Corry, Isaac (1753–1813), politician, was born 15 May 1753 in Newry, Co. Down, elder son among two sons and three daughters of Edward Corry (1723–92), merchant and MP for Newry (1774–6), and Catherine Corry (née Bristow) of Co. Antrim. He was educated at the Royal School, Armagh, entered TCD 8 July 1768, and graduated BA (1773); he entered the Middle Temple (18 October 1771) and was called to the bar (1779), but does not appear to have practised much, if at all. He succeeded his father as MP for Newry (1776–1800) with the support of the Needham family and the liberal John O'Neill (qv). Newry was a large and politically factious borough and it was a closely fought election, during which Corry wounded Sir Richard Johnston (1743–95) in a duel.
Closely involved in the Volunteer movement, Corry was captain commandant of the 1st Newry Volunteers (1780), captain of the Mourne Volunteers, and lieutenant-colonel of the Newry Volunteer regiment. He was also equerry to the duke of Cumberland (1782–9). A Patriot, he was a member of the Monks of the Screw reform club, a friend of Henry Grattan (qv), and an effective parliamentary speaker in favour of legislative independence, parliamentary reform, and the removal of restrictions on Irish trade. In July 1782 he gave his name to a dissenter relief act (21 & 22 George III, c. 57), which exempted presbyterian seceders from kissing the Bible when taking oaths. During the mid 1780s he attempted to enlist his Newry neighbour William Drennan (qv) into the moderate whig campaign for parliamentary reform. He supported the reform motion of Henry Flood (qv) in 1783 and instigated sending a reform address from Newry to the lord lieutenant in October 1784. However, he and Flood had strong personal and political differences and rarely cooperated in parliament; instead Corry usually looked to London for political allies and aligned himself with Charles James Fox and the prince of Wales.
Described as a ‘forcible, compact and methodical’ debater (Falkland, 38), he eschewed oratorical flourishes and stuck closely to the topic under discussion, and was probably the most active and effective opposition spokesman in the absence of Flood. Representing a trading town such as Newry, he concentrated on commercial matters, particularly the linen industry, and criticised the administration severely for its failure to safeguard Irish interests on the East India trade, the Portuguese trade dispute, and the navigation act, and strongly opposed Pitt's commercial propositions of 1785. However, as a professional politician without independent means, he was susceptible to Castle patronage (particularly since electioneering in Newry was ruinously expensive), and after his appointment in 1788 as surveyor general of the ordnance (with a salary of £1,000 a year) he generally supported the government. Though he opposed the government by voting for a regency in 1789 this did not prevent his being made a commissioner of the revenue that year. Despite his official position, he maintained some independence of ministerial influence, and supported whig calls for parliamentary reform in January 1793; he also supported catholic emancipation in 1795, and received strong catholic support in his Newry constituency.
His zeal as a revenue commissioner, his strong support for the government's coercive measures against the United Irishmen, and his prominence in debate led to his appointment as privy counsellor in 1795 and chairman of the influential committee of supply and ways and means (1798). In January 1799 he replaced the anti-unionist Sir John Parnell (qv) as chancellor of the exchequer. With a rising national debt, he was forced to impose new taxes, and the introduction of a window tax for Ireland in May 1799 made him deeply unpopular. Although there was much adverse criticism of his performance as chancellor, he seems to have done reasonably well in difficult circumstances: the Irish exchequer was in such a parlous state that any holder of the office was likely to attract criticism.
During the union debates of 1799–1800 he was the government's main speaker in the commons, and was rewarded with the appointment of surveyor general of crown lands in Ireland for life. His advocacy of the union brought him into conflict with Grattan and their debates became increasingly acrimonious. After a particularly bitter exchange in which Corry accused Grattan of rebel sympathies and was in turn described as ‘a half-bred lawyer, a half-bred statesman, a mock patriot, a swaggering bully and finished coxcomb, a coward, a liar and a rascal’ (cited in Kelly, 211), they fought a duel at Ballsbridge on 18 February 1800 in which Corry was wounded in the arm. He had already fought several duels and mortally wounded an opponent in 1784.
After the union he lost his Newry seat by ballot, but was elected with government assistance for Dundalk in February 1801. The attempt by government to find him a seat led to a dispute with the king, who was strongly opposed to assisting such a well known advocate of catholic relief. Corry sat for Dundalk until 1802, when he was again returned for Newry. At Westminster he confined himself mostly to Irish issues, especially finance, and proved more popular with English than with Irish members. His increasing demands for patronage to safeguard his Newry seat, together with his failure to consult colleagues, eventually exasperated the Irish administration, and in 1804 he was replaced as chancellor of the Irish exchequer by his rival, John Foster (qv). After this his health and fortunes declined, and he grew bitter at his loss of office. He had been granted a pension of £2,000 a year, but this was paid erratically, which added to his bitterness. He again voted for catholic relief in 1805. Although he was defeated at Newry in 1806 and 1807 (the Needhams having supported Gen. Francis Needham (qv)), government found him a seat for Newport, Isle of Wight (1806–7), and a place on the board of trade (1807). He died 15 May 1813 at his house in Merrion Square, Dublin. His other residence was Derrymore House, near Newry, ‘a wondrous neat little cottage’ (Drennan, 233) which he built, but was forced to sell in 1810; it was later acquired by the National Trust. His wealth at the time of his death was £3,500. A memorial was built to him in St Mary's church, Newry. He never married, but had six children by his common-law wife, Jane Symms of Kensington Gore.
Contemporary opinion of Corry was sharply divided: some regarded him as an accomplished parliamentarian, others as an unscrupulously ambitious political adventurer. He certainly seems to have been a man of ability, but he lacked the wealth and connections needed to sustain a front-rank political career. His brother Edward Corry (c.1756–c.1813), MP for Randalstown, Co. Antrim (1794–7), was also a close associate of John O'Neill and supported catholic emancipation in 1795.