Plunkett, Arthur James (1759–1836), 8th earl of Fingall , was born 9 September 1759 at Woolhampton, Berkshire, England, the seat of William Wollascot, to his only daughter and heir, Henrietta Maria (d. 1808), wife of Arthur James Plunkett (1731–93), the 7th earl, whose seat was Killeen Castle, Co. Meath. The Plunketts, though catholics and probably Jacobites, retained their Irish estates after the Williamite confiscations, as the proprietor during the Jacobite period, the 4th earl, Peter Plunkett (1678–1718), was then a minor and not resident in Ireland. The 8th earl, known from birth until his father's death as Viscount Killeen , was the eldest of four sons. He was educated in England and France. When he succeeded his father (21 August 1793) England had been at war with France for six months; the Catholic Committee, on which he had with his father been active in the 1780s, was dormant, partly satisfied by the catholic relief act of that year. An act establishing a catholic national seminary at Maynooth (1795) named the earl as one of six catholic lay trustees; a later act (1800) named him as one of three catholic visitors. Having little liking for Jacobinism and its Irish allies – his brothers Luke and William had entered the Austrian service, Luke to be killed in Italy (1794) – Fingall raised and headed the Skreen yeomanry corps, consisting chiefly of catholics, which played an important role in the defeat of the insurgents at the Hill of Tara, beside his estate (26 May 1798).
Fingall's appointment as a JP for Co. Meath (18 August 1803) gave rise to the publication of an exchange of correspondence with the lord chancellor, the 1st Lord Redesdale (qv), in which Fingall acquitted himself with some dignity and emerged as a catholic champion. When on 17 November 1804 a meeting was held in Dublin to appoint a new Catholic Committee to draw up a new petition for the removal of the remaining penal laws, it was Lord Fingall who took the chair. He was one of seven prominent Irish catholics who took to London a petition for the total abolition of the penal laws (March 1805); he took more petitions (1810, 1811, 1812 and 1813). Fingall's pamphlet, An address to the catholics of Ireland (1811), increased the respect for him in catholic circles. He faced legal prosecution after presiding over a meeting of Meath catholics at Navan (29 August 1811) the purpose of which was to revive the Catholic Convention of 1792–3. On the issue that most divided catholics from 1808 until 1829 – whether ‘catholic emancipation’ should be conditional on a state veto being accepted on appointments of bishops and on state provision being made for the diocesan clergy – Fingall was a ‘vetoist’ in opposition to Daniel O'Connell (qv). When at a meeting held on 24 January 1815 in an attempt to reunite the Catholic Board a motion was put for ‘unqualified emancipation’, the earl walked out; by 1817 he was no longer prominent in catholic politics.
When George IV visited Ireland he made Fingall a knight of St Patrick – the first catholic to be so honoured (20 August 1821). As a trustee and visitor of Maynooth College he ‘was probably the most active in trying to ensure that the tone of the institution would be that of France before the Revolution’ (Corish, Maynooth, 60). The earl was granted a British peerage as Baron Killeen of Woolhampton entitling him to sit in the British house of lords (20 June 1831). By 1814, when he was visited by John Bernard Trotter (qv), he had ‘improved and almost rebuilt’ Killeen Castle while preserving its gothic style. Fingall died 30 July 1836 at Kingstown, Co. Dublin. During the controversy over ‘qualified emancipation’ Denys Scully (qv) had to acknowledge his ‘good private character’ even when accusing him of being ‘very dangerous to our real independence’ (Scully to Sir Henry Parnell, 20 December 1815). Thomas Wyse (qv) wrote of him seven years before his death: ‘he was mild and modest, but there was also in him the firmness and honour of a true gentleman, the spirit and perseverance of a true patriot’. Fingall was the last catholic aristocrat of ancient lineage to have influence in catholic politics. As Lord Killeen he married (18 December 1785) Frances, only daughter of John Donelan of Ballydonelan, Co. Galway. They had one son who survived infancy, Arthur James, and a daughter, Harriet, born in Switzerland (August 1792).
The younger Arthur James Plunkett (1791–1869), 9th earl of Fingall , was born 29 March 1791 at Geneva and known as Viscount Killeen from 1793 until his father's death. He was a student at Edinburgh University (c. 1809), and had become a public figure by 1822. It was he who took the chair at the inaugural meetings of the Catholic Association (25 April, 10, 12 May 1823); he was present in London with O'Connell and other catholic leaders in an attempt to prevent the passing of a bill to curtail the association's activities and, after the bill passed, it was he who took charge of the association's funds (March 1825). After the catholic relief act (13 April 1829) removed the bar on catholics entering parliament Lord Killeen – his title was a courtesy title – was the first catholic after O'Connell to do so (22 March 1830), having being returned unopposed for Co. Meath in a by-election (22 February). He was returned again at the general election six months later but did not stand for re-election in 1832 and seems to have played little part in politics thereafter. He was appointed an Irish privy councillor and a lord-in-waiting (both in 1834) before succeeding as 9th earl and 2nd baron. The new Lord Fingall joined the board of trustees of Maynooth College, a self-perpetuating body, and was continued in office under the next Maynooth act (1845); he was a diligent visitor into his seventies. He was made a knight of St Patrick (October 1846) and was lord lieutenant of Meath from 1849 until his death. He died 22 April 1869 at 47 Montague St., Marylebone, London. He married (11 December 1817) Louisa Emilia, only daughter of Elias Corbally (1752?–1837) of Corbalton Hall, Skryne, Co. Meath, and by her had six sons and two daughters, of whom the eldest, another Arthur James Plunkett (1819–81), born at Naples, succeeded as 10th earl and 3rd baron. The 9th earl's sixth son was Francis Richard Plunkett (qv), British ambassador in Vienna.