Bligh, Thomas (1693–1775), soldier and MP, was born 14 August 1693, second among three sons of Thomas Bligh (1654–1710), of Rathmore, Co. Meath, country gentleman, privy counsellor, and MP for Athboy, Co. Meath (1692–3) and for Co. Meath (1695–9, 1703–10), and his wife Elizabeth (née Naper; d. 1736) of Loughcrew, Co. Meath. His elder brother John Bligh (1683–1728) was created 1st earl of Darnley in 1725. Thomas was elected MP for Athboy in 1715, and held the seat for sixty years until his death. He entered the army and was promoted captain in 1717, serving under his uncle, Lt-gen. Robert Naper (d. 1731). In 1740 he became colonel of the 20th Foot and saw action at Dettingen (1743), Malle (1745), and Fontenoy (1745). Promoted major-general (1747) and lieutenant-general (1754), in August 1758 he was given command of a large force which invaded Normandy. His troops met little resistance and captured Cherbourg, pillaging the town and the surrounding area. At Saint-Malo, however, he was confronted by a superior French force and was unable to take the town. He delayed reembarking for England, allowing the French time to attack, and his rearguard lost almost 1,000 men. Bligh's generalship was strongly criticised in parliament and by his military superior. He defended his actions, and the events in Normandy provoked an exchange of pamphlets between supporters and opponents of Pitt's war policy.
Believing himself to have been made a scapegoat, Bligh resigned all his military commissions and retired to Ireland. For his continued reelection to Athboy he relied on the borough patron, the earl of Darnley. He did not attend parliament regularly, but when he did he supported the government, which considered him a steady ally. In 1769 an observer noted that he had ‘behaved very honourably to government’ (Large, 29) in voting funds for military augmentation in 1769 and that the viceroy, Townshend (qv), had given his brother Robert Bligh the deanery of Elphin. Thomas Bligh resided at the family seat of Brittas House, Nobber, Co. Meath (where he planted his woodlands in line with the troop formations he had used in various battles). He died there 17 August 1775, and was buried at Rathmore.
He married first (19 August 1737) Elizabeth Bury of Shannon Grove, Limerick; she died in 1759 having had one child, who died in infancy. In October 1760 he married Frances Jones of Leitrim; they had no children. He left his fortune of £100,000 to his brother Robert. Robert's son, Thomas Cherburgh Bligh (1761–1830), was MP for Athboy (1783–1800) and Co. Meath (1802–12).