Thomas Westropp Bennett

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Thomas Westropp Bennett and George C. Bennett, circa 1928 Uncle Tom and Uncle George.jpg
Thomas Westropp Bennett and George C. Bennett, circa 1928

Thomas William Westropp Bennett (30 January 1867 – 1 February 1962) [1] was an Irish politician, magistrate and public figure in Irish agriculture.


Born on his father's estate in Ballymurphy, County Limerick he was the eldest son (and second of five children) of Captain Thomas Westropp Bennett, a gentleman-farmer, Crimean War veteran and retired Captain in the 39th (Dorsetshire) regiment of the British Army. One of his younger brothers, George C. Bennett was Cumann na Gaedhael/Fine Gael TD for Limerick County. The Bennetts were an old Limerick family of Protestant gentry (a class known in history as "Anglo-Irish") who had been resident in Limerick since the 1670s. His father was a Church of Ireland member, but the children followed the Catholic faith of their mother.

County Limerick County in the Republic of Ireland

County Limerick is a county in Ireland. It is located in the province of Munster, and is also part of the Mid-West Region. It is named after the city of Limerick. Limerick City and County Council is the local council for the county. The county's population at the 2016 census was 194,899 of whom 94,192 lived in Limerick City, the county capital.

Crimean War 1850s military conflict

The Crimean War was a military conflict fought from October 1853 to February 1856 in which the Russian Empire lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia. The immediate cause involved the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire. The French promoted the rights of Roman Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the unwillingness of Britain and France to allow Russia to gain territory and power at Ottoman expense. It has widely been noted that the causes, in one case involving an argument over a key, have never revealed a "greater confusion of purpose", yet they led to a war noted for its "notoriously incompetent international butchery".

George C. Bennett Irish politician

George C. Westropp Bennett was an Irish Catholic Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael politician from 1927 to 1953. He was born in Ballymurphy, his father's estate in County Limerick in 1877. He was the second son of Captain Thomas Westropp Bennett, a British Army officer and a scion of an old Limerick family of Protestant Irish Gentry, a class known in history as Anglo-Irish. His forebears has been landowners in Co Limerick since the 1650s, active in local politics as Justices of the Peace and Freemen of Limerick. Two maternal ancestors, Lord Massy of Duntryleague and General Lord Clarina had sat in the Henry Grattan's Irish Parliament in the 1780s and 1790s both in the Irish House of Commons and Irish House of Lords. His elder brother Thomas Westropp Bennett had a very successful career as a Senator and Cathaoirleach of the Irish Free State Senate as well as serving in the Board of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) for many years with Sir Horace Plunkett.

Westropp Bennett's ancestors followed the usual occupations of their class: Protestant clergymen, Justice of the Peace (magistrates), landowners or military officers; several cousins (Ensign Thomas Bennett and Lt Joseph Bennett) had fought in the Peninsular War and another, Lt Francis W Bennett, died of wounds after fighting in the Battle of Waterloo. Two ancestors were prominent politicians, Hugh Massy, 2nd Lord Massy of Duntrileague in Henry Grattan's Irish Parliament in the 1780s in both the Irish House of Commons and, later, the Irish House of Lords and General Eyre Massey, first Lord Clarina sat in Grattan's parliament and was later a Union Peer. The family had been politically active at a county level, including a Lord Mayor of Limerick, several Freemen of Limerick and numerous JPs.

Peninsular War War by Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom against the French Empire (1807–1814)

The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire and Bourbon Spain, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when the French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.

Battle of Waterloo Battle of the Napoleonic Wars in which Napoleon was defeated

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815 near Waterloo in Belgium, part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands at the time. A French army under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by two of the armies of the Seventh Coalition: an army consisting of units from Britain, Ireland, the German Legion, the Netherlands, Hanover, Brunswick and Nassau, under the command of the Duke of Wellington, referred to by many authors as the Anglo-allied army, and a Prussian army under the command of Field Marshal Blücher. The battle marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Baron Massy

Baron Massy, of Duntrileague in the County of Limerick, is a title in the Peerage of Ireland. It was created in 1776 for Hugh Massy, who had previously represented County Limerick in the Irish House of Commons. His son, the second Baron, also represented this constituency in the Irish Parliament. His great-grandson, the sixth Baron, sat in the House of Lords as an Irish Representative Peer from 1876 to 1915. He left such heavy debts that in 1924 the family were evicted from their home.

Westropp Bennett was educated at Kilkenny College, where he was a contemporary of Admiral of the Fleet, the 1st Earl Beatty (later First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy during World War 1) and the Queen's Service Academy in Dublin but, unusually, did not attend Trinity College, Dublin where many of his ancestors had studied. On completion of his education, he returned to the Bennett family's extensive landholdings in Limerick and both farmed and took a prominent role in County Limerick life.

Kilkenny College Co-educational day and boarding school (public, fee-paying) school in Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, Ireland

Kilkenny College is an independent Church of Ireland co-educational day and boarding secondary school located in Kilkenny, in the South-East of Ireland. It is the largest co-educational boarding school in Ireland. The school's students are mainly Protestant, although it is open to other denominations.


As a magistrate he was active in local government as a district and county councillor and stood for the Westminster Parliament at the January 1910 general election as an Independent Nationalist in West Limerick, with the support of the All-for Ireland League, a non-sectarian alliance of nationalists and unionists, where he came within 70 votes of winning the seat in a close fought contest. [2] His standing in this election reflected a proud family tradition of Irish independence, following on from his ancestor George Bennett, a landed proprietor of Castle Creagh (Gleneffy) House in Limerick, who had signed a petition to Lord Castlereagh in 1799 as a prominent Limerick opponent of the Act of Union.

Parliament of the United Kingdom Supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom

The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known internationally as the UK Parliament, British Parliament, or Westminster Parliament, and domestically simply as Parliament or Westminster, is the supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and the overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the Sovereign (Queen-in-Parliament), the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The two houses meet in the Palace of Westminster in the City of Westminster, one of the inner boroughs of the capital city, London.

January 1910 United Kingdom general election

The January 1910 United Kingdom general election was held from 15 January to 10 February 1910. The government called the election in the midst of a constitutional crisis caused by the rejection of the People's Budget by the Conservative-dominated House of Lords, in order to get a mandate to pass the budget.

Independent Nationalist is a political title frequently used by Irish nationalists when contesting elections to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom Great Britain and Ireland not as members of the Irish Parliamentary Party, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As Chairman of Limerick County Council, where he was a member for the Bruree Division from 1908–1920, he rose to national prominence in a variety of organisations including the Gaelic Language Association, was founder of the Kilmallock show, the Kilmallock Agricultural and Industrial Society and Chairman of the Influential Ratepayers Protection Association (1907–11). He was also a member of the District Council for Kilmallock.

Limerick County Council

Limerick County Council was the authority responsible for local government in County Limerick, Ireland. As a county council, it was governed by the Local Government Act 2001. The council had 28 elected members. Elections for the council were held every five years and were by single transferable vote. The head of the council had the title of Cathaoirleach (Chairperson).

A noted agricultural expert, he was on the board of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) from 1912 where he remained until 1927 with the noted reformer Sir Horace Plunkett. He was elected to the Irish Free State Seanad in 1922 for Cumann na nGaedheal, [3] where he was part of a parliamentary Commission to broker peace in the Irish Civil War.

He was elected as Leas-Chathaoirleach to Lord Glenavy in 1925 and as Cathaoirleach (Chairman) of the Senate in 1928, he was vigorous in defending constitutionalism in Irish life during a turbulent time and was engaged in a very high-profile contest with the President of the Executive Council Éamon de Valera in 1935 during the campaign to abolish the Seanad, in which he was assisted by his brother George C. Bennett, a Teachta Dála (TD) in Fine Gael and later Senator. He also played a significant role internationally, leading inter parliamentary delegations to Berlin, Prague, Istanbul and London resulting in much economic benefit.

Committed to the link between the United Kingdom and Ireland as equal members of the Commonwealth, he led an Irish delegation to the Empire Parliamentary Conference in 1935 where he dined with British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, attended receptions with the King George V and the Duke and the Duchess of York (the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) and negotiated with leaders of delegations from South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Indian Raj and many others as well as attending a Fleet Review and visiting many cities in the United Kingdom to promote the Irish Free State. De Valera shunned the British link, so Westropp Bennett's role was very important in promoting Ireland as the sole holder of high office in Ireland to appear at these events.

Always active in Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael, he was instrumental in chairing talks between Eoin O'Duffy and W. T. Cosgrave in the summer of 1933 in Dublin which led to the founding of Fine Gael.

He became Chairman of the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society in 1945 remaining at its helm until his death in February 1962, after a lifetime of public service. He was prominent in many areas of Irish life; he was a member of the Council of University College Cork, Vice-President of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) (1955–1962), President of the Hibernian United Services Club and President of the Irish Association of Accountants, among many other roles. A keen huntsman, he remained active in the Country Limerick Foxhounds all his life, and enjoyed shooting, the cinema, horse racing and the Irish language.

He married twice; his first wife, Esther Moreton Macdonald, was a Scottish aristocrat. She was the great-granddaughter of Thomas Reynolds-Moreton, 4th Baron and first 1st Earl of Ducie and the granddaughter of Augustus Macdonald, a Scottish Member of Parliament and in the government led by reforming Prime Minister Lord John Russell. Her family home was in the baronial Largie Castle in Argyll where her father (and later brother) were the local lairds. She was a debutante in 1892 when she was presented at the Royal Court to Queen Victoria. They married in 1898 when her dowry was £1200 a year, which helped finance his campaigns; they were married at her family Castle in Argyll in Scotland by Cosmo Gordon Lang, (later Archbishop of Canterbury during the 1936 Abdication Crisis and 1st Baron Lang of Lambeth) Esther died in 1920 at the age of 51.

In April 1923, he married Miss Lila Hapell (died July 1976), daughter of William Alexander Happell, who had been in the Indian Civil Service. She had been governess to his niece. Initially he lived in an estate called Ballyteigue in Bruree and then another called Ardvullen in Killmallock before inheriting a small estate called Summerville from a cousin in County Limerick which the Irish Republican Army tried to burn down in 1922; he persuaded it to go away, though he himself was unarmed. His son, Liam Westropp Bennett, stood as a Fine Gael candidate in 1954.

His obituary in The Irish Times said that he was from a "prominent and popular family" in the south of Ireland who had rendered much service during the "turbulent early years" of the Irish State. In an interview in 2008 Liam Cosgrave, the former Taoiseach of Ireland, who knew Westropp Bennett and his brother George, well said that Westropp Bennett "a man of principle....who was held in universally high regard".

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  1. "Thomas William Bennett". Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  2. Brian M. Walker, ed. (1978). Parliamentary election results in Ireland 1801–1922. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. p. 174. ISBN   0-901714-12-7.
  3. "Thomas Westropp Bennett". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 16 August 2014.


Preceded by
Lord Glenavy
Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann
Succeeded by
Seán Gibbons