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An ‘artform’ perfected in Galway’s Duelling Field



Now being developed for housing, the ‘Duelling Field’ in Roscam on the eastern side of Galway City has an important – and bloody – past going back centuries, in which gentlemen came to settle disputes by pistol or sword. Local historian William Henry looks back at how duelling was a highly-respected ‘art’.

The Old Dublin Road – that right hand turn heading out of town after Galway Crystal – leads to a number of very interesting archaeological and historical monuments in the Roscam area.

Among the places of historical interest is the Duelling Field or, the ‘Field of Mars’ as it was known in earlier times. Some sources also mention it as the ‘Spanish Field’. It is located at the bottom of the hill, just opposite the entrance to a section of the old Merlin Woods. Another name associated with this field was ‘Glean Gort an Airgead’ (Field in the Glen of Money). According to local tradition, this stretch of the road was a favourite haunt of highwaymen, as the coaches travelling into Galway City would have to slow down because of the hill. The woods provided excellent cover for bandits. It was said that these highwaymen sometimes hid their loot in the field, hence the name.

However, this place is more commonly known as the Duelling Field, and for a very good reason; as many a duel was fought there.

In Ireland, from the late seventeenth to about the mid-nineteenth century, duelling was a highly-respected ‘art’. Duelling has often been refereed too as an ‘Affair of Honour’. It was a period when many disputes between members of the landed gentry were settled by single combat. It was a means of young men settling disputes over land, insults, ladies, money and other issues.

It seems that Galway and Tipperary were two major counties where gentlemen became supreme exponents in duelling. It was developed in Galway almost as a science. In 1777, rules were formulated for duelling by delegates from various counties including Galway.

These rules were generally adopted throughout the country; in Galway they became known as the ‘Thirty-six Commandments’. It seems that striking a blow with a fist was strictly forbidden among gentlemen and if someone broke this rule, a verbal apology was unacceptable. It could be settled by the offender handing the injured party a cane to be used across his own back, while at the same time apologising. Otherwise it was a duel. In some cases, opponents could fire up to three shots each. In the case of swords being used, the duel continued until one of the duellists was blooded, disabled or disarmed.

Sir Jonah Barrington, Barrister and High Court Judge of the Admiralty in Ireland recorded information on duelling in 1827. He said: “No young fellow could finish his education till he had exchanged shots with some of his acquaintances.” He also maintained that the first questions asked regarding the respectability and qualifications of a young man when presenting himself as a suitor to a young lady, were “What family is he of?” and “Did he ever blaze?”, meaning had he ever fought a duel. Another expression often used for duelling was going ‘muzzle-to-muzzle’ and everyone knew what this meant.

Barrington wasn’t shy when it came to an ‘Affair of Honour’, having fought his first duel at sixteen years of age in the Duelling Field.

To refuse a challenge to a duel was frowned upon in society. Many young men lost their lives against really skilled opponents rather than be branded a coward for the remainder of their life. When using pistols in Merlin Park, the opponents stood back to back and when the word was given, they took ten paces in opposite directions and then turned, aimed and fired. Many duellists would stand sideways making themselves a smaller target. Duels were normally fought early in the morning, and those facing each other would have a second, or assistant.

In 1775, two councillors, Denis Daly and Pat Blake, had an argument that resulted in a duel. It seems that met on the parade near the Galway quay (Spanish Parade). During the argument, Blake struck Daly. Swords were drawn and the duel began. During the engagement, Blake received two wounds to his side, and the duel then ended. Daly walked away an obvious winner without any wounds.

Among other duels fought in the Duelling Field was a contest between two local men, Councillor Browne and Dr Bodkin. This contest was recorded by Sir William Gregory of Coole Park. Gregory mentions this duel in his autobiography, which was edited and published by his wife, Lady Gregory in 1894 (Gregory had died in 1892).

It seems that the Duelling Field had a well-known reputation long before he recorded the episode. In 1841, Gregory rode into Galway on business. He said that as he was passing the Duelling Field on the Merlin Park estate, he met an old man walking along the road. He asked the man the name of the place, “and found him, as one always finds Irish peasants, most agreeable and communicative”. After informing Gregory of his whereabouts, the man said: “I suppose you know all about that field”, pointing to the one opposite the wall of Merlin Park. Gregory replied, “No”, adding, “I’m quite a stranger”. The local man then said: “Well sir, that is the place where the gentlemen of Galway used to fight their duels. Many the duel I saw there when I was young, for I live quite convenient”.

Gregory then asked had he ever seen a really good duel. “To be sure I did, and lots of them.” He told Gregory that the best duel he had witnessed was between Councillor Browne and Dr Bodkin; he couldn’t remember their Christian names. The man went on to explain: “It was a beautiful morning, with a fine bright sun. Young Lynch, the attorney’s son of Oranmore, was Councillor Browne’s second, and won the toss. So he put the councillor with his back to the sun, and the doctor’s second never saw what was going to happen till it was too late. The poor doctor came up winking and blinking, and at the very first offer the councillor shot him dead. It was a grand shot your honour. The doctor sprang up three feet in the air, and fell on his face and never spoke another word. Faith! Young Lynch was a grand second that day!”

One could not write about duelling without mentioning Sir Richard Martin of Dangan, one of the most famous duellist of the period. He was an expert with both pistol and sword. Martin was reputed to have fought over one hundred duels during his life-time, many of them in the Duelling Field. His reputation as a gunman earned him the nickname ‘Hair-Trigger Dick’. One famous duel in which Martin was involved was against a notable Continental duellist. It seems that this particular gentleman would often wear suit of light, but effective chain-mail beneath his clothes. This was totally against the ‘Rules of Honour’. On the morning of the duel he fitted his body armour and set out to face Martin.

However, Martin’s second discovered this just before the duel took place. He rushed to Martin and warned him in Irish saying, ‘Buail é mar mharbhuigheann fear Conamara an mhuc’, meaning ‘Hit him where the Connemara man kills the pig’. This was so the Continental duellist wouldn’t understand what he was saying. After counting out the ten paces, Martin promptly turned and immediately fired hitting his opponent behind the ear, killing him instantly.

Richard Martin’s reputation with a duelling pistol often helped in difficult situations. On one occasion at a dinner party in his home an argument broke out. Annoyed, he turned to a servant standing nearby and said: ‘Melt the Lead John’. Everyone knew what he meant and his comment had the desired effect and quickly cooled the situation.

His reputation as a duellist also struck terror into his creditors. One story involves a man named Eustace Stowell, who refused to accept the security Richard Martin offered on money he owed to this man. Stowell, in a moment of rashness, asked for cash or ‘personal satisfaction’. A duel was consequently arranged, but when Stowell found himself ‘muzzle to muzzle’ with such a renowned antagonist, he became terrified. Dropping his weapon he called out to Martin: “You’d shoot me over money”.

Martin replied: “If that’s your pleasure, Mr Eustace Stowell, I certainly will; but it was not my desire to come here, or to shoot you. You insisted on this action yourself.”

Finding themselves now in the field of honour, Martin then called out, “So go on, if you please, now that we are here”. However, Stowell, no doubt thinking wisely on the matter, immediately agreed to accept the security from Martin and so the duel was avoided.

However, one duel Martin always regretted was against his cousin, James Jordan. A disagreement arose between the men at a Bar Dinner for the Connaught Circuit of the legal profession. Although, Martin later apologised, Jordan wasn’t satisfied.

He wanted Martin to apologise in the presence of the people who had attended the dinner. Martin refused and Jordan challenged him to a duel. Martin pleaded with Jordan not to fight; he even arrived in the field without his duelling pistols. However, Jordan forced the issue by handing Martin one of his own pistols. The duel followed and Martin shot Jordan in the groin – the man died three days later. 

There were many stories about the road that runs by the Duelling Field, were a battle was once fought in ancients times, shootings and ambushes also took place there during the war of independence. According to people long ago, this was the most haunted stretch road in Ireland, but that is another story. The Duelling Field has been developed and it is now occupied by houses. Its history has been sadly lost in this modern age of development. It would be ideal if a plaque was erected locally to make people aware of its important history.


Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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Official opening of Galway’s new pedestrian and cycle bridge



The new Salmon Weir pedestrian and cycle bridge will be officially opened to the public next Friday, May 26.

Work on the €10 million bridge got underway in April 2022, before the main structure was hoisted into place in early December.

A lunchtime tape-cutting ceremony will take place on Friday, as the first pedestrians and cyclists traverse the as-yet-unnamed bridge.

The Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, previously said the bridge, once opened, would remove existing conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and traffic “as well as facilitating the Cross-City Link public transport corridor over the existing 200-year-old bridge”.

The naming of the new bridge has been under discussion by the Council’s Civic Commemorations Committee since late last year.

One name that has been in the mix for some time is that of the first woman in Europe to graduate with an engineering degree – Alice Perry.

Ms Perry, who was from Wellpark, graduated from Queen’s College Galway (now University of Galway) in 1906. The university’s engineering building is named in her honour.

The bridge was built by Jons Civil Engineering firm in County Meath and was assembled off-site before being transported to Galway. Funding for the project was provided in full by the National Transport Authority and the European Regional Development Fund.

(Photo: Sheila Gallagher captured the city’s new pedestrian footbridge being raised on the south side of the Salmon Weir Bridge in December. It will officially open next Friday, May 26).

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Minister branded ‘a disgrace’ for reversing land rezoning in Galway City



From the Galway City Tribune – Minister of State for Local Government and Planning, Kieran O’Donnell was labelled a “disgrace” for overturning councillors’ decisions to rezone land in the new City Development Plan.

Minister O’Donnell (pictured) confirmed in a letter to Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath last week that he was reversing 25 material alternations made by councillors to the CDP 2023-29. He made the decision on the advice of Office of Planning Regulator (OPR).

Minister O’Donnell directed that 14 land parcels that were subject to land-use zoning changes by councillors as part of the Material Alterations to the Draft CDP should be reversed.

He directed that a further 11 land parcels in the city should become “unzoned”.

The Minister found that the CDP had not been made in a manner consistent with recommendations of the OPR, which required specific changes to the plan to ensure consistency with the national planning laws and guidelines.

At last week’s Council meeting Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) asked for clarity on the process by which councillors could rezone the lands that had been changed by the Minister’s direction.

Cllr Declan McDonnell said, “What he [Minister O’Donnell] has done is an absolute disgrace”.

And he asked: “Do we have to have another development plan meeting to deal with it?”

Both Cllrs Hoare and McDonnell wondered what would become of the lands that were rezoned or unzoned by the ministerial direction.

Mr McGrath said the Council had put forward an argument in favour of retaining the material alterations in the plan, but ultimately the Minister sided with OPR.

He said if councillors want to make alterations to the new plan, they could go through the process of making a material alteration but this was lengthy.

The Save Roscam Peninsula campaign welcomed the Minister’s decision.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, it said the direction would mean the Roscam village area on the Roscam Peninsula will be unzoned and a number of land parcels would revert back to agriculture/high amenity.

A spokesperson for the campaign said: “the material alterations made by city councillors following lobbying by developers continued the long-standing practice of councillors facilitating a developer-led plan rather than an evidence- and policy-based plan that meets the needs of the city.

“The Minister’s direction is an important step in restoring confidence in the planning system. It is clear from the City Council’s own evidence on future housing projections that there was no requirement to zone these lands for residential purposes in order to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029,” the spokesperson added.

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