Dick Martin’s reputation as a duellist struck terror into his creditor
‘Humanity’ Dick Martin - believed to have fought a hundred duels.
Last February some readers enjoyed the tales of George Robert Fitzgerald, of Turlough, Co Mayo, known as Fighting Fitzgerald. He was an appalling man who provoked duels by his insulting behaviour, with his cronies conducted a reign of terror through Mayo, and at one time chained his father in a cave to get him to change his will. He ended on the gallows at Castlebar.
He crossed swords with 'Humanity' Dick Martin on more than one occasion. Martin was a famous duellist. He is credited with 100 duels, often against men who were cruel to animals. Fitzgerald wisely contrived to avoid Martin on the duelling field.
Here is an extract from Shevawn Lynam's excellent biography Humanity Dick, first published in 1975. We get some idea of Martin's reputation...
Martin's creditors were many and varied, and his reputation as a duellist helped him to deal very satisfactorily with the unpleasant subject on one occasion. He owed money to Eustace Stowell who refused to accept the security Martin offered, and rashly asked for cash or personal satisfaction. Martin replied that 'though Solomon was a wise man and Samson a strong one, neither of them could pay ready money if they had it not.’
A duel was consequently arranged, but when Stowell found himself facing so renowned an antagonist at a distance of eight yards from muzzle to muzzle he took fright. Dropping his weapon he cried: 'Mr. Martin! Mr. Martin! A pretty sort of payment this! You'd shoot me for any interest money, would you?'
'If it's your pleasure, Mr. Eustace Stowell,' Martin replied, 'I certainly will; but it was not my desire to come here, or to shoot you. You insisted on it yourself, so go on, if you please, now we are here.'
But Stowell, no doubt wisely, thought better of the matter. He agreed to accept the security Martin had offered, principals and seconds stepped into the same carriage, all returned the best of friends,' and I never heard any thing irritating about his interest money afterward', Martin told his friend, Barrington.
Yet, hard pressed as he often was himself for money and regardless of the claims of his creditors, Martin never forgot his tenantry. No widow was ever asked for rent, he regularly paid out £800 a year in pensions to the widows and orphans on his estates, and evictions were unknown there.
However one of Martin’s tenants Máirtin Mór Ó Máille, was not so lucky.
A row over the Bishop of Galway’s gravy cost him his life.
While exploring the lanes and headlands around Carraroe, Tim Robinson, the Yorkshireman who for years has been mapping the Aran Islands, the Burren, and Connemara, and telling their stories, came across the broken remains of Keeraun House. It was ' once a place of some standing; the clutch of houses a little further north are still known as An Diméin, the demesne', he says.
In the 1790's this was the seat of Máirtin Mór Ó Máille or Máilleach an Chaoráin (A caoran is a round heathy hill, and here we are in the townland of An Caoran Beag). Mairtin Mor was the acknowledged head of the smuggling business in Connemara. The Galway magistrate, Mansergh St George, reported to government; that he lived here 'in a state of permanent defence'. He ingratiated himself with the local people by dispensing lavish hospitality. His landlord was the profligate Humanity Dick Martin of Ballynahinch, who, according to St George, had borrowed large amounts of money from O Maille.
I am taking the following extract from Robinson's recently published Connemara – A Little Gaelic Kingdom: The fame of his hospitality lasted long. Sean Mac Giollarnath was able to collect his lore about An Mailleach from a Garomna boatman in the 1930's: ' There were few houses in Ireland finer than his house. He was a tenant of Colonel Martin, and an honour to him. It was the highest honour Martin enjoyed, having him as a tenant. This Ó Máille was shipping from Guernsey, and he always had a barrel of wine in the house, its lid off and permission for anyone to drink the full of his cup from it. When he killed an ox or a sheep none of it was salted for he shared out the meat and it would be eaten before it needed salting.
Ó Máille died in a dual over nothing. He was entertaining the Bishop of Galway and others once, and as it was a Friday the Bishop was eating fish. When a servant thoughtlessly poured meat gravy on it the Bishop simply waved the dish aside, but the Bishop's cousin Sir Thomas French made an affair of honour out of it.'
Another version of the row tells that Máirtin Mór Ó Máille said something impolite in the presence of the Bishop of Galway, and the Bishop hit him on the mouth with the back of his hand.
A cousin of the Bishop's, Sir Thomas French, challenged An Mailleach to a duel. An Máilleach was killed with the first shot. When Col Martin (Humanity Dick) heard the story he said that Ó Máill had preferred a hole in his guts to a hole in his honour. 'But,' he said, 'there would have been a hole in neither if he had let me know of it.'