Co. Kerry


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 5,000 in 1815


5 Mar. 1801 FITZGERALD re-elected after appointment to office 
 James Crosbie185
21 Oct. 1812JAMES CROSBIE 

Main Article

Kerry, one of the largest counties in Ireland, contained a predominantly Catholic population which was largely dependent upon subsistence farming. There were numerous substantial landowners—at least 15 with average rent-rolls of £9,000 p.a.—and of these the most important in electoral terms were Lords Kenmare (Browne), Glandore (Crosbie) and Ventry (Mullins). The Kenmare and Ventry interests were based upon their extensive estates and potential and actual tenant strength. Kenmare, a Catholic who spent a large proportion of his time in England, owned over 30,000 acres in and around Killarney to the east of the county; Ventry had, by the 1790s, acquired an estate of only marginally less imposing proportions around Burnham to the west. Glandore’s interest, on the other hand, was of what he called ‘a personal nature’ and grew out of his position as the premier resident (and protestant) peer, his obsessive interest in county affairs and his relatively disinterested ambition to reconcile the interests of government with those of the resident independent gentry. His own estates around Ardfert were relatively small and, in any case, financially embarrassed.1

At the beginning of this period Kerry’s electoral politics were dominated by a mutual sympathy and understanding between Kenmare and Glandore, who, as it happened, were almost exact contemporaries. Glandore respected Kenmare’s proprietary strength and his weight with the increasingly influential ‘sober’ Catholic feeling in the county. Kenmare, for his part, paid due deference to Glandore’s position as county governor and as the ‘rallying point’ for moderate protestant feeling. Moreover, their ‘understanding’ was assiduously fostered and maintained by a mutual friend, Judge Robert Day, father-in-law of Sir Edward Denny, a substantial landowner who controlled the borough of Tralee. At the 1797 election Glandore and Kenmare had co-operated to secure the unopposed return of Fitzgerald (Day’s ward) and Crosbie (a near relative of Glandore) against a background of growing opposition to their influence from a section of the gentry in which the Bateman, Godfrey, Gun and Blennerhasset families had played a prominent part.2

In the autumn of 1801 Kenmare anticipated that his co-operation with Glandore would be continued at the first Imperial election and consequently informed Fitzgerald, from Brighton, that he would support him, together with the other sitting Member, Crosbie. A few weeks later, however, Ventry’s son, Col. Thomas Mullins, announced that he was a candidate. ‘Bella, horrida bella’, Judge Day prognosticated to Fitzgerald:

our county after all is likely to be disturbed, and a spirited canvass and a poll are announced from a formidable quarter. In short, Mother Ventry called upon me yesterday evening and announced the resolution of her colonel to start for Kerry. She desires me to convey for her to Lord Glandore that Lord Ventry, having supported our friends hitherto in the most disinterested and effectual manner, thought he had now an irresistible call upon his lordship [Glandore] and all his connections for a return; that he would support with all his might Lord G’s first friend, provided his lordship would espouse the colonel as his second candidate; but in case of refusal, the Lord Ventry would feel himself bound to give every opposition in his power to Lord G. and his friends.

Ventry’s intervention certainly altered Kenmare’s and Glandore’s policy, but did not undermine their co-operation. At the end of November 1801 Glandore decided, under pressure from Day and Fitzgerald and in view of his own differences with Crosbie, to withdraw support from him, without transferring it to Mullins. Two days later Kenmare followed suit and promised Fitzgerald his sole support. Nevertheless Crosbie refused to stand down, a decision which led Fitzgerald to suggest that he and Mullins should each give him £1,000 to do so. In the event this lavish compensation proved unnecessary, for late in December the Castle, with some prompting from Fitzgerald, reminded Ventry that in return for his peerage he had promised to support candidates approved by government at the next Kerry election, and that in this case they were Fitzgerald and Crosbie. Mullins and his potential ‘running horse’ George Gun, took the hint and retired leaving the Kenmare-Glandore interest intact and Crosbie and Fitzgerald’s return in 1802 uncontested.3

Over the next four years Glandore’s differences with Crosbie—largely concerned with Kerry patronage—went unresolved, and by August 1806 he had decided to support Fitzgerald and Sir Edward Denny and abandon his cousin. Kenmare agreed to do the same until he discovered that Henry Arthur Herbert, who had a substantial estate at Muckross, had decided to stand, He politely informed Glandore that while he had nothing against Denny, he preferred Herbert, commenting, ‘[He] is my relation, friend, neighbour and a person well qualified to represent the county with credit to himself and utility to his constituents’. He therefore hoped that Glandore would adopt Herbert and abandon Denny. Kenmare’s preference raised awkward questions for Glandore, even though he recognized Herbert’s superior claims to a county seat. Besides falling out with Crosbie, he had also had his differences with Fitzgerald and was not disposed to regard him as his particular candidate. If he now abandoned Denny for Herbert, it might be said in the county that his own standing vis-à-vis Kenmare had been weakened. Few of these implications were lost upon Judge Day and it was he who probably worked out the solution that preserved Glandore’s honour, without offending Kenmare: namely, that Glandore would ‘allow’ Kenmore to decide between Herbert and Denny and that the unlucky candidate would immediately declare his interest for the other. At this point (late October) a number of wires seem to have crossed, with the result that Denny and Herbert stood, and stood down, with almost mechanical and certainly farcical rapidity. In the end, however, Glandore’s abandonment of Crosbie and Kenmare’s preference for Herbert told. Denny and Crosbie retired and this led once again to an uncontested election and mutual satisfaction on Kenmare’s and Glandore’s part. Kenmare wrote to Fitzgerald that he had been delighted to hear of his return with Herbert; and Judge Day congratulated Glandore upon an event which proved ‘to the world ... your paramount weight and influence in your county’.4

In 1807 Kenmare and Glandore continued to cooperate and secured Fitzgerald’s and Herbert’s return against a more determined opposition from Crosbie, who was partially supported by Ventry and, initially at least, by the Castle. The result was interesting in a number of respects. As Fitzgerald and Herbert were independent of the Portland government and supporters of Catholic relief it suited the growing Catholic interest in the county, in which Daniel O’Connell was assuming an important role. There was even talk of Fitzgerald having deliberately resigned his post on the change of government in order to ensure support from that quarter. On the other hand, Glandore continued to support both Fitzgerald and Herbert, even though he disapproved of their politics, a sign that his own interest was on the decline. Finally, Crosbie attributed his defeat to the poor state of Ventry’s freehold registry, the implication being that, potentially, Ventry possessed the strongest tenant interest.5

Crosbie’s particular prognostication was borne out by the history of the next election. In August 1811 Ventry declared his support for Crosbie, a decision he privately justified on the grounds that, as a ministerialist, Crosbie was most likely to secure him the step in the peerage he so desperately sought. Kenmare concluded that he and Glandore could not carry both Fitzgerald and Herbert against Crosbie, and decided to give the whole of his interest to Fitzgerald. When this was known in Kerry, Ventry responded by offering Fitzgerald a non-agression pact with Crosbie. Fitzgerald accepted, much to Glandore and Herbert’s chagrin, with the result that in 1812 he and Crosbie were returned unopposed.6

The era of Kenmare and Glandore was passing. Kenmare died a few weeks before the 1812 election and his son and heir did not take up his interest with any great enthusiasm. Glandore died, without an heir, in 1815. The tradition of their ‘party’, however, was continued by Judge Day who, by the summer of 1816, was actively canvassing for the return of Fitzgerald and Edward Denny* (his grandson). Ventry initially offered to support this coalition, his hope being that Day would return a Mullins for Tralee as a quid pro quo. Yet despite severe financial embarrassments and, so it was said, ‘infirmity and domestic affliction’, Crosbie once again refused to retired.7 Instead he pressed the Castle to promote Ventry in the peerage, an initiative which, when combined with growing difficulties over Tralee elections, led Ventry to change his mind to the point of not withdrawing support from him. From then (September 1817) until the election, the fur flew thick and fast. Day assured Fitzgerald: ‘Crosbie never can come to the poll. He has not a chair or a cow that is not marked with the broad arrow’.8 On the other hand, Crosbie believed that Ventry’s interest could not only secure his return but also that of a stable mate in the shape of Sir Rowland Blennerhasset. He assured the Castle: ‘as to Mr Denny’s chances of being returned he has as much chance as he has of being prime minister’.9 Crosbie was right in this respect because Denny retired before a poll, but the result of the election was that each ‘party’ took a seat. Day’s interest which, historically, derived from the co-operation between Kenmare and Glandore and which reflected their dignified paternalism, secured the return of Fitzgerald, an opponent of ministers and a friend of O’Connell’s. Ventry’s interest, out of which he made no secret of hoping to obtain a peerage, and which reflected tenant strength, secured the return of Crosbie with the help of the Castle and those traditionally hostile to Day’s ‘party’ like the Blennerhassets.

Thus, from the point of view of administration, Kerry’s electoral politics in this period largely revolved around local issues. But then Kerrymen traditionally regarded themselves as belonging to an independent kingdom.

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Wakefield, Account of Ireland, i. 261; Add. 35746, f. 154.
  • 2. Details of this election can be found in Fitzgerald mss, particularly 6/12, 14, 16, 20-22; and Talbot Crosbie mss, Day to Glandore, 2 Aug. 1796.
  • 3. Fitzgerald mss 7/90, 94, 96, 97, 98, 100, 101, 108; Talbot Crosbie mss, Ventry to Glandore, 11 Nov., reply 16 Nov.; Dublin SPO 518/108/8, Sligo to Marsden, 18 Dec.; 620/62/21, Fitzgerald to same, 18 Dec., enc. same to Abbot, 18 Dec. 1801.
  • 4. Fitzgerald mss 9/84, 85, 87; 10/1, 3, 9; Talbot Crosbie mss, Glandore to Kenmare, 17 Sept., H. A. Herbert to Glandore, 7, 9 Oct., R. T. Herbert to same, 8 Oct. 1806.
  • 5. Fitzgerald mss 10/19, 21, 25, 27; Talbot Crosbie mss, H. A. Herbert to Glandore, 27 Apr., n.d. [late Apr.], R. T. Herbert to same, 2, 4, 9, 11, 13 May, Glandore to Richmond, 20 May, reply 28 May, Day to Glandore, 30 Apr., 25 May; Belfast News Letter, 9 June; Wellington mss, Wellesley to W. A. Crosbie, [May], J. Crosbie to Wellesley, 29 May 1807.
  • 6. Fitzgerald mss 10/64, 65, 67, 69; Talbot Crosbie mss, H. A. Herbert to Kenmare, 6 Aug., reply post 6 Aug.; R. T. Herbert memo to Glandore, Sept., same to same, 9 Oct. 1811, H. A. Herbert to Glandore, 14 May 1812; Add. 40221, f. 117; 40280, f. 123.
  • 7. Add. 40251, ff. 54, 56; Fitzgerald mss 10/99; 11/1, 9, 10, 11, 15.
  • 8. Add. 40268, f. 48; 40270, f. 72; 40293, f. 153; Fitzgerald mss 11/16.
  • 9. Add. 40278, ff. 11, 201, 244, 292, 294; 40295, f. 37.