Limerick in the eighteenth century was a prosperous and thriving town described as 'populous and has much trade'. As a county borough it was a mixed constituency, combining the characteristics of a large corporation with those of a county. Admission to the corporation was by birth, marriage or grace especial, which could be modified by restrictive by-laws or simply by custom.245 The county element was the 40-shilling freeholder. In the 1780s it was thought to have about 800 freemen and freeholders, which rose to about 1,000 in 1818.
At the beginning of the century the interests were varied. The Ingoldsbys were prominent and connected by marriage to the Bishop of Limerick, Bishop Smyth. The Ingoldsby family died out in the male line with the death of Henry Ingoldsby in 1731, when Charles Smyth was returned and the Smyth interest in the corporation became established. The other long-term interest, that of the Perys, appeared with the election of Edmond Sexton Pery in 1761. That election was hard fought as the interests attempted to establish dominance. On 18 May at the close of the poll and after scrutiny the numbers were: Edmond Sexton Pery 753, Charles Smyth 373, Hugh Dillon Massy (1357) 408 (reduced to 362 on the deduction of 46 voters who had applied for freedom and were not admitted).
The battle had been resolved and in 1768 and 1776 Charles Smyth and Edmond Sexton Pery, 'our late worthy members were unanimously elected to represent this city in the next Parliament'.246
The Perys owned 'a considerable Estate in and about Limerick' and therefore came to control the freeholders. For the remainder of the century and beyond the Smyth-Prendergast-Vereker interest prevailed in the corporation and the Pery interest in the county. The Pery influence was greatly enhanced by their shrewdness and ability, particularly that of Edmond Sexton Pery, Speaker of the House of Commons from 1771 to 1785. The following assessment of his political and personal talents was given by one of his contemporaries: 'He looks well to his own profit, and has risen his estate £900 per annum by parliamentary grants to the lands about Limerick without having his name mentioned, is rather bold than bashful; patient, wary and of few words, he is knowing both in the nature of men and in the nature of the state, [a] Privy Councillor [and] a shrewd and long sighted politician.' He was responsible for the development of Newtown Pery on the outskirts of the city. His brother was Bishop of Limerick from 1784 until his death in 1794. His nephew, Edmond Henry Pery, was returned at the by-election which followed Edmond Sexton Pery's resignation from the Chair and his elevation to the peerage in 1785.
Edmond Sexton Pery had two daughters and no male heir. However, Bishop Pery was elevated to the secular peerage in 1790 as Lord Glentworth and in 1794 his son succeeded him. John Prendergast (-Smyth), the other MP, was the second son and heir of Charles Smyth (his heiress mother was Elizabeth Prendergast), and he succeeded his brother, Thomas Smyth, who died unmarried in 1785. John Prendergast then resumed the name of Smyth. In 1810 he was created Baron Kiltarton and in 1816 Viscount Gort, with remainder - he was unmarried - to his nephew, Charles Vereker, the son of his sister, Juliana Vereker née Smyth. Limerick retained one MP after the Union and Grady, the Pery MP, was successful at the ballot. However, shortly after he accepted legal office and Vereker was returned unopposed in 1802. Great care and personal acceptability were required to create and sustain an interest in this type of constituency, while prestige and residence also helped.