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The Irish electorate, 1868–1915

  • Brian Mercer Walker


Between 1801 and 1921 Ireland in common with the rest of the British Isles was represented in the house of commons at Westminster. During this time the basis of the Irish representation underwent considerable change both in relation to the number of Irish M.P.s, electors and population and in comparison with the number of M.P.s, electors and population for Great Britain. The purpose of this article ir, by means of statistical tables, to analyse the Irish electorate between 1868 and 1915 and in particular to show the effect of the electoral reforms of 1868 and 1884–5. The electorate of Ireland will be viewed not only in the context of the separate Irish constituencies and the proportion of electors to adult males and population in each but also in the context of the whole of the British Isles and the total number of electors and population with the proportion of electors to population in each country. As well the average number of electors and population per M.P. for the different countries will be shown.



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page no 359 note 1 See p. 373, note 3.

page no 359 note 2 There are few good textbooks on Irish franchise and registration law in this period. The best insight is provided in a private publication of the Central Conservative Registration Society for Ireland, Notes and hints upon the registration of voters for the guidance of agents (Dublin, 1870) (P.R.O.N.I., Dungannon borough revision papers, D847/8) (hereafter cited as Notes and hints upon registration). See also Hunt, Henry, Franchise and registration law: a practical guide for officials] voters and revising baristers … (Dublin, 1885) (hereafter referred to as Hunt, A practical guide). This latter book, while primarily concerned with the legal situation after 1885, has useful details of the laws before 1885.

page no 360 note 3 For a detailed description see Notes and hints upon registration, pp 1–11. Also Report from the select committee on registration of parliamentary voters, Ireland: together with the proceedings of the committee, pp 1–133, H.C. 1874 (261), xi, 167–313 (hereafter cited as Report on registration (Ireland)). Borough and county registration differed in a number of ways—see above.

page no 360 note 4 In Dublin borough this was the responsibility of the collector general along with his rate collectors.

page no 360 note 5 Hansard 3, ccxxix, 1–32.

page no 360 note 6 Report on registration (Ireland), pp 4, 75–8.

page no 360 note 7 Hansard 3, ccyiii, 703–10; Dawson, C., Remarks on the county, borough and municipal franchises in England and Ireland (Dublin, n.d., probably 1875), pp 67.

page no 361 note 8 Difficulty arises over assessing the number of occupiers of the required value. The number of holdings of this value gives too large a figure as it includes duplicate holdings. These figures are based on the number of rated properties of the necessary value with houses; it does of course include female occupiers. Return, giving for each of the parliamentary boroughs and counties in Ireland, area, valuation, population in 1851, 1861 and i8yi; number of tenements valued at £4 and under; at over £4 and under £12; at £12 and over; number of electors registered as rated occupiers, and for any other qualification, distinguishing freemen …, pp 1–12, H.C. 1874 (45), liii, 557–68. These figures have been adjusted to account for Cashel and Sligo. For further useful information on the working of the registration system see Parliamentary return from each city, town and borough in Ireland, returning members (except the city of Dublin), of the number of tenements valued over £4 within the parliamentary limits of such city or borough, included in the last rate made previously to the 8 July 18J4, and of the number of such tenements returned in such rate as empty, p. 1, H.C. 1875 (424), lx, 493.

page no 361 note 9 Registration Amendment (Ireland) Act, 1868, 31 and 32 Vict., c. 112.

page no 361 note 10 Three minor changes were the increase of registry courts in 1873, the disfranchisement of Cashel and Sligo in 1870 and the disfranchisement of some Dublin freemen in 1870.

page no 360 note 11 See Seymour, Charles, Electoral reform in England and Wales: the development and operation of the parliamentary franchise 1832–1885 (Yale, 1917, reprint Newton Abbot, 1970) (hereafter referred to as Seymour, Electoral reform); Hanham, H.J., The reformed electoral system in Great Britain, 1832–1914 (London, 1968) (hereafter cited as Hanham, Reformed electoral system, 1832–1914).

page no 361 note 12 For contemporary critical comment see Costelloe, B.FC., Notes and statistics concerning the Irish franchise (London, 1884) (hereafter cited as Costelloe, Notes and statistics); Dawson, C., ‘The Irish franchise’ in Fortnightly Review, 27, no. 158 (Feb. 1880), pp 281–7 (hereafter cited as Dawson, Irish franchise).

page no 361 note 13 See Smith, FB., The second reform bill (Cambridge, 1966).

page no 362 note 14 Lodgers had qualified in Scotland since 1832 because they were legally tenants (ibid., p. 226). Registration of lodgers was slightly different in Ireland from the procedure in England and Wales ( Dawson, , Irish franchise, p. 285).

page no 362 note 15 See Hanham, , Reformed electoral system, 1832–1914, pp 33–5; Notes and hints upon registration, pp 12–21.

page no 362 note 16 Returns of local taxation in Ireland for the year 1869, pp 18–21 [C300], H.C. 1871, lvii, 102–5 (hereafter cited as Returns of local taxation); Report from the select committee on Irish valuation acts; with the proceedings of the committee and an appendix, pp 4–6, H.C 1904 (130), vi, 274–6 (hereafter cited as Report on Irish valuation).

page no 362 note 17 Report on Irish valuation, p. 6; Burke, J.F., ‘The valuation of Ireland’ in Ivern. Soc. Jn., 6, no. 24 (July 1914), pp 208–12 (hereafter cited as Burke, Valuation).

page no 362 note 18 Returns of local taxation, p. 20.

page no 362 note 19 Hansard 3, ccxxix, 2–8.

page no 362 note 19 Hansard 3, ccxxviii, 703–10.

page no 362 note 20 See Report from the select committee on registration of voters in counties (England & Wales) …, p. 3, H.C. 1870 (360), vi, 211 (hereafter cited as Report on registration (England and Wales)).

page no 362 note 21 Return showing, with respect to each county and division of a county in England and Wales (exclusive of parliamentary boroughs) the area in square miles; the population and number of inhabited houses in 1881 and 1881 ; the number of electors on the register in 1883, distinguishing them according to their qualifications; the number of electors whose qualifications are in a parliamentary borough; and the number of members: similar return with respect to each parliamentary borough in England and Wales: similar returns for Scotland and Ireland, pp 1–31, H.C. 1883 (321), liv, 369–99 (hereafter cited as Return of electors for 1882–3). For the number of university electors see Thom’s directory, 1884, p. 111, 1883, pp 122–5.

page no 363 note 23 Dublin city and county were exceptional in many ways, see Report on registration (Ireland), pp 117–19.

page no 364 note 24 For a description of their activities in certain areas see Report on registration (Ireland), pp 75–9 and p. 119.

page no 364 note 25 See Burke, , Valuation, pp 208–12. For reasons explained in this article Ulster was valued higher than the rest of Ireland, particularly as regards land. To see the possible effect that raising the value of land outside Ulster to the same level as in Ulster might have had, see, along with the above-mentioned article, Number of occupiers in Irish counties rated at £8 and under £10, and at £10 and under £12 in 1866, p. 1, H.C. 1867–8 (245), lvi, 507.

page no 364 note 26 For instance, in Belfast and Dublin there was a rebate for prompt payment of rates which did not exist elsewhere. In 1869 the towns of Carrickfergus, Drogheda, Cashel, Enniskillen and Galway levied no town rates and so the problem of payment of rates would not have affected the registration in these towns. (Returns of local taxation, p. 6.)

page no 364 note 27 Examples are Kinsale and County Kildare.

page no 364 note 28 The number of houses, which is for 1874, is from Return for each parliamentary borough in Ireland, of the valuation … of the houses therein …, p. 1, H.C. 1874 (159), liii, 571. For adult males and population see on pp 378–9.

page no 365 note 29 See Lawson, W., The franchise acts, a guide to the Representation of the People Act, 1884, and Registration (Ireland) Act, 1885 (Dublin, 1885) (hereafter cited as Lawson, The franchise acts).

page no 365 note 30 For the best account of the United Kingdom franchise and system of registration after 1885 see Blewitt, Neal, ‘The franchise in the United Kingdom, 1885–1918’ in Past & Present, no. 32 (Dec. 1965) (hereafter cited as Blewitt, Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885–1918).

page no 365 note 31 In Scotland personal payments of rates was still required, ibid., p. 37.

page no 365 note 32 The registers usually came into force in January in Ireland, England, and Wales and in November in Scotland. Changes in Irish registration procedure were also brought in by the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898 (61 & 62 Vict., c. 37) and the Registration (Ireland) Act, 1898 (61 & 62 Vict., c. 2).

page no 365 note 33 See Lambert, J., ‘Parliamentary franchise, past and present’ in Nineteenth century, 26, no. 154 (Dec. 1889), pp 942–6; Hunt, , A practical guide, pp 22–7.

page no 366 note 34 See Blewitt, , Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885–1918, pp 3443.

page no 366 note 35 Ibid., p. 46.

page no 366 note 36 Census of Ireland 1891: part II, general report, p. 116 [G6780], H.C. 1892, xc, 162. Census of England and Wales 1891: vol. III, p. xiv [C7058], H.C. 1893, evi, 14.

page no 366 note 37 In 1891 in County Mayo, to take one extreme example, there were only 2,171 cottagers and 1,917 general labourers over twenty years of age (Census of Ireland 1891, part IV, province of Connacht, p. 367 [C6685 to 6685-IV], H.C. 1892, xciii, 371). Even if they all had the vote they can only account for a small percentage of the increase of voters which occurred due to the 1884–5 reform; see on p. 391. In County Meath on the other hand where farmers numbered 5,423 and cottagers and general labourers 8,777, labourers would have been the chief addition to the electorate (Census of Ireland 1891, vol. i, province of Leinster, p. 716 [C6515 to 6515-xi], H.C. 1890–91, xcv, 734); see on p. 387.

page no 367 note 38 For the number of university electors, who are not included here, see p. 405.

page no 367 note 39 England, Wales and Scotland, Return showing, with regard to each parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, the total number and, as far as possible, the number in each class of electors on the register now in force …, p. 20, H.C. 1912–13 (53), Ixvii, 502. This corrects earlier summaries of the 1911 electorate for Great Britain.

Ireland, Return showing, with regard to each parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, the total number and, as far as possible, the number in each class of electors on the register now in force …, pp 17–19, H.G. 1911 (69), lxii, 695–7. See also p. 393, note 50.

page no 368 note 40 Figures of removal in Ireland are difficult to assess but it can be noted that in England it has been estimated that in the counties around 5 per cent of the electors moved from the constituency every year, and figures for average population shifts in the boroughs ranged from 20–30 per cent of the electorate ( Blewitt, , Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885–1918, pp 36–7).

page no 368 note 41 This was a subject of serious complaint in County Kildare in 1902. See Kildare Observer, 16 Aug. and 4 Oct. 1902.

page no 368 note 42 Lodger and property electors in 1911 accounted for only three per cent of the Irish electorate (excluding the university) : some of the others of course were qualified as £10 occupiers but since nearly all would also have been householders this statement remains true.

page no 368 note 43 The census reports do not give the number of adult male householders. These numbers of householders are based simply on the number of inhabited houses (General report on the census of Ireland, 1911, 69–70 [C6663], H.C. 1912–13, cxviii, 125–6). For adult males and population see on p. 393.

page no 369 note 44 Parliamentary Voters (Ireland) Act, 1850, 13 & 14 Vict., c. 69, ss. 55.

page no 369 note 45 Report on registration (Ireland), pp 55–6.

page no 369 note 46 Seymour, , Electoral reform, p. 471.

page no 369 note 47 Opportunities for the creation of fagot votes in Ireland before 1884 were few and after 1884 almost nil ( Costelloe, , Notes and statistics, p. 11 ; Lawson, , The franchise acts, pp 35).

page no 369 note 48 Return of electors for 1882–3, pp 30–1. It varied however from county to county—see this paper.

page no 369 note 49 List of persons entitled to vote for Ennis, 1868 (P.R.O.I., Crown and Peace, ID 40 125). List of persons entitled to vote for Dungannon, 1872 (P.R.O.N.I., Dungannon borough revision papers, D847/8). Belfast, register of persons entitled to vote, 1876 (P.R.O.N.I., Crown and Peace, Belf. clxxxv, no. 1). Many of the Dublin freemen may have resided outside their borough but elsewhere most freemen were probably resident. A seven mile residence requirement existed. Certainly in Carrickfergus nearly all the freemen were resident as the list of electors shows (Carrickfergus, register of persons entitled to vote, 1879 (P.R.O.N.I., D1905/4/17 (part))).

page no 370 note 50 Unfortunately few other electors lists from before 1885 have survived, due chiefly to the destruction of the main collection of lists in 1922 in the Four Courts.

page no 370 note 51 Seymour, , Electoral reform, pp 362, 379.

page no 370 note 52 Report on registration (England and Wales), p. 3.

page no 370 note 53 Martin, J.B., ‘Electoral statistics : a review of the working of our representative system from 1832 to 1881 …’ in R. Stat. Soc. Jn., 47 (March 1884), p. 85. See also Return of electors for 1882–3, pp 21, 389; Seymour, , Electoral reform, p. 473.

page no 370 note 54 See Return of electors for 1882–3, pp 22–3. Fagot voters remained in important numbers in Scotland up to 1884; Ferguson, W., ‘The Reform Act (Scotland) of 1832 : intention and effect’, in Scot. Hist. Rev., 45, (1966), 114.

page no 370 note 55 Blewitt, , Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885–1918, p, 46.

page no 371 note 56 Hansard 5, lv, 705. Blewitt, , Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885–1918, p. 46.

page no 371 note 57 See p. 367.

The Irish electorate, 1868–1915

  • Brian Mercer Walker


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