Co. Fermanagh


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of registered freeholders:

6,878 in 1829; 1,032 in 1830

Number of voters:

1,988 in 1823; 1,015 in 1830


8 Mar. 1823ARMAR LOWRY CORRY, Visct. Corry vice Cole, appointed to office1056
 Sir Henry Brooke, bt.932
24 Aug. 1830MERVYN ARCHDALL685
 ARMAR LOWRY CORRY, Visct. Corry563
 Sir Henry Brooke, bt.467
 Thomas Brooke277

Main Article

Fermanagh, ‘hilly, rugged and uneven’, was a small agricultural county in which the dominant Protestants clashed regularly with the equally numerous Catholic population.1 The representation was effectively controlled by a handful of prominent Orange families, who invariably provided the Members from among their own number throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.2 The leading magnate, the Tory 2nd earl of Enniskillen of Florence Court, who was governor, custos and colonel of militia, as well as being the proprietor of Enniskillen borough, brought in his brother Lieutenant-General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole of Marlbank from 1803. The other seat was occupied by Lieutenant-General Mervyn Archdall of Castle Archdall, another governor, who had sat on his own interest since 1802 and, like his colleague, was an inactive supporter of the Liverpool administration.3 The third main figure was Henry Brooke of Brookeborough, who had unsuccessfully contested the county in 1806, 1807 and 1812, and registered more freeholders (1,398) between 1812 and 1819 than either Enniskillen (972) or Archdall (911).4 Of the other resident peers, the 2nd Earl Belmore of Castle Coole was initially more prominent in neighbouring Tyrone, as was the 2nd marquess of Ely of Ely Court in county Wexford, while the nonagenarian 1st earl of Erne of Crum Castle understandably played little part, although he and Ely were also governors.

There were expectations of a contest at the general election of 1820, but the recently ill Brooke did not offer and Cole, proposed by Erne’s younger son Lieutenant-Colonel John Creighton, former Irish Member for Lifford, and Archdall, nominated by Major John Irvine, son of Gerard Irvine of Rockfield, were returned unopposed.5 Enniskillen was the moving force behind the approval of a loyal address to the king at a county meeting, 15 Jan. 1821.6 He acquiesced in Cole’s decision in mid-1822 to take the governorship of Mauritius, despite the complaint of one supporter that this amounted to ‘giving up the county’, which should have been reserved for his under age son Lord Cole since, with the family ‘once out, it may be troublesome and expensive to get in again’. Belmore suggested his elder son Lord Corry to his cousin Enniskillen, arguing that his ‘interest had supported you with equal fidelity as your own for a series of elections’, and the latter agreed, particularly in order to ‘keep the county out of the hands of others’. With the backing of most of Enniskillen’s friends, if not at first of Archdall, Belmore evidently felt confident of his son defeating Brooke, now a baronet, who also stood.7 The by-election was delayed to March 1823, by which time Enniskillen, at Belmore’s suggestion, had appointed their ally Edward Denny of Drumlone as sheriff and perhaps as many as 6,000 freeholders had been registered. Corry was introduced by Edward Archdall of Riversdale, the Member’s brother, on the basis of his family connections, and Brooke, proposed by Gerard Irvine, appealed to the independent interest. Although Belmore expected his son to win by several hundred votes, Brooke led for at least half the five-day poll and finished, amid violent scenes, only 124 adrift. There were apparently about 9,000 electors on the registers, but up to half of these were invalid, and only 1,988 actually voted, although each side claimed to have more in hand.8 The county’s anti-Catholic petition was presented to the Commons by Archdall, 18 Apr., and to the Lords by Enniskillen, 19 Apr. 1825.9

Nothing came of Belmore’s fears that Mervyn Archdall would feel obliged to back Brooke, who in the end did not offer, at the general election of 1826, when Enniskillen again used his influence on Corry’s behalf. On the hustings, both Archdall, nominated by William D’Arcy, son of Major Gorges Marcus Irvine of Castle Irvine, and Corry, proposed by John Irvine, claimed to be unshackled and were returned unopposed.10 Enniskillen, Archdall and Brooke took a leading part at the Fermanagh Protestant meeting, 30 Oct. 1826, while Corry attended the Enniskillen dinner in honour of the defeated Orangemen in Armagh and Monaghan, William Verner† and Charles Powell Leslie*, 2 Jan. 1827; the Catholics of the county met to forward their claims under the chairmanship of Captain Alexander Maguire of Gortoral Lodge, 4 Nov. 1826.11 The ensuing petitions were brought up in the Commons, 2 Mar. (by Archdall) and 5 Apr. (by Plunket, the Irish attorney-general), and in the Lords, 6 Mar. (by Enniskillen) and 27 Mar. (by Belmore).12 The local Orangemen were vocal in their constitutional demands at the Enniskillen gathering, 13 Aug. 1827, and their anti-Catholic address was presented to the king the next month.13 Following a requisition signed by Ely, Enniskillen, Erne and others, Brooke, as sheriff, appointed a county meeting for 5 Apr. 1828, when, in the absence of the Members, Edward Archdall and Major John Richardson of Rossfad moved another anti-Catholic petition. This, apparently with 18,000 signatures, was brought up in the Commons by Archdall, 5 May, and in the Lords by Enniskillen, 8 May.14 Brooke presided at assize and Orange dinners in the Protestant cause in August, and chaired the county meeting to establish a Brunswick Club, 7 Oct. 1828, when Enniskillen and Ely (the joint presidents), Mervyn Archdall, Arthur Henry Cole, Member for Enniskillen, and many of the leading gentry spoke in its favour. Numerous branches were formed in the county during the remainder of the year.15

Enniskillen and the Members signed another requisition in December 1828, but missed the subsequent Protestant meeting on 5 Jan. 1829, when Brooke, in the chair, Ely, Creighton, Edward Archdall and their allies again condemned Catholic relief.16 The ensuing hostile petitions were presented to the Commons, 9 Mar., and the Lords, 30 Mar., by Archdall and Enniskillen, who, like Corry (tardily) and Ely (but not Belmore, now governor of Jamaica), voted against the Wellington ministry’s bill.17 The dismay of the Fermanagh Protestants, who praised their Members’ conduct, was evident that spring, notably at the county meeting called to address the king against emancipation, 26 Mar.18 Under the related Franchise Act, the electorate fell from 6,878 (including 6,443 40s. freeholders) in January to 1,032 a year later, although Enniskillen could boast that this was to his advantage as he ‘had not (like my opponent) ever injured my property to increase my 40s. freeholdings’.19 Wellington was resentful of Enniskillen’s orchestrated opposition in Parliament, but praised his and his fellow magistrates’ efforts to restore order in the county after a bloody outburst of sectarian violence in July 1829.20 A petition against the introduction of poor laws to Ireland was approved at a county meeting, 15 Apr., while an attempt by Jason Hassard of Levaghy and the Rev. John Grey Porter, rector of Kilskerry, Tyrone, to propose another for alteration of the grand jury laws failed that day, but was secured a fortnight later; they were brought up by Archdall, 21 May, 8 June 1830.21

Lord Cole, now of age, showed no interest in entering Parliament at the general election of 1830, when the sitting Members were opposed by Brooke, who was thought likely to benefit from the disgust felt at Corry’s having wavered over emancipation. Nothing came of the candidacies of Gorges Marcus Irvine, who addressed the electors from Paris, or of Creighton, who was also said to be returning from the continent to canvass.22 Praised for their staunch Protestantism and opposition to the recently increased Irish stamp and spirit duties, both Archdall (proposed by Porter) and Corry (by Cole) claimed to be unchanged in their opinions, while Brooke (nominated by William D’Arcy of Cassidy Lodge) expressed the desire to represent so great a Protestant county and introduced his son Thomas as a fourth candidate. Archdall and Corry led throughout the six-day poll, which ended with the second-placed Corry finishing about a hundred ahead of Brooke and, as only 1,015 electors (including 670 £10 freeholders) voted, the Members and the Brookes, who condemned the aristocratic coalition against them, must each have shared a high proportion of splits.23

Despite the ill health which prevented him from returning to Fermanagh, the re-election of Archdall as an honest anti-reformer was considered certain at the dissolution in the spring of 1831. However, doubts continued about his colleague, who also divided against the Grey ministry’s reform bill, and Enniskillen informed the absent Belmore that ‘your political principles as to emancipation, together with the non-residence of any part of your family, have rendered it very problematical if Corry could carry the county again’. To revive and preserve his family’s dominance, Enniskillen therefore brought forward the now willing Cole, and Corry withdrew by a face-saving address, 7 May. Resident in the West Indies, Belmore was unable to reverse this fait accompli and to his angry complaints that he had borne the trouble and expense of maintaining the interest in two contests without receiving any intimation that his son’s tenure was subject to such short notice, Enniskillen replied that ‘you never could suppose that by my supporting Corry I was giving up all idea of representing the county in future’ and that ‘I had always understood that you were ready to give way to Cole whenever he should wish to represent the county’.24 Brooke refrained from offering and Archdall, nominated by Porter, and Cole, introduced by Edward Archdall, were returned unopposed at the general election, when there were 1,444 registered electors.25 Corry, who was thanked for his conduct on the hustings, was urged by his father to manifest their resentment against Enniskillen by building up an independent interest, perhaps by backing Brooke, since ‘where party is balanced as it is in Fermanagh, you would not find it difficult, circumstanced as you now stand, to form an interest making you the arbitrator between them, and in such a case, you could become the most important party of all!’ Yet, thereafter the family ambitions concentrated on Tyrone, where Corry’s brother Henry Lowry Corry was Member.26

No petitions were forthcoming against the reform bills, which the Members steadily opposed, but the Protestants, notably Enniskillen, Ely, Edward Archdall, Brooke, Cole and Creighton, mustered in force for another county meeting in defence of their cause, 25 Jan. 1832, and for Orange celebrations later that year.27 The general election of 1832, when there were 1,429 registered electors, saw the unopposed return as Conservatives of Archdall, members of whose family occupied one seat until 1885, and Cole, who held the other until 1840, while his brother Henry Arthur Cole was Member from 1854 to 1880. The only interloper before the third Reform Act was Brooke’s eldest surviving son Arthur Brinsley Brooke, another Conservative and Orangeman, who sat between 1840 and 1854. Fermanagh was thus unusual, even in Ulster, for the dominance of its leading landed proprietors.28

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 232; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 618-22; P. Livingstone, Fermanagh Story, 158-61, 169.
  • 2. Lord Belmore, Parl. Mems. of Fermanagh, 1; Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 237, 238; HP Commons, 1790-1832, ii. 654.
  • 3. Add. 40398, ff. 19, 20.
  • 4. PRO NI, Belmore mss D3007/H/7/6.
  • 5. Hants RO, Malmesbury mss 9M73/G2459, Malmesbury to FitzHarris, 9 Feb.; Dublin Evening Post, 12, 19 Feb., 1 Apr. 1820.
  • 6. Belfast Commercial Chron. 17 Jan. 1821.
  • 7. Belmore mss 7/2-4; 14/4-14, 19, 23, 26; The Times, 13 Sept. 1822.
  • 8. Belmore mss 7/7, 8; 14/5, 16; PP (1824), xxi. 684; (1825), xxii. 96; Enniskillen Chron. 27 Feb., 6, 13 Mar. 1823.
  • 9. CJ, lxxx. 314; LJ, lvii. 592; The Times, 19, 20 Apr. 1825.
  • 10. Belmore mss 14/19; Enniskillen Chron. 8, 15, 29 June, 6 July 1826.
  • 11. Enniskillen Chron. 2, 9 Nov. 1826, 4 Jan. 1827.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxii. 256, 388, 389; LJ, lix. 135, 206; The Times, 3, 7, 28 Mar., 6 Apr. 1827.
  • 13. Enniskillen Chron. 16 Aug., 13 Sept. 1827.
  • 14. Ibid. 3, 10, 17 Apr. 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 313; LJ, lx. 364.
  • 15. Belfast Guardian, 5, 19 Aug.; Enniskillen Chron. 2, 9 Oct.; Impartial Reporter, 9, 16, 23, 30 Oct., 6, 13, 20 Nov. 1828, 1 Jan. 1829.
  • 16. Enniskillen Chron. 1, 8, 15 Jan. 1829.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxiv. 115; LJ, lxi. 233.
  • 18. Impartial Reporter, 12, 26 Feb., 12 Mar., 2 Apr. 1829; Wellington mss WP1/997/17; 998/15.
  • 19. PP (1830), xxix. 466; Belmore mss 14/26.
  • 20. Livingstone, 161-4; Impartial Reporter, 6 Aug. 1829; Wellington mss WP1/1035/67; 1042/4.
  • 21. Enniskillen Chron. 22 Apr., 6 May; Enniskillener, 1 May 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 454, 527.
  • 22. Belmore mss 14/23, 26; PRO NI, Leslie mss MIC606/3/J/17/31-33; Dublin Evening Post, 10, 17 July; Enniskillen Chron. 15, 22, 29 July, 5, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 23. Enniskillener, 18, 25 Aug.; Enniskillen Chron. 19, 26 Aug.; Impartial Reporter, 19, 26 Aug. 1830; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 127; PP (1830-1), x. 202.
  • 24. Enniskillen Chron. 28 Apr., 5, 12 May 1831; Belmore mss 7/19; 14/21-26.
  • 25. Enniskillen Chron. 19, 26 May 1831; PP (1831), xvi. 199.
  • 26. Belmore mss 7/20-22.
  • 27. Impartial Reporter, 12, 26 Jan., 2 Feb., 10 May, 5 July 1832.
  • 28. K.T. Hoppen, Elections, Politics and Society in Ireland, 153.