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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Nicholas Aylward Vigors M.P.

Old Leighlin


Nicholas Aylward Vigors M.P.
1786-1840

by Brother P. J, Kavanagh, M,A.

NICHOLAS Aylward Vigors was des­cended from an English parson. Rev, Louis Vigors of Holloden, North Devon, who came to Ireland c. 1615. "Holloden" near the Royal Oak recalls the family's origins. In the 1690s a Vigors was Bishop of Leighlin in the Church of Ireland. His chair is still in the sanctuary of the cathedral in Old Leighlin. Nicholas's grandfather, Bartholomew (1707-1776), was Dean of Leighlin. This Bartholomew married Anne Aylward of Shankill, Paulstown. Hence Nicholas's middle name. His father, also Nicholas Aylward (1756-1828), married twice. By his first wife, Catherine Richards of Solsborough, Wexford, he had Anne (1782-1862), Nicholas Aylward (1786-1840) and Frances (1788-1877). Anne and Frances remained single and lived out their lives in the family home at Old Leighlin. Their house is now owned by the Foley family. Thomas Tench Vigors of "Erindale," near Carlow, was son of the second mar­riage. More of him anon.

Scholar and Soldier

Meanwhile Nicholas, our subject, went to study at Oxford. He left the University without completing his course in 1809, probably because he wanted to join the British army, then fighting Napoleon. Nicholas did not neglect the intellectual, however. In 1810 he published "An En­quiry into the Nature and Extent of Poetick (sic) Licences" in London. 1811 found him as a captain in the Grenadier Guards fighting in the Peninsular War where he received a severe leg wound at the Battle of Barrosa. Later he resumed his studies at Oxford gaining a B.A. in 1817 and an M.A. in 1818. He made a career for himself as a barrister and was awarded the D.C.L. in 1832.

In 1826 he was a founding member of the Royal Zoological Society and was its first secretary until 1833. In his lifetime he published some forty papers on or­nithological subjects, an unusual pursuit which laid him open to a certain amount of derision from his political op­ponents. He was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

The Landlord

Upon the death of his father in 1828 Nicholas Aylward Vigors inherited some 3,000 acres of land nearly all of it in the civil parish of Old Leighlin. In so far as it can be ascertained from the Ordnance Survey Name Books he owned the townlands of Moanduff, Annagar, Feamore, Johnduffswood, Parknakyle. Raheen Upper, Raheenwood and Tomnasock, as well as portions of Ballynolan, Banagagole and Old Leighlin. His agent was a Captain Richards from Wexford. Ambrose Doran of Old Leighlin acted as agent for Old Leighlin and Johnduffswood. He continued to live in London, a factor used against him by his Tory oppo­nents — the vast majority of the forty or so Carlow landlords in the 1830s were resident and Tories to a man. As a landlord Vigors was on excellent relations with his tenants, but then, since they and he were of a similar political outlook that was to be expected. In 1835 he could count upon seventy votes from his estate, quite a lot considering the small elec­torate of those days when property alone qualified one for a vote. He probably wasn't a good business man. Innuendoes in the Tory press when he died suggest that the estate was in debt.

When he won Emancipation in 1829 O'Connell awakened hope of political equality in Irish Catholics, an equality which Irish Protestants had nothing to fear from as they were still protected by an inbuilt Protestant majority at Westminster. When, however, towards the end of 1831, O'Connell began to advocate Repeal of the Union he stirred up a political hornet's nest in Ireland.

Catholics, led by their priests, were all for having a parliament that would suit them. The landlords had been in the ascendency since the Williamite settle­ment of the 1690s and had no intention of surrendering their power to ignorant Catholic peasants. And it was easy enough for the landlords to have their way. The vote was public until the Ballot Act of 1872 and the voters were their te­nants, at their mercy for their very livelihood. So in the period 1831-1842 during which there was an unusually high number of elections, the priests, the only leaders the peasantry had, and the landlords fought it out for the allegiance of the voters. Pity the voters!

Since the Act of Union the County had been represented by two M.P.s and the borough by one. The borough was "rot­ten". It had been sold to Lord Tullamore by the Burtons in 1790 and was in his pocket until the Reform Act of 1832 gave the vote to the £10 freeholders. Until then the only electors were the Sovereign (Mayor) and the burgesses (about ten). Lord Tullamore kept the seat for himself in the years before 1832.

Between 1801 and 1830 inclusive there were eight general elections. Only two of these were contested in the County. In the same period there were two by-elections neither of which was contested. The following table will serve to illustrate how the gentry, according to the accepted custom of the time, had the two seats all wrapped up for themselves:

 

Year

Election

Returned

opposed by

1802

general

David La Touche

Unopposed

 

 

Walter Bagenal

 

1806

general

David La Touche

do.

 

 

Walter Bagenal

 

1807

general

David La Touche

do.

 

 

Walter Bagenal

 

1812

general

David La Touche

Walter Bagenal

 

 

Henry Bruen n

(died 1814)

1816

by-election

Robert La Touche

unopposed

1818

general

Henry Bruen n

do.

 

 

Sir Ulysses Burgh

 

1820

general

Henry Bruen II

do.

 

 

Sir Ulysses Burgh

 

1826

by-election

Thomas Kavanagh

do.

 

 

(Bruen's father-in-law)

 

1826

general

Henry Bruen n

do.

 

 

Thomas Kavanagh

 

1830

general

Henry Bruen n

Horace Rochfort

 

 

Thomas Kavanagh

 

 The general election of 1831 brought a change. Sir John Milley Doyle, an Irish Catholic, and Walter Blackney of Ballyellen, supported by J.K.L., were returned unopposed when Bruen and Rochfort withdrew from the contest beforehand.

Nicholas Aylward Vigors stepped into the above scenario in 1832.

General Election December 1832

Walter Blackney, the Repealer, and Thomas Wallace, a Protestant Liberal Irishman, beat Kavanagh and Bruen by 657 votes to 470 votes in the County.

In July Vigors was already working for the borough seat. On the recommenda­tion of Lord Duncannon, the County Lieutenant, he was made a Deputy Lieutenant thus increasing his standing in the County. William Francis Finn, son of a rich Carlow tanner, and O'Connell's brother-in-law, was also in contention for the seat. (Finn was Repeal M.P. for Co. Kilkenny, 1832-37). J.K.L. decided to support the Protestant Vigors against the Catholic Repealer because Vigors favoured a Poor Law which O'Connell (and Finn) opposed on the grounds that state hand-outs would demoralise the people. Francis Bruen of Coolbawn, Co. Wexford, a brother of Henry, was the Tory candidate. Rev. Andrew Fitzgerald O.P., president of Carlow College, proposed Vigors on the hustings on December 13th. His seconder was Thomas Haughton of Kelvin Grove, a Quaker. Fitzgerald and Haughton had recently been jailed for non-payment of tithes. Vigors beat Bruen by 145 votes to 120.

General Election January 1835

Vigors was to be candidate for the borough. Again his backers were Rev. Andrew Fitzgerald and Thomas Haughton. His opponent was again Francis Bruen who was proposed by William Fishbourne (whose family or its representatives still or until very lately owned ground rents in Carlow town) and seconded by Patrick Finn, brother of Wil­liam, whom Vigors had ousted as the popular candidate in 1832. This time the Tories made no mistake. Bruen won by 150 votes to 132. About 28 voters did not register their preference.

In the County also, Bruen and Kavanagh made a come-back, defeating a popular side thrown into disarray by the last minute withdrawal of its can­didates.

Musical Chairs — By-Election, June 1835

Upon petition Bruen and Kavanagh were unseated by a Committee of the House on May 29th and a new election ordered for the County. It was alleged that their agents had stalled for time while the voters were being polled so that when the booths had closed a con­siderable number of 'Liberal' or anti-Tory voters had not voted. This was ac­complished by demanding that each voter took the two oaths (one declaring that he was qualified to vote and the other that he had not taken a bribe) which need not have been insisted upon and which took up a considerable amount of time. The booths had to be closed by a given date, thus depriving the remaining voters of their franchise.

Vigors, together with Alexander Raphael, an English Catholic, an ex-Sheriff of London, were the Liberal or popular candidates. On June 2nd Vigors made a triumphal entry into Carlow, ac­companied by Rev. James Maher (uncle of the future Cardinal Cullen), Rev. Patrick Mickey, P.P., Aries, and 20,000 people. On June 9th it was reported that he was canvassing the Barony of Rathvilly, accompanied by Rev. John Walsh of Borris. The Pilot of June 12th carried his election address in which he appealed to the sense of vexation of the Catholics because of the way "their religion has been reviled," hardly a very positive elec­tion programme, but understandable in the 1830s.

Vigors was due to meet a large body of electors in Bagenalstown on Saturday, June 13th. Instead he found himself in jail! His half-brother, Thomas Tench Vigors of Erindale, had married Miss Rudkin, heiress of the late Gilbert Picker­ing Rudkin of Wells.

£1500 had been promised her by bond from Nicholas's estate. The trustees of the bond were John Watson, former High Sheriff, Thomas Watson and Henry Carey, Henry Bruen's cousin and estate agent. When the bond was drawn up at the time of the marriage (1830) there would have been nothing odd about hav­ing these Tories as trustees. Politics had soured since then and they were now on the opposite side of the fence to Nicholas. For some unexplained reason (possibly because Nicholas was home from London and available) Mrs. Vigors looked for her £1600 at this time quite oblivious to the storm she would raise. She threatened to have the trustees imprisoned unless pay­ment was forthcoming. To save their own skins they had Nicholas imprisoned for debt, refusing, according to the Liberals, to accept the money from him although he had it in the bank. It being a week-end may account for his not being able to withdraw it readily. To make a long story short Vigors was released after some hours. To the Liberals the whole episode seemed like a political stroke "to lower him in the estimation of the electors." The Tories said the whole affair was a coincidence. All the circumstances are not clear from the extant evidence.

On Friday, June 19th, Vigors and Raphael were declared elected by 627 votes to 671. Vigors was due to take the oath in the Commons on June 29th but the Tories got up an appeal against the election result and he and Raphael were unseated and their seats given to Kavanagh and Bruen. 104 persons, named, in the appeal as not having been properly registered, were struck off the list of those who voted Liberal. Many of these are recognisable as Vigors' tenants, members of the Idrone West Baronial Club, Vigors' local "cumann."

County By-Election February 1837

Thomas Kavanagh died on 20th January, 1837. Thomas Bunbury of Moyle was selected by the Tories to con­test the ensuing by-election. Vigors stood against him. His proposer and seconder were Walter Blackney, former Repeal M.P., and Rev. Thomas Tyrrell, P.P., Tinryland. Vigors was elected by 670 votes to 634. The inevitable petition was got up against his return. A Committee of the House reduced his majority to a single vote! He was declared elected on May 8th.

General Election August 1837

King William W died on 20th June and the customary general election was cal­led. Vigors and John Ashton Yates, an Englishman, would stand for the County. William Henry Maule, an Englishman, was the borough candidate. All three can­didates made a triumphal entry into Carlow town on July 12th. The pro-Tory "Kilkenny Moderator" thus sneeringly describes the occasion;

"Triumphal entry into Carlow of the O'Connell Tools. Once more the holy padres are in all their glory . . . (The candidates) were accompanied by a rag­ged and intoxicated mob . . . Father Maher received due notice of their ap­proach . . , (and) with his rosy-gilled col­league, Father Hickey (P.P., Arles), awaited the moment with exemplary patience . . ."

Maule beat Francis Bruen in the borough. Vigors and Yates were returned by 730 votes to 644 for Henry Bruen and Thomas Bunbury of Moyle.

Nicholas Aylward Vigors M.P. died at his London home on 26th October, 1840, and lies buried in the nave of Old Leighlin cathedral. In his time the dis­tinctions between political parties weren't aa clear-cut aa they are to-day. In the article I have generally described Vigors as a Liberal or popular candidate. Although he ousted a Repealer, William Francis Finn, in the 1832 borough elec­tion he seems to have been something of a Repealer himself. McIntyre in his "The Liberator" so classifies him, although no hard and fast evidence of this has come to my attention. He certainly had some feel­ing for the plight of the Catholic peasantry. London obviously rid him of some of the insular attitudes of his fellow-landlords in this respect. It's not at all clear why he entered politics in the first place. His importance lies in the fact that he was big enough to be able to step out-aide the traditions of his own class and back the underdog. For this Carlow peo­ple should remember him with respect. He remained unmarried and the Vigors family has descended through Thomas Tench Vigors, his half-brother.

At the 1842 general election Henry Bruen and Thomas Bunbury again won the County for the Tories. With one ex­ception the landlords were to hold the County seats until 1880. By then the Bal­lot Act had removed all fear of landlord reprisal and a new force, Parnellism, had arrived to advance the cause of the com­mon man and of Ireland.

 Chief Sources: Carlow Newspapers of the 1830's.

Previously published in the 1983 Edition of Carloviana No. 30 p. 15-19


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