Co. Mayo


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:

12,000 in 1802 reduced to about 11,000 in 1814


22 July 1802HON. DENIS BROWNE 
17 Nov. 1806HON. DENIS BROWNE3768
 Sir John Edmond Browne, Bt.1240
26 Oct. 1812HON. DENIS BROWNE 
5 Mar. 1814 DOMINICK BROWNE vice Dillon Lee, become a peer of Ireland4464
 Martin Kirwan4350
 Sir Samuel O'Malley, Bt.46

Main Article

Described by one of its Members in 1815 as the third county in Ireland in area ‘and the second, I believe ... in population’, Mayo, which had about 150,000 inhabitants at that time, was predominantly Catholic, the Protestants being estimated at 10,000. The leading landed interest was that of the Brownes of Westport, earls of Altamont and, since the Union, marquesses of Sligo, worth some £20,000 p.a. Lord Dillon, an absentee, had an estate worth £18,000 p.a. producing 2,000-3,000 freeholders, mostly Gaelic speaking. Lord Tyrawley (Cuffe) had a sizeable interest. The baronetcies of O’Donel, Brabazon and O’Malley also carried some weight and became, in coalition, the focus of an independent, pro-Catholic opposition to the established interests which gained in momentum; but the Members did not dare to vote anti-Catholic.1

The sitting Members in 1801, Sligo’s only brother Denis Browne and Col. Jackson, a relative of Tyrawley returned in 1797 on the same interest, had supported the Union and were challenged that summer by an anti-Unionist alignment with Dillon’s heir and James Moore O’Donel (representing Sir Neal O’Donel) as candidates. When O’Donel was killed by one of his opponents in a duel, 24 Sept. 1801, he left a farewell address rallying the independents of the county against what he termed a bid to make it a borough.2 Dillon persevered, but the sitting Members were assured of government support and the Castle declined to interfere against friends in possession when in June 1802 Dillon assured them that his son was sure of success and that a contest might be averted by their inducing one of the sitting Members to retire. To Sligo’s chagrin, Dillon privately persuaded the financially embarrassed Jackson to do so. There was no contest, but the return of a Member friendly to opposition, as the Castle frankly informed Sligo, diminished both his standing in the county, of which he claimed exclusive patronage, and his pretensions to an English peerage.3

In 1806 Browne and Dillon coalesced in the face of a contest. Although the Grenville ministry had given Sligo an English peerage, they could not count on either his family’s or Dillon’s support. In May Sir Neal O’Donel declared his candidature, but he eventually withdrew in favour of Sir John Browne of Palmerston, who stood on the same independent interest and was supported by O’Donel, Tyrawley’s son Col. Cuffe and Sir William Brabazon. It does not appear that the Castle, which preferred to come to terms with the sitting Members, had anything to say to this, and the independents mustered their support from minor interests jealous of the great landlords. In the contest, Sir John Browne hit on the expedient of seeking to disfranchise 2,000-3,000 votes due to be cast for his opponents by arguing that they were held by freeholders who had previously denied that they qualified as such to evade the hearth tax, but the sheriff brushed this aside. Browne, in his subsequent petition to the House, accused the sheriff of trying to prevent a poll, but when it took place he was decisively beaten.4 He fared no better in the following election in 1807, when the sitting Members, their local coalition cemented by marriage and by collaboration against the recent tithe riots in the county, proved secure and he gave up an unequal contest.5

There was no further opposition until Dillon succeeded to his father’s title in 1813 and his brother-in-law Dominick Browne, a kinsman of Denis Browne, became the obvious choice to succeed on the united interests of the two families. The chief secretary considered Dominick Browne to be a Burdettite, but as neither Col. Jackson nor Col. Cuffe was interested, he acquiesced in the choice. Sir Neal O’Donel returned to the fray on a fierce independent and pro-Catholic platform, counting on the support of the same interests as before and hoping only for neutrality from the Castle which, however, refused support to a man ‘who vindicates himself at the Catholic Board’. Once more O’Donel did not stand himself, but sponsored Martin Kirwan of Dalgin, a relative of Richard Martin*, and then promoted an independent association, which at a meeting of 19 Jan. 1814 set up machinery and a subscription to achieve its aims. The ensuing contest lasted an unprecedented 57 days and Browne, on whose behalf Dillon’s agent had registered 1,000 votes in the preceding summer, scraped home by 114 votes. A tactical third man, Sir Samuel O’Malley, was put up towards the close of the contest to state the independent case in a petition to the House, in which he alleged that some 1,300 of Browne’s supporters were not qualified. It got nowhere. A direct result of the contest was that Browne brought in a bill to limit the duration of Irish elections to 20 days, which became law in 1817.6

Dominick Browne was quite as radical as the chief secretary had expected him to be in Parliament, but as vigilant against the threat to their joint interest from the continued activities of independent association as his colleague who, after a long and fruitless wrangle with the chief secretary over his claims to exclusive patronage in his ‘kingdom’ of Mayo, retired in favour of his son in 1818. The two Brownes were challenged by Martin Kirwan, sponsored by the independents, after O’Donel, Brabazon and O’Malley had also been named as likely candidates but declined a poll.7

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Wakefield, Account of Ireland, i. 270; NLI mss 7841, p. 13, Browne to Vesey Fitzgerald, 5 May 1815; Add. 40217, f. 71; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 426.
  • 2. The Times, 5 Oct.; Talbot Crosbie mss, Nugent to Glandore, 3 Oct. 1801.
  • 3. PRO 30/9/1, pt. 1/4; Sidmouth mss, Abbot to Addington, 22 Oct. 1801; Add. 35735, ff. 194, 255; 35781, f. 29; 35782, f. 101; Saunders’s News Letter, 6 July; Wickham mss 1/46/17, Wickham to Addington, 23 Aug. 1802.
  • 4. Dublin Corresp. 27 Nov.; Dublin Evening Post, 13 May, 28 Oct., 8 Nov. 1806; CJ, lxii. 30; Jerningham Letters, i. 296.
  • 5. Dublin Corresp. 23 May; Wellington mss, Tyrawley to Wellesley, 22 Oct. 1807.
  • 6. Add. 40186, f. 200; 40188, f. 201; 40197, ff. 223, 225; 40233, ff. 12, 166, 170, 251; 40217, f. 32; NLI, Richmond mss 60/303; Dublin SPO 554/396/3; NLI mss 7848, pp. 142-6, Browne to Vesey Fitzgerald, 20 Apr. 1816.
  • 7. Add. 40217, ff. 160, 161, 187; Dublin Corresp. 27 June 1818.