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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen and 40s. freeholders

Number of voters:

560 in 1812; 847 voted in 1818


(1821): 27,775


10 Mar. 1801 JOHN BRABAZON PONSONBY vice Daly, vacated his seat 
29 June 1805 JAMES DALY vice Daly, vacated his seat 
10 Nov. 1806JAMES DALY 
18 May 1807JAMES DALY 
28 Mar. 1811 HON. FREDERICK PONSONBY vice Daly, vacated his seat 
 Valentine John Blake159
 BLAKE vice Ponsonby, on petition, 18 June 1813 
 Michael George Prendergast330

Main Article

At the Union the patrons of the medium-sized port of Galway were Denis Bowes Daly and, prospectively, his cousin James, then under age. Their influence derived from their property in and around the town and their traditional domination of the exclusively protestant corporation. For example, every mayor of Galway from 1776 to 1820 was either a member of the Daly clan or one of their nominees. It was the freeholder element within the electorate that had prevented the borough from ever being entirely close. Before the Union the Dalys had on occasion resorted to creating large numbers of non-resident freemen to defeat opponents and in this period they were confronted by an expanding freeholder electorate which, unlike the freemen, to some extent reflected the predominantly Catholic population of the town.1

Except for a minor threat in 1802, when it was thought that Richard Martin, the county Member, was behind the unsuccessful canvass of Thomas Coneys, also thought to be sponsored by Lt.-Col. Meyrick,2 the Dalys’ interest was unchallenged until 1812. As senior patron and an ardent Whig, it was Bowes Daly who returned Ponsonby in 1801, after his cousin St. George had taken office. In 1805 he himself vacated to take up a county seat and had James Daly elected in his place. In 1806 and 1807 James Daly probably had some say in his own return, but in 1811 it reverted to Bowes Daly, who ‘offered me [James Daly] to remain in provided I would not vote against his friends. I relinquished these terms of neutrality and vacated my seat.’3 Bowes Daly therefore returned Frederick Ponsonby.

Ponsonby was a member of the great clan of Irish Whigs and a foxhunter from the smooth pastures of Kildare. He therefore had few connexions and possibly no knowledge of the mountain and bog of Galway. Consequently, when Bowes Daly put him forward at the general election in 1812 he proved the perfect foil for a committee of freeholders who, protesting that they did not possess ‘the weight which we are constitutionally entitled to’, put up as his opponent Valentine Blake of nearby Menlough Castle. (Failing Blake, they might have called on the services of Richard Martin’s* son Thomas.) This produced a prolonged and bitter contest which Ponsonby, or rather Bowes Daly, appeared to win, but Blake and six of his supporters immediately petitioned the House, claiming that the right of election was with the resident freemen and freeholders; and that on this occasion Bowes Daly had admitted his own tenantry as freemen just before the election and that they were therefore not legally entitled to vote. One committee eventually rejected Blake’s first argument, but another accepted his second and duly had the return amended in his favour. It was one of the two occasions in this period when an Irish Member was unseated.4

The ill-feeling created by the election of 1812 had certainly not been dissolved by 1818. During those six years there was a running battle between Blake and James Daly (who now took up his cousin’s cause) for the control and patronage of the town.5 Moreover, those of Blake’s supporters who regarded him as the spokesman of independent and popular feeling in the constituency were no doubt angered by his consistent support of Lord Liverpool’s government and by his utter failure ‘to repair the pier ... to pave the streets ... to light the town ... [or] to give it some kind of police’. Blake’s ‘popularity’ was therefore open to question and this initially enhanced the prospects of James Daly’s candidate, Michael Prendergast*.6 A fierce contest took place, the number of voters rising by nearly 300 over the figure for 1812, but once again Blake was returned. There is evidence that this was another victory for the freeholders over the freemen but perhaps of greater significance was the strong likelihood that, to achieve it, Blake and his supporters had been obliged to resort to the tactics for which they had so roundly condemned the Dalys in 1812. On 19 July, James Daly wrote to Peel:7

After my very positive assertions of certain success in the contest for the representation of this town you were doubtless surprised at the great majority against my nominee. This was caused by a system of perjury and personation carried to a most unprecedented extent and which it is impossible to check under the system allowed by Mr Dom. Browne’s Election Act. Independent of this every freeholder who promised me with the exception of one interest was brought away from me either by threats, promises or priestly interference. Under these circumstances I would not get a majority without resorting myself to perjury and personation which a regard to my character independent of any principle would not allow me to do. I can if I choose petition. I enclose you a copy of a proposal from Mr Blake to me in writing in his own hand and which I can now accept or decline. I think I shall do the former. I enclose you the copy in confidence, pray give me your opinion of it. Mr Blake concedes every point to me, he will vote as I choose, give me up the patronage, and not disturb my corporation proceedings. The only doubt of acceding to his proposal is, can he be trusted? I think he can in this instance because in the first place he will be afraid to break his promise to me from personal motives and secondly he will dread the publication of his letter which must damn him with his supporters here. You may command his vote and mine as long as I am in Parliament. I acknowledge I am tired of the rascality of elections and electioneering. I wish you would get me an Irish peerage which would enable me to give all up without giving up any interest. I will engage for the return of a government Member in my place for this county and I will also give you another Member Mr Blake to vote in any way government likes. This I will also secure to you on the next election. No person with an ounce of principle can contest an Irish town or county.

This clear indication that Blake had become frightened by his involvement in the venality that the hitherto ‘popular’ party had been obliged to indulge in is confirmed by subsequent events.

Early in 1819 several freeholders and freemen presented a petition to the House against Blake’s return, alleging large-scale personation of both types of voters and extensive bribery. The petition was rejected, but by September any compact with James Daly had collapsed and Blake was complaining of the ‘terrible consequences’ of his election—‘my property wasted, my life endangered and my future election exposed to the results of a third contest’,8 And so it was to be. At the 1820 election Blake was defeated by Prendergast in another contest which saw the electorate nearly doubled. On this occasion he petitioned the House accusing Daly of the personation and venality which it was quite clear he was guilty of himself, if not on the same scale. The petition failed and the last we need hear of Blake is the following lament from Menlough Castle, 25 Oct. 1821:9

Having united the animosity and hatred of the corrupt corporation to which I am opposed, whose jurisdiction and authority extends to, and many miles around, me, I find myself constrained in order to avoid its insults to shut myself up in my castle and in truth for the last 18 months I have been almost a close prisoner in it.

In other words the Dalys had recovered their former influence.

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Procs. R. Irish Acad. lix, sec. C, no. 1 (1957), 29; M. T. Blake, The leading families of Daly in co. Galway 1578-1927 .
  • 2. Dublin SPO 520/131/7.
  • 3. Add. 40217, f. 256.
  • 4. Dublin Corresp. 3, 16 Oct., 6 Nov. 1812; CJ, lxviii. 19, 579; S. Lynam, Humanity Dick, 173.
  • 5. Add. 40217, ff. 203, 205, 252, 256; 40284, f. 100; 40286, f. 145; CJ, lxix. 30, 216; Parl. Deb. xxviii. 6.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 1 May 1817; Dublin Corresp. 7 July 1818.
  • 7. Add. 40217, f. 407.
  • 8. CJ, lxxv. 123; Add. 38279, f. 262; 40217, ff. 256, 404.
  • 9. Add. 38290, f. 66.