Newry.ie

Prior to the Reform Bill in 1831 voting rights were strongly tied to land property rights and, in consequence, only 10% of the population (and no women) had the right to vote.  The movement for electoral reform had been growing steadily throughout Britain and Ireland and Newry was not unaffected.

The Member of Parliament for the borough of Newry since 1826 had been The Honourable John Knox, son-in-law of the town’s main landowner, the Earl of Kilmorey.  In 1831, the man who stood opposed to him was Denis Maguire, Esq. Out of a population of 13, 065, there were only 1086 people qualified to vote in Newry at this time.

A poster was published by Denis Maguire’s supporters listing the names of the electors who had supported Hill and not Maguire as had been expected.  As well as shedding light on the strength of feeling which supported this particular election, the poster is of further interest as the names are listed along with townland, or street, in which the elector lived and their occupation.  Thus, it is a very useful geneaological source. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A poster was published by Denis Maguire’s supporters listing the names of the electors who had supported Hill and not Maguire as had been expected. As well as shedding light on the strength of feeling which supported this particular election, the poster is of further interest as the names are listed along with townland, or street, in which the elector lived and their occupation. Thus, it is a very useful geneaological source. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

The election itself took place on May 3rd 1831 in the Old Market House, which stood at the top of Hyde Market.  It was, according to The Commercial Telegraph of May 6th, “crowded almost to suffocation”.  After five days of polling, the vote was declared in favour of Knox, although Maguire had polled a more than respectable number of votes.  A public dinner was duly held to celebrate Knox’s success in the Assembly Rooms (formerly the Savings Bank on Bank Parade and now the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre).  Over 40 toasts were made, and the songs, drinks and speeches continued until 2am.

The election of the following year, 1832, proved to be more controversial.  Maguire stood once again and pledged himself to support the Reform Bill and to advocate voting by secret ballot, believing the custom of publicly declaring voting to be rife for bribery and corruption.  His rival for the Parliamentary seat was Lord Marcus Hill, brother of the Marquis of Downshire, Newry’s other main landlord.  The polling took place over 5 days in late December (excluding 25th December itself).  The election itself proved troublesome, with temperatures running high and supporters for both candidates involved in rioting, window smashing, the discharging of pistols and general disorder.  Support for Maguire appeared to be strong, but it was Lord Hill who won the seat, with a majority of 19.  Supporters for Maguire sensed corruption had taken place and The Commerical Telegraph of January 1st, 1833 reported Maguire as declaring that he had been directly promised support from 600 voters.  That less than 500 voted for him was clearly the result, he felt, of “undue influence of the worst description and the most kind.”  The votes cast for each candidate differed by only 1 or 2 votes on each of the polling days, except for that immediately following Christmas Day, where the votes for Lord Hill numbered 123, compared to Maguire’s 65.  There were claims that this was a clear indication of bribery of voters having taken place – did several families receive an unexpected goose for their Christmas dinner?

“A new song to an Old Tune” is a ballad that dates from the election of 1831.  Many writers of the 18th and 19th century engaged political issues in their ballads and songs aimed at conveying sympathy and support for a political cause. In other words, their songs and ballads stirred up feelings of shared pride by commemorating and lamenting, for instance, acts of bravery during a past upheaval. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
“A new song to an Old Tune” is a ballad that dates from the election of 1831. Many writers of the 18th and 19th century engaged political issues in their ballads and songs aimed at conveying sympathy and support for a political cause. In other words, their songs and ballads stirred up feelings of shared pride by commemorating and lamenting, for instance, acts of bravery during a past upheaval. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Maguire’s supporters refused to let the matter drop and a petition was lodged against Lord Hill.  This apparently led to a Parliamentary investigation, after which it was declared that while corruption and bribery may have taken place, the result would stand as it was. 

A public dinner was held in the Assembly Rooms on New Year’s Eve, 1832 by Lord Hill’s supporters.  On this occasion over 70 toasts were raised.  Denis Maguire later became a Town Commissioner and Justice of the Peace, while the election of 1835 eventually saw success for the independent interest with the election of Denis Caulfield Brady, future Chairman of Newry Navigation Company. 

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Dympna Tumilty

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