Athboy was an ancient borough by prescription with a charter dated 1410, 9 Henry IV. There were further charters of 9 Henry VII and 8 James I all confirming the liberties and privileges of the corporate or free borough. The corporation was to consist of a provost, 12 free burgesses and commonalty of the town of Athboy, which was to comprise the rest of the inhabitants within one mile around the town. Athboy was to have the same privileges as Kells. It sent two MPs to the 1613 parliament - the earliest for which there are any authentic records. The privilege of electing two MPs was confined to the corporation. In 1695 (or letters patent of 1693) William III erected Athboy into a manor for the Bligh family; it was on this that they founded their right of excluding under-tenants from voting in parliamentary elections, which was a key element in the 1783 controverted election.
Throughout the century Athboy belonged to the Bligh family and originally Trim did also, for Thomas Bligh (0174) who died in 1710, was said to be its patron. Previously 'This ancient Borough for many years submitted to the absolute sway of the Plunket family but the prevailing interests of Protestantism here also were, at last, totally victorious and at the Revolution, or soon after, Mr Bligh (0174), a gentleman who had acquired opulence by the service of Cromwell, seemed to possess the ascendancy in this Corporation but Mr Robert Johnson (1101 (1703-5), 1102 (1705-13)) and the Parkinson family, disputed his ascendancy and were, in their turns, victorious and sometimes represented it.'304 In 1713 the Bligh family acquired considerable property near Athboy and gained control of the borough, and in 1713 John Bligh (0172) was returned for it. Bligh sat until 1721, when he was created Lord Clifden (Earl of Darnley, 1725).
'In 1721 Richard Ash[e] (0058) was returned in opposition to the Darnley family. However, the Bligh (now Darnley) family again, by superior property, prevailed and so continued for thirty years, when Sir Benjamin Chapman (0388), claiming from his relation to Johnson, etc. opposed them in 1768 without success. In 1776 his brother (0389) succeeded and after the last election, two brothers of this family petitioned, but failed of success. So stands the fortune of this Corporation at present.' The petition was heard on 21 November 1783, when William and Thomas Chapman petitioned against the return of Hugh Howard (1042) and Thomas Cherburgh Bligh (0176). The election and its results appears to have been confused. At first there were 16 votes for the sitting members and 25 for the petitioners, but the returning officer, Francis Hopkins, Lord Darnley's agent (seneschal of the manor) excluded 20 of the petitioners' votes and only 5 of the sitting members' - which he subsequently admitted - making the final result 16 for the sitting members and 5 for the petitioners. The House of Commons committee resolved that:
- the freeholders at large of the borough and Manor of Athboy were entitled to vote for members to serve in parliament for the said borough of Athboy;
- they would determine the votes of the petitioners as they appeared in the poll book.
They then decided that the sitting members were duly elected.
Most of the evidence was colourful, but that given by Thomas Patterson provides an interesting example of a fictitious qualification:
Mr Francis Hopkinson [Lord Darnley's agent] sent for the witness and gave him the lease; the name of the lands was Mullaghstones; he got no possession of the lands, and had no part of them at that time; the lands were worth more than 40s yearly; he gave him the lease to serve Lord Darnley.305
In 1783 the town was said to have 1,500 inhabitants and to be 'a Manor town, the property of Lord Darnley. The tenants of the Manor only have votes and the Darnley family always appoint the Returning Officer'; the 1790 commentator stated that 'From the wealth and animosity of both parties new contests are expected. The public have nothing else to hope for from these feuds, except this, that such dissensions may completely open the Borough to merit. A consummation devoutly to be wished for.' He was to be disappointed. The borough was disfranchised at the Union and the £15,000 compensation was paid to the trustees of the will of John, Earl of Darnley, to be applied upon the trusts of that will.