In 1790 the social and political state of Mayo was summed up as follows:
There is no County in the kingdom wherein the number of electors bears so small a proportion to the extent of the district as in this, which, though inferior in size only to the Counties of Cork and Galway, contains such a small body of Freeholders as must appear uncommonly striking to those who do not advert to its particular situation.
Large portions of the soil are here unreclaimed and uncultivated and where that is not the case, as the prevailing religion, and that to a very extraordinary degree, is the Roman Catholic, which excludes from a participation of the franchise of election, the number of voters is thereby much limited whilst many families of property, who call themselves Protestants, are little inclined to encourage a Protestant yeomanry, or to countenance that spirit which alone could render such a yeomanry truly respectable.
From all these causes the electors of this County are few indeed nor can we say that the independence of their principles and conduct compensates for the deficiency of their numbers. Their contests have generally been, not for the choice of men of ability, wisdom and integrity but for the support of different leading families of Cuffe, Browne, Bingham and Gore. This may perhaps do credit to the warmth of their private attachments, but speaks little in favour of their uninfluenced public spirit.
The Rt Hon. Mr Cuffe, one of the representatives of the County, though not of showy or splendid talents, is a man of sound sense and information and his parliamentary conduct has, of late, been manly and decided but without much regarding that, which surely ought to have some weight, we understand that his re-election to his present station is not likely to encounter strong opposition.
The Hon. Denis Browne, his colleague in office, will probably experience a most powerful opponent in the Hon. Mr Bingham, Lord Lucan's (0134) son who, his father having long represented the County with some ability, comes recommended to their approbation under favourable auspices and supported by an old established family interest. Mr Browne has at various times in the House of Commons veered about to every point of the political compass. Mr Bingham is as yet untried and it is but fair to allow undebauched but as an independent selection, however pretended to, has here little place, connection, not character, will finally decide their contest.293
As the returns clearly demonstrate, the county belonged to the Binghams, Cuffes, Brownes and Gores - George Jackson was a grandson of James Cuffe. This did not mean that they always agreed the return, but they did manage to keep it among themselves: for example, in 1717 Michael Cuffe successfully challenged the election of Arthur Ormsby at the by-election following the death of his older brother Francis Cuffe.
The Dublin Journal 294 gave a breakdown of voters at the general election of 1761, when all four families contested the county. Sir Charles Bingham was returned along with Peter Browne-Kelly by a majority of 20 votes and 24 votes respectively. The unsuccessful candidates were Sir Roger Palmer (1625) with 4 votes and the Hon. Richard Gore and James Cuffe with 2 votes each. At the close of the poll the votes were as follows: Peter Browne-Kelly, 237 £10 freehold, 217 40s freehold = 454; Sir Charles Bingham, 231 £10 freehold, 213 40s freehold = 444; Hon. Richard Gore, 117 £10 freehold, 247 40s freehold = 364; James Cuffe, 120 £10 freehold, 213 40s freehold = 333. Browne-Kelly and Bingham were declared duly elected.
Dublin Journal gives the social breakdown of the electorate:
Browne-Kelly Bingham Gore Cuffe
15 Gentlemen of £200+ p.a. 12 13 2 3
24 Gentlemen of £500-2,000 p.a. 18 14 7 8
56 Gentlemen of £100-500 p.a. 33 35 18 24
256 Freeholders of £10-100 p.a. 17 168 88 82
348 £10 Freeholders 234 230 115 117
450 40s Freeholders 220 214 249 216
789 Total £10 and 40s Freeholders 454 444 364 333
Each voter had two votes, but he might use just one.
In 1768 there was a riot:
On Friday morning [29 July] last a riot happened at Castlebar [the county town]; on the second voter being produced, a pass of a small sword was made at Mr Cuff one of the candidates, but happily he escaped being run through the body; a pistol was snapped at one of Sir Charles Bingham's clerks; the poll books were all destroyed, the High Sheriffs only excepted; some of the rioters were seized and loaded pistols taken out of their pockets; the High Sheriff behaved with great spirit, and adjourned the Court on the first appearance of the riot to the hour of two o'clock and then came into Court and continued to receive the votes of Freeholders until five in the evening.295
Another description declares that:
A most prodigious riot began, raised and headed by the friends and servants of Sir Charles Bingham and Mr Cuff, they broke into the court with swords, hangers and cudgells, and first knocked down Capt. Browne, then flew at Mr Browne Kelly, who saved his life from the blow aimed at him by throwing himself under the Bench where he was sitting; in short murder was intended, tho' thank God, I do not hear of any life being lost, or in danger, tho' several are wounded.
The 1776 election of James Cuffe and Arthur Browne was challenged by George and Charles Fitzgerald - members of another, and not very reputable, Mayo family - on grounds of (1) violence, intimidation and riot, and (2) bribery and entertainment. The witnesses appear to have fully vindicated the charges on both sides - one witness had taken the sitting members' bribe and bought a cow before voting for the opposition, while one Martin Maguire stated that:
Jack Fitzgerald, Captain Fitzgerald's agent promised him money if he would swear bribery against Mr Cuffe alone and he did receive some money ten English shillings and he was promised three guineas and future favours, even Captain Fitzgerald at the house at Turlough, offered to promote him, provided he would swear bribery against Colonel Cuffe. He humoured Captain Fitzgerald until he could get out of the house Captain Fitzgerald made him drunk and then made him write what he pleased.
After hearing counsel for both sides - the counsel for the sitting members was the young John Fitzgibbon (0749) - the committee reported that the sitting members were duly elected.296
Influence appears to have fluctuated from time to time between the families; for instance, in 1785 it was thought that the 'Lord Altamont (Browne) and Mr Cuffe (0552) have the chief influence.297 This was partly if not entirely due to the fact that Lord Lucan (Bingham), 'since his dau[ghter]'s marriage with Earl Spencer, has constantly resided in England' - hence the comment in the 1790 extract above on the potential reassertion of his influence. In 1784 the borough's electorate was thought to be about 1,000, but after Catholic enfranchisement in 1793 it rose to about 12,000 in 1802 and then fell back to c. 11,000 in 1814.298
Mayo had only one parliamentary borough - Castlebar.