Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland 2

Continuing from my earlier post, Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland

Sometimes it was not only the defeated party in a duel that suffered the consequences. In 1807 William Congreve Alcock (former MP for Waterford City and Co. Wexford) killed John Colclough over an election dispute, apparently in front of a large crowd including the county sheriff and 16 magistrates. Afterwards, Alcock ‘became melancholy; his understanding declined; a dark gloom enveloped his entire intellect; and an excellent young man and a perfect gentleman at length sank into irrecoverable imbecility’. He was confined in a lunatic asylum, and died in 1813 at the age of 42.

Robert Edgeworth, a member of the prominent Longford family and MP for St Johnstown (1713–27), was described as follows: ‘He had no notion of good breeding, was outrageously rude and abusive to persons he disliked, had a strange disposition to fighting and quarrelling and was quite void of fear of any man living; but was most childishly fearful of apparitions and goblins especially after he had killed Mr Atkinson in a duel in Clontarf Wood, after which time he could never lie without a lighted candle in his room and a servant either in his chamber or within his call … He hated many people, loved nobody, nor nobody loved him.’

John Gustavus Crosbie killed Sir Barry Denny, the sitting MP, in a duel over a by-election in Co. Kerry in 1794 – Denny was ‘shot through the head at the first fire … by the haphazard aim of a man who had never before discharged a pistol in his life.’ Denny’s ghost was said to have caused Crosbie’s death, in a fall from his horse, three years later. (In fact, numerous MPs died in riding accidents.)

Richard Nugent (Lord Delvin, MP for Fore) was still a teenager when he was killed in a duel in 1761 (MPs were supposed to be at least 21, but this was not always observed). Thomas Piggot (later MP for Taghmon and Midleton, and a major-general) was not yet 17 when he killed Edward Deane (MP for Innistiogue) in 1751.

Some of the most famous names in the parliament were involved in duels. Henry Flood (MP for Callan) killed James Agar (MP for Tulsk) in 1769: the Floods and Agars were bitter rivals for the representation of Callan. Flood was tried for murder, and acquitted. Evidence was given at the trial that he had coolly delayed his fire because he had taken a pinch of snuff between his fingers; Agar had therefore fired first, and missed. As Agar was steadying himself for his second shot, he shouted at Flood: ‘Fire, you scoundrel!’ Flood then fired the fatal shot.

The prominent lawyer John Philpot Curran (MP for Kilbeggan, Rathcormack and Banagher) fought many duels, including one in 1785 against the future Lord Chancellor, John Fitzgibbon (MP for Kilmallock; later Earl of Clare): the latter had remarked that the Irish nation were easily angered but easily appeased, to which Curran responded that the Rt Hon. gentleman formed his opinion of the nation from his own individual character. Fitzgibbon challenged Curran and shots were exchanged; neither was injured. Curran picked a quarrel with the Chief Secretary, Robert Hobart (MP for Portarlington) in 1790, which resulted in a duel in which Hobart allowed Curran to fire first and then refused to return fire.

In 1775, John Hely-Hutchinson (MP for Cork City and Provost of Trinity College) fought a duel with William Doyle over abusive newspaper articles. Doyle was ill and had to lean on a crutch at the duel; on being challenged he had initially complained of sore eyes, and ‘objected to stand merely to be shot at, without the power of retaliation’. Neither party was injured. One of the Provost’s sons wished to fight a further duel with Doyle, but the authorities prevented this; the two men then went abroad and held the duel, neither being killed.

During the debate on the Union in 1800, Henry Grattan (MP for Wicklow Borough) quarrelled violently with Isaac Corry (MP for Newry), who accused him of ‘living in familiarity with rebels’. They went outside and fired two shots each; Corry was wounded in the arm. Corry’s election for Newry in 1776 had resulted in a duel in which he wounded Sir Richard Johnston (MP for Kilbeggan); in 1784 he killed a Mr Stannis of Carlingford.

Age was apparently no barrier to duelling: Alexander Montgomery (MP for Co. Donegal) was nearly 80 when he fought a duel with Sir Samuel Hayes (former MP for Augher), who was also quite elderly, in Derry in 1797. ‘Soldiers guarded the entrance and all Derry crowded to see the fun. He wounded Sir Samuel twice in the leg although not seriously.’


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