An Educational Charity | Charity Reg. No. NIC100280
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Charitable Objectives

County Westmeath

The interests in Co. Westmeath were fairly stable throughout the century; the most consistently represented interest was that of the Rochforts. Other major interests were those of the Nugents, Earls of Westmeath, and the Malones, who in Anthony Malone produced one of the foremost legal and political figures of the mid-eighteenth century. The county had about six disputed elections between 1723 and 1791, the most famous of which was probably the 1723 dispute over the by-election that followed the death of William Handcock (0957). George Rochfort complained of the undue election and return of Richard Levinge; the Sheriff was Walter Nugent (1550). An attempt was obviously made to 'arrange' the poll in favour of Levinge, first of all by getting Malone's freeholders to vote for him. Then, when the voters assembled in a field at Mullingar, the Sheriff in his capacity as Returning Officer declared for Levinge on a 'view' of the voters. Rochfort demanded a poll and the election lasted four days, upon which the Sheriff declared himself insulted; when asked by whom he said that someone in court had declared that he did not do justice. The poll was then adjourned while he pondered the gravity of the offence. After three hours' deliberation he returned and declared the offence so serious that he had closed the books and declared Levinge elected. Rochfort petitioned against an undue election and the matter came before the Committee on Privileges and Elections, where the evidence turned on the qualifications of the voters. The committee declared for Levinge, and the House of Commons sustained its decision by one vote - 89 to 88.409 This was part of the trial of strength between Speaker Conolly (0460), who supported Levinge, and Lord Chancellor Midleton (0237), who supported Rochfort. Such an even result really favoured neither side.

In 1727 William Handcock (0958) lodged a petition against George Rochfort and Anthony Malone but then withdrew it. The following election returns for 1761, 1768 and 1776 are taken from the Dublin Journal and indicate the Rochfort interest; the 1768 return shows the popularity of Anthony Malone. The Malones, along with the Nugents, were representatives of the Catholic interest. At the 1761 election the returns were: Lord Belfield (1800) 452, Hon. Richard Rochfort (1805) 343, George Rochfort (1801) 259, Gustavus Lambart (1193) 2. The Sheriff, Thomas Adderley (0009),declared Lord Belfield and Captain (Richard) Rochfort duly elected. At the 1768 election the returns were: Lord Belfield 475, Col. Rochfort-Mervyn 387, Anthony Malone 469 (of which 377 were single votes). Lord Belfield and Malone were declared duly elected. At the 1776 election Robert Rochfort polled 523 votes, Benjamin Chapman 350, Mr Mason 250.410 The electorate was probably about 1,120 in 1768; it rose to about 3,000 in 1815.411

In 1783 William Smyth, who was supported by Lord Westmeath, petitioned successfully against Richard Malone. In 1785 it was reported that 'This County was contested against the present Members by Lord Sunderlin (1341) and Sir B. Chapman, against Mr Rochfort and Mr Smyth. The conduct of the County is however peaceable. Lord Belvidere (1800) and Lord Westmeath have interests in this County. Mr Rochfort is returned upon the former and would support on terms. Mr Smyth was elected on the popular interest.'412 In 1790 Smyth again successfully petitioned, this time against the return of William Handcock (0960).

In 1790 it was stated of Co. Westmeath that:

Circumstance seems to evince a determined predilection in the electors of Westmeath for cultivated abilities, in preference to the inert weight of sluggish property, yet they have shown that abilities alone cannot ensure their attachment and command success for even the justly celebrated Anthony Malone, who united the most eloquent of tongues to the clearest of heads, was more than once disappointed in his endeavours to represent this County.

The truth is, the great number of gentlemen of large fortunes and independent circumstances here resident, forms an aristocracy of independence, before which the power of the Rochfort family, who have long aimed at the dominion of this district, as well as every family compact, has insensibly diminished and must be forever overpowered.413

After the Union, while the Rochfort and the Nugent interests continued, others began to express an interest in the representation.

Co. Westmeath had four boroughs - Athlone, Fore, Kilbeggan and Mullingar.

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Registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC100280