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Enniscorthy

Enniscorthy was enfranchised by a 1614 charter of 11 James I. Its corporation was to consist of a portreeve, 12 free burgesses and a commonalty. The electors were the portreeve and 12 free burgesses. By the end of the century Enniscorthy was:

a busy, industrious and prosperous town, situated on the River Slaney, about 12 miles above Wexford, to which town the river is navigable for small vessels. It is a close Borough, the electors being confined, by the usual progress of encroaching power, to the Burgesses only and is the private property of the Colclough family, long of high consideration in this County. For a length of time constantly a merchantable commodity, it has been the transitory property of various parliamentary adventurers but one seat for it at present having been bought by Mr Longfield …430

Enniscorthy belonged to the Colclough family, one of whom sat for Co. Wexford in every parliament from 1727 to 1790. Sir Vesey Colclough (0436) was the dominant influence in the returns for the 1790 election, when he returned himself. From 1776 he had sold the other seat to Richard Longfield (1263), for his cousin Mountifort Longfield (1262).

In 1783 there were supposed to be 13 burgesses, of which one was resident. The population of the town was about 700.431 This election saw a temporary upset: Colclough had sold both seats, one to William Alexander English (0697), a noted duellist, and the other to Richard Longfield, who returned Mountifort Longfield, the sitting member. Adam Colclough, John Colclough and Cornelius Grogan (0905) all petitioned against the return. They complained that the number of burgesses had been reduced to eight, and of these three were ill and one absent. Sir Vesey Colclough was the Returning Officer and he did not hold the election within 20 days of the writ being served or give four days' notice of his intention to do so. Furthermore, the notice mentioned no hour. Two of these four burgesses heard of the election only the night before and, having set off for Enniscorthy, arrived there about noon. One of them, Richard Colclough, found that Sir Vesey intended to hold the election immediately and he went to inform Mr Adam Colclough, which caused a delay of about ten minutes. On returning to the Bear Inn where the election was to be held, they found it over. Soon after, Cornelius Grogan and Mr Robinson, the two other burgesses, arrived. They intended to vote for David Walsh (2164) rather than William Alexander English. English was present but Longfield was not, as Sir Vesey had told him that his presence was unnecessary. As Town Clerk, the landlord of the Bear Inn was hastily sworn. His waiter, Thomas James, aged 50, acted as crier and only a very attentive ear could hear him. Sir Vesey Colclough then declared that as the only burgess present he would vote for Longfield and English and that as the Returning Officer he would duly return them. Sir Vesey left for Wexford within a quarter of an hour of proceedings being completed. Apparently the election for Co. Wexford was in progress, and Sir Vesey was a (successful) candidate there.

The Select Committee met on 5 November 1783. After hearing this and further similar information, the committee declared that: (1) the election was void, (2) Sir Vesey Colclough, the Returning Officer, had conducted the said election unduly and irregularly. A footnote to the report pointed out the Commons resolution of 1713, which stated that:

No Sheriff of a county, mayor … or any chief magistrate of any city, town, borough or corporation, or seneschal of a manor, hath a right to vote in any election (except where the voices of other electors are equal) any usage or custom to the contrary notwithstanding, unless where by express words of the charter they have other or greater power, or where there hath been usage to the contrary time out of mind in boroughs by prescription.432

At the new election Conway Heatley (0997), who also purchased his seat, was returned and Mountifort Longfield re-elected. In 1790 Vesey Colclough returned himself along with Mountifort Longfield.

Colclough had for years lived a spendthrift life. He had left his wife and legitimate children to live with his mistress and their children in Tintern Abbey, which was said to be falling around their ears. Shortly before his death in 1794 his estate produced only £1,600 p.a., and it is probable that at this time he (or his executors) sold the interest in the borough of Enniscorthy which he had bought - including the office of portreeve - from his cousin Adam Colclough for £3,000 in 1766. At the time of the Union, when it was disfranchised, it was in the hands of Cornelius O'Callaghan, Lord Lismore, who received the £15,000 compensation minus £2,700 paid to Robert Cornwall (0494), who had bought his seat at the 1797 election and then vacated it to make way for a Unionist in a plan that backfired.433

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Registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC100280