Co. Clare was a complex mixture of old and new as well as major and minor interests. The traditional interest in Co. Clare was that of the O'Brien family, an ancient family whose head was originally the Earl of Clare. After the Revolution the lands of Daniel O'Brien, Earl of Clare, were confiscated, parts of them being eventually purchased by some of the newer interests such as the Burtons and the Westbys. Thus, at the time of the Revolution the O'Briens' position was ambivalent from the point of view of both religion and loyalty to the new regime. The O'Briens were a large clan, and after the Revolution their head was successively Earl of Inchiquin and Marquess of Thomond. These variations were reflected in the numerous branches of the family, in particular the O'Briens of Drumoland and the O'Briens of Ennistymon. Another ancient Clare family, closely connected and intermarried with the O'Briens, was the MacDonnells of Killkee. The scattered nature of Irish landholding ensured a degree of absenteeism, for example the Westbys lived mainly on their estate at High Park, Co. Wicklow and by the end of the century the Burtons had become Conynghams and lived at Slane in Co. Meath.
At the 1692 election Sir Joseph Williamson, a leading English politician-administrator, was returned along with Sir Donough O'Brien.96 The politics of Counties Limerick and Clare often overlapped, and Sir Joseph sat for Limerick city in the 1695 parliament. But his career was in England; he was in Ireland only for the first part of the 1690s. His Clare-Limerick connection may have been through the Ingoldsbys. The Ingoldsbys were a prominent Cromwellian family who remained and put down their roots in Limerick and the West. Sir Henry Ingoldsby was returned for Co. Clare in 1695 and his son, General Sir Richard Ingoldsby (1067), was MP fior Limerick city 1703-12 and a Lord Justice from 1709 until his death in 1712, when he was accorded a state funeral. They were prominent Tories. Sir Richard's son, Henry (1066) was married to a daughter of the Lord Chancellor (1710-14), Sir Constantine Phipps, and was MP for Limerick city from 1713 until his death in 1731 when he left two co-heiresses, Catherine and Frances. Catherine married James Lennox Napper (1512). She died in 1742 and left a son who died unmarried in 1771. Frances had an eventful life before being abducted by Hugh Fitzjohn Massy,97 a nephew of Dean Massy who was a powerful figure in Co. Limerick politics and not averse to interfering in Co. Clare. Frances Ingoldsby Massy's inheritance passed to her husband. She died in 1755 leaving a daughter and a son and heir, Hugh Ingoldsby Massy. The Ingoldsby interest was therefore merged with that of the Massys.
The Burtons were newcomers. They became interlinked with the O'Briens through Benjamin (0292), the banker, and his older brother Francis (0296) purchasing land in Counties Carlow and Clare from Lord Thomond. In 1709 Sir Donough O'Brien wrote to Lord Thomond that 'Since the noyse has been spread of a Parliament being called on Lord Wharton's coming over, Mr Burton who has hitherto sat for Ennis, now says he will put in for the Co. Clare and turn out Sir Donat's [Donough's] son who was elected unopposed, neither he nor his father soliciting for it.'98 Sir Donough hopes that Lord Thomond will contradict a report of his support being given to Mr Burton. However, Sir Donough and his son Lucius were both returned in 1713 but, in 1715, possibly because of the delicate political situation - Lucius had marrried Queen Anne's cousin, Catherine Keightley, in 1701 - two less aligned Co. Clare figures, Brigadier Francis Gore and John Ivers, were returned. Lucius O'Brien died in 1716/7 and his father Sir Donough the following November. Sir Donough was succeeded by his grandson, Sir Edward O'Brien, a minor. He was returned for Co. Clare in 1727, but in 1729 Lord Grandison was warned that 'It's a pity Sir Edward O'Brien is so extravagant. Had his disposition been other wise, he would have been a fine match for a young lady.' Francis Burton was returned along with Sir Edward in 1727. Francis Burton's son and namesake had, in 1720,married Mary, daughter of Henry Conyngham (0463) and niece of William Conolly. Their son, Francis Pierpoint Burton Conyngham, inherited through his mother the Conyngham name and by special remainder the barony - she was the only sister of the childless 1st Earl of Conyngham. In 1750 Francis Pierpoint Burton Conyngham married the eldest daughter of Nathaniel Clements. These land purchases and alliances built up an almost unassailable position for the Burton-Conynghams which they held for the rest of the century.
Francis Gore was elected and stood unsuccessfully in 1725, when it was thought by some that he had 'the best estate of any private gentleman in the county' and that furthermore, he had 'unquestionably a strong natural interest' - his grandfather (0863) had represented the county and his father (0868) sat for Ennis. The by-election99 that followed the death of Francis Burton on 20 March 1744/5 was colourful:
The Sheriff of this county having appointed Monday 28th October for the election continued the poll till the Wednesday night following in the evening, and his scrutiny until Friday night, and then declared Mr Hickman duly elected by a majority of 40, viz. Mr Hickman 190, Mr Gore 150. Most people think, and so do I, that the Sheriff inclined a great deal too much for Mr Hickman, to make up this majority. He continued the poll three days extraordinary [it did not in fact end until Friday 8 November], and polled such beggars and ruffians as no impartial man would put upon his books Frank Gore now sees plainly that if he had stirred a little he would have carried it out of sight against Sir Edward [O'Brien], Burtons, Hickmans, Westby &c The Sheriff says that he is governed by the opinion of the Attorney General that the lessees of mortgagors, and also of mortgagees in possession, had a right to vote Mr Gore will I presume be speedily in government with a petition His own neglect was the cause of any contest.
Robert Hickman died in August 1756 and the by-election was held in the following year, when Murrough O'Brien was returned. Murrough O'Brien did not stand in 1761, possibly for financial reasons, and the general election of 1761 predictably returned Francis Pierpoint Burton and Sir Edward O'Brien. Sir Edward died in November 1765 and Charles MacDonnell was returned at the ensuing by-election. However, the 1768 election saw the emergence of the leading Co. Clare figure of the eighteenth century, Sir Lucius O'Brien. The election was hard-fought and expensive - Sir Lucius put his expenses at £2,000. There were three candidates: Francis Pierpoint Burton, Sir Lucius O'Brien, and Murrough O'Brien. The poll100 commenced on 12 July and the result after scrutiny was: Burton 340, Sir Lucius O'Brien 309, Murrough O'Brien 208, making a total of 857. In addition, 38 plumpers (voters for one candidate only) were allowed: a total of 895 votes was cast by 448 voters; of these only 57 were 40-shilling freeholders and 391 were £10 freeholders. (These are the recorded figures - presumably some votes were disallowed. Eighteenth-century reports of voting tallies are not reliable.) Sir Lucius was anxious to curb election abuses, and in 1771 he combined with the leading radical, Charles Lucas (1276), to introduce 11 Geo. III, c. 12, an act to resolve the problems created by controverted elections, which too frequently turned out to be a re-run of the election based on the support that the contestants could raise in the House of Commons. It proved to be one of the more successful election acts.
In 1776 the poll101 began on 16 May and closed on 23 May. There were four candidates - Sir Lucius O'Brien, Nicholas Westby (2217), Edward Fitzgerald and Hugh Dillon Massy - and the result was Fitzgerald 329, O'Brien 270, Massy 255 and Westby 117. Pearce Creagh, the Sheriff, refused to enter into a scrutiny on the grounds that if the freeholders had taken the various oaths it was not for him to disallow them. Edward Fitzgerald and Hugh Dillon Massy supported him, but Sir Lucius produced precedents to the contrary. The court was adjourned until 23 May, when Hugh Dillon Massy declared himself willing to undergo a scrutiny. But it was reported that the Sheriff still refused. However, the numbers reported in the Dublin Journal, which declared that the poll finally closed on 25 May were: Fitzgerald 601, Massy 365 and Sir Lucius O'Brien ?362. The Sheriff declared Fitzgerald and Massy returned, and O'Brien successfully challenged the return of Massy. In 1783102 the Sheriff was the Hon. Edward O'Brien and the candidates were Hugh Dillon Massey (401), Edward Fitzgerald (277) and Sir Lucius O'Brien (245). Sir Lucius again challenged, but withdrew his petition. He was not a wealthy man, and having sold his seat for Ennis he was obliged to purchase one of the seats for Tuam from Henry Bingham (0138). From 1790 until his death in 1795 Sir Lucius returned himself for Ennis. He was the most colourful as well as the ablest of the Co. Clare MPs during the century.
In 1790 and 1797 Sir Francis Nathaniel Burton was returned, along with Francis McNamara in 1790 and Sir Hugh Dillon Massy in 1797. After 1800 Francis Nathaniel Burton and Hugh Dillon Massy sat for the county in the united parliament, but at the 1802 election Burton was joined by Sir Edward O'Brien, although O'Brien had to secure his seat by purchasing the return of his cousin Charles MacDonnell (1316) for a close borough. This would have cost about £4,000, and O'Brien obviously considered it cheaper than the probable expense of a confrontation at the polls.103
Co. Clare had one parliamentary borough - Ennis.104