Spending £1399 in 1835 on the campaign to win the election for the Tralee seat at Westminster is a sign of how desperate the old guard of the Corporation was to win back the seat lost to Maurice O’Connell in 1832. The candidate this time round was William Denny, brother of Sir Edward who failed against the O’Connells in 1832. William failed narrowly, Maurice O’Connell retaining the seat, 85 votes to 81.
The price of the campaign to oust the O’Connells is only one of the facts brought to light in Tom Denny’s talk at Collis Sandes House on Saturday 17 September 2011. Tom Denny comes from a background in stained glass, which is an advantage when presenting the wealth of material, including portraits, maps, and artefacts of all kinds, as well as manuscripts and diaries, in the possession of his family.
There were photographic images of the assembled gentry, as well as individual painted portraits. The last family of Tralee Castle was there. They grew up to be local vicars and rectors. (The Castle was demolished in 1826.) Included were Rev. Henry Denny of Churchill and his brothers and sisters, including Rev. Anthony Denny of Tralee, and William, the candidate in 1835. William was the family’s estate agent in Tralee. They were born in the first years of the century; the heir, Edward, was born in 1799 at his grandfather Judge Day’s residence on Merrion Square. Their upbringing was in Worcester. Sir Edward, as he became after his father died in 1831, returned to Tralee to fight the 1832 election for the town seat. His opponents were the O’Connell machine and its candidate Maurice O’Connell, son of the Liberator.
The 1832 win must have seemed an O’Connell tidal wave: the Liberator himself had ousted the Knight of Kerry the year previously in the County election, despite the fact that the Knight was a notable champion of the Catholics. No gratitude there, though we await further research to know the position taken by the Tralee conservatives on Catholic Emancipation. Charges of intimidating the Tralee electorate would be levelled at the O’Connell party after the election of 1832. Maurice O’Connell won the election, 91 votes to Sir Edward’s 71. Sir Edward remained on to the 1840s, when he returned for good to England.
It was a great blow to the old governing elite and its close borough, for close it was with an electorate of only 210 souls, according to the visiting Commission of 1833. The Commission returned to London with its report of the Irish corporations, and soon that bastion of privilege, the old Corporation of Tralee, was no more – abolished by the Act of 1840.
O’Connell allied with the Whigs and by the time of the 1835 election, the first Tithe bill had been debated (signalling the end of tithe in the Act of 1838).
Despite all these changes, the Revs. Anthony and Henry of Churchill, and William the estate agent, seem to have been popular in their time. They remained resident, staying on in Tralee when their brother Sir Edward returned to live in England in the 1840s. They lived through the famine. Rev. Anthony’s son, Francis McGillycuddy Denny, who occupied the house in Denny Street just beside the later CYMS, was the last of the family in Tralee; he died in 1914. His father and uncles had done what they could for the victims of the famine. The efforts of their cousin, Rev. Arthur B. Rowan, are well attested.
It is very likely that the popularity of the Denny brothers was due to some degree to their mixed ancestry of settler and Gael, and Old English. Their mother was Elizabeth Day, whose paternal grandmother was Lucy FitzGerald, of the Knight of Kerry family. The Knights were notable Jacobites, and rebel partizans of the Earl of Desmond before that, and they had become intermarried with the O’Briens of Carrigahold, the family of Clare’s Dragoons in the service of King Louis.
Archdeacon Arthur B. Rowan was a first-cousin of the Denny brothers (the Archdeacon’s mother was Letitia Denny), though he did not inherite the O’Brien or Knight of Kerry blood. Yet, it is significant that Rev. Rowan in his Kerry Magazine (1854-56) wrote extensively about the families of MacCarthy Mór and O’Connor Kerry, doing so with great empathy and insight, and wrote hardly at all about the governing elite, or attempted to justify its rule. This is remarkable when we consider Rowan’s promince in conservative politics in Tralee and its Corporation. The key to understanding this may be his descent from the O’Connors, who were a very prominent family in the Tralee area since before the arrival of the settler. Rev. Barry Denny married Jane O’Connor, and they were ancestors of Denny and Rowan.
Tom Denny was not trying to underline any of this pro-Gaelic prejudice. He showed a slide of his grandfather the historian’s many diaries. They filled a kitchen table when stacked against each other. He also quoted from an eighteenth-century’s pocket rental of the Denny estate. I certainly was confirmed in the belief that we have been receiving only one narrative of history. Again and again Tom gave the ordinary lives of the tenantry and the poor, their rents, their fruit gardens, the heroits (payments in kind when a name was added to a lease) the amounts of rent , and the extravagant purchase of a title by Sir Thomas Denny in the middle of the eighteenth century. There was no attempt to justify. Far from it: Sir Thomas had at first tried to make his way to London to persuade opinion at court to grant him the title; he got as far as Cork and turned back. Then he paid cash to get his title.
It was a magical night, and the audience departed thrilled with the thought of what more the archive will reveal.