Irish Conservative Party
Succeeded byIrish Unionist Alliance
Irish unionism
Political positionCentre-right
National affiliationConservative Party

The Irish Conservative Party, often called the Irish Tories, was one of the dominant Irish political parties in Ireland in the 19th century. It was affiliated with the Conservative Party in Great Britain. Throughout much of the century it and the Irish Liberal Party were rivals for electoral dominance among Ireland's small electorate within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with parties such as the movements of Daniel O'Connell and later the Independent Irish Party relegated into third place. The Irish Conservatives became the principal element of the Irish Unionist Alliance following the alliance's foundation in 1891.[1]


As late as 1859, the Irish Conservative Party still won the greatest number of Irish seats in Westminster, in that year's general election winning a majority of the seats on offer. In the 1840s, the Conservative linked Irish Metropolitan Conservative Society supported Daniel O'Connell's call for repeal of the Act of Union, believing that a resurrected Irish parliament would offer the best chance to defend Protestant and/or unionist interests. Many saw themselves as the successors of Henry Grattan, and even of William Molyneux and his 1698 pamphlet, The Case of Ireland's being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England, in which he made an argument disputing the right of the English Parliament to legislate for Ireland, as the kingdom had had its own parliament from 1297 to 1800.

Though aligned mostly with the Conservative Party in Great Britain, the Irish Conservatives took independent stances on many issues, a fact made easier by the lack of rigid party voting at the time in the British House of Commons.

The loose support for Daniel O'Connell shifted during the Great Famine of 1845–48. The English Tory Sir Robert Peel's second ministry sent food shipments to Ireland from late 1845.[2] However Peel lost power in 1846 to the Liberal Whig Lord John Russell, when his party split over reforming the Corn Laws. Russell was an old ally of O'Connell, and his new government preferred a laissez-faire policy of not sending food to the starving poor.[3] Despite this, O'Connell's popularity held up remarkably well in the better-fed parts of Ireland.

Its main rival, the Liberals, lost out to Isaac Butt's Home Government Association (HGA) in the early 1870s, ironically, considering that the HGA was, to a significant extent, made up of former Irish Tories such as Butt himself.

Franchise reform, notably the Representation of the People (Ireland) Act 1868, the Ballot Act 1872 and the Representation of the People Act 1884 which increased the number of Catholic Nationalist electors, and the electoral triumph of the Irish Parliamentary Party under Charles Stewart Parnell, reduced its role as a major electoral force. By the 1880s, the electoral base of the Irish Conservatives had become restricted to Ulster and Dublin. In 1891, the leadership of the Irish Conservatives joined in the formation of the Irish Unionist Alliance (IUA),[4] a new political party which aimed to represent unionists across Ireland.[1] Numerous prominent Irish Conservative politicians subsequently sat for the IUA, including Edward James Saunderson and Walter Long, 1st Viscount Long. The IUA effectively continued the Irish wing of the Conservative Party, as its MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster. The IUA dissolved in 1922.[5]

Organisations associated with the Irish Conservative Party included the Irish Metropolitan Conservative Society in Dublin, later the Irish Reform Association, the Loyal Irish Union, the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union and the Kildare Street Club, a gentleman's club in Kildare Street, Dublin. Prominent members included Isaac Butt and the Reverend Charles Boyton. It was strongly associated with the Dublin University Magazine founded by Butt and associates in 1833, and had a strong Trinity College Dublin academic input.


In the Irish Free State, the Irish Conservative Party did not re-establish itself and much of the IUA's Conservative electorate became supporters of Cumann na nGaedheal, forerunners of Fine Gael. In Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party became the leading conservative unionist party for much of the twentieth century. The UUP's historical roots were in the Irish Conservative Party, and its MPs often took the Conservative whip at Westminster. Since 1989, the Conservative Party has also had its own official section in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Conservatives.

General election results

Election House of Commons Seats Government Votes
1835 12th Parliament
37 / 105
Whigs largest party (Peelite Govt) 42.4%
1837 13th Parliament
32 / 105
Whigs largest party (Peelite Govt) 41.5%
1841 14th Parliament
43 / 105
Conservative victory 40.1%
1847 15th Parliament
42 / 105
Conservative victory 31.0%
1852 16th Parliament
42 / 105
Conservative victory
1857 17th Parliament
44 / 105
Liberal victory
1859 18th Parliament
55 / 105
Liberal victory 38.9%
1865 19th Parliament
47 / 105
Liberal victory 44.4%
1868 20th Parliament
39 / 105
Liberal victory 41.9%
1874 21st Parliament
33 / 103
Conservative victory 40.8%
1880 22nd Parliament
23 / 103
Liberal victory 39.8%
1885 23rd Parliament
16 / 103
Liberal victory 24.8%
1886 24th Parliament
17 / 103
Conservative and Liberal Unionist victory 50.4%

Note: Results from Ireland for the UK general elections contested by the Irish Conservative Party.

See also



  1. ^ a b Graham Walker, A History of the Ulster Unionist Party: Protest, Pragmatism and Pessimism (Manchester University Press, 4 Sep 2004)
  2. ^ "The Irish Famine: Peel's Relief Programme to July 1846".
  3. ^ "The Irish Famine: The Winter of 1846 to 1847".
  4. ^ Alvin Jackson, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History (Oxford University Press, 19 Mar 2014), 52.
  5. ^ Pádraig Yeates, Dublin: A City in Turmoil: Dublin 1919 - 1921 (Gill & Macmillan Ltd, 28 Sep 2012)
  6. ^ "The Irish Conservative Party 1852-1868: Land, Politics and Religion | Irish Academic Press".