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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number qualified to vote:



7,547 (1821); 9,562 (1831)


20 Mar. 1820JAMES CUFFE
13 June 1826JAMES CUFFE 1
12 Sept. 1828SIR EDWARD DENNY, bt. vice Cuffe, deceased
9 June 1829ROBERT VERNON SMITH vice Denny, vacated his seat
4 Dec. 1830ROBERT VERNON SMITH re-elected after appointment to office

Main Article

The borough of Tralee, which extended into the neighbouring parish of Ratass, was a busy though backward market town and seaport, whose fortunes were limited by its shallow harbour.2 Its defective corporation, comprising a provost (who acted as returning officer) and 12 free burgesses (most of whom were residents), with no more than a handful of unprivileged freemen, was entirely the creature of Sir Edward Denny, himself a burgess, who owned Tralee Castle and almost the entire property in the neighbourhood.3 Since just before the Union, when he had inherited his baronetcy, he had entrusted the sale of its two parliamentary seats (one from 1801) to his father-in-law Judge Robert Day of Loughlinstown, county Dublin, and he almost never attended, being resident in England. Day, who retired from the bench in 1818, usually sold it for an entire Parliament, at a price of £5,000 or £6,000, to supporters of government, who were often Englishmen.4 The tame corporators, mainly Denny’s relatives and dependants, merely ratified the choice of Member and contests were unknown. Denny’s eldest son Edward was returned at the general election of 1818, but the following year he made way for Lord Tyrawley’s illegitimate son James Cuffe of Deal Castle, county Mayo, an inactive and anti-Catholic supporter of Lord Liverpool’s administration.

Cuffe was again returned unopposed at the general election of 1820, although in May and June John Benn Walsh*, son of Sir John Benn Walsh† of Warfield Park, Berkshire, seems to have been involved in an abortive negotiation for the seat (as well as apparently for Limerick).5 In January 1823 a Tralee meeting approved an address to the lord lieutenant, Lord Wellesley, congratulating him on escaping unharmed from the Dublin Orange theatre riot the previous month, and it was presented to him on the 21st.6 Lord John Russell brought up a petition from an inhabitant, Thomas Day, 19 May 1826, alleging that under Denny’s marriage settlement, Day profited from the sale of Tralee as a trust fund for his younger grandchildren, so that the ‘representation of a large and flourishing town has been on every occasion sold to the highest bidder, for the emolument of a "single family", and this wicked and destructive process carried on by a judge of the land’.7 Despite this, Cuffe was left in undisturbed possession at the general election that summer. Following meetings of the resident Catholics, 22 Oct. 1826, 14 Jan. 1827, petitions in favour of their claims were presented to the Commons by the knight of Kerry, one of the county Members, 14 Feb., and the Lords, probably by Lord Lansdowne, 9 Mar. 1827, while others were brought up, 4 Mar. 1828 (by the knight) and 16 Mar. 1829 (by Thomas Spring Rice, Whig Member for Limerick).8

On the death of Cuffe in July 1828, an offer was expected from one of the brothers or sons of Daniel O’Connell*, who, in speaking at the Catholic Association, 4 Aug., and by an address to the inhabitants, 11 Aug., called for the borough to be opened. O’Connell also asserted that it was by a legal agreement made in 1794 (Denny’s marriage settlement) that the seat was sold for between £3,000 and £5,000, a statement which Robert Day later complained was a breach of professional confidence on O’Connell’s part. However, his assertion that the corporation was not entirely Protestant in composition, because his Catholic relative Dr. O’Connell (perhaps his late father-in-law Thomas) was or had been a burgess, was flatly denied by an anonymous correspondent in the Kerry Evening Post.9 Unbeknown to him, the Wellington government negotiated the succession to the seat of William Vesey Fitzgerald*, the president of the board of trade, who had been defeated in the recent Clare contest. A pleased Vesey Fitzgerald, who thought it ‘an odd coincidence’ that he should again find himself ‘in collision’ with his Clare opponent and that ‘we shall have him sending a petition against my return’, commented to his friend Peel, the home secretary, that he ‘had kept out of Judge Day’s way’, as ‘I know him to be a very corrupt man, and I am only surprised that he did not take advantage of Cuffe’s death to look to some new negotiation for his seat’.10 Probably owing to the potential awkwardness of Vesey Fitzgerald being again pitted against the forces of the Catholic Association, he withdrew and, perhaps because the O’Connellite concentration on the borough’s charter had focused attention on the fact that the Member should be a burgess, Denny himself stood. On 12 September 1828 the proprietor was proposed by his fellow corporators Major William Carique Ponsonby of Crotto and the Rev. Arthur Blennerhassett Rowan, curate of Blennerville, and the liberal Nicholas Philpot Leader* of Dromagh Castle, county Cork, was nominated by the householders Francis Healy and Thomas O’Reilly. The provost, Caleb Chute, refused to entertain this ruse and Denny was declared elected, despite the objections of O’Connell’s brother John O’Connell of Grenagh, who threatened a petition.11 The following month Wellington had to inform Valentine Blake† of Menlough Castle, county Galway, who was conducting a personal vendetta against O’Connell, that the seat had already been disposed of, while O’Connell justified having chosen Leader over another aspirant on account of his nearby residence and commercial expertise.12

On 15 Oct. 1828 a dinner was held in honour of O’Connell, who the next day, like Leader, was prominent at the meeting of independents called to protest against local tolls and to work for liberating the borough.13 Nothing came of the rumoured Brunswick Club in Tralee, which Denny, who approved of its increasing commercial prospects, visited for the first time in several years in November 1828.14 Another meeting of the independents, attended by the Liberator’s son Maurice Daniel O’Connell*, thanked Leader for his exertions on their behalf, 1 Jan. 1829.15 When Denny, who no doubt only ever considered himself a stopgap, vacated in May, he apparently proposed to sell the borough to O’Connell, who had been unseated for refusing to take the oath of supremacy, for 3,000 guineas.16 Nothing came of this, however, as it was instead sold to the young Robert Vernon Smith, son of the former Canningite Robert Percy (‘Bobus’) Smith*. John O’Connell chaired an election meeting in support of Leader, who was again proposed ineffectually by Healy and O’Reilly, but Smith was returned on being introduced by Rowan and the combative Henry Denny of Church Hill, rector of Annagh, for whom Sir Edward (his father) had made way on the corporation.17 About 200 signatures were quickly put to the ensuing petition and the re-election of Caleb Chute as provost on the 24th attracted such a hostile account by Thomas Day, now proprietor of the Western Herald, that the Rev. Henry Denny wrote a public letter in defence of the corporation.18 The petition, which alleged that irregularities had also occurred at the by-election the previous year, stated that Smith had paid £3,000 to hold the seat for three years or the remainder of the Parliament and recommended that Judge Day should be examined over his role in the management of the borough. The session ended before this could be given consideration and the Speaker noted that Healy and O’Reilly had not entered into their recognizances, 5 Feb. 1830.19 A petition from the Catholics for repeal of the Irish Vestries Act was brought up by Hume, 3 June 1829, and one from the Chamber of Commerce against the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties was presented by Smith, 18 May 1830.20 The implementation of the Tralee Harbour Act of 1828, which eventually led to the improvement of the port, and the construction of a new court house were issues raised in Tralee at the county by-election in April 1830, when the knight of Kerry promised to continue to be active in their support.21

John Flynn, the proprietor of the radical Tralee Mercury, unsuccessfully contested the election for town clerk in June 1830, when the choice of Pierce Chute as provost was described as evidence of ‘the good old shuttlecock system which pervades this most rotten of boroughs’.22 Although, with Leader coming in for Kilkenny, the independents mustered in support of Maurice O’Connell as an opponent of the Denny interest, nothing disturbed the return of Smith, apparently under the same electoral arrangement, at the general election that summer.23 Indeed, despite a fear that Denny might dishonestly evict him, he again renewed his lease, having been appointed to the treasury board in the Grey administration, at a by-election that December.24 Petitions against colonial slavery from the Wesleyan Methodists and the inhabitants were presented to the Commons by Rice and Smith, 23 Nov., 11 Dec., and to the Lords, 10 Dec. 1830, and Daniel O’Connell brought up another from the parish against the grant to the Kildare Place Society, 24 June 1831.25 O’Connell, who had already exploited his support in the Tralee Chamber of Commerce to assist his ambitions in the county, used the occasion of his unopposed return for Kerry in May as a platform for again condemning the corrupt and unrepresentative nature of the borough.26 Nonetheless, the anti-reformer Walker Ferrand of Harden Grange, Yorkshire was elected, which was counted as a gain of one seat for the Tory opposition.27

Robert Day, who damned O’Connell’s attempt to unfetter the inhabitants at this election, commented of the apparent inevitability of the passage of the reform bill that summer that, ‘as for Tralee, I should not be sorry if it were to be fused into the county; if, instead of giving us a potwalloping borough involving all manner of wickedness, they would give the county a third Member’.28 Nothing came of the suggestion made by the attorney Daniel Supple in December 1831 that a petition could be got up attacking the inadequacy of the Irish reform bill.29 That month the boundary commissioners sardonically reported:

It has generally happened that the people of Tralee and their parliamentary representatives have been total strangers to each other, and it is a fact worth mentioning that several intelligent and respectable persons, amongst whom was the provost himself, could not tell us the name of the present Member.

They calculated that there would be 254 £10 householders as well as eight burgesses qualified to vote under the Irish Reform Act, but there were only 180 registered electors at the general election of 1832.30 O’Connell, who had been given a great reception at a repeal dinner in Tralee in March and benefited from the lowering of the franchise, secured the return of his son Maurice as a Repealer against the new Sir Edward Denny, a ‘strict Conservative’, who had succeeded his father as 4th baronet and patron of the borough the previous year.31 This contest was repeated in January 1835, when Daniel O’Connell claimed that the Denny family’s former pocket borough had netted it £40,000 in the 30 years following the Union.32 The corporation was roundly dismissed in the Irish municipal corporations report that year, but at least the town could take comfort from its transformed appearance and prosperity.33 The traveller Henry David Inglis recorded in 1834 that ‘20 years ago, Tralee was little else than a congregation of cabins’, but that ‘within a far shorter period it has received, as a merchant of the town expressed it, its new face’.34 The borough was represented almost uninterruptedly by Maurice and his brother Daniel O’Connell until 1863.

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Dublin Evening Post, 17 June 1826 (no date is given in OR)
  • 2. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 235, 236.
  • 3. Peep at the Commons (1820), 22; PP (1824), xxi. 685; (1829), xxii. 267; (1831-2), xxxvi. 629; xliii. 131; (1835), xxvii. 621-4.
  • 4. Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 246; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 661, 662.
  • 5. NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, p. 61; G15, ff. 61, 65, 67, 69, 71.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 7 Jan. 1823; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 990.
  • 7. CJ, lxxxi. 373; The Times, 20 May 1826.
  • 8. Dublin Evening Post, 28 Oct. 1826, 22 Jan.; The Times, 15 Feb., 10 Mar. 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 166; lxxxiii. 126; lxxxiv. 141; LJ, lix. 150.
  • 9. Dublin Evening Post, 5, 14 Aug.; Kerry Evening Post, 6, 16 Aug. 1828; PRO NI, Fitzgerald mss MIC639/14/7/19.
  • 10. Add. 40322, f. 278.
  • 11. Kerry Evening Post, 10 Sept.; Dublin Evening Post, 16 Sept. 1828.
  • 12. Wellington mss WP1/961/5; 963/56; O’Connell Corresp. viii. 3409.
  • 13. Western Herald, 16, 20 Oct.; Dublin Evening Post, 23 Oct. 1828.
  • 14. Dublin Evening Mail, 29 Oct.; Kerry Evening Post, 19 Nov. 1828.
  • 15. PRO NI, Leader mss D3653/16/3/37; Kerry Evening Post, 31 Jan. 1829.
  • 16. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1572.
  • 17. Western Herald, 8, 11 Aug.; Dublin Evening Post, 9, 13 June 1829.
  • 18. Western Herald, 15, 25, 29 Aug.; Kerry Evening Post, 27 Aug. 1829.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxiv. 404, 405; lxxxv. 10.
  • 20. Ibid. lxxxiv. 369; lxxxv. 440.
  • 21. Western Herald, 22 Apr. 1830.
  • 22. Ibid. 21, 24 June 1830.
  • 23. Ibid. 22, 25 July 1830.
  • 24. Grey mss, Lansdowne to Grey [21 Nov. 1830].
  • 25. CJ, lxxxvi. 130, 167; lxxxvii. 557; LJ, lxiii. 164, 165.
  • 26. Western Herald, 11 Oct. 1830, 10, 14, 19 May 1831; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1805, 1810.
  • 27. Dublin Evening Post, 12 May 1831; Durham CRO, Londonderry mss D/LO/C83 (32).
  • 28. Fitzgerald mss 14/7/19, 39.
  • 29. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1859.
  • 30. PP (1831-2), xliii. 131, 132.
  • 31. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1876, 1921, 1941, 1943; Wellington mss WP1/1239/10; Kerry Evening Post, 3, 21 Nov., 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 32. G. J. Lyne, ‘O’Connell, Intimidation and Kerry Elections of 1835’, Jnl. of Kerry Arch. and Hist. Soc. iv (1971), 81, 82.
  • 33. PP (1835), xxvii. 621-8; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 640, 641.
  • 34. H.D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, i. 252, 259.