Boyle, Richard (1727–1807), 2nd earl of Shannon and politician, was born in London 30 January 1727, eldest of six children of Henry Boyle (qv) of Castlemartyr, Co. Cork, 1st earl and speaker of the Irish house of commons (1733–56), and his second wife, Henrietta (1700–46), daughter of Charles Boyle (qv), 3rd earl of Cork. He entered TCD (13 October 1744) and after graduating BA (1748), sat in the commons for Dungarvan, Co. Waterford (1749–60) and for Co. Cork (1761–4). During the money bill dispute (1753–6), he strongly supported his father's rejection of the bill. Styled Viscount Boyle 1756–64, even before succeeding to the earldom in 1764 he was taking the lead in managing his family's political interests in Co. Cork, and in 1763 he was appointed to the Irish privy council. His marriage (5 December 1763) to Catherine Ponsonby (d. 1827), eldest daughter of John Ponsonby (qv), speaker of the Irish house of commons (1756–69), was viewed with great concern by other parliamentary factions who believed that the Boyles and Ponsonbys, formerly bitter rivals, would unite to dominate the house. From 1764 Shannon, ‘the Colossus of Castlemartyr’, was one of Ireland's chief borough proprietors, and no administration felt at ease without his support: he controlled three seats in the lords and nine in the commons (including the Cork boroughs of Castlemartyr, Charleville, Clonakilty, and Youghal), had influence over about ten other commons seats, and was one of the few political magnates with sufficient local influence to carry a county election unaided. He became master of the ordnance (1766–70) and was one of the chief ‘undertakers’ of government business, until his decision in November 1769 to join the Leinster and Ponsonby interests in defeating a money bill led the viceroy, Townshend (qv), to dismiss him and signal the end of the ‘undertaker’ system.
By 1774 he was back in office as muster master general (1774–81), and was appointed vice-treasurer (1781–9), British privy councillor (1782), a knight of St Patrick (1783). and governor of Co. Cork (1786). Considered a bulwark of the protestant ascendancy, he was colonel of the ‘True Blue Legion’ Volunteer corps and a leading member of the Youghal Hanover Society. He was a steadfast opponent of catholic relief, and of the Rightboy anti-tithe protest of the mid 1780s, particularly as one of its alleged leaders was Sir John Conway Colthurst (qv), a political rival. He opposed the constitutional changes of 1782, which he believed would lead to separation, and the subsequent Volunteer agitation for democratic parliamentary reform. He supported Pitt's commercial propositions of 1785 as a means of bringing some order to Ireland's economic and constitutional position, but opposed the government by backing his brother-in-law William Brabazon Ponsonby (qv) for speaker in 1785 and 1790. Believing his landed income to be insufficient (it was, in fact, a respectable £16,000 a year in 1799), he was reluctant to seek promotion in the peerage, although he was created a British peer as Baron Carleton 21 August 1786.
During the regency crisis of 1789 he voted against the government, probably from a variety of motives: his marriage to a Ponsonby, his poor relations with the viceroy, Buckingham (qv), and a feeling that he was not receiving his due in crown patronage. In 1789 he informed the viceroy that he could only support the government if ‘he should always have the nomination of one bishop, one judge, and one commissioner of the revenue, besides office for himself, inferior office for his dependants, and the whole patronage of the county and city of Cork’ (McCracken, 7). It was said that his wife ‘raved like a mad woman’ when he proposed deserting the Ponsonbys, and that a desire for ‘domestic quiet’ (Johnston (1957), 52n) led him to continue in opposition. The government, however, recognised that he was a lukewarm Patriot and he was reconciled to the administration in 1793 and appointed first lord of the Irish treasury (1793–1804). He strongly opposed the rise of the United Irishmen in Cork in the late 1790s, and was often attacked by the popular press for his vast control of patronage and parliamentary seats. He was, though, a high-minded and principled figure, who delivered on his promises and never sold any of his seats. A government observer described him as ‘a nobleman of very considerable talents, though an indifferent speaker’ (McDougal, 29–30). Because of his sensible and reliable character, he was frequently consulted by government, and was a member of an outer cabinet set up during the 1798 rebellion, when he suggested that ten rebel prisoners should be hanged for every loyalist killed. He was a strong supporter of the union, although it reduced his political importance, but even at Westminster his parliamentary influence could not be ignored. To facilitate the incoming Pitt ministry of 1804 he agreed to resign his treasury position, for which he received a pension of £3,000 a year. He died 20 May 1807 at Castlemartyr. Although an important figure in his day, he left no lasting political legacy: he did not cultivate links with powerful British politicians, was no orator, and did not champion popular causes; his main concerns were to maintain stable government and promote his family's interests.
He was succeeded by his son Henry Boyle (1771–1842), 3rd earl of Shannon, KP, clerk of the pells in Ireland (1808–22), custos rotulorum (1807–42) and lord lieutenant (1831–42) of Co. Cork, and MP for Clonakilty, Co. Cork (1793–7) and for Co. Cork (1799–1807). From his marriage he had one other child, Catherine Henrietta Boyle (1768–1815), who married (1784) Francis Bernard (qv), 1st earl of Bandon.