Conolly, Thomas 1738-1803, Irish politician, only son of William Conolly, M.P. for Ballyshannon from 1727 till his death in 1753, by Lady Anne Wentworth, eldest daughter of Thomas Wentworth, first earl of Strafford of the second creation, was born in 1738. The fortunes of the Conolly family in Ireland had been founded by William Conolly (d. 1729) [qv.], who was uncle to Thomas Conolly's father, and made his nephew heir to his property. Thomas had four sisters, the Countess of Rosse, the Viscountess Howe, the Countess of Buckinghamshire, whose daughter married Lord Castlereagh, and Anne Byng, whose son eventually succeeded to the Strafford estates, and whose grandson Field-marshal Sir John Byng [qv.], was made first Earl of Strafford of the third creation. In 1758 Thomas Conolly married Lady Louisa Lennox, third daughter of Charles, second Duke of Richmond, and in 1759 he was elected M.P. for Malmesbury in the English House of Commons, and in 1761 for Londonderry co. in the Irish House of Commons, which seat he held until May 1800, resigning just before the union. He showed little ability in either house, but from his wealth and connections possessed influence in Ireland, where he held various offices, such as lord of the treasury, commissioner of trade, and lord-lieutenant of the county of Londonderry, and where he was sworn of the privy council in 1784. After sitting for Malmesbury until 1768, and for Chichester through the influence of his father-in-law, from 1768 to 1780, in the English House of Commons, he gave up his seat in that house, and took up his residence permanently at Castletown. In 1788 he was one of the leaders in the revolt of the Irish House of Commons against the English ministry, and was one of the members deputed to offer the Prince of Wales the regency without any restrictions whatever. This independence lost him his seat at the board of trade, but his influence remained so great, that he was one of the ten chief persons in Ireland to whom Cornwallis broached the first idea of a legislative union with England in 1798. Cornwallis, in his despatch of 27 Nov. 1798, writes that he had consulted seven leading peers, the attorney- and solicitor-general, and Conolly on the subject, and says that Mr. Conolly had always been a decided friend to an union, and was ready to give it his best assistance (Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 450). Conolly threw himself warmly into the debates on the question, doubtless under the influence of Castlereagh, who had married his niece Lady Amelia Hobart, and several times spoke in favour of the measure, which, however, extinguished his own political importance. The passing of the union decided him to abandon politics, for, though he might easily have been returned for Londonderry to the united parliament, he preferred to hand over the seat to Colonel Charles Stewart, Castlereagh's brother, and retired altogether to Castletown, where he died on 27 April 1803. His widow, Lady Louisa Conolly, survived him for some years. Her sister Sarah married Colonel George Napier, and Lady Louisa helped to educate the young Napiers, her nephews, who resided near Castletown with their mother and father. A character of her by Mrs. Richard Napier is published in Bruce's Life of Sir William Napier, ii. 493-6. Sir Jonah Barrington, in his Historic Anecdotes of the Union, devotes some pages (ed. 1809, pp. 265-7) to Conolly, in which he criticises his attitude to the union rather unfavourably, and thus analyses the causes of his influence: Mr. Conolly had the largest connection of any individual in the commons house. He fancied he was a whig because he was not professedly a tory; bad as a statesman, worse as an orator, he was as a sportsman pre-eminent. — He was nearly allied to the Irish minister at the time of the discussion of the union, and he followed his lordship's fortune, surrendered his country, lost his own importance, died in comparative obscurity, and in his person ended the pedigree of one of the most respectable English families ever resident in Ireland.
Gent. Mag. June 1803
Barrington's Historic Anecdotes of the Union
Bruce's Life of Sir William Napier
Sir W. Napier's Life of Sir Charles James Napier.
Contributor: H. M. S. [Henry Morse Stephens]