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County Carlow

Eighteen MPs were returned for Co. Carlow between 1692 and 1800. The dominant interests were the Burtons, the Bagenals and the Butlers, who were returned at 16 out of 30 elections. Four members of the Burton family were returned.

Early in the century the returns were more varied. Colonel John Tench, who was afterwards Sovereign of Carlow town, was returned in 1692 and Sir Thomas Burdett in 1704. Burdett had been unsuccessful in 1703, and petitioned against the return. However, the petition lapsed, as Sir Thomas Butler died in February 1704 and Burdett was returned in his place. At the 1713 election he lost to Sir Pierce Butler; the other successful candidate was Jeffrey Paul, but the parliament lasted such a short time that any effective action was lost. However, Burdett came in in 1715 along with Francis Harrison, who was Benjamin Burton's partner in Burton's Bank. Harrison died in 1725, and the by-election created by his death was contested by Jeffrey Paul and Walter Bagenal, 'a convert of two months', who had the support of the protestant tenants of the Catholic landlords. The poll lasted five days and, although Bagenal polled 200 against Paul's 194, it was decided on scrutiny that Paul had a majority of 29. The by-election proved expensive, as Paul's expenses were estimated at £1,275.68 Bagenal petitioned unsuccessfully against the return. At the general election of 1727 Paul was again returned, along with Robert Burton. Paul died in February 1730 and Sir Richard Butler was returned at the ensuing by-election; for the next 30 years a Burton or Butler represented the county.

Carlow was an inland county described as 'rich in soil, high in cultivation and inhabited by many persons of considerable property', although the fact that its population was largely Catholic restricted the number of electors and 'Some of the great landed proprietors are much more anxious for an increase of their rentals than for an augmentation of electors.' It had been electorally tranquil since 1730 but this was soon to end, as in 1761, although not yet of age, Beauchamp Bagenal entered the political scene.69 He had inherited at the age of four an estate which in 1760 was valued at £6,000-£7,000 p.a. Bagenal was returned for Enniscorthy. He belonged to an old Co. Carlow family and was eccentric almost to the point of being unbalanced; his wealth ensured his independence while encouraging his exotic behaviour. He was a noted duellist with a penchant for fighting duels in graveyards, where he could steady himself against the gravestones. By 1768 he had fought the Butlers and frightened the Burtons into submission to his dominance. He was duly returned at the 1768 election along with William Henry Burton, a brother-in-law of Speaker Ponsonby (1702). Bagenal and Burton played a dominant role in county politics for the remainder of the century. In 1776 Bagenal did not come in, and William Bunbury replaced him. The voting was: W. H. Burton 417, William Bunbury 351, William Paul Warren 246. Warren unsuccessfully petitioned on the grounds of intimidation and illegal polling. However, Bunbury died in April 1778 and Bagenal was returned in his place. Bagenal then increased his interest by his Volunteering enthusiasm.

He did not come in to the next or subsequent parliaments, but retained his political interest. In 1783 he engineered the return of of Richard Butler, 'a weak young man and returned him against Mr Rochfort, Mr Foster's (0805) brother-in-law'. The voting was: W. H. Burton 508, Sir Richard Butler 351, John Rochfort 337. Interestingly Rochfort received 107 single or 'plumped' votes.70 Bagenal then used his influence to make 'the Members take tests and had them included [sic] against the Propositions which they opposed'. Not surprisingly, the 1785 Parliamentary List considered him 'a wild ungovernable man'.71

In 1790 it was declared that 'A vigorous contest is generally expected in this County, though but one seat for it seems disputed, Mr Burton being universally allowed to be perfectly secure of his re-election. Sir Richard Butler, the other Member, will not readily relinquish a prize, which he has once obtained with credit, to which he thinks that he has not by misconduct forfeited his right, and on which he deems himself to have claims from an old established family interest and a kind of ancestorial occupancy.' Nevertheless, there was an upset, as 'Colonel Bruen has, however, been invited by some spirited and independent gentlemen to oppose these claims and to offer himself a candidate for the County. The invitation being honourable, it was instantly complied with and if an amiable private character and the exercise of benevolent and even patriotic affections, with the possession of a great fortune, can ensure him success, he has reason to cherish its strongest hopes. He will be supported by the interest of Mr Bagenal a commanding one indeed but his best support with intelligent electors is a proper recollection of his parliamentary conduct, which has been as honourable to the clearness of his head as to the integrity of his heart.'72 Bruen was duly elected but died in December 1795; at the ensuing by-election Butler once again ensured his return.

Carlow was a largely Catholic county, and when the franchise was restored to otherwise qualified Catholic voters in 1793 its consequences were reflected in the 1797 election, although it did not change the Burton/Butler dominance. The numbers polled were reported as: W. H. Burton 1,072, Sir Richard Butler 1,069, Philip Newtown 936, Walter Kavanagh 922. By this time Beauchamp Bagenal had largely dissipated his large inheritance and, writing shortly after the Union, Wakefield declared that the largest estates in the county belonged to Mr Kavanagh of Borris (1127), Mr Bruen (0268) and Mr La Touche (1204), whose property of £7,000 p.a. had been largely purchased from the Bagenals.73 William Henry Burton and John Staunton Rochfort (1804) also possessed considerable estates. La Touche and Walter Bagenal were returned to the united parliament in 1802, though by this time the Bagenal interest was largely remembered prestige.74

Co. Carlow had two parliamentary boroughs: Carlow town and Old Leighlin.

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