Tag Archives: Irish parliament

Tom Ashe, punster

Thomas Ashe (1656–1722) was a member of the Irish parliament, first for Swords and then for Clogher, and a friend of Jonathan Swift (who wrote Ashe’s dying speech years before he died).

Ashe was described as

‘a facetious pleasant companion, but the most eternal unwearied punster that ever lived. He was thick and short in his person, being not above five feet high at the most, and had something very droll in his appearance … There is a whimsical story, and a very true one, of Tom Ashe, which is well remembered to this day. It happened that, while he was travelling on horseback, and a considerable distance from any town, there burst from the clouds such a torrent of rain as wetted him through. He galloped forward; and as soon as he came to an inn, he was met instantly by a drawer; “Here,” said he to the fellow, stretching out one of his arms, “take off my coat immediately.” No, sir, I won’t,” said the drawer. “… confound you,” said Ashe, “take off my coat this instant!” “No, sir,” replied the drawer, “I dare not take off your coat, for it is a felony to strip an ash.” Ireland in the eighteenth century was almost denuded of trees [bark was used in the tanning industry] and this referred to a statute, probably that of 1698, aimed at their preservation. Tom was delighted beyond measure, frequently told the story, and said he would have given fifty guineas to be the author of that pun.’

[Quoted matter is from E.M. Johnston-Liik, History of the Irish Parliament 1692–1800: Commons, Constituencies and Statutes (Ulster Historical Foundation 2002), Vol. IV, p. 114.]


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Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland 2

Continuing from my earlier post, Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland

Sometimes it was not only the defeated party in a duel that suffered the consequences. In 1807 William Congreve Alcock (former MP for Waterford City and Co. Wexford) killed John Colclough over an election dispute, apparently in front of a large crowd including the county sheriff and 16 magistrates. Afterwards, Alcock ‘became melancholy; his understanding declined; a dark gloom enveloped his entire intellect; and an excellent young man and a perfect gentleman at length sank into irrecoverable imbecility’. He was confined in a lunatic asylum, and died in 1813 at the age of 42.

Robert Edgeworth, a member of the prominent Longford family and MP for St Johnstown (1713–27), was described as follows: ‘He had no notion of good breeding, was outrageously rude and abusive to persons he disliked, had a strange disposition to fighting and quarrelling and was quite void of fear of any man living; but was most childishly fearful of apparitions and goblins especially after he had killed Mr Atkinson in a duel in Clontarf Wood, after which time he could never lie without a lighted candle in his room and a servant either in his chamber or within his call … He hated many people, loved nobody, nor nobody loved him.’ Continue reading

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Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland

[First posted on MyT]

I see that an exhibition will soon open at the National Museum of Ireland on the history of duelling, which reached its peak here between 1780 and 1820. In a sample of 306 Irish duels fought between 1771 and 1790, there were 65 instant deaths and 16 mortal wounds; less than a third ended without injury. At least 19 Dublin companies were making duelling pistols in the early nineteenth century.

Some years ago I worked on a project involving the Irish parliament of 1695–1800, and compiled a fair bit of information on duelling and much else. Here is some of it: more will follow in a second post. Continue reading


Filed under History, Ireland

Wit in the Irish parliament

This is an extract from an article I once wrote on the Irish parliament (1692-1800).

Reported witticisms were many. The Duke of Rutland, making conversation with Sir John Stewart Hamilton (MP for Strabane) at a levee, once remarked on the prospect of an excellent harvest, saying that the timely rain would bring everything above ground. Sir John replied: ‘God forbid! For I have three wives under it.’ When Cornelius O’Callaghan (a lawyer and future MP for Fethard (Tipperary)) was making suit for his wife, her mother asked where his estates lay. O’Callaghan is alleged to have stuck out his tongue and pointed at it.

Montagu Mathew (MP for Ballynakill) was sometimes confused with his fellow Harrovian, Mathew Montagu, causing him to remark on one occasion that ‘I wish it to be understood that there is no more likeness between Montagu Mathew and Mathew Montagu than between a chestnut horse and a horse chestnut.’ Continue reading


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More eighteenth-century insults and invective

Some more material supplied by the eighteenth-century Irish parliamentarians and their contemporaries …

There are some good quotes about the prominent politician Patrick Duigenan (MP for Old Leighlin and Armagh City): Sir Jonah Barrington said that he was ‘always at open war with some person, during the whole course of his public life … he considered invective as the first, detail as the second, and decorum as the last quality of a public orator and he never failed to exemplify these principles’. Henry Grattan considered that Duigenan’s speeches inflicted a double injury, ‘the Catholics suffering from his attack and the Protestants from his defence’. John Philpot Curran said that Duigenan’s speeches were ‘like the unrolling of a mummy – nothing but old bones and rotten rags’. Continue reading


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Eighteenth-century insults and invective

Some years ago I wrote a long article based on material I was working on at the time, concerning the eighteenth-century Irish parliament. I posted various extracts from it on MyT; here is one. There will be others.

The standard of wit and invective was often very high among members of the eighteenth-century Irish parliament and their contemporaries, even though a careless insult might result in a duel – perhaps the members avoided insulting the best shots. The language used, whether to praise or to deplore, was far more expressive than any politician could manage today. Continue reading


Filed under History, Ireland