St Canice/Irishtown. St Canice was a very ancient borough and thought to have been from remote antiquity part of the see of Ossory. In 1606 a patent appears to have been granted by James I, 3 James I, whereby Irishtown was to be a corporation consisting of a portreeve, burgesses and commons, but, the muniments of the temporalities of the Bishops of Ossory having been lost during the troubles, in 1678 Charles II made a new grant of a corporation comprising a portreeve, 18 burgesses and freemen. The borough appears to have always been under the control of the Bishop of Ossory for the time being. He had to approve the portreeve, and to this end he was usually presented with two names: for instance, in 1732 he was given a choice between Sir John Denny Vesey (2148) and Caesar Colclough (0435), and appointed the latter.220 Elections were held in the Palace yard, and other corporate meetings in his hall. The corporation, unusually, was composed of clergymen from the diocese, and both bishop and clergy hoped for advancement221 - so much so that in 1800 the recently appointed Bishop of Ossory, Hugh Hamilton, endeavoured to claim the compensation for its disfranchisement on the grounds that all his predecessors, by insisting that the MPs for this borough should support the government of the day, had been rewarded with preferment to higher and more lucrative sees.222 The claim, which had some veracity, was disallowed.
Although apparently easy for the bishop to control, ecclesiastical boroughs required care and maintenance. For instance, in 1779, one of Bishop Hamilton's predecessors, Dr William Newcome, 'a very learned man' and later Bishop of Waterford, wrote to John Hely‑Hutchinson (1001) giving this picture of St Canice borough management:
Now I have supported an interest in this borough at a great expense, for a year before the last General Election ; absolutely preserved the borough by making forty new freemen in the midst of the greatest obloquy and newspaper abuse (for our majority on the poll was only 19), and returned two members recommended by Government, after a well contested opposition, headed by Mr Ponsonby, in favour of Mr Mossom (1501), a popular candidate, and a native of this place.223
In 1783 it was thought that the number of freemen was 12. In 1790 the bishop was William Beresford, the brother of John Beresford (0115), First Commissioner of the Revenue, and it was commented that:
the electors of this town consist of the Freemen and Freeholders, whose number is indefinite and its representation is commonly considered as depending on the influence of the Church, it forming part of the of the Bishop[ric] of Ossory. But such legions of Revenue Officers and placemen have, for sometime past, been introduced among its Freemen, that it may much more properly be now deemed ministerial, than ecclesiastical property [the sitting MP was the bishop's son, Marcus Beresford (0120)].
Between the place and its representatives no manner of connection exists; it is prostituted, they are aliens and that to such a degree, that it is a well known fact, that, at the general election, a certain noted Commissioner of the Revenue, going down to the country to be elected for this place, enquired of a gentleman, whom he accidentally met, the way to this town. And what was ridiculous enough, the gentleman of whom the enquiry was made, happened to be a candidate against him, being supported by the virtuous remnant of a once independent interest, that had often elected his father and were from affection attached to himself [?1501].
Two Commissioners of the Revenue at present represent St Canice and at the next election two Tide-Waiters may be their successors, if the minister so chooses, but we apprehend there will be no change, as no Secretary could possibly find two more obsequious adherents than the present Members.224
Among those who sat for St Canice was the Under-Secretary, Thomas Waite (2154) (1761-8); and he was succeeded by the Chief Secretary, Lord Frederick Campbell (0341) (1768-76). Government often used the ecclesiastical boroughs to return essential officials. Sometimes a bishop would be allowed to return a relative - it was thought that Richard Dawson (0592), the banker, who sat for St Canice for the entire parliament of George II, was returned by the influence of his wife's half-brother Sir Thomas Vesey, Bishop of Ossory. St Canice/Irishtown was disfranchised in 1800 and the £15,000 compensation was paid to the Trustees and Commissioners of First Fruits 'to be used in such a manner as shall tend most to promote the constant residence of the clergy'.