Flood is born in Dublin in 1732, the illegitimate son of Warden Flood, Lord Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench in Ireland. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and afterwards at Christ Church, Oxford, where he becomes proficient in the classics.
Flood enters the Irish Parliament in 1759 as member for Kilkenny County. Irish Protestants are becoming impatient with the British Parliament’s right to legislate for Ireland over the wishes of the Irish Parliament. Moreover, the British government controls a majority in Ireland’s House of Commons through the distribution of crown patronage by the owners of parliamentary boroughs.
Flood’s outstanding oratorical powers soon enable him to create a small but effective opposition inside the Irish Parliament that agitates for political reforms. They demand provisions for new Irish parliamentary elections every eight years, instead of merely at the start of a new British king’s reign. Their long-range goal is legislative independence. In 1768 his Patriots engineer passage of a bill limiting the duration of Parliament to eight years, and in 1769 and 1771 they defeat measures to grant funds for the British administration in Ireland.
Although Flood had become the first independent Irish statesman, he sacrifices this position in 1775 by accepting the office of vice treasurer under the British viceroy, Lord Simon Harcourt, 1st Earl Harcourt. Henry Grattan, an even greater orator than Flood and who describes Flood as a man “with a metaphor in his mouth and a bribe in his pocket,” replaces him as leader of the Patriots.
Flood, however, leaves the Patriot cause at the wrong time. The movement grows rapidly as more and more Irish people are influenced by the North American colonists who are rebelling against the British in the American Revolution. In 1779 he rejoins his old party, and two years later he is officially dismissed from his government post. Although he has lost his following, he helps Grattan force the British government to renounce its restrictions on Irish trade (1779) and grant legislative independence to Ireland (1782).
Flood then decides to challenge Grattan’s leadership. Charging that Grattan has not gone far enough in his reforms, he obtains passage of a measure requiring the British Parliament to renounce all claims to control of Irish legislation. Nevertheless, his newly acquired popularity is destroyed upon the defeat of his attempt to reform the Irish Parliament in 1784.
Flood is a member of both the British and Irish parliaments from 1783 until he loses his seat in both parliaments in 1790, although in England he fails to achieve the kind of political successes that characterize his Irish parliamentary career.
Following the loss of his seats in parliament, Flood retires to Farmley, his residence in County Kilkenny, where he remains until his death on December 2, 1791. He and his wife Lady Frances Beresford, daughter of Marcus Beresford, 1st Earl of Tyrone, who survives until 1815, have no children, and his property passes to a cousin, John Flood. A large bequest to Trinity College Dublin is declared invalid.
(Pictured: Portrait of Henry Flood (1732 – 1791) by Bartholomew Stoker (1763-1788). John Comerford later makes a sketch of the portrait, from which James Heath makes an engraving.)