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Strabane

Strabane,389 another plantation borough, was enfranchised a few months before Dungannon by a 1612/3 charter of 10 James I. Its corporation comprised a provost, 12 free burgesses, a recorder, a chamberlain, two serjeants-at-mace, a constable, a beadle, and an inspector of the grain market. The Earl of Abercorn's estates stretched across north Tyrone and into Donegal. Originally both Strabane and St Johnstown were Abercorn boroughs, but the Forwards managed to overturn the Abercorn interest in St Johnstown and gain control of the corporation and the borough.

At the Revolution the 4th Earl of Abercorn had supported the Stuarts and died fighting for James II. The family in fact had divided, and the 4th Earl's brother and successor, the 5th Earl, inherited a weakened position. In 1692 a local man, Captain Oliver McCausland (1310), was returned and he represented Strabane until his death in 1723. He was definitely the choice of the corporation and not of the Abercorns. During the reign of Queen Anne, the 6th Earl's politics appear to have been ambivalent. When making plans for the election that would follow the queen's death, Abercorn claimed that he and the corporation thought as one and that therefore whoever was recommended would be mutually acceptable. He told Edward Southwell (1962) that he did this 'mistrusting whether I should be able to prevail on them to leave out Capt. McCausland who lives among them'. Abercorn's caution, and opaqueness, paid off as at the 1715 election, when many Tory borough proprietors had their influence temporarily overthrown, he survived and even managed to have a staunchly Tory candidate, the Hon. Richard Stewart (2007), returned. McCausland died in 1723 and Abercorn managed to interpret his arrangement with the borough so that vacancies were filled alternately; for example, on McCausland's death he claimed the vacancy and returned his relative Henry Colley (0447), of Co. Kildare. A year later Colley died and the corporation nominated John McCausland (1308) to succeed him.

At the 1727 election Lord Abercorn nominated the Hon. Charles Hamilton (0916) and the corporation John McCausland, who died in 1729. Oliver McCausland (1311) was nominated in his place. The crisis came in 1733 when Oliver McCausland died. Lord Abercorn was by now an old man, and left his affairs in Strabane to the management of his son, Lord Paisley, with whom he was on bad terms. Paisley felt, against advice, that he had a compromise candidate in a distant relative, William Hamilton (0946) of Dunnamanagh, but Hamilton subsequently allied himself with the McCauslands. The Hon. Charles Hamilton (0916) sat for the entire parliament, although it is doubtful whether he attended at all: his brother George (0921), MP for St Johnstown since 1727, did not attend until 1753, when he came over from London to support their nephew (0265) in the famous Co. Armagh election petition.

The 6th Earl died in 1734 and his son a decade later. Disputes then broke out between the various interests in the corporation. It was not until the succession of the 8th Earl in 1744 that an effort was made to restore the Abercorns' authority. Abercorn then resorted to litigation against the misdeeds of the corporation. At first he was unsuccessful; the courts decided that the time lapse had been too great. However, his opponents, McCausland and Hamilton of Dunnamanagh, were financially straitened and eventually they were worn down by Abercorn's deeper purse. They tried to raise illegal tolls by extending the jurisdiction of Strabane. Also, they quarrelled with each other. The McCauslands sold one of the seats for Strabane to Robert Lowry (1267) for £1,650 in 1761. Eventually Abercorn, Hamilton and McCausland came to a financial settlement, but not before Robert Lowry died and McCausland had managed to sell the seat to George Montgomery (1438) of Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan. Abercorn agreed to loan McCausland £1,000 and Hamilton £500 to pay off their most pressing creditors and to ensure Hamilton's return in 1761. He also kept both of them as burgesses in Strabane. He rightly felt that he could afford to be generous, and was anxious to heal the divisions in the corporation. The citizens responded with a letter expressing their gratitude at the turn of events and their pleasure at once again being under his protection: they were more concerned with the economic than the political welfare of the town, over which they had no control anyway.

Strabane in 1783 was described as 'populous town. 13 Burgesses. About 3,000 inhabitants. Patron and proprietor, Lord Abercorn.' Apart from some unrealised but genuine fears during the height of the Volunteer movement, which was very strong in Co. Tyrone, and after the 1783 election, the rest of the 8th Earl's relations with Strabane were peaceful. He was a very dutiful landlord but not really interested in politics, apart from consolidating and retaining what he felt were his inherited rights. Although largely an absentee, he was concerned with the welfare and development of the town, emphasising the potential importance of the patron and proprietor of a borough being the same person. His nephew and successor, the 9th Earl and 1st Marquess of Abercorn, was quite different, being exceedingly anxious not only to retain but to expand his political rights. Nevertheless, he too was an exemplary borough patron, advancing most of the £11,858 required for the construction of the Strabane canal, which the Commisioners for Municipal Corporations in the early 1830s considered to be a major cause of the 'remarkable improvement which has occurred in the markets of Strabane'. Strabane was disfranchised by the Act of Union; the £15,000 compensation was paid to the Marquess of Abercorn.

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Registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC100280