THE TWENTY-SIX COMMANDMENTS
I. The first offence requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology, because he gave the first offence, and (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by subsequent apology.
II. But if the parties would rather fight on, then, after two shots each (but in no case before), B may explain first and A apologize afterwards.
N.B. The above rules apply to all cases of offences in retort not of a stronger class than the example.
III. If a doubt exists who gave the first offence, the decision rests with the seconds. If they will not decide or cannot agree, the matter must proceed to two shots, or to a hit if the challenger requires it.
IV. When the lie direct is the first offence, the aggressor must either beg pardon in express terms, exchange two shots previous to apology, or three shots followed by explanation, or fire on till a severe hit be received by one party or the other.
V. As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore, are: The offender handing a cane to the injured party to be used on his back, at the same time begging pardon, firing until one or both are disabled; or exchanging three shots and then begging pardon without the proffer of the cane.
N.B. If swords are used, the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed, or until, after receiving a wound and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon.
VI. If A gives B the lie and B retorts by a blow (being the two greatest offences), no reconciliation can take place till after two discharges each or a severe hit, after which B may beg A’s pardon for the blow, and then A may explain simply for the lie, because a blow is never allowable, and the offence of the lie, therefore, merges in it. (See preceding rule.)
N.B. Challenges for undivulged causes may be conciliated on the ground after one shot. An explanation or the slightest hit should be sufficient in such cases, because no personal offence transpired.
VII. But no apology can be received in any case after the parties have actually taken their ground without exchange of shots.
VIII. In the above case no challenger is obliged to divulge his cause of challenge (if private) unless required by the challenged so to do before their meeting.
IX. All imputations of cheating at play, races, etc., to be considered equivalent to a blow, but may be reconciled after one shot, on admitting their falsehood and begging pardon publicly.
X. Any insult to a lady under a gentleman’s care or protection to be considered as by one degree a greater offence than if given to the gentleman personally, and to be regarded accordingly.
XI. Offences originating or accruing from the support of ladies’ reputations to be considered as less unjustifiable than any others of the same class, and as admitting of slighter apologies by the aggressor. This is to be determined by the circumstances of the case, but always favourably to the lady.
XII. No dumb firing or firing in the air is admissible in any case. The challenger ought not to have challenged without receiving offence, and the challenged ought, if he gave offence, to have made an apology before he came on the ground; therefore children’s play must be dishonourable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited.
XIII. Seconds to be of equal rank in society with the principals they attend, inasmuch as a second may either choose or chance to become a principal and equality is indispensable.
XIV. Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intends leaving the place of offence before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hotheaded proceedings.
XV. The challenged has the right to choose his own weapons unless the challenger gives his honour he is no swordsman, after which, however, he cannot decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenged.
XVI. The challenged chooses his ground, the challenger chooses his distance, the seconds fix the time and terms of firing.
XVII. The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honours that they have charged smooth and single, which shall be held sufficient.
XVIII. Firing may be regulated, first, by signal; secondly by word of command; or, thirdly at pleasure, as may be agreeable to the parties. In the latter case, the parties may fire at their reasonable leisure, but second presents and rests are strictly prohibited.
XIX. In all cases a misfire is equivalent to a shot, and a snap or a non-cock is to be considered a misfire.
XX. Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place or after sufficient firing or hits as specified.
XXI. Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake must end the business for that day.
XXII. If the cause of meeting be of such a nature that no apology or explanation can or will be received, the challenged takes his ground and calls on the challenger to proceed as he chooses. In such cases firing at pleasure is the usual practice, but may be varied by agreement.
XXIII. In slight cases the second hands his principal but one pistol, but in gross cases two, holding another case ready charged in reserve.
XXIV. When the second disagree and resolve to exchange shots themselves, it must be at the same time and at right angles with their principals. If with swords, side by side, with five paces’ interval.
XXV. No party can be allowed to bend his knee or cover his side with his left hand, but may present at any level from the hip to the eye.
XXVI. None can either advance or retreat if the ground is measured. If no ground be measured, either party may advance at his pleasure, even to the touch of muzzles, but neither can advance on his adversary after the fire, unless the adversary steps forward on him.
N.B. The seconds on both sides stand responsible for this last rule being strictly observed, bad cases having occurred from neglecting it.
N.B. 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.
CROW RYAN, President.
JAMES KEOGH. AMBY BODKIN, Secretaries.
Robert Baldick, The Duel: A History of Duelling, Chapman and Hall Ltd., London, 1965; Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., London, 1970.
Irish Code Duello, or The Twenty-six Commandments. 1777
Michael MacDonagh, Irish Life and Character, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1898
Chapter II: Duelling
With all this reckless extravagance, excess, and dissipation—due to an exaggerated sense of hospitality — contemporary authorities agree that the old Irish squire was a thorough gentleman—a man of polished manners, of high intellectual culture, and with a scrupulous regard for personal honour. It was this latter trait which made the old Irish squire a noted duellist. A challenge was immediately given and readily accepted on the smallest provocation.
But, apart from questions of personal honour, it is not to be wondered at that dinner or supper parties, at which strong drink was indulged in to the amazing degree the stories in the previous chapter indicate, gave rise to many a duel. “What are you doing?” asked a Galway gentleman of his neighbour, whom he saw practising pistol shots in his garden. “I’ve a dinner party of friends this evening,” said the other, “and I am getting my pistol hand into practice.” Nor is one surprised to hear that a dying Irish squire, at the beginning of the century, thus addressed his eldest son—” God bless you, me boy! I leave you nothing but debts and mortgages; but I’ll give you one piece of advice—never drink with your back to the fire, and never fight a duel with your face to the sun.” These stories may be considered humorous exaggerations. They are, however, by no means improbable in a state of society such as I am attempting to depict in these pages.
No man who was not in Holy Orders could dare—if he had any regard for his position in society—to shelter himself behind law, religion, and morality, and refuse a challenge to a duel. It would mean—such was the extravagant point to which it was deemed necessary to uphold the obligations of honour—his instant expulsion from any club or coterie to which he might belong. A refusal to fight when challenged led in every case to one inevitable conclusion—that it was due to cowardice. Therefore, rather than run the slightest risk of such a dishonourable charge, many a man willingly faced the pistol in the hand of a “dead shot” for the most trivial cause of quarrel. Indeed, in some cases the challenged was utterly oblivious of ever having given his adversary the faintest cause of offence. A Galway gentleman who attended a county dinner was surprised to receive next morning a challenge from another gentleman whom he had met at the social gathering, but with whom he was unconscious of having had any cause for quarrel. However, he accepted the challenge, and in the encounter had the good luck, not only to escape unhurt himself, but to “wing” his adversary. Going over to shake hands with his prostrate foe—in accordance with the usual custom—he said, “I have no recollection of ever having uttered a word to offend you!” “Oh, bedad, you’re the wrong man, sir,” exclaimed the other. “The fellow I meant had but one eye!”
The story of a County Clare duel, which I heard from a descendant of one of the parties in the encounter, shows how in these good old days a social party, such as a dinner or supper, often ended in a duel. About eighty years ago the sub-sheriff of the County of Clare was Mr. Samuel Spaight, who lived at Six-mile-bridge, a few miles outside Limerick. Several neighbours, including a Mr. Bridgeman, dined with him one evening. While the punch was circulating after the dinner, a servant of the house told Mr. Bridgeman that he was wanted outside. At the hall door he saw his own herdsman, who told him that a number of his cattle had been sent to the pound for trespassing by order of Mr. Spaight. Bridgeman, highly incensed at this proceeding, returned to the diningroom and said to the host, “Sam, are you aware that my cattle have been sent to the pound?” “Quite well aware of it,” replied Spaight. “I told my steward not to allow any man’s cattle to trespass on my property.” “Then you and your property be d----!” cried the enraged owner of the impounded beasts. “If I was not in my own house and you not one of my guests, I’d pound you also,” retorted the master of the house. “Don’t let your fastidiousness stop you, my tight fellow,” said Bridgeman. “If you are willing to come out, I am at your service,” said the host, rising from the table. A duel with pistols was there and then arranged, two of the other guests agreeing to act as seconds; and as the night was lit by a brilliant moon, it was decided that the encounter should take place forthwith. On the lawn in front of the house the twelve paces were measured, and at the word “fire” host and guest blazed at each other. The guest escaped unhurt; but the host received a bullet in his leg which lamed him for life.
In fact, no gentleman was considered to have taken his proper station in life until he had “blazed,” or, as it was sometimes said, “smelt powder.” The barrister in the Courts, the fashionable man in society, the politician in Parliament— all saw in duelling the readiest road to the realization of their ambitions for social, legal, or political advancement. Many eminent members of the Bar undoubtedly owed their success to their reputation for skill in the use of the pistol, rather than to their eloquence or their legal acumen. It was wittily said of the famous Lord Norbury that he “shot up” to the Judicial Bench; and even Henry Grattan, the great statesman and orator, who was not especially distinguished as a “fire-eater,” summed up the whole wisdom of worldly success in the advice—“Be always ready with the pistol!” The indifference and levity with which duelling was regarded is humorously illustrated by the following authentic story of John Philpot Curran, one of the leaders of the Irish Bar and subsequently Master of the Rolls. He was discovered early one morning by a friend, under the hands of his hairdresser, undergoing all the laborious process of being powdered and curled. “I am dressing for the Provost’s ball,” he explained, when, in reality, he was about to “meet” Hutchinson, the Provost of Trinity College at twelve paces in the Phœnix Park. A popular place of resort for duellists was “the Fifteen Acres”—so called, in Irish fashion, because it consists of nine acres—in the Phœnix Park. An attorney of the city, penning a challenge, must for the moment have thought he was drawing up a lease, for he invited his antagonist to meet him “at the place called the Fifteen Acres, be the same more or less”!
The expert use of the pistol formed part of every young gentleman’s training. One old and faithful servant adopted a very practical method of teaching “the young masther” how to shoot. Having placed the loaded pistol in the youth’s hand, old Martin stooped behind a low wall twenty paces distant, then jumping up suddenly, he cried, “ Now, Masther Tom, one, two, three—fire!” bobbing down again before “Masther Tom” had succeeded in hitting him. After a week’s practice a bullet through the domestic’s hat showed the improvement which had taken place in the youth’s shooting. “Well done, Masther Tom!” he cried exultantly. “Thry agin; an’ if ye can get up the hand a little quicker maybe ye might hit me in the shouldher!”
In those days duelling pistols were kept at all! well-equipped inns. A favourite, but gruesome i order to the waiter at night was, “Call us at six; pistols for two; breakfast for one.” This story is told of an innkeeper who was counting out the change of a sovereign to a customer—“Twelve shillings, 13, 14 (a shot is heard outside). “John”—to the waiter—“go and see who’s kilt; 15, 16, 17” (John returns, saying, “It’s Captain Kelly, sur”)—“poor Captain; he was a very good customer of mine—18, 19, 20 shillings. There’s your change, sir.” Sometimes the duel was fought in a room of the hotel, the combatants standing at the top and bottom of a long dining-table. Charles Lever relates in one of his novels a funny story of a duel, which I am tempted to quote, as I have been informed on good authority that it is founded on fact. It was the custom of the novelist to turn to excellent account in his works all the strange experiences which befell himself while acting as a dispensary doctor in the west and north of Ireland, and all the humorous anecdotes he was told by landlords, peasants, priests and parsons. Here is the story:—An English gentleman on his first visit to Ireland was sitting in the first-floor room of an hotel in Galway, enjoying the wing of a fowl, when his plate divided with a sharp crack, and the wing, which he had just then under his knife and fork, flew up to the ceiling. His consternation and bewilderment were by no means relieved when a minute later the excited waiter rushed into the room exclaiming, “He’s safe! he’s safe!” “Who is safe?” inquired the anxious traveller. “Misther Mulcahy, sir,” said the waiter. “Sure, the Captain, Heaven bless him! fired in the air.” It then became apparent to the Englishman that a duel had been fought in the room beneath him, and that one of the combatants had magnanimously pointed his pistol upwards instead of towards his adversary! While staying at the Railway Hotel, Westport, I was shown the room in which a most comical duel was fought by two attorneys who had quarrelled one night over their whiskey punch. Their seconds, who happened to be noted Mayo wags, loaded the pistols with powder and red currant jelly. The attorneys blazed at each other, scattering the jelly right, left, and centre; and their horror on finding, as they thought, their brains dashed all over the place made a most ludicrous scene.
But it may be asked did the law do nothing to stop duelling? Nothing whatever. It is true the laws against duelling were very severe; but they were rarely if ever put into operation. Now and then when a duel ended fatally a prosecution was instituted; but, as a rule, no conviction followed. Every man on the Grand Jury, every barrister in Court, and the judge on the Bench was probably a duellist. In the case of a prosecution after a fatal duel, the judge would leave it to the jury to decide whether there had been any “foul play,” with a direction not to commit for murder otherwise. Towards the close of the century there was a motion for a criminal information arising out of a duel in the Court of King’s Bench Division, before the Chief Justice, Lord Clonmel; and the judicial view of duelling is set out in the following interesting extract from the judgment:—
“There are cases where it may be, and when it is, prudent for a man to fight a duel—cases in which the law does not afford him redress—cases of persevering malignity, cases of injured honour, cases of a wounded spirit; and a wounded spirit who can bear? In cases of this complexion the Court will never interfere with its discretionary authority against a man. But in all those cases where a man seeks to bring himself into notice by provoking a combat—when an aspiring upstart seeks to put himself on a level with, or to humble, his superior—cases where there has been no provocation, no sufficient ground to force a man of prudence to have resource to the ultima ratio, or cases (as frequently happens in this country) where a man seeks to decide a contested right or a claim of property by this sort of wager of battle—in all these cases the Court will lend its discretionary arm, and bear more or less heavily upon the party, according to the nature of his transgression.”
Again, in the case of the King v. Fenton, for the murder of a Major Hillas in a duel, tried at the Sligo Assizes in 1812, Judge Fletcher thus capped his summing-up to the jury:—”Gentlemen, it is my business to lay down the law to you, and I will. The law says the killing of a man in a duel is murder, and therefore in the discharge of my duty I am bound to tell you it is murder. But I tell you at the same time a fairer duel than this I never heard of in the whole course of my life.” It is hardly necessary to add that the accused was acquitted.
A fatality was happily a rare occurrence in a duel. There was no desire to kill in those encounters; “good hits but no lives lost” was the bulletin most hoped for. But if a death did occur it was regarded as a misadventure for which, if the duel had been fought fairly according to the rules of the game, no punishment was deserved. In Cork, however, the survivor in a fatal duel was hanged. “For what on earth did they hang the man?” asked one Gal way squire of another. “For the want of a Galway jury,” was the reply.
How could there be convictions for duelling—even if the Crown took action—when there were on the Bench noted “fire-eaters” like John Toler, Lord Norbury, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas? Toler was born at Beechwood, Co. Tipperary, the second son of a squire. When the father was dying, he called his son John to his bedside and said, “The estate must go to your elder brother. All I can afford to give you is fifty pounds and these”—drawing from beneath his pillow a pair of handsome silver-mounted pistols. “Now, Jack,” he continued, “be always ready to keep up the credit of the family and the honour of an Irish gentleman.” Toler went to Dublin, and got called to the Bar. He had no legal knowledge, he made no pretence of eloquence, he had no family influence, but he was a man of reckless courage, and by a dexterous use of his pistols on opponents of the Government he rapidly outpaced, in the race for promotion, men of great ability and learning, but ill adepts at the use of these instruments of forensic and Parliamentary advancement. Curran never conveyed more truth in a witty epigram than when he said, “ Norbury has shot himself up to the Bench!”
As a judge, Toler was as truculent and as bellicose as he had been at the Bar and in Parliament. He often intimated to a counsel who pressed him hard in Court that he would not seek shelter behind the Bench, or merge the gentleman in the Chief Justice!” Name any hour before my Court opens to-morrow, sir,” he would roar at any barrister who presumed to dispute his rulings. Norbury was also a humorist (a rôle in which we shall find him in a subsequent chapter), and one specimen of his fun at the expense of Daniel O’Connell may be appropriately quoted here. In 1815, Sir Robert Peel, who was then Chief Secretary for Ireland, took affront at some expressions in a speech by O’Connell, and challenged the great agitator. It was arranged that the duel should take place in France, and thither Peel went. But O’Connell delayed en route in London, in order that he might receive news of the health of his wife, whom he had left very ill in Dublin, and the police, having got information of the affair, arrested him and bound him over to keep the peace. The duel was thus prevented. It was whispered that O’Connell might have passed over to France undetected had he pleased. While the matter was still the talk of Dublin, a case in which O’Connell appeared as counsel came before Lord Norbury. “Pardon me, my lord,” said O’Connell, in answer to some remark from the Bench, “ I am afraid your lordship does not apprehend me.” “Pardon me also,” retorted Norbury; “no one is more easily apprehended than Mr. O’Connell”; and, pausing for a moment, he added slowly, in sarcastic tones, “whenever he wishes to be apprehended.”
About the same time another public character had declined a challenge to a duel on the plea of his daughter’s illness. The two cases were the subject of the following impromptu verse by Chief Baron Bushe :—
“Two heroes of Erin, abhorrent of slaughter,
Improved on the Hebrew command,
One honoured his wife, and the other his daughter,
That his days might be long in the land!”
But O’Connell had shown earlier in that year (1815) by his encounter with D’Esterre—the most famous of the Irish political duels—that he was ready “to meet his man,” and also “ to take good care of himself,” as the duelistic expressions went in those days. He truly described himself at this time as “the best abused man in the country.” But few could equal him in the matter of abuse. He described the Dublin Corporation— in those days an Orange and Anti-Catholic body— as “the beggarly Corporation,” and D’Esterre, a member of the Council, challenged him to a duel. As D’Esterre was noted as “ a dead shot,” it was confidently expected by O’Connell’s opponents that he would be killed. The parties met early one winter’s morning in a field near Naas, in Kildare. Major McNamara, a Clare landlord and a Protestant, known as “Fireball” (owing to the number of duels he had fought), was O’Connell’s second. Charles Phillips, a well-known Irish barrister, and author of Curran and his Contemporaries, also accompanied O’Connell as a friend to the field. O’Connell called him aside and said: “Phillips, this seems to me not a personal, but a political, affair. I am obnoxious to a party, and they adopt a false pretence to cut me off. I shall not submit to it. They have reckoned without their host, I promise you. I am one of the best shots in Ireland at a mark, having as a public man considered it my duty to prepare, for my own protection, against such unprovoked aggression as the present. Now, remember what I say to you. I may be struck myself, and then skill is out of the question; but if I am not, my antagonist will have cause to regret his having forced me into this conflict.” The parties, each supplied with a brace of pistols, were placed on the ground at twelve paces distant, with directions to fire as they chose, after a given signal. D’Esterre theatrically disclaimed all hostility to his Roman Catholic fellowcountryman, and crossed his pistols upon his breast. Then the signal was given; the antagonists fired together, and D’Esterre fell mortally wounded.
This affair caused O’Connell much mental anguish to the day of his death. He often referred to it as the one act of his life which he most bitterly regretted. Immediately after the duel he wrote to Mrs. D’Esterre, expressing his profound grief for being the cause of the death of her husband, asking her forgiveness, and offering to settle on her an annuity of ^150 for life. The Corporation, however, induced her not to accept O’Connell’s offer, and settled on her an allowance out of their own funds. O’Connell, shortly after, publicly announced his determination never again to send or to accept a challenge to a duel. He was once taunted in the House of Commons with having refused to fight a man whom he had caustically assailed with his tongue. “There is blood upon these hands,” he exclaimed, “ and I have registered a vow in heaven against duelling.” But he continued to use language of his political opponents which in other circumstances would have brought showers of challenges upon his head. In 1835 he thus described his erstwhile Radical friend, Benjamin Disraeli: “He possesses just the qualities of the impenitent thief who died upon the cross, whose name, I verily believe, must have been Disraeli “; and Disraeli, stung by the taunt, wrote to young Morgan O’Connell (who a short time before publicly announced his willingness to accept the responsibility for his father’s language) to perform “the vicarious duty of yielding satisfaction for the insults which your father has too long launched with impunity on his political opponents.” But Morgan O’Connell in this instance declined to stand up to be shot at for the sake of his father.
Many a political duel also arose out of the violent language which was used in the Irish House of Commons during the exciting quarter of a century which preceded the Union in 1800. Here, as an illustration, is an extract from a speech by Toler, attacking Ponsonby, an eminent and eloquent member of the Patriot Party led by Henry Grattan: “What, has it come to this in the Irish House of Commons, that we should listen to one of our own members degrading the character of an Irish gentleman by language which is fitted but for haranguing a mob. Had I heard a man uttering out of doors such language as that by which the honourable gentleman has violated the decorum of Parliament I would have seized the ruffian by the throat!”
Sir Boyle Roche, the celebrated maker of “bulls,” while speaking once in the House, was interrupted by the affected coughing of a hostile group of members, on the other side of the Chamber. He took a handful of pistol-bullets from his pocket, and holding them out said, “ These are infallible pills for a cough, if any of those honourable gentlemen opposite will care to try them.” Such “pills” were in fact administered for the cure of all sorts of political complaints. It was no unusual thing for two disputing politicians in “ the old House in College Green” to retire to the Phoenix Park or Ballsbridge by break of day, and settle the difference between them with pistols.
One of the most remarkable of those encounters was that in which Henry Grattan and Isaac Corry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were the antagonists. During the debates on the motion for the Union in 1799 Corry assailed Grattan, and Grattan, a master of scornful invective, thus replied: “I will not call him villain, ^because it would be improper, and he is a Privy Councillor. I will not call him fool, because he happens to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. But I say that he is one who has abused the privilege of Parliament and freedom of debate by uttering language which, if spoken out of the House, I should answer only with a blow. I care not how high his situation, how low his character, how contemptible his speech, whether he be a Privy Councillor or a parasite, my answer would be a blow!” Hardly had Grattan resumed his seat when a challenge was conveyed to him on behalf of Corry. The parties met next morning in a field at Ballsbridge, just outside Dublin, and fought with pistols in presence of a large crowd. The directions were that they should fire two shots at each other. Grattan escaped uninjured; but he hit Corry with his first shot, and fired the second in the air. “I then went up to him,” said Grattan, describing the affair in after years. “He was bleeding, and he gave me his bloody hand. We had formerly been friends, but he was set on to do what he did.”
This passion for duelling prevailed not only among the makers of the law, and the administrators of the law, among statesmen and among judges, it existed also among the subordinate agents of “law and order” in Ireland. Sir William Gregory relates in his autobiography a good story which he heard from his grandfather, who was Under-Secretary for Ireland for many years. A duel was arranged between two Galway gentlemen named Sir Val Blake and Mr. Robert Burke, and the place selected for the meeting was a field close to old Gregory’s gate. As he was shaving in his room one morning he heard shots fired; and rightly guessing that a duel was being fought, he hastily donned a dressing-gown and ran out to try to put a stop to it. As he was making towards the field he heard more shots, and a voice exclaiming, “Gentlemen, this is all child’s play. Let us finish the business properly. Let each second advance his man two paces, and I’ll engage they won’t miss.” “And who are you, sir, to give such bloody counsel?” said old Gregory, who had now arrived on the scene. “Who am I, sir?” said the other in indignant tones. “I’ll have you to know, sir, that I’m Mr. Hickman, the Clerk of the Peace for the County of Clare.”
Another anecdote will show how duelling was regarded by the ladies of the period. The Kilkenny Militia were stationed in Galway in 1798. Captain Rawson not only refused to obey an order of the Colonel of the Regiment to take a firing-party to the Green and shoot down in batches of ten a number of unfortunate peasants who had been implicated in the Rebellion of that year, but publicly administered a flogging to that officer at the door of the Tholsel for having given such an order. The Colonel sent him a challenge, which, however, Rawson refused to accept, as he was about to be married. But when he called at the lady’s house on the morning arranged for the ceremony, she told him she would never marry a man on whose honour rested the stain of having refused a challenge to a duel. Rawson immediately rushed to the barracks, fought the Colonel in the square, wounding him, and in two hours returned to the house to find awaiting him the most willing of brides.
The most extraordinary affair in the history of Irish duelling took place in County Leitrim in 1786. Robert Keon, an attorney practising in Leitrim, had a quarrel with George Nugent Reynolds, a country gentleman residing in the same county. The parties subsequently met outside the Court House at Carrick-on-Shannon, and Keon struck Reynolds across the shoulder with his whip. Reynolds then sent Keon a challenge to a duel, which Keon accepted. A singular circumstance in connection with the affair is that it was agreed between the seconds that no ball ammunition was to be brought to the field on the day of meeting, which agreement was communicated to the principals and had their sanction. Honour was to be satisfied by Keon and Reynolds simply blazing at each other with blank powder. Reynolds rode to the field on the day of meeting, October 16th, 1786, accompanied by his second, Mr. James Plunkett. Keon was already on the ground. On alighting from his horse, Reynolds approached Keon, and courteously taking off his hat said, “Good-morning.” Keon immediately replied, “D--- you, you scoundrel! why did you bring me here?” and raising a pistol he held in his hand, he fired and shot Reynolds through the head. The unfortunate gentleman instantly fell and expired. Keon was arrested, and in due time was brought to trial at Carrick-on-Shannon, before Lord Clonmel, for the murder of Reynolds. The defence, which was sustained by the prisoner’s brother and some other persons who were present on the field, was that Reynolds attempted to horsewhip Keon, and that striking the pistol, it went off accidentally. The jury convicted the prisoner. After the death sentence had been pronounced by the judge, a lady who was sitting in a retired part of the Court, in black and heavily veiled, rose, and flinging back her veil, exclaimed, “I have fled from my home. I have travelled on foot a hundred miles to hear this sentence. The blood of my murdered husband cried to Heaven for vengeance, and its cry is heard.” Two days after the trial Keon was led out of prison to be publicly executed in one of the streets of Carrickon-Shannon. A clergyman accompanied him on the execution cart. Arrived at the gallows, Keon stood up, and seemed to be about to address the assembled people, when suddenly he caught sight of the widow of Reynolds at a window of a house overlooking the scene. She stood there dramatically looking at him, and pointing her finger downwards, as if to hell. The wretched man spoke not a word. He gave himself to the executioner, and in a few minutes was writhing at the end of a rope.
The duel between Standish O’Grady, a country gentleman of good family, and Captain Roland Smith, in 1830—probably the last fought in Ireland — was also attended by many singular circumstances. One day as O’Grady was riding down Nassau Street, Captain Smith and his friend Lieutenant Markham were driving in a cabriolet up the street. As they were passing each other, the two horses got into close and rather dangerous proximity, and O’Grady gave the animal attached to the cab a flick with his whip to turn him off. Smith immediately jumped out of the cab, saying to Markham, “ If we submit to this we shall have to leave Dublin “; and following O’Grady, who rode on, thinking no more of the incident, he gave him a slash with his whip, and then returning to his cab, drove away. O’Grady sent Smith a challenge. The parties met at Harold’s Cross. O’Grady was mortally wounded, and died two or three days afterwards. Smith and Markham—who had acted as his second—were arrested, and indicted “for killing Mr. Standish O’Grady in a duel,” before Lord Plunket and Judge Vandeleur. They were convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Before the prisoners were removed from the dock, Smith threw his arms around Markham’s neck and sobbed, “ Oh, Henry! see what I have brought you to!” Lord Plunket, who seemed moved by the scene, said to the prisoners, “Nothing affecting your character as gentlemen or men of honour has been proved against you.” After serving six months’ imprisonment both the prisoners were released.
But, as I have said, these encounters were happily rarely fatal, and left no bitterness between the combatants. I knew one celebrated Irish duellist, The O’Gorman Mahon, M.P. Mr. Gladstone asked him how he felt when challenged. “I cannot tell you,” replied the old swashbuckler; “I was never challenged. I was always the challenger.” I had once the good fortune of having an interesting conversation with him on the subject of duelling. A short time previously I had seen the pair of pistols with which it was said Major MacNamara, of Clare—he who had acted as O’Connell’s second in the duel with D’Esterre, and succeeded the Liberator in the representation of Clare in 1830, and is even now popularly known among the peasantry of Munster as “Fireball MacNamara”—had fought as many as twenty duels. The handles of the pistols had, according to custom, a notch for every duel in which they had been used, two notches being made when the duel had proved fatal. I noticed that the double notches were very few and far between, so that even MacNamara, although he had the reputation of being a “dead shot,” did not often kill his antagonist. I asked The O’Gorman Mahon why it was that duels were so rarely fatal. The answer was certainly surprising. It was that the nearer the antagonists were to each other the less danger they ran, and that, with a view to preventing a fatality, the seconds were accustomed to place their friends only ten or twelve paces apart. As The O’Gorman Mahon put it, “The fellows stood nine or ten yards apart and blazed at each other like d----- fools.” He did not approve, it will be seen, of lessening the risks of duelling. The explanation given of this curious fact by The O’Gorman Mahon was that when a man has to look straight almost into the muzzle of his antagonist’s pistol he is apt to become nervous and to shoot blindly. The circumstance has, however, been scientifically explained. It has been calculated by experience of the course taken by bullets on leaving the pistol that at nine yards there might be comparative safety; at twelve yards danger might be expected, and that at fifteen yards a hit was practically certain.
But if the duels were rarely fatal, they were always fruitful in good jokes. A witty Dublin barrister was consulted by a physician as to calling out a person who had insulted him. “Take my advice,” said the lawyer, “and instead of calling him out, get him to call you in, and have your revenge that way. It will be much more secure and certain.” A “squireen,” or upstart, went to an old squire in his neighbourhood for advice as to sending a challenge. “Healy of Loughlinstown,” said he, “has threatened to pull me by the nose whenever he meets me. What would you advise me to do?” “Has he really used that threat?” asked the squire. “Oh, yes, there is no doubt in the world about it,” replied the other. “Well,” said the squire, in sarcastic and contemptuous tones, “I’ll tell you what to do. Soap your nose well, and it will slip through his fingers.” But perhaps the greatest contempt that was ever expressed by one man for another was contained in the rejection by an old Irish gentleman of a challenge. “Fight with him!” he exclaimed; “I would rather go to my grave without a fight!”
John Egan, an Irish lawyer—a big, brawny fellow, commonly known as “Bully Egan,” from his proportions and his swagger, quarrelled with his contemporary at the Bar, John Philpot Curran, who was a man of slight and diminutive stature. A duel, of course, followed. On the ground Egan complained that the disparity between his immense girth and height and Curran’s few feet gave his antagonist a great advantage. “I might as well fire at a razor’s edge as at Curran,” said Egan, “and he may hit me as easily as a turf stack.” “I’ll tell you what, Egan,” replied Curran; “I wish to take no advantage of you whatever. Let my size be chalked upon your front, and I am quite content that every shot which hits outside that mark shall not count.” There is a laughable story current in journalistic circles in Ireland in relation to a duel in which the editor of the Limerick Chronicle—a very old and influential newspaper—figured several years ago. Like many members of his craft, the editor’s sight had got dimmed in the trying work of writing out matter to fill his columns; and he had recourse to spectacles. But his opponent’s second objected to his wearing the glasses at the duel, on the ground that it gave him an unfair advantage. “Sure,” said the newspaper man, “I couldn’t see to shoot me father without them, much less Captain O’Grady.” In another duel one of the parties had his eye shot out. His antagonist was very much concerned about what he called “the accident.” “How do you feel?” said he to the wounded man. “Can you see at all with the eye that’s knocked out?”
Of course, excuses were occasionally offered for refusals to stand up at twelve paces to be shot at. Some of these were characteristically humorous. A Dublin lawyer who received a challenge pleaded that the only provision for his family was a policy of insurance on his life for £5,000, which would be forfeited if he came by his death in a duel. “Tell him,” said his antagonist, “that I’ll give him a mortgage on my estate for the money, so that he can meet me with an easy heart.” Another refusal of a challenge ran: “Dear Sir,—I must decline to meet you with pistols. I have no desire to leave my poor old mother, who is now in her seventy-fifth year, an orphan!”