Constituencies and Elections

In this section you can read profiles of all 150 parliamentary constituencies in the Irish House of Commons. There were 32 county constituencies and 117 borough constituencies, 8 of which were county boroughs – medieval in origin and combining both county (a defined area around the town/city) and corporation characteristics. The remaining constituency was Dublin University (Trinity College Dublin). Each constituency returned two members to parliament and all electors had two votes, but could use only one (‘plump’) if they wished.

For each county a summary table is included which provides an overview of the electorate. This is very generalised, for all eighteenth-century figures are ‘soft’ and can only be approximate. In these tables:

  • the figures after county names show percentages of Catholic households in 1732;
  • square brackets after percentages are estimates of the total population in 1784;
  • figures preceded by c. are guesses at the electorate, extrapolated from the electoral returns;
  • square brackets after the electorate represent estimates of the county electorate 1800 to 1832 taken from the History of Parliament 1790–1820 (indicating the effects of the 1793 Catholic Enfranchisement Act);
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The medieval boroughs were enfranchised on very varied terms. In addition, there were 12 potwalloping and 6 manor boroughs, but the majority of the boroughs were corporation boroughs, and although in some the franchise was extended to freemen, the normal pattern was for a mayor (also known as a sovereign, portreeve or burgomaster and elected from the burgesses annually) and 12 burgesses (making 13 in all and stated as 13 or 12 depending on whether the mayor was counted electorally or as a burgess. the mayor was the returning officer and held a casting vote. By the end of the century this pattern was more theoretical than actual.

Unlike in the modern period, in Ireland in the eighteenth century elections to parliament were not held regularly. Irish parliaments could last for the life of the sovereign (e.g. George I and George II), until 1768 when the Octennial Act ensured an election every eight years. The death of an MP, and before the 1790s nothing else, created a by-election.

The Act of Union allowed for 100 Irish MPs: the counties and the cities of Cork and Dublin retained both members but Dublin University (Trinity College Dublin) and the larger towns were reduced to single members allocated by agreement or lot. There was no general election immediately following the union and the surviving MPs were simply transferred to Westminster where, as British MPs, they have biographical entries in the British History of Parliament.

The election tables presented in this section are a simple way to see who was elected for which county constituency and some of the larger boroughs from 1692 through to the first general election after the Act of Union, which was held in 1802.