French (Ffrench), Sir Thomas (c.1765–1814), 2nd Baron ffrench , catholic baronet, peer, and banker, was the elder son in the family of two sons and five daughters of Charles French of Castle French, Clogher, Co. Galway, who was mayor of Galway (1773–4) and was created a baronet (1779), and his wife Rose, a daughter of Patrick Dillon of Killeen, Co. Roscommon. After succeeding on his father's death (July 1784) to his baronetcy and estate in east Co. Galway, he confined himself to local affairs and did not join the Catholic Committee in Dublin. When Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) visited the county (October 1792) in order to raise interest in the planned Catholic Convention he found French (‘a fine young fellow and of consequence among the catholics’) presiding over a meeting of Galway and Mayo catholics at Ballinasloe (Tone, Writings, i, 308). French attended the convention as a delegate from Co. Galway. On the first day (3 December) he was appointed, with five others, ‘to take the chair in succession from day to day’ and was one of five members chosen to carry the petition adopted by the convention over to the king in London (ibid., i, 347, 354, iii, 451). On returning to Ireland (January 1793), French was conciliatory towards factious members of the Catholic Committee, and expressed satisfaction with the catholic relief bill of Robert Hobart (qv) as a further but not final stage in emancipation. He doubted whether catholics would benefit from a reform of parliament, urged by the more liberal members of the convention, arguing that it would ‘shut out the catholics for ever’ (ibid., i, 441).
French was named in the act of parliament setting up a catholic seminary at Maynooth (passed 5 June 1795) as one of five lay catholic trustees, a position he held until his death. According to G.E.C., Peerage, he rendered, as a member of the Catholic Committee, some service to the government in return for which he was promised a peerage, but, as the king was unwilling to ennoble a catholic, it was conferred on his mother, nominally at least – like his father – a protestant, with a remainder to her male heirs by her late husband (12 March 1798). This explanation of the circumstances of the creation of the peerage has not been substantiated. On his mother's death (8 December 1805) Sir Thomas, who nine months previously had been a member of another catholic delegation petitioning the king, succeeded as 2nd Baron ffrench. This ‘ludicrous mode of spelling’ (G.E.C., Peerage) was in the patent conferring the peerage.
Under the name the Hon. Sir Thomas ffrench, Bart & Co., he opened a bank at Tuam, Co. Galway (before 1804). In partnership with Michael Morris, William Keary and his eldest son, Charles Austin ffrench (1786–1860), and under the new name Lord ffrench & Co., he opened a branch in Lower Dominick St., Dublin (1807), which quickly assumed importance. The firm's banknotes were said to have constituted the entire circulation of notes in Connacht. In 1811 or 1812 Lord ffrench ostensibly retired, leaving his partners in charge with new partners, Henry Taaffe and two other sons, Thomas (1790–1846) and Martin (1793–1871). But on 9 December 1814, disturbed by the insolvency of the bank, Lord ffrench made his will and committed suicide by shooting himself in the chambers at TCD of his youngest son, Gonville Redington ffrench (1797–1866), who had entered as a student some 15 months previously. The partners attempted to continue the banking business but by 1830 the firm was bankrupt.
Thomas French married (1785) Margaret, eldest daughter of another catholic gentleman, Thomas Redington (1742–1827) of Kilcornan, Co. Galway, and his wife Sarah (née Burke), and by her had five sons and three daughters. He was said by Richard Lalor Sheil (qv) to have been a duellist and ‘a very tall, brawny, pallid and ghastly‐looking man . . . studiously and sometimes painfully polite’ (Sketches, 175).