Co. Cavan was representative of the smaller counties that had a few major interests; in 1785 these were considered to be Lord Farnham, Lord Bellomont, the Bishop of Kilmore, Mr Stewart and Mr Montgomery, son-in-law to the late Nathaniel Clements (0414); there were a number of minor interests who, if they joined together, could upset the plans of the major interests, particularly if these were in conflict with each other. Foremost among these were the Saundersons. Robert Saunderson, who represented the county in 1692, appears to have been unpopular with his peers. He was allegedly expelled for refusing to sign the Association for the protection of William III but, as he was a supporter of William III, it appears probable that other considerations were operating, and he reappeared in 1713. Among the minor interests at this time the Saundersons were linked to the Clements; Stephen Ludlow (1281) wrote, on 14 August 1703, to Lord Coningsby about the suspicion of Jacobitism that was levelled at Clements, remarking that he could not see how anyone who held his estates under the Act of Settlement might be considered a Jacobite. This perhaps reflects the infighting between the minor interests: it probably stemmed from Clements refusing Coningsby's nephew Butler his interest as he was already engaged to Saunderson.80 Sir Francis Hamilton had sat in the parliament of Charles II and was therefore one of the very few MPs with previous parliamentary experience. But, although he was a reasonably substantial landowner - his income in 1713 was estimated at £1,000 p.a. - he did not leave a legitimate heir and was dead before the 1715 election.
Early in the century the Butlers, Lords Newtown-Butler and Earls of Lanesborough, had a considerable influence, but as early as 30 September 1727 Lord Newtown-Butler (1728 Viscount Lanesborough) wrote to Charles Delafaye (0611), Secretary to the Lord Justices, that his interest had lately been violently opposed in Co. Cavan.81 Although he managed to get his son returned, he was now faced with conisderable opposition from the Cootes and the Maxwells, particularly the latter, who appear to have been determined, with mixed success, to dominate the county. In 1727 Charles Coote and John Maxwell were returned. Lord Lanesborough died on 6 March 1735/6 and his son was created Earl of Lanesborough in 1756. Charles Coote died on 19 October 1750, and Lord Lanesborough's son and heir Brinsley Butler was returned. John Maxwell was elevated to the peerage as Lord Farnham in 1756. At the ensuing by-election his son Barry Maxwell (1372), later 1st Earl of Farnham, was returned. This election was disputed by William Stewart and the poll lasted over a fortnight before, on 19 June 1756, John Ponsonby could write to his brother-in-law the Duke of Devonshire that 'Maxwell has won by twenty-one apparently unquestionable votes, but on 1 July Ponsonby revised the figure to five!'
In 1761 the balance of interests in the county began to clarify. At the end of polling on 19 May 1761 the poll for Co. Cavan stood as follows: Lord Newtown-Butler (0313) 506, Hon. Barry Maxwell 467, Charles Coote 466, George Montgomery 436. It was then urged that the Sheriff, Sir Archibald Acheson, who conducted the election, should declare Butler and Maxwell duly elected. Acheson said he was of the opinion that his power did not expire with the return of the writ, and that he would continue to take the suffrage of each freeholder that should offer himself. As a result, the poll did not close until 23 May, when it stood as follows: Lord Newtown-Butler 612, Charles Coote 600, George Montgomery 549, Hon. Barry Maxwell 477.82 Maxwell had obviously tried to rush the poll by getting his voters out early.
Coote succeeded as 5th Baron Coloony in 1766 and 18 months later Earl of Bellomont. He was a difficult and often disagreeable man, while 'In this county the pride of the Maxwells the quality by which that family is most distinguished has often been laid low from the time Lord Bellomont, then Mr Coote, defeated the hopes of the present Earl of Farnham.' This election obviously rankled for many years, if not for the lifetime of the participants,83 and it allowed various other interests, in particular Montgomery, Stewart and Saunderson, to succeed at subsequent elections. Stewart was returned on the elevation of Coote to the peerage, and took his seat in April 1766.84 Another unsettling factor was that Lord Bellomont's legitimate heir did not live to maturity.
At the 1768 election Barry Maxwell and George Montgomery were returned. The votes were: Hon. Barry Maxwell 926, George Montgomery 739, Mervyn Pratt 689, Col. Thomas Newburgh 451.85 Pratt petitioned against the return of Montgomery on the usual grounds of bribery, corruption and undue influence and on 13 August 1768 Lord Lanesborough wrote to Sir Archibald Acheson, who had presided over the 1761 election, that:
Montgomery ceased polling last Tuesday noon. Pratt on Thursday reduced his great majority to 53, on which a most violent riot began by persons armed with swords,86 bricks 'batts' and other offensive weapons; they attempted to destroy the books but did not succeed. The next day Maxwell and Montgomery were returned Maxwell and Pratt insisted the Sheriff should continue with the poll as Pratt had another 110 unquestionable votes to produce, which was the cause of the riot.
Montgomery's father-in-law, Nathaniel Clements, told Lord Lieutenant Townshend on 10 December 1769 that this election petition was viewed as a trial of strength between the government and Speaker Ponsonby's party.87 However, the premature prorogation of parliament on 28 December 1769 prevented the determination of the petition, and subsequently George Montgomery remained undisturbed until his death in 1787.
The 1776 general election was quiet, but in 1779 Barry Maxwell succeeded his brother as 3rd Baron Farnham and by 1785 had also achieved the viscountcy and earldom that his brother had enjoyed. In 1780 his son was elected in his place, according to one parliamentary commentator 'by a concurrance of accidents but at the subsequent general election Mr George Montgomery and Mr Stewart were chosen to represent the county and though the young lord petitioned against both, the petition against the former gentleman was speedily withdrawn, as being unsupported by the slightest foundation and Mr Stewart was fixed in his seat with a majority of near 150 voices.'88 The 1783 election, in the aftermath of the American war, was one of the most turbulent of the century and 'Mr Montgomery and Mr Stewart were elected on popular grounds.' Montgomery died in 1787 and in the ensuing by-election there was another contest between the Maxwells and popular lesser gentry. Lord Farnham endeavoured to return his nephew, John Maxwell, the son of his brother, the Bishop of Meath, only to be defeated by Francis Saunderson on petition. Following this defeat, 'when every nerve was strained to the utmost', it was thought that they would be cautious in the 1790 general election, 'for the business would be very expensive, particularly to them and with all their contemptuous haughtiness, they have a most tender regard to pecuniary considerations.'
In 1790 the sitting members, Charles Stewart and Francis Saunderson, were returned, but Stewart died in February 1793 and Lord Farnham secured the return of his son and heir, Lord Maxwell. Lord Maxwell was again returned in 1797, which was a quiet election in view of the increasing unrest in the country. Maxwell voted against the Union, but in October 1800 Lord Farnham died aged 77. Although the Irish parliament had met for the last time on 2 August, a by-election was necessary to determine the second MP for the county in the parliament of the United Kingdom. Nathaniel Sneyd, previously MP for the now disfranchised Carrick, was returned and duly took his seat for Co. Cavan at Westminster.89 Sneyd was a prominent wine-merchant and known for his claret throughout Ireland. His connection with the county was through his first wife Alicia, the daughter of the popular MP George Montgomery (1438) and Sneyd sat in the popular interest.
Co. Cavan had two boroughs: Belturbet and Cavan. Both became 'close' early in the century, and both had distinctive characteristics. Belturbet was twice sold by the same family - the Butlers, Earls of Lanesborough - while Cavan was the subject of a written agreement between two families, which held until they shared the compensation for it at the Union.