Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Langrishe, Hercules

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LANGRISHE, Sir HERCULES (1738–1811), Irish politician, born in 1738, was the only son of Robert Langrishe, esq., of Knocktopher, co. Kilkenny, and Anne, daughter of Jonathan Whitby of Kilcregan in the same county. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B.A. in 1763. From 1761 until the union he represented the borough of Knocktopher, of which he was virtually sole proprietor, in the Irish parliament. He was a commissioner of barracks 1766–74, supervisor of accounts 1767–75, commissioner of revenue 1774–1801, and commissioner of excise 1780–1801. He was a man of culture and great social qualities, and his political views were broad and generous. Though professedly a supporter of government, he was one of the most independent politicians in the Irish House of Commons.

At an early period he formed a friendship with Burke, and his intimacy with him no doubt coloured his political opinions. He consistently opposed every effort to reform the Irish parliament, but indignantly rebutted the charge that in doing so he was actuated by mercenary motives. His advocacy of the catholic claims at a time when the penal laws were in full force entitles him to remembrance. In 1766 he supported Flood's proposal to establish a militia. In April and May 1771 he published anonymously, in the 'Freeman's Journal,' a covert attack on the government of Lord Townshend under the title of 'The History of Barataria continued,' subsequently republished, along with a number of letters by Flood, Grattan, and himself, in a little volume entitled 'Baratariana.' In 1772 he made a liberal and temperate speech in favour of a bill 'to enable papists to take building leases.' On the outbreak of the war with America he advocated a conciliatory policy, and voted in favour of an amendment to the address urging the adoption of 'healing measures for the removal of the discontent that prevails in the colonies.' On 24 Jan. 1777 he was created a baronet and a privy councillor. He played a quiet but patriotic part in the matter of the declaration of Irish independence, speaking at some length on the address to the Duke of Portland in May 1782. In 1783 he opposed Flood's motion for a reform of parliament. He supported the chief measures of government in 1786–8, voting against the reduction of pensions, and in favour of the Police Bill and the bill to suppress tumultuous risings. On the regency question in 1789 he spoke and voted in favour of the address to the Prince of Wales.

The growth of republican notions among the dissenters in the north of Ireland, and the cordial relations established between them and the Roman catholics, seem to have suggested to Langrishe the advisability of learning Burke's views on the proposal to further relax the penal statutes against the Roman catholics. 'General principles,' he wrote, 'are not changed, but times and circumstances are altered.' Burke replied with his famous 'Letter to Sir H. Langrishe,' advocating a complete or almost complete removal of disabilities,' leisurely, by degrees, and portion by portion.' Acting on this advice Langrishe, on 25 Jan. 1792, introduced his Catholic Relief Bill, and in February of the following year supported Secretary Hobart's measure for conferring the elective franchise on the Roman catholics. In 1794 he opposed Ponsonby's motion for a reform of parliament, and in 1796 a motion for the complete removal of the catholic disabilities, though he had supported the same measure in the previous year, on the ground that the time was inopportune, and that 'what little of concession still remains behind (which is little more than pride and punctillio) must be the work of conciliation and not contention.' His attitude towards the union scheme was at first doubtful, but on 5 Jan. 1799 Castlereagh reported that he would support the government. By the Compensation Act he received 13,862/. for his interest in the borough of Knocktopher. After the union he ceased to take any active interest in politics, and died at his residence in Stephen's Green, Dublin, on 1 Feb. 1811.

He married Hannah, daughter and coheir of Robert Myhill, esq., of Killerney, co. Kilkenny, and sister of Jane, wife of Charles, first marquis of Ely, by whom he had two sons and three daughters, Mary Jane, Elizabeth, and Hannah. The elder son Robert succeeded as second baronet, and died in 1835, having sat in the Irish parliament as M.P. for Knocktopber from 1796 to 1800. The second son James was archdeacon of Glendalough, dean of Achonry, and rector of Newcastle, Lyons, and Killishin, co. Carlow; he died 17 May 1847.

All efforts to trace Langrishe's correspondence have as yet ended in failure. Digests of his speeches between 1782 and 1795 will be found in the 'Irish Parliamentary Register.' Several, viz. on allowing papists to take building leases, 1772, on parliamentary reform in 1783 and 1794, were published separately. A pamphlet entitled 'Considerations on the Dependencies of Great Britain,' published anonymously in London in 1769, and reprinted in Dublin in the same year, is ascribed to him by Mr. Lecky (England in the Eighteenth Century, iv. 315, 375) on the strength of a contemporary manuscript note on a copy in the Halliday collection in the Royal Irish Academy.

[Burke's Baronetage; Grattan's Life of Grattan; Parl. Register (Ireland); Barrington's Sketches of his own Times, vol. iii.; Cornwallis's Correspondance; Liber Hiberniæ, pt. iii.; Hardy's Life of Charlemont; Charlemont MSS. (Hist. MSS. Comm. xii. App. pt. x.); Addit. MS. 33101, f. 27; Gent. Mag. 1811, pt. i. pp. 194, 289; Burke's Works; Hist. MSS. Comm. i. 128, xii. App. ix. p. 325; Willis's Irish Nation, iii. 372; information kindly furnished by Mr. W. E. H. Lecky and the Rev. W. Reynell.]

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