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The Making of the Irish Protestant Ascendancy

The Making of the Irish Protestant Ascendancy: The Life of William Conolly, 1662-1729

Patrick Walsh
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Making of the Irish Protestant Ascendancy
    Book Description:

    William Conolly (1662-1729) was one of the most powerful Irish political figures of his day. As a politician, in the years 1715-29 simultaneously Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Chief Commissioner of the Revenue, Lord Justice, and Privy Councillor, he made significant contributions to the role of the Irish parliament in Irish life, to the establishment of a more efficient government bureaucracy, and to the emergence of a constructive strain of patriotism. In addition, he was a patron of architects, contributing significantly to the fashioning of Georgian Dublin, and building his own Palladian mansion at Castletown, nowadays one of the most frequently visited Irish historic properties. His rise to wealth and eminence from very humble beginnings and a Catholic background also illustrates the permeability of Irish society. Conolly's career reflects the development of the early Georgian Irish political, cultural and ideological nation, in all its complexities and contradictions. PATRICK WALSH is an IRCHSS Government of Ireland CARA mobility fellow jointly affiliated with University College London and University College Dublin. .

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-904-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. Editorial Note
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. List of Principal Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On the morning of 4 November 1729 one of the largest funeral processions seen in Dublin departed from a large house on Capel Street, on the north side of the city. This was the funeral of William Conolly, the wealthiest commoner in Ireland, speaker of the Irish house of commons, revenue commissioner, and ten times a lord justice. His house on Capel Street, demolished in the 1780s, was one of the finest, and largest, private dwelling houses in the city. It had been the centre of his political and domestic life for over twenty years, serving both as his primary...

  8. 1 The Rise of the House of Conolly, 1662–1729
    (pp. 11-24)

    By the time of his death William Conolly was an exemplar of the Irish Protestant ascendancy. He had established a dynasty that would survive into the twenty-first century, and whose power, wealth and status in the eighteenth century was symbolised by his country house, Castletown. His political career had been devoted to maintaining the ‘Protestant interest’ cemented by the victories on the battlefields of Aughrim and the Boyne. These victories had created the opportunity for Conolly to prosper in a manner that would have seemed impossible at the time of his birth in 1662. After all, he was not born...

  9. 2 From Lawyer to Politician, 1685–1703
    (pp. 25-42)

    By the beginning of Queen Anne’s reign in 1702 William Conolly was an established figure in the Dublin political world. He was MP for County Londonderry and recognised as a leading member of the nascent Irish Whig party. Furthermore, he had extensive landed interests, with estates in seven counties all of which he had acquired after 1691. By any contemporary standard his was a remarkable success story but, as J. G. Simms pointed out as long ago as 1956, Conolly’s rise ‘cannot be ascribed only to his trafficking in the forfeited estates’.¹ His marriage to Katherine Conyngham, as we have...

  10. 3 ‘A Cunning Intriguing Spark’: Conolly and the Williamite Confiscation, 1690–1703
    (pp. 43-60)

    The Williamite confiscation was the last of the major land settlements in seventeenth-century Ireland. Each settlement had provided unprecedented opportunities for accelerated social mobility which was impossible under normal conditions. The disposal all at once of so much confiscated land (620,000 Irish acres) created a buyers’ market, creating opportunities for the ‘speculative and strong willed’.¹ The most speculative and strong-willed adventurer in the 1690s was William Conolly. In 1688 Conolly was a busy but unremarkable Dublin attorney. The Williamite war and its aftermath, however, had a profound effect on his career especially the opportunities to gain riches and influence through...

  11. 4 The Making of ‘A Very Great Fortune’: The Accumulation and Management of the Conolly Patrimony, 1690–1729
    (pp. 61-82)

    Following Conolly’s death in 1729, Archbishop Boulter wrote to the duke of Newcastle, ‘After his death being expected for several days, Mr Conolly died this morning about one o’clock. He has left behind him a very great fortune, some talk of 17,000 per ann’.¹ Historians have long accepted this estimate as a close approximation of Conolly’s income, but it has never been scrutinised, despite the exceptional nature of Conolly’s fortune. His rise through the ranks of Irish society, from humble origins to his death as squire of Castletown is of abiding interest, representing as it does the most remarkable case...

  12. 5 A Lover of Business: Conolly in Parliament, 1703–14
    (pp. 83-102)

    ‘Mr Conolly loves business and has a good turn for it.’ This was how Joseph Addison described him to Lord Treasurer Godolphin, upon his arrival in Dublin as chief secretary, in May 1709. Addison was referring to Conolly’s command of parliamentary business and routine, which, together with the cultivation and management of a substantial electoral interest, made Conolly a force to be reckoned with. The Chief Secretary also noted that Conolly was very ‘popular within his own party and particularly among the dissenters’.¹ These attributes recommended him to the new Whig lord lieutenant, Wharton. Conolly’s commitment to the Whig party...

  13. 6 The ‘Great Man of the North’: Conolly’s Electoral Interest in North-West Ulster
    (pp. 103-124)

    In 1692 Conolly had been elected to parliament for the first time, for Donegal borough, a closed constituency under the control of the Gore family. Just over twenty years later, in 1713, he was elected for County Londonderry at the head of a personal ‘whig nexus’ which included MPs elected for five boroughs in counties Donegal and Londonderry.¹ Conolly concentrated his electoral ambitions in his native north-west despite accumulating extensive estates elsewhere. This strategy made sense. He had first made his name as an attorney on the north-west circuit and had increased his local reputation through legal work for Derry...

  14. 7 ‘The only man of application among our Commissioners’: Conolly at the Revenue Board, 1709–29
    (pp. 125-152)

    In October 1714, upon the accession of George I, Conolly was reappointed to the revenue board. He would remain a revenue commissioner until his death, combining his position at the Custom House with the speakership of the house of commons and occasional service as a lord justice. The importance to his political ascendancy of his position as a commissioner of the revenue was noted both by contemporaries and later historians.² It has been argued that during Conolly’s time in office the revenue administration became more politicised and an integral part of the system of political management that emerged after 1715....

  15. 8 ‘The Chief of our Friends’: Parliamentary Management and the Rise of the Undertakers, 1715–29
    (pp. 153-180)

    In 1715 Charles Delafaye, chief secretary of Ireland, described Conolly as ‘the chief of our friends’, and he ‘to whose interest the King is more obliged than all Ireland besides’.¹ These descriptions, by a leading government official, give some indication of Conolly’s political status, but they also raise some interesting questions. What interest? Why was the king so obliged? Whose friends? How had Conolly come to this position? The previous two chapters have described the growth of Conolly’s electoral empire in Ulster and the possibilities offered by his dominance of the revenue service. Both elements were crucial to the establishment...

  16. 9 ‘An Ornament to the Country’: Castletown, Patriotism, and the Making of the Ascendancy, 1722–9
    (pp. 181-199)

    In July 1722 construction began on Conolly’s great country house at Castletown. From the moment of its conception it was clear that it was no ordinary house. Two years previously theLondon Journalhad reported that Mr Conolly was building a great house near Dublin, which would be ‘the finest in the whole kingdom of Ireland’.¹ Meanwhile as the building began to take shape, the philosopher George Berkeley hoped that it would be an ‘ornament to the country’, while his friend Lord Perceval hoped that it would be ‘the epitome of the kingdom’. These expectations were largely realised, as Castletown...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 200-220)
  18. Index
    (pp. 221-230)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-231)