Swords had the distinction of being the most notorious borough in the Irish parliament. Its charter was lost. The memorial presented by John Beresford (0115) and Francis Synge (2034) declared that it was 'an ancient borough by prescription'; another memorial declared that it had been enfranchised from 'time immemorial'. The portreeve, James Stewart, said 'that the said corporation is an open borough by Charter' dated 11 April, 5 James II - i.e. 1690! Most memorialists simply stressed that it was of great antiquity.
Contemporary opinion was that 'elections in this town afford scenes of the greatest corruption'. Certainly they were always rowdy, violent and colourful. It had at least nine controverted elections between 1692 and 1790 and a high turnover of MPs. The longest sitting family were the Molesworths: Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth (1419), who sat from 1703 to 1714, and his sons Richard, 3rd Viscount Molesworth (1418), MP for Swords 1715-26 and Bysse (1417), who sat for the whole parliament of George II, 1727-60. In 1800 a branch of the Molesworths living in London petitioned unsuccessfully on the grounds that they and their ancestors held land under the see of Dublin and 'derived considerable profits a great influence in the election of Members to serve in Parliament for the said borough of Swords', and that they had therefore suffered from its disfranchisement. The claim was not allowed. Virtually anybody who had the remotest connection with Swords applied for the compensation either individually or in various combinations, including one group of 83 inhabitants who described themselves as legal electors and voters.173 Finally, on 12 July 1802:
The commissioners having taken the Claims for Compensation for the Borough of Swords into consideration, came to the following resolutions: That not any of the Persons so claiming have substantiated their Claims: and that the sum of fifteen thousand pounds shall be vested and the Interest thereof applied as this Board shall hereafter by their adjudication specially appoint for such uses or purposes as shall appear to them to tend most to the advantage and improvement of the condition of the inhabitants of the said borough.174
Swords was the classic example of:
the very worst species of Representation - potwalloping Boroughs and open elections by the mob, where neither property, nor family connexions, nor the good opinion of the neighbourhood, nor any other good species of influence, would weigh against adventurers from Dublin or London with large purses, or backed by any temporary clamour.175
Swords' problems were interlinked. The openness of the borough encouraged people to try to take it over, and given these circumstances the voters were out for the main chance and would not 'stay bought'. Commons jn. Ire. in the eighteenth century contains numerous records of controverted elections for Swords, and an admirable and entertaining account of this borough is given in The Unreformed House of Commons.176