Riches of Clare: The Right Honourable MP

Clare Champion, Friday, August 1, 2003

The Riches of Clare exhibition at the local authority-run Clare Museum charts the county’s history. Fidelma Mc Donnell writes about Ballyalla and William Stacpoole who represented the Borough of Ennis at Westminster.

William Stacpoole was born at Ballyalla, Ennis, on 9 October 1830. Like his father, Andrew Stacpoole, William was interested in politics and became an MP during his lifetime, representing the Borough of Ennis at Westminster. The origin of the Stacpoole family can be traced back to Pembrokeshire, Wales. The family arrived in Ireland with the first wave of Anglo-Normans under Strongbow in 12th century, acquiring estates in Kerry and Limerick.

When Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland in 1649 to bloodily subdue the rebelling Irish, the plantations that occurred during the following decade saw many Roman Catholic Irish, of Anglo-Norman stock, known as Old English, forfeit their lands and many were banished “to hell or to Connacht”.

Luckily, the Stacpoole family benefited from the huge social and political change sweeping the country, as they were regarded as ‘Innocent Papists’, or Roman Catholics who would not be in opposition to Protestantism. For this, they were given a large estate at Kilkishen. By 1712, the Stacpoole family was in residence at Annagh, near Miltown Malbay, and had converted to the Protestant faith in order to secure the lease of land there. Annagh was to be their chief residence for more than half a century, until 1776, when a branch of the family moved to Edenvale near Ennis and Annagh fell into ruin after a major fire in 1860. Four generations of the family resided in Edenvale from 1776 to 1917. William, who married Mary Hennessy of Warwick, had one brother and two sisters, Kate and Diana. However, it was he who inherited Ballyalla, while he also lived in Stamer Park, his mother’s home.

William Stacpoole was typical of his class and background. He was listed as a Magistrate for Clare from 1851-72 and he was a member of the Clare Militia 1855-65, attaining the rank of Captain. This combination of roles in society was usual for the ascendancy in Ireland, with it origins in medieval times and designed to maintain the status quo. Stacpoole was also a member of the Kildare Street Club, Dublin and The Union and Junior United Service Clubs in London.

In April 1859, Michael Considine, Ennis Town Commisioner proposed Stacpoole as a candidate in the Parliamentary elections. At this time Stacpoole was chairman of Ennis Gas Company and refused the candidacy, leaving J D Fitzgerald once again to represent the Town Borough. In February 1860, J D Fitzgerald became a judge on the Queen’s Bench and on this occasion William formally stepped into the political arena. He was proposed by William Keane and seconded by Michael Kerin.

Stacpoole pledged support for the current issues of the time; tenants rights, separate education, vote by Ballot, secret voting free from intimidation, the extension of the franchise and the Italian Question, which dealt with the temporal powers of the Pope. He defeated The O’Gorman Mahon, who was connected to the Cork branch of the Stacpoole family, in the 1874 General Election, by 115 votes to 99, and held the seat until his death in 1879. At this time he was endeavouring to get through what was later came to be known as ‘Captain Stacpoole’s Grand Jury Cess Bill’. This Bill proposed to give power to an occupying tenant to deduct the County Cess from his landlord. The Bill was introduced jointly with Mr. Corbally and the O’Connor Don, but it was shelved because the matter was before a select Committee, though it did serve to highlight the Irish problems in the mindset of Prime Minister Gladstone.

Stacpoole is considered to have been a liberal voter and was in favour of the abolition of Capital punishment but sometimes he appeared to be playing both sides of the street. In 1874, for example, he donated £50 in ‘hearty support’ of the Home Rule League but at the same time his loyalty to the Crown was evident in the support he showed for the building of a royal residence in Ireland. His political career peaked in 1875 when he was offered the post of Junior Lord of the Treasury at Westminster, an offer he did not accept. William Stacpoole was described by the Irish Times in 1867 as not often troubling the House with issues, however his speeches were ‘well arranged, skilfully argued and moderate in tone’, and died in London in July 1879 at the age of 49, having represented the Borough for 19 years.

In the subsequent by-election, Lysaght Finigan, the Home Rule Party candidate, was elected to represent Ennis. He had been supported by Parnell and The O’Gorman Mahon even though he was fiercely opposed by Bishop Power who recommended that William O’Brien, a Dublin-based Catholic Liberal barrister should be nominated.

In the collection at Clare Museum is a seal of the Borough of Ennis. The Ivory handle carries the inscription “Presented by William Stacpoole Esq., MP for the Burough of Ennis, 1871”. To whom it was presented is not recorded.

Click to view the Seal of the Borough of Ennis 1871

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