Cashel was a medieval foundation said to have been established in the year 1216 by Donat, Archbishop of Cashel, and incorporated under his successor, Marianus O'Brien, in 1233. It had various subsequent charters before it emerged in its modern form by a 1585 charter of 26 Eliz. I and a 1638 charter of Charles I. The latter states that Cashel was anciently a free borough and archepiscopal see, and ordains that 'The City of Cashel' be incorporated by the name of 'the mayor, Aldermen, Bailiffs, citizens of the City of Cashel'. This was confirmed and certain regulations added by a further charter of 1640, 15 Chas I, and it is under this charter that the corporation operated. It consisted of a mayor, not more than 17 aldermen, of two bailiffs and an unrestricted commonalty.
In 1783 it was stated that Cashel town and corporation comprised a 'Mayor, 17 Aldermen, 70 or 80 Freemen, partly non-resident. 2,000 inhabitants, 200 Protestants. Patron, Richard Pennefather (1655). An ancient city. Under the immediate control of the Patron.'362 Exactly how and when the Pennefathers gained control of the corporation is unknown. In the first part of the century there was a conflict between various families mainly represented in the Corporation; of these the most prominent were the Pennefathers and the Buckworths.363 At least one of the Pennefather family represented the borough from 1703 until after the Union. The by-election following the death of Matthew Pennefather (1653) in 1733 was contested by Stephen Moore. Richard Pennefather was returned, and Moore petitioned against the return. A fairly full report of the evidence before the committee was entered in theCommons jn. Ire.364
Matthew Pennefather's death had been expected, and the Moores and the archbishop, Theophilus Bolton (1730-44), both began to take an interest in the corporation. It was said that on 29 June 1727 30 freemen were admitted, but to what extent the formalities were observed is uncertain, as at that time there was no council room and it was the custom of the corporation to assemble in some public house in the town, do their corporate business and then dine together. On this occasion the names of the freemen were taken down before they dined, but 'No entry of freemen was made then for they minded nothing after dinner but drinking.' The archbishop was free of the corporation and a council man; and on one occasion he ordained 18-20 young men and they were admitted freemen. Apart from the nature and operation of the corporation, there was the question of how many freemen were married to Roman Catholics and therefore ineligible to vote. Also, the Mayor was entitled to make two freemen on his appointment and two on leaving office. The committee on hearing the evidence decided in favour of the petitioner, Richard Pennefather. The Pennefathers probably consolidated their interest in Cashel during the long parliament of George II, but certainly by the reign of George III. In 1790:
This place, whose constitution is by charter free, as the electors consist of the Freeholders, Burgesses, and an indefinite number of Freemen, is however the complete private property of Richard Pennefather, Esq. whose power is boundless in the creation of Burgesses and Freemen and they always decide the fate of the election. It is never exposed to sale, but two of the Pennefather family constantly represent it. Sometimes with integrity and honour and sometimes with a full measure of courtly complaisance. This mode of having themselves elected is an excellent scheme for the establishment of dominion as it seems to colour the electors with the attachment of friendship, the submissive obedience of real vassals.365
Cashel survived the Union, returning one MP to the United parliament. It was a valuable possession and remained under the influence of the Pennefathers. Its most distinguished MP in the post-Union period was the young Robert Peel.366