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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of John Hely-Hutchinson, Lawyer & Statesman

CH35304John Hely (later Hely-Hutchinson), Irish lawyer, statesman, and Provost of Trinity College Dublin, dies on September 4, 1794 at Buxton, Derbyshire, England.

Hely is born in 1724 at Gortroe, Mallow, son of Francis Hely, a gentleman of County Cork. He is educated at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1744) and is called to the Irish bar in 1748. He takes the additional name of Hutchinson upon his marriage in 1751 to Christiana Nixon, heiress of her uncle, Richard Hutchinson.

Hely-Hutchinson is elected member of the Irish House of Commons for the borough of Lanesborough in 1759, but from 1761 to 1790 he represents Cork City. He at first attaches himself to the patriotic party in opposition to the government, and although he afterwards joins the administration, he never abandons his advocacy of popular measures.

After a session or two in parliament he is made a privy councillor and prime Serjeant-at-law. From this time he gives a general, though by no means invariable, support to the government. In 1767 the ministry contemplates an increase of the army establishment in Ireland from 12,000 to 15,000 men, but the Augmentation Bill meets with strenuous opposition, not only from Henry Flood, John Ponsonby and the habitual opponents of the government, but from the Undertakers, or proprietors of boroughs, on whom the government has hitherto relied to secure them a majority in the House of Commons.

It therefore becomes necessary for Lord Townshend to turn to other methods for procuring support. Early in 1768 an English Act is passed for the increase of the army, and a message from King George III setting forth the necessity for the measure is laid before the House of Commons in Dublin. An address favourable to the government policy is, however, rejected as Hely-Hutchinson, together with the speaker and the attorney general, do their utmost both in public and private to obstruct the bill. Parliament is dissolved in May 1768, and the lord lieutenant sets about the task of purchasing or otherwise securing a majority in the new parliament. Peerages, pensions and places are bestowed lavishly on those whose support could be thus secured. Hely-Hutchinson is won over by the concession that the Irish army should be established by the authority of an Irish act of parliament instead of an English one.

The Augmentation Bill is carried in the session of 1769 by a large majority. Hely-Hutchinson’s support had been so valuable that he receives as reward an addition of £1,000 a year to the salary of his sinecure of alnager, a major’s commission in a cavalry regiment, and a promise of the Secretaryship of State. He is at this time one of the most brilliant debaters in the Irish parliament and is enjoying an exceedingly lucrative practice at the bar. This income, however, together with his well-salaried sinecure, and his place as prime serjeant, he surrenders in 1774 to become provost of Trinity College, although the statute requiring the provost to be in holy orders has to be dispensed with in his favour.

For this great academic position Hely-Hutchinson is in no way qualified and his appointment to it for purely political service to the government is justly criticised with much asperity. His conduct in using his position as provost to secure the parliamentary representation of the university for his eldest son brings him into conflict with Patrick Duigenan, while a similar attempt on behalf of his second son in 1790 leads to his being accused before a select committee of the House of Commons of impropriety as returning officer. But although without scholarship Hely-Hutchinson is an efficient provost, during whose rule material benefits are conferred on Trinity College.

Hely-Hutchinson continues to occupy a prominent place in parliament, where he advocates free trade, the relief of the Catholics from penal legislation, and the reform of parliament. He is one of the very earliest politicians to recognise the soundness of Adam Smith‘s views on trade and he quotes from the Wealth of Nations, adopting some of its principles, in his Commercial Restraints of Ireland, published in 1779, which William Edward Hartpole Lecky pronounces one of the best specimens of political literature produced in Ireland in the latter half of the 18th century.

In the same year, the economic condition of Ireland being the cause of great anxiety, the government solicits from several leading politicians their opinion on the state of the country with suggestions for a remedy. Hely-Hutchinson’s response is a remarkably able state paper, which also shows clear traces of the influence of Adam Smith. The Commercial Restraints, condemned by the authorities as seditious, goes far to restore Hely-Hutchinson’s popularity which has been damaged by his greed of office. Not less enlightened are his views on the Catholic question. In a speech in parliament on Catholic education in 1782 the provost declares that Catholic students are in fact to be found at Trinity College, but that he desires their presence thereto be legalised on the largest scale.

In 1777 Hely-Hutchinson becomes Secretary of State. When Henry Grattan in 1782 moves an address to the king containing a declaration of Irish legislative independence, he supports the attorney general’s motion postponing the question. On April 16, however, after the Easter recess, he reads a message from the Lord Lieutenant, the William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, giving the king’s permission for the House to take the matter into consideration, and he expresses his personal sympathy with the popular cause which Grattan on the same day brings to a triumphant issue. Hely-Hutchinson supports the opposition on the regency question in 1788, and one of his last votes in the House is in favour of parliamentary reform. In 1790 he exchanges the constituency of Cork for that of Taghmon in County Wexford, for which borough he remains member until his death at Buxton, Derbyshire on September 4, 1794.

(Pictured: Portrait, oil on canvas, of John Hely-Hutchinson (1724–1794) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792))


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John Ponsonby Re-elected Speaker of the Irish House of Commons

John Ponsonby, Irish politician styled The Honourable from 1724, is unanimously re-elected Speaker of the Irish House of Commons on October 22, 1761.

Ponsonby is born on March 29, 1713, the second son of Brabazon Ponsonby, 1st Earl of Bessborough. In 1739, he enters the Irish House of Commons for Newtownards, becoming its speaker in 1756. He also serves as First Commissioner of the Revenue and he becomes a member of the Privy Council of Ireland in 1746. In 1761, he is elected for Kilkenny County and Armagh Borough, and sits for the first. In 1768, he stands also for Gowran and Newtownards, and in 1776 for Carlow Borough, but chooses each time Kilkenny County, which he represents until 1783. Subsequently Ponsonby is again returned for Newtownards and sits for this constituency until his death in 1787.

Belonging to one of the great families which at this time monopolizes the government of Ireland, Ponsonby is one of the principal “undertakers,” men who control the whole of the king’s business in Ireland, and he retains the chief authority until George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend, becomes lord-lieutenant in 1767. A struggle for supremacy follows between the Ponsonby faction and the party dependent on Townshend, one result of this being that Ponsonby resigns the speakership in 1771.

In 1743, Ponsonby marries Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire, a connection which is of great importance to the Ponsonbys. His older brother, William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough, had married the Duke’s eldest daughter in 1739. His sons, William Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly, and George Ponsonby, are also politicians of distinction. His daughter Catherine marries Richard Boyle, 2nd Earl of Shannon, and is mother to Henry Boyle, 3rd Earl of Shannon.

John Ponsonby dies on August 16, 1787.


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Birth of Lawyer & Politician Philip Tisdall

philip-tisdallPhilip Tisdall, lawyer and politician who is a leading figure in the Irish Government for many years, is born on March 1, 1703, in County Louth.

Tisdall is the son of Richard Tisdall, who is MP for Dundalk in 1703–1713 and for Louth in 1717–1727, by his wife Marian Boyle, daughter of Richard Boyle, MP, a cousin of the Earl of Cork. His father is also Registrar of the Court of Chancery.

Tisdall is educated at Thomas Sheridan‘s school in Dublin, and at the University of Dublin, where he graduates Bachelor of Arts in 1722. He enters Middle Temple in 1723 and is called to the Irish Bar in 1733.

In 1736 he marries Mary Singleton, daughter of the Rev. Rowland Singleton and Elizabeth Graham, and niece and co-heiress of Henry Singleton, Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, a marriage which brings him both wealth and influence. He quickly becomes one of the leaders of the Bar, partly through his legal ability and partly through his marriage into the wealthy and influential Singleton family. He is made a Bencher of the King’s Inns in 1742.

He sits in the Irish House of Commons as MP for Dublin University from 1739 to 1776 and then for the city of Armagh from 1776 until his death. He is elected as member for Armagh in 1768, but chooses to continue sitting for the University.

In 1742 Tisdall is appointed Third Serjeant, then Solicitor-General in 1751 and Attorney-General in 1760. He is also appointed judge of the Prerogative Court of Ireland, an office he holds from 1745 until his death. In 1763 he becomes Principal Secretary of State, and on February 28, 1764 he is appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland. For almost 20 years he is a crucial figure in the Irish Government, which relies on him on to manage the Irish House of Commons, a task which he performs with great skill and tact. Tisdall is almost all-powerful until 1767, when George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend, arrives as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Townshend has a mandate to restore the direct power of the Crown over Irish affairs and to bypass the Irish managers like Tisdall. To his credit, Townshend recognises that Tisdall’s support is still an asset to the Government, and makes great efforts to conciliate him. Townshend lobbies hard for Tisdall to be appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland, but comes up against the inflexible British reluctance, then and for many years after, to appoint an Irishman to this crucial office. He retains the confidence of successive Lords Lieutenants. In 1777, despite his age and failing health, he is asked to resume his role as Government leader in the House of Commons. He agrees, but dies at Spa, Belgium on September 11 of the same year.

Tisdall is strikingly dark in complexion, hence his nicknames “Black Phil” and “Philip the Moor,” and is described as “grave in manner and sardonic in temper.” Despite his somewhat forbidding appearance, he is a hospitable character, who is noted for entertaining lavishly, even when he is well into his seventies, both at his town house in South Leinster Street, and his country house at Stillorgan. John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, who succeeds him as Attorney General, writes that Tisdall would have lived longer if he had adopted a more sedate lifestyle in his later years.