1781 – Barry Yelverton introduces the bill that will become Yelverton’s Act.

The bill is an amendment of Poyning’s Act and states that only bills passed by both Irish houses of Parliament would be forwarded to England for assent.

Barry Yelverton, 1st Viscount Avonmore (1736 – 1805)

Barry was born in 1736 and educated at Careys (Casey’s?) School in Middleton. In 1754, he went to Trinity College Dublin. In 1761, Barry married Mary Nugent, daughter of William Nugent, an influential Freemason who lived at Clonlost, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. His first cousin, John Nash, married Mary’s sister Elizabeth. Mary’s cousin Thomas Nugent, 6th Earl of Westmeath, became Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1763. (7) Such connections may have been useful when, the following year, Barry was called to the Bar, becoming King’s Counsel in 1772. In the election of 1774, he was returned for Donegal. Two years later, he secured the seat as MP for Carrickfergus.

The Monks of the Screw

At this time Barry was probably as well known for his fondness for the Turf as he was at the Bar. However, he made his mark on 3rd January 1779 when, just over a month before parliament met, he and his friend, Lord Tracton, co-founded a new Patriotic Society – the Order of St. Patrick. The Masonic Order comprised 56 members, primarily barristers (including Henry Grattan, Henry Flood, Arthur O’Leary and Bowes Daly), but including six peers (such as Lord Charlemont) or heirs to peerages. Their stated aim was simply to give Ireland a constitution “and to nourish and diffuse among her people the spirit and intelligence which should render them worthy of the gift”. The Order had its more convivial side in a Dublin club called the “Monks of the Screw” which ran from 1779 to 1785, “screw” being an old word for “drink”. Barry modelled the club rules on a quaint and common Monkish Latin verse. The society met every Sunday during the Law Terms at Lord Tracton’s house on Dublin’s Kevin Street. John Philpott Curran, a childhood friend of Barry and father to Robert Emmett’s beloved Sarah, was Grand Prior of the Monks. Curran composed the charter-song which began thus:

When St. Patrick our Order created,
And called us the Monks of the Screw,
Good rules he revealed to our Abbot,
To guide us in what we should do.
But first he replenished his fountain
With liquor the best in the sky,
And he swore by the word of his Saintship,
The fountain should never run dry.
My children , be chaste, till you’re tempted;
While sober be wise and discreet;
And humble your bodies with fasting
Whene’er you’ve got nothing to eat.
Then be not a glass in the covenant,
Except on a festival found;
And this rule, to enforce, I ordain it
A festival-all the year round.

In later years, wringing tears from his aged eyes, Curran recalled the club’s hey-day as a time “which we can remember with no other regret than that they can return no more … we spent them not in toys, or lust, or wine, but in search of deep philosophy, wit, eloquence and poetry.” (8)

Yelverton’s Act, 1781

One of Barry Yelverton’s greatest achievements occurred in 1781 when he successfully introduces a bill to amend Poyning’s Act so that only bills passed by both Irish Houses of Parliament would be forwarded to England for assent. The bill, enacted in 1782, paved the way for two Catholic Relief Acts (4 May, 27 July) which allowed Catholics to own land outside parliamentary boroughs, to be teachers and to act as guardians.

The Fighting FitzGerald

Barry became Attorney General of Ireland in 1782. He later succeeded the brilliant Hussey Burgh (see de Burgh of Oldtown) as Chief Baron of the Exchequer. As such, in June 1786, he presided over the famous trial of George Robert Fitzgerald, otherwise known as The Fighting Fitzgerald, who had cold-bloodedly murdered Patrick Randal McDonnell, Colonel of the Mayo Volunteers. Yelverton passed a verdict of guilty and George was carted out to Castlebar, a bottle of port to the good and slowly, very slowly, hanged.

Selling his Soul?

On 19th June 1795, George III raised Barry to the peerage as Baron Avonmore. In return for his support of the Act of Union of England and Ireland, he was created Viscount Yelverton in the Irish peerage on 29th December 1800, as well as being made a Baron in the UK. Barry’s support for the Act of Union created a serious rift within his own family, half of whom were entirely opposed to the Act and appalled that Barry’s loyalty could be bought so easily. Did the Viscount’s kinship with Cork have anything to do with his decision? Where did those who supported the Union generally live? Do the electoral results indicate that certain areas were keen to see control wrestled from the exclusive grasp of the Dublin elite? Was there a deliberate move by Munster’s ascendancy to shift power from Dublin to London? Is there any correlations to be worked out from the way people voted or was it really all down to fast and hard cash bribes?

Death of the 1st Viscount

Lady Yelverton passed away in 1802. Barry died at his home at Fortfield, Rathfarnham, on 19th August 1805. The house was built in 1785 and he moved there from his Ely Place townhouse soon afterwards. His portrait hangs today in the Dining Hall of the King’s Inns in Dublin. He left three sons and a daughter, the Hon. Anna Maria Yelverton, who was married in 1791 to John Bingham of Newbrook, Co. Mayo. On 31st July 1800 – five months before his father-in-law became a Viscount – Bingham was elevated to the peerage of Ireland as Baron Clanmorris.

Photo: Courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

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