised Lord Holland against considering Killeen for the lord lieutenancy and recommended Lord Gormanston, who was

one of the first ... to sign the declaration against the repeal of the Union (which neither Fingall nor his son have signed to this day) ... [and] therefore no Jesuit, or indirect abettor of O’Connell, which is more than I would venture to assert of others. In a word, I think the appointment of Lord Killeen would only add to the blunders already made by government in that land of blunders.16

Darnley’s hostility was evidently not shared by ministers, for on learning of his death the following month the Irish secretary Smith Stanley informed Anglesey, the viceroy, that it had removed ‘a difficulty’ and he hoped ‘to give the lieutenancy to Killeen, who is the right man’.17 In the event, however, another candidate was appointed. Killeen presented Meath petitions for repeal of the Union, 16 Feb., when he urged the House to ‘turn their attention to such measures as will remove the various grievances under which Ireland suffers’, and 28 Mar. On 16 Feb. he presented petitions from the Protestants of Killashee, county Longford, for a general fast and from the brewers and distillers of Cork against the duties levied by the corporation. He regretted that O’Connell had not informed him of one from Navan, county Meath, for withholding public pensions, which he endorsed, 2 Mar. He called for a bill to enable the Irish to grow tobacco for their own use, 10 Mar., warned that distress had extended ‘all over Ireland’ and ‘amongst the labouring classes’ of Meath ‘to a very alarming extent’, 18 Mar., and presented a constituency petition for relief, 23 Mar. He voted for the second reading of the English reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the ensuing general election he again cited his support for reform and retrenchment and was returned at the head of the poll.18 His father was given a United Kingdom barony in June 1831. He presented a Meath petition for an increase of Irish Members, arguing that ‘their present number ... is by no means in proportion to the population of the country’, 27 June. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against the adjournment, 12 July, and gave generally steady support to its details. He presented a petition from Drogheda ship owners against the Irish steam marine bill, 1 July. He secured an account of firearms registered in Ireland, 5 July. He presented several petitions against the grant to the Kildare Place Society, 14 July, arguing that it was of ‘little or no benefit’ since the ‘people consider the terms on which it is bestowed’ to be ‘repugnant to their religious feelings’. As a trustee of Maynooth College, where he had spent some of his ‘earlier years’ as a student, 20 July, he demanded to know whether the petitioners of Portadown, county Armagh, objected to the continuance of its grant ‘on religious grounds alone’ or charged ‘the trustees with any misconduct or misapplication’ of its funds. He denied that the College exhibited any ‘indisposition’ to ‘permit the study of the Scriptures’ and claimed that it produced ‘men of exceedingly high character’ and priests ‘of the most liberal disposition’, 31 Aug. He divided against disqualification of the Dublin election committee, 29 July, and the issue of a writ, 8 Aug., and with ministers on the controversy, 23 Aug. He contended that ‘nothing less’ than total repeal of the Irish Subletting Act would ‘satisfy the people’, 5 Aug. He disliked the language of the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug., but voted for its printing nonetheless, explaining that although he had never heard of any misconduct in Meath, such a force was ‘not suited’ to Ireland. That month he was a spokesman for a deputation of Irish Members, including O’Connell, Sheil and Wyse, which, as Grey informed Anglesey, 16 Aug., threatened him with

opposing the government, if their views of the policy fit to be pursued in ... Ireland were not adopted. The measure they pressed most was that of regulating the yeomanry, with a view to its gradual reduction, admitting, at least several of them and amongst others Lord Killeen ... that an immediate suppression ... was not to be expected. This, however, certainly is not to be admitted by O’Connell who, before the meeting, pressed for the immediate suppression; but gave it up on Lord Killeen’s stating that he would not attend if this was insisted on ... With respect to their future conduct in Parliament I told them plainly that they might by going into opposition, very probably furnish the adversaries of the present government with the means of overturning it [and] that I should find much less difficulty in relinquishing than I had done in accepting my present office ... I thought it best to meet their threat.19

According to William Holmes*, the opposition whip, two days later Lord Althorp* and Smith Stanley met with the Irish Members and ‘submitted a plan for reorganizing the Irish yeomanry’, but ‘the radicals with Lord Killeen at their head, refused any measure short of a total disbanding’ and ‘they separated, all parties abusing the government’.20 Killeen denied acting ‘as the creature’ of O’Connell and argued that the ‘angry feelings’ excited by ‘arming a party force, animated by religious feelings, against the other parts of the country’ threatened the Union, 26 Aug. He presented and endorsed a Navan petition for abolition of the yeomanry, but advised that in some districts it would be necessary ‘to replace them with some other species of force’, 7 Sept. He was appointed to the select committee on civil government charges, 12 Aug. He welcomed the Irish lord lieutenants bill, 15, 20 Aug., and divided for legal provision for the Irish poor, 29 Aug. He presented and supported a Navan petition for the legalization of marriages performed by Catholic priests between Catholics and Protestants, 2 Sept. He was granted three weeks’ leave on account of family illness, 17 Sept., was absent from the division on the reform bill’s passage, 21 Sept., but was present to vote for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. At a county meeting, 28 Nov. 1831, he complained that he had just returned from one of ‘the most arduous sessions of Parliament that could be remembered’ in which ‘nothing’ had been done for Ireland, except ‘some improvement’ in education. O’Connell observed to Lord Duncannon* that he ‘said just what I do’.21

Killeen voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and for going into committee on it, 20 Feb. 1832, and again gave general support to its details. He divided for the third reading, 22 Mar., but was absent from the division on the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. He presented and endorsed petitions for an increase in the number of Irish Members, 31 Jan., 15 Mar., obtained returns of the ten largest unenfranchised Irish towns, 27 Feb., and presented a Catholic petition for provision for the peculiar franchise of Galway, 15 Mar. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to increase Scottish county representation, 1 June, but asked ‘why a measure equally efficient with that for England should not be passed for Ireland’, 8 June. He called for the ‘bad system’ of Irish voter registration to be assimilated with that of England, 4 July. He welcomed the ‘great convenience’ of having three or four polling places in large counties, 6 July, but predicted that the proposed method of describing voter qualifications would prove ‘exceedingly inconvenient’ in Ireland, where ‘many voters live in no street at all’, 9 July, and objected to Catholics being obliged to take an oath on registering, while Protestants were exempt, 18 July 1832.

He voted with ministers on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but was in the minority for printing the Woollen Grange petition for the abolition of Irish tithes, 16 Feb. 1832. Next day he warned that the proposed subletting bill would fail to ‘produce that satisfaction and concord in Ireland which is expected’. He voted against the Irish tithes bill, 8, 27, 30 Mar., 6 Apr., 13, 24 July, but denied that his opposition was ‘factious’, saying that it was activated by a wish to defeat a measure which would be ‘disastrous to the popularity of the present government in Ireland’, 13 Mar. According to Denis Le Marchant†, that month Sheil commented that his opposition to the ministry was ‘quite different from Lord Killeen, Sir Patrick Bellew and others who have received favours’, as ‘the government have no claim upon us’.22 Killeen presented a steady stream of petitions for the abolition of tithes over the ensuing months, arguing that the evidence they contained showed ‘how obnoxious this mode of paying the clergy is’, 15 May. He protested again against the bill, 9 Apr., asserted that ‘the mode in which the tithe committee was formed was unwise’, 29 June, and warned that the government, of which he was ‘in general a supporter’, was ‘pursuing a most erroneous system’ regarding tithes, which were ‘useless, unjust and oppressive’, 13 July. He argued against going into committee, 18 July, and condemned the dispersal of a ‘highly respectable’ anti-tithe meeting at Nobber, county Meath, by the magistrates, 20, 30 July. He presented a petition for the equalization of civil rights in Galway, 10 Apr. He condemned the remarks of James Gordon against the new plan of Irish education, 19 June, and presented a favourable petition from Rathfeigh and Skreen, county Meath, 30 July. He welcomed the Catholic marriages bill, 3 July. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July 1832.

At the 1832 dissolution Killeen retired from the Commons. He succeeded to the peerage in 1836 and sat in the Lords as a Liberal.23 In 1837 he was appointed a lord in waiting to Queen Victoria, who noted his attendance at her riding parties.24 In December 1838 he assured a sceptical O’Connell that Lord Melbourne, the premier, was ‘perfectly satisfied that no change of administration will take place during the ensuing session’.25 He was appointed lord lieutenant of Meath in 1849 and died of a ‘disease of the heart’ at 47 Montagu Square, Marylebone, in April 1869. The Times commented that he was ‘always regarded as one of the moderate party who adhered to Whig principles, and stood opposed to Ultramontane notions’. The family estates passed to his eldest son and successor in the peerage, Arthur James (1819-81).26

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. The Times, 24 June 1812.
  • 2. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 982, 1013; iii. 1186, 1189, 1251.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 21 Apr., 1 Sept. 1825.
  • 4. Cent. Kent. Stud. Camden mss U840 C202/11/12.
  • 5. Dublin Evening Post, 24, 29 June 1826.
  • 6. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1376, 1441, 1444.
  • 7. Dublin Evening Post, 4, 21 Oct. 1828.
  • 8. Ibid. 24, 31 Jan. 1829; PRO NI, Downshire mss D671/C/12/379.
  • 9. Dublin Evening Post, 24 Jan. 1829; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1533, 1549.
  • 10. Wellington mss WP1/1059/7,9,32; Add. 40308, f. 262; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/32/A/3/1/231, 239, 258, 272.
  • 11. Carlow Morning Post, 18 Feb., 1 Mar. 1830.
  • 12. Wellington mss WP1/1124/11; 1130/22.
  • 13. Dublin Evening Post, 3 Aug.; Westmeath Jnl. 26 Aug. 1830.
  • 14. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1626.
  • 15. Ibid. iv. 1733.
  • 16. Add. 51572.
  • 17. Anglesey mss 31D/37.
  • 18. Dublin Evening Post, 3, 17 May 1831.
  • 19. Anglesey mss 28A-B/71.
  • 20. Arbuthnot Corresp. 148.
  • 21. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1853.
  • 22. Three Diaries, 211.
  • 23. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1859), 36.
  • 24. Girlhood of Queen Victoria ed. Visct. Esher, ii. 120, 248.
  • 25. O’Connell Corresp. vi. 2574.
  • 26. The Times, 23, 24 Apr., 14 Aug. 1869.