Cuffe, James (1747?–1821), 1st Baron Tyrawley of Ballinrobe and MP, was eldest among two sons and five daughters of James Cuffe (d. 1762) of Elm Hall, Co. Mayo, landowner and MP for Co. Mayo 1742–60, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Arthur Gore (1682–1742), 2nd baronet, of Newtown, Co. Mayo. He succeeded his father on 20 March 1762 to a modest estate and was elected MP for Co. Mayo (1769). Posted as military ambassador to Portugal c.1771–2, he was appointed to the barracks board in 1772, a position he held until 1776, when he was made inspector of barracks (a post worth £600 a year). After elevation to county governor (1779–88), Cuffe took up residence in a large well-ornamented ‘castle’ in Ballinrobe. In possession of considerable property in Mayo by 1780 (having an annual rental of £8,000 by 1799), Cuffe was ambitious to secure more profitable public appointment and aspired to the peerage. Made privy councillor (17 September 1782), and first commissioner of barracks in January 1784 (at £1,000 a year), Cuffe also supervised the abortive project to set up an academy and factories at Passage, Co. Waterford, for the employment of refugees from Geneva; those houses that were built became barracks. He also became trustee of the linen board and governor of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. Escaping censure in 1783 after an inquiry into the riotous conduct of his Ballinrobe tenants during the election that year, Cuffe consolidated his electoral base by allying with the Brownes of Westport and maintaining lavish hospitality (keeping a French cook) at his new residence at Deel Castle, north Mayo, having leased out the house at Ballinrobe as a barracks. He was custos rotulorum for Co. Mayo 1786–1800. Although friendly with Henry Grattan (qv) in the 1780s, and without religious intolerance, he was a pragmatist principally concerned with self-advancement, and supported the government in the 1790s. He was made 1st Baron Tyrawley of Ballinrobe on 22 November 1797. Disappointed in 1800, when his support for the act of union was not rewarded by the admission of his illegitimate son to his line of succession in the peerage, Cuffe withdrew mainly to county life. He fell into disgrace after an investigation of the accounts of the Irish barrack board in 1802–3.
He married (28 April 1770) Mary (d. 11 May 1808), only daughter and heir of Richard Levinge of Calverstown, Co. Kildare. They had two daughters, both of whom died in childhood. The marriage broke up within a few years, after alleged infidelities on the part of his wife. Cuffe took up (c.1775) with the popular English actress Sarah Wewitzer, by whom he had a number of children, including his heir James Cuffe (c.1777–1828), later MP for Tulsk (1800) and Tralee 1819–28, and another son, Henry Cuffe (b. 1790). They married c.1804. Predeceased by his second wife, he died on 15 June 1821 at Castlelacken, Co. Mayo.