1793 the franchise was held by the forty-shilling freeholder, if registered, a
protestant and not married to a Roman Catholic."
......... " In order to
become registered, a freeholder was required to go before the Clerk of the Peace for the
county and swear that he was in possession of a freehold of forty shillings annual value;
in addition he had to state certain facts about it, such as its nature, the name of the
grantor, the quantity of land, the date of its title deeds, and, if it was let, the name
of the lessee with the amount of rent received. This information was supposed to test the
validity of the freehold and these particulars were entered, with the freeholder's name,
in the Poll book, which was open to public inspection. For making the entry, the Clerk of
the Peace received a fee of sixpence." (a few examples of Registration Books and Poll
Books are in the National Library of Ireland).
"The freeholder had to
be a protestant but he could be an anglican or a dissenter, provided he was not married to
a Roman Catholic who had refused to become a protestant within a year of her
marriage." (The protestant population of Ireland probably fluctuated between one
quarter and one fifth of the whole.)
"The Penal Laws by
which the anglican ascendancy consolidated their position in the fifty years following the
Revolution (1689), had ensured that the land in all the Irish counties had passed almost
entirely into their hands, and they let it on very insecure tenures to a very large number
of small tenant farmers, generally Roman Catholic in the south and presbyterian in Ulster.
" 'The laws against
popery have so far operated', remarked Lord Townshend in 1772, 'that at this day there is
no popish family remaining of any great weight from landed property'. Under these
circumstances genuine freeholders were, inevitably, few .......
"The scarcity of
genuine freeholders, combined with the even territorial interests in the majority of the
counties, led to the creation of a class of fictitious freeholders ........
had the legal posession, in the form of the title deeds and rent-charges, of their
freeholds, but not the actual ownership. They were, in fact, the actual tenants of a
landlord, who had made them freeholders solely for his political purposes, and the nominal
owners of freeholds they had often never seen. The power of the landlord over this type of
freeholder was naturally absolute ......
"The shortage of
qualified freeholders and the even balance of county interests combined to produce the
curious anomaly in the county electorates described by Flood (Henry) in 1785 (Parliamentry
Register, V, p 151)
"It is well known that
gentlemen in different counties agree to make freeholders on this condition, 'I will make
forty or fifty freeholders in your county if you will make the same in mine, and they
shall go to you on condition that yours come to me'. Thus they travel about; and a band of
itinerant freeholders dispose of the representation of the country; while mock electors
are brought from North to South, and from South to North, an army of fictitious
freeholders produced as true.
"This situation was
possible because, as Flood remarked in an earlier debate, (in the Irish Parliament) 'by
the laws now submitting, a 40s. freeholder may vote everywhere; the freeholder is not
confined by law to the county in which he normally resided, and as 'elections carried on
from day to day for a very long period' it was practicable as well as legal for a
freeholder to vote in more than one county, even when the dates of polling coincided,
which was not always the case. The complete subserviency of the fictitious freeholder, the
consequence of his real status, to his landlord secured the efficiency of this peculiar
"Numbers of electors in
Ulster counties. Map 1.
Cavan 1,850 and