Kavanagh, Walter MacMorrough (1856–1922), landlord, politician, and financial expert, was born at Borris House, Co. Carlow, on 14 January 1856, the eldest son of Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh (qv) and his wife, Frances Mary Forde Leathley (d. 1908). He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford. He was a JP for counties Carlow and Kilkenny, DL of Co. Carlow, and high sheriff of Co. Wexford in 1884. In 1887 he married Helen Louisa Howard (1926), daughter of Col. John Stanley Howard of Ballinapark, Co. Wicklow; they had two sons. He was an unsuccessful unionist candidate for North Kilkenny in the 1892 general election and for South Armagh in 1895.
During the 1890s Kavanagh was active in the joint unionist–nationalist campaign against Irish over–taxation. He had a considerable reputation as a financial expert and served on the Congested Districts Board. Involved in the land conference negotiations of 1902–3, which led to the 1903 land act, he subsequently developed home-rule sympathies, and in 1908 was returned unopposed as home-rule MP for Carlow. This was not universally popular among nationalists: Arthur Griffith (qv) claimed that he received numerous letters from local nationalists urging him to run a Sinn Féin candidate to prevent Carlow being ‘sold to the landlords’ (Sinn Fein, 1 and 8 Feb. 1908). Griffith called Kavanagh's election a dreadful sign of the Irish party's corruption, but refused to run a candidate for people who lacked the courage to oppose Kavanagh themselves.
Kavanagh chose not to contest the January 1910 election, complaining that the Irish party were insufficiently strenuous in opposing Lloyd George's ‘people's budget’ (unpopular in Ireland because it raised duties on alcohol, seemed to prepare the way for a land tax, and ignored nationalist complaints that Ireland was disproportionately affected by direct taxation). Griffith, who was using the budget as a stick to beat the Irish party with, commended Kavanagh's patriotism. Kavanagh, however, remained close to the Irish party. In 1915 he was appointed as the neutral chairman of an Irish retrenchment commission, intended to make wartime savings on Irish public expenditure, with one representative each from the nationalist and unionist parties. When John Redmond (qv) withdrew his representative amid nationalist complaints that Ireland was suffering disproportionately from wartime cutbacks, Kavanagh also resigned and the commission collapsed.
Kavanagh was appointed to the Irish privy council in 1916 and participated in the Irish convention of 1917–18. He was one of fifteen members nominated to the senate of Southern Ireland (which never met) under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920; the majority of the nominees (including Kavanagh) signed a statement declaring that they accepted nomination in the hope of assisting a solution, but would not cooperate with any executive established under martial law. Kavanagh died 18 July 1922 in an accident at Borris House in the first days of the civil war. His career reflects the tentative efforts of some moderate unionists towards a rapprochement with nationalism in the first decades of the twentieth century.