The Ponsonbys had a certain amount of interest in Kilkenny city of a similar nature to that of Lord Shannon at Cork, although it was hardly so powerful after John Ponsonby (1702) lost the prestige of the Chair and the patronage of the Revenue Board. Both Haydock Evans Morres and Sir John Blunden, who represented this city in the 1768-76 parliament, had a strong personal influence, and both were supported by the Ponson by interest. The following comment on the electoral state of the city in 1784 appeared in the Belfast News Letter:
Electors by the old charter, consist of a mayor, two sheriffs eighteen aldermen, and the commons at large; but by a byelaw the mayor, two sheriffs, eighteen aldermen, and 36 of the commons, are so constituted to do all corporate acts, whereby the leading men by undue influence over the majority of the above mentioned number, and taking advantage of the said byelaw, have transferred the power of electing members to strangers and occasional freemen; there appearing on the books lists of freemen to the amount of fourteen-hundred of whom two-hundred only are resident.216
The use of by-laws and the creation of absentee freemen were the usual means by which the political control of a corporation was acquired and maintained: Kilkenny was by no means unique in being a self-perpetuating body; it was just larger and more important than most.
The real interest in the city belonged to the Butler and Cuffe (from 1733 Lords Desart) families. The Cuffes had exerted theirs from time to time throughout the century, but, although the Butlers' great medieval castle dominated the town, for most of the century they were Catholics and their interest was dormant. This led to a wide variety of MPs being returned. At least six MPs were mayors of Kilkenny (0992, 2188, 1493, 0876, 0873, 2207); two were Recorders (0983, 0693); two were relations of the Butler family (1950,1230). However, from 1783 their interest, and that of the Cuffes, was fully exerted and controlled the returns for the city. In 1785 it was reported that 'The representation of this city at present belongs to Mr Butler (0322), the head of the Ormonde family. He returns himself together with a brother of Lord Desart's (0558) who assisted him to obtain the representation.' In 1790:
Kilkenny city - the right of election in this City is entrusted to the Freemen and Freeholders and, though from the peculiar state of religion here, the residents of neither class are numerous, yet the electors of the City outreckon the Freeholders of the County, as was fully experienced on the contested election which Mr Mossom217 carried against Mr Bushe. This circumstance has been caused by the families of Morris, of Blundel, of Gore, and of Cuffe having had at different times a prevailing interest in the Corporation and each of them, to strengthen their party, made crowds of honorary Freemen, who, by a very absurd local regulation, are entitled to vote for the representatives of the City. Hence the non-residents Freemen much exceed in number the residents and can ever outpoll them when the election is contested from whence the fate of the contest must always depend more on a greater weight of purse than on the warm affection of the inhabitants. As the expense of bringing such outlying voters into the field must prove ruinous to a man of moderate fortune, his merits may be infinitely superior but if his means are less, it will be but common prudence in him to avoid the combat.
Mr Butler, the representative of the great Ormonde family and Lord Viscount Desart, at present divide the city between them, each returning one Member for it. The former, from his name, his fortune, his situation and old established prejudice, ought, in this place, to possess the most commanding influence but the latter from address, from management and from some other circumstances needless to mention, obviously enjoys rather a superior interest in the corporate body. United as they now are, their nomination of the representatives of Kilkenny is irresistible.218
Kilkenny retained one seat at the Union. William Talbot won the ballot but decided to retire. Richard Archdall was then elected with the support of the government. His seat was purchased and the money paid to James Wemys, who had lost the ballot but presumably had paid for his seat in 1797. Then at the 1802 general election Charles Harward Butler, the brother of the Marquess of Ormonde, was elected.