New exhibition examining duelling opens at the National Museum of Ireland
A new exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland, entitled Blaze Away, examines duelling in Ireland and the work of two Irish families who made swords and guns in Dublin in the 19th century.
Blaze Away highlights the work of the Rigby family of Suffolk Street, who were Ireland’s most famous gun makers, and the Read family of Parliament Street, who were Ireland’s most renowned sword makers. Putting on this exhibition has enabled the Museum to bring out of storage the Museum’s large collection of swords and guns, many of which have never before been viewed by the public.
Lar Joye, military history curator at the National Museum of Ireland, said “Duelling reached its high point during the early 1800s. Using the latest interactives, the exhibition explores the history of this gruesome practice and also places duelling in its social and economic context”.
Makers of guns and swords were not limited to the Dublin area. Other well renowned makers were based in other parts of Ireland, such as O’Neills of Limerick and Way of Kilkenny.
Gerry Ryan, RTE Broadcaster, will officially open the exhibition to the public at 6pm on Wednesday 3 December 2008.
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Notes to Editor
· Blaze Away, the title of the exhibition was a term sometimes used to start a duel. In his memories Sir Jonah Barrington, K.C., (1760-1834) argued that duelling was very common in Ireland “It is incredible what singular passion Irish gentlemen had for fighting each other…and a duel was considered a necessary piece of a young man’s education. The first two questions always asked when he proposed for a lady-wife were: ‘What family is he of? Did he ever blaze?’”
· In the 1770’s “fire-eater” was a term used to describe gentlemen who had fire some reputation as duellists. Famous duellist include:
The most famous encounter in the 19th Century was between Daniel O’Connell and John D’Esterre at Bishopscourt near Naas on 2nd February 1815. O’Connell criticised Dublin Corporation for its neglect of Catholics and D’Esterre as a member of Dublin Corporation wrote to O’Connell demanding an apology. When he refused this led to a duel. A large group was present at Bishopscourt and when they were ready D’Esterre fired first and missed. When O’Connell fired he hit D’Esterre and he died the following day.
George Robert “Fighting” Fitzgerald.
George Robert “Fighting” Fitzgerald was born in the late 1740’s in Turlough Park, in Co Mayo where the National Museum now has its Country Life Museum. His mother moved to England when he was 5 and he went to Eton and later joined the army. He is believed to have been Irelands most prolific and ruthless duellist or fire eater fighting 12 duels. He was described at the time as being of that “implacable, revengeful and sanguinary nature as to suffer nothing but the blood of the person from whom he supposed he had received an injury, to appease his wrath”. At the age of 38 he was sentenced to death for murder and hanged.
· Insults accounted for most of the duels fought in the nineteen years between 1771 and 1790, followed by politics and elections in 2nd place and women trailing in 3rd place.
· The death rate for duels fought in Ireland was estimated to be 1 in 4, more than in England, which has a death rate of 1 in 14.
· Studies at the time estimated that less than a third of all duels ended bloodlessly.
· A code of conduct was adopted in Clonmel in the summer of 1777. These are the only surviving rules in the world
· Ireland was the first country in the world to require gun licences
· Sometime women could become expert gun-makers; normally this happened when they took over a family business on the death of a husband. Elizabeth Eames of 1 Duke Street, Dublin took over from her father in 1795 and made duelling pistols till 1803.
· Duelling was so popular that by 1800, there were 19 companies in Dublin alone who were making or selling duelling pistols. These where: Lewis Alley, Thomas Calderwood, James Eames and his successor Elizabeth Eames, William Edwards, Thomas Fowler, William Kavanagh, John Langson (sometimes written Langton), Robert McCormick, Farrell McDermott, McKnight, William Morton, Daniel Muley, Thomas Pattison, Benjamin Powell, John Rigby, his successors William and John Rigby, John Silk, Thomas Trulock, George Turner and Samuel Wallace.
· Presentation swords reached their heyday during the 1798 rebellion, where they were issued in place of medals to as reward to officers for service during the 1798 and 1803 Rebellions.
· A lecture series in conjunction with Blaze Away will run during early 2009.
· The National Museum of Ireland is open 10am-5pm Tues – Sat, 2-5pm Sun, closed Mondays.
· Admission is free to all National Museum of Ireland sites.
· Free car parking available at Collins Barracks.