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When 10 Commandments simply weren't enough

One of my favourite films is The Duellists, Ridley Scott's 1977 feature film debut based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, a story he based in turn on the real life exploits of two French officers, Dupont and Fournier-Sarlovèze, in the 1790's. These two characters couldn't abide each other and fought a series of duels over two decades. As neither killed the other, I assume honour was satisfied on both sides.

The reason I started thinking about this is that the Irish government are beginning one of their innumerable public consultations, this time on the abolition of antiquated laws or as the government website puts it

The Statute Law Revision Programme operates within the Government Reform Unit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and conducts comprehensive reviews of primary and secondary legislation, leading to the repeal or revocation of spent or obsolete legislation and instruments. The instruments under review in this phase all predate 1820... After a public consultation process, a Bill will be prepared to revoke those deemed obsolete. Ireland’s unique legislative past has left us with a complex stock of legislation, with enactments from Parliaments of Ireland, England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The website has a list of almost 4,500 laws, proclamations and declarations that they see no further need for, including the offering of a reward for the arrest of a Catholic priest, a proclamation for the suppression of robbers and Tories, a reward for Irish rebels (dead or alive), the 1665 order that made it a requirement that the first Wednesday in every month be classed as a day of penance and fasting for the relief of London from the Bubonic plague and a Proclamation banning His Majesty’s natural born subjects from enlisting or serving in the Military Forces or on the Ships of War of His Catholic
Majesty the King of Spain. There was also something about how the higher orders should refrain from feeding oatmeal and potatoes to their horses, in case the lower orders starved.

The one that caught my eye was the 1690 Proclamation prohibiting 'officers and soldiers of Their Majesties army from engaging in duels.' This was one of a raft of laws applicable to the military passed between 1688 and 1690 as the country headed towards the resolution of the differences between James and William at the Boyne. There were further proclamations in 1689 calling on all loyal subjects to rise up against William and declaring all those who supported William as rebels and traitors. Needless to say, after July 1690, the tone of these proclamations changed.

As an aside, Mayo seemed to figure very prominently in law makers minds in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne especially August and September 1690. - August 16, 1690, there was an order imposing a levy of beeves and weathers on County Mayo for the subsistence of the Jacobite
garrison at Galway, on August 16 there was also an order to raise soldiers on County Mayo in support of the Jacobite military; on August 24 there was a a levy on County Mayo for the subsistence of the Jacobites at Galway, in September an order was issued for the seizure of all saltpans in the county
followed by a proclamation ordering the appropriation of beef cattle.

This got me thinking about when was the last duel fought in Ireland. The best I could do was the last fatal duel fought and that was at Druminderry Bridge, near Buncrana, in County Donegal in 1810. Details are scant but it was fought between William Todd and somebody called Bateman. Presumably the lack of title for Bateman means that he was one of those oatmeal eating and potato guzzling lower orders.

Ireland actually played an important role in the development of European duelling via the 1777 Summer assizes in the town of Clonmel, County Tipperary. A copy of the duelling code known as 'The Twenty-Six Commandments', was to be kept in a gentleman's pistol case for reference should a dispute arise regarding procedure. This duelling 'best practice' was agreed by delegates (duelling delegates? Who would have thought it!) from Tipperary, Sligo, Roscommon, Mayo and Galway and was intended for use throughout the country. These twenty six commandments became known as the Irish Code of Honour and were also adopted in parts of the USA.

The Commandments cover all aspects of duelling, with sword and pistol, grading the offence offered and the permitted response, under what circumstance an apology can be proffered, the role of seconds, the accepted stance to be adopted by challenger and challenged, how pistols are to be loaded, what defines a misfire etc.etc. One of my particular favourite is Commandment Twenty One, which reads

Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake must end the business for that day

There is little point in having a code of conduct for duelling without the duellists and Ireland produced its fair share and like all successful organisations, there has to an effective disputes policy and duelling was no different:

All matters and doubts not herein mentioned will be explained and cleared up by application to the Committee, who meet alternately at Clonmel and Galway at the quarter sessions for that purpose.

In 1783, Richard Martin, aka Hairtrigger Dick, aka Humanity Dick, scion of one of the Tribes of Galway, MP, Governor of Galway, survivor of two shipwrecks, present at the start of two revolutions, the first in America the second in France, founder of Galway's first theatre, and survivor of 100 duels, fought George "Fighting" FitzGerald in the Castlebar barrack yard. FitzGerald was of the Fitzgeralds of Turlough, Castlebar, whose family home is now site of the rather fine Museum of Country Life. A highly eccentric character, George is said to have become so after a blow to the head sometime in his 20's. In 1770 he married Jane, daughter of William James Conolly, but the marriage effectively ended as soon as he, in the finest caddish fashion, had spent her dowry.

Martin and Fitzgerald were both wounded in the duel. Later, Fitzgerald fought a Mr French (also in Castlebar) who he accused of cattle rustling, neither of them sustaining serious injury. Fitzgerald ended his life, along with his law agent, courtesy of the hangman, found guilty of murder in 1786.

No such ignominy for Martin, who became famous for his campaigns for Catholic Emancipation and against animal cruelty. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the British government saw the campaign against animal cruelty as a priority, and legislation was passed in 1822, Martin is now best known for his work against animal cruelty, especially against bear baiting and dog fighting. His actions resulted eventually in Martin's Act of 1822, entitled "Ill Treatment of Cattle Bill". He also tried to spread his ideas in the streets of London, becoming the target of jokes and political cartoons that depicted him with ears of a donkey. He also sometimes paid fines of minor offenders. On 16 June 1824, Martin was present when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was founded in a London coffee shop "Old Slaughter's". He denied being the initiator of the society.

He continued his work towards Irish Catholic Emancipation till 1826, when he had to flee to France; Catholic Emancipation was finally granted in 1829, much to his delight.

The 19th-century statesman Daniel O'Connell, the Great Liberator himself, took part in a duel in 1815. O'Connell referred to the Ascendancy dominated Dublin Corporation as a "beggarly corporation" to which members of the Corporation took exception and one of them, John D'Esterre, noted duellist of that parish called O'Connell out, which was an error, as O'Connell shot and mortally wounded him. Appalled at what he had done, O'Connell offered to support D'Esterre's widow and daughter; she declined but agreed to an allowance for her daughter, which O'Connell paid for 30 years. He refused to fight another duel ever again.

In 1824 the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry and Ensign Battier was a cornet in the Marquess' regiment fought with pistols. When Battier's pistol misfired, he declined the offer of another shot and left. He was later horsewhipped by the Marquess' second Sir Henry Hardinge.

O'Connell,s son, Morgan,fought a duel with William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley, a captain in the British Army, at Chalk Farm, on 4 May 1835. A challenge had been sent by Alvanley to O'Connell's father, who, in accordance with a vow he had made after shooting D'Esterre, declined the meeting. Morgan thereupon took up the challenge. Two shots each were exchanged, but no one was hurt. In December 1835, he received a challenge from Benjamin Disraeli, in consequence of an attack made on Disraeli by Morgan's father. Morgan declined to meet Disraeli.

You can't keep a good duellist down and in 1839 Londonderry was at it again, this time with Henry Grattan, son of the Irish patriot of the same name. Londonderry receives Grattan’s fire, and then discharges his pistol into the air. Grattan's father, The Right Honourable Henry Grattan leader of the Irish House of Commons, was also handy with a pistol. He began by fighting John Scott, Lord Earlsfort and 1st earl of Clonmel, and ended by shooting the Honourable Isaac Corry, Chancellor of the Exchequer. He called him, in the debate on the Union, "a dancing-master," and while the debate was going on, went from the House to fight him, and shot him through the arm. Today most politicians would stand in front of a camera and try to draw blood with words.

Whether it's the Duke of Wellington, Lord Castlereagh, Major General James Stuart, Irish rake Beauchamp Bagenal or John “Bully” Egan, chairman of the Quarter Sessions for the county of Dublin, who although a man of good-natured disposition nevertheless is reputed to have fought more duels than any man on the bench, Ireland, like in most things in life, tended to fight above its weight when it came to duelling.

  • David Landale, a linen merchant from Kirkcaldy, duelled with his bank manager, George Morgan, who had slandered his business reputation. This was the last duel to be fought on Scottish soil; George Morgan, a trained soldier, was shot through the chest and mortally wounded by Landale, who had never before held a pistol. Landale was tried for murder but found not guilty. So, bankers beware!!

Posted by johnward 05:51 Archived in Ireland

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