When the Mayo oligarchy ruled all

During the Georgian era, powerful Protestant families owned large tracts of land throughout County Mayo and the province of Connacht. The Castlebar based Bingham family, together with the descendants of Sir Arthur Gore (1685-1742 ), formed a family compact or oligarchy through marriage and blood whereby political appointments and other influential positions would be secured among themselves. In an era when marriage was determined by the spirit of collateral calculation, the children of Sir Arthur Gore and Elizabeth Annesley would cement the oligarchy.

Their son Arthur Gore (1703-73 ), became the 1st Earl of Arran. A daughter Elizabeth married James Cuffe (1707-62 ), son of Gerald Cuffe, who built Elmhall and grandson of Sir James Cuffe, who was granted lands in Ballinrobe in 1667. James Cuffe’s (1707-62 ) uncle through marriage was Sir Henry Bingham (1654-1714 ), 3rd Baronet of Castlebar. The Bingham baronets became the Earls of Lucan in 1795. Elizabeth and James’s son James Cuffe (1745-1821 ) became 1st Baron Tyrawley and sat as MP for Mayo from 1768-97. Anne Gore, another daughter of Sir Arthur and Elizabeth, married John Browne (1709-76 ), 1st Earl of Altamont. The extremely wealthy and powerful families of the Gores, Cuffes, and Brownes were now first cousins and, in turn, the Binghams were inducted into the oligarchy through their relationship to the Cuffes. In County Mayo, being the remotest part of Ireland from intercourse with the interior of the kingdom and the capital, the oligarchy was an essential component of the Crown’s local government system.

The effect of this family compact was also evident in Mayo’s representation in the Irish House of Commons. From 1692 until the parliament’s dissolution in 1800, all 18 representatives for the constituency were drawn from the Browne, Cuffe, Gore, or Bingham families, except for one brief encroachment from George Jackson who served as MP from 1798 until the parliament’s dissolution in 1800. Despite his surname, Jackson was not unconnected. His mother was Jane Cuffe, sister of James Cuffe, 1st Baron Tyrawley. Extending the noble Mayo kinship further, the O’Donels of Newport with Sir Neal O’Donel as patriarch were also connected to the Cuffes and the Brownes. Marriage and property were firmly intertwined in the Irish upper classes.

One powerful Mayo family that is conspicuous by its absence from the official political life of Mayo during the eighteenth and nineteenth century is that of the Fitzgeralds of Turlough. George Robert Fitzgerald (1748-86 ) of Turlough would, through his reckless deeds, ensure the family’s isolation in Mayo. He was the son of George Fitzgerald and Lady Mary Hervey, daughter of Lord Hervey, Vice Chamberlain to King George II. As Vice Chamberlain, Lord Hervey would have had the ear of the monarch. The young George Robert’s connection to the Herveys of Ickworth in Suffolk meant he was brought up to belong to the best that the day could give in the way of civilised worldly society in London and Dublin.

Educated at Eton, George Robert, or ‘Fighting Fitzgerald’ as he would become known, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he soon melted it down. Through his paternal lineage, George Robert audaciously affirmed that he, and not the Duke of Leinster, was the premier nobleman in Ireland. Fitzgerald further encouraged the ire of his peers by claiming he was firmly attached to the Hanoverian succession. A wild and law-breaking youth, exacerbated by arrogance, pride, and not a thought for consequence drove many Mayo gentry from Fitzgerald’s friendship. The noble families of Mayo had a comfortable, predictable life; the irresponsible actions of Fitzgerald could threaten their carefully constructed oligarchy and so he was ostracised.

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