A duel in 1723

I mentioned a few months back that I had discovered that one of my 5x great-grandfathers, John Ryan Glas (1692-1723), was killed in a duel by another of my 5x great-grandfathers, John White (married as a teenager in 1704, so born around 1685; died in 1741). White’s descendants changed the spelling of their surname to Whyte.

A correspondent who is really into the Ryan family’s history has sent me an account of what actually happened. This is from a diary belonging to Andrew Ryan (or O’Ryan) of Gortkelly Castle; unfortunately all we have is a transcription of a transcription and the last sentence doesn’t make sense. But the core narrative is there.

Oct 26th [1840]. Went as far as Drombane to Father Carey’s funeral. Met Mr. Dwyer of Annogrove and family and Miss Ryan of Clonmel and Father Butler of Templemore, met on my walk old Bill Feehan.

Had a conversation about John Ryan Glas of Inch, who he said was sent by Baron Purcell of Loughmore to value his estates.

He did so, one of the Baron’s daughters, Mrs. White (or her mother) whose husband and sisters, as she had two and no brother, wished to get the estates in lieu or part payment of her fortune, asked him hastily thinking he over valued them, would he give as much himself as them, he replied in the affirmative, on which the Baron took him at his word and told them to have them.

Ryan is reported by others to have said that he had not too much ready money but could give £300 in hand and pay the remainder £500 in a little time, the offer was accepted.

White, in some time after perceiving him in or outside a barber shop in Dublin, handed him his glove as a challenge. Both drew their rapiers and commenced to fight.

The barber’s wife, seeing the battle obstinate and victory incline to neither side, fearing lest Ryan, her customer, might receive any injury, raised the latch of the door against which Ryan, one of the most expert swordsmen of his time, had placed his heel.

Finding something give way behind his foot and turning his eye in that direction, he exposed himself to his adversary’s thrust and received the point of White’s sword in the neck. He died of the wound and was interred in Dublin.

He was married to a daughter of Theobald Mathew of Annfield , for his fighting and dual instead of Thomas Mathew (her brother) and beating antagonist.

[that last bit is confused and must be a transcription error.]

So, some of this is clear. I was aware that the fatal dispute was around the legacy of some of the land belonging to Nicholas Purcell of Loughmoe, also Baron Loughmore. The sequence seems to have been:

  1. the elderly Purcell asks Ryan to value the estates, or part of them at least.
  2. Purcell’s daughter, Mary White (or possibly Purcell’s wife, Rose nee Trevor), expecting to inherit the property in the near future, challenged Ryan’s valuation as being too high (presumably worried about tax implications) and asked if he would be willing to pay that price for the lands himself. Ryan said that he would.
  3. Purcell decided he would like the ready cash and asked Ryan to buy the lands from him, for the price he had stipulated. Ryan did not have £800 to hand, but came to terms with Purcell to pay some immediately and the rest in installments. (It is tricky to make comparisons, but £800 now is maybe £200,000 today.)
  4. Not stated, but implied: the Whites were furious, perhaps because Mary would now not be getting the lands which had been sold (Purcell may well have simply spent the cash in the meantime), or perhaps because they thought that Ryan had taken advantage of the elderly Purcell, or maybe they just did not like Ryan.
  5. Some time later (after Purcell’s death on 4 March 1722), White encountered Ryan outside the latter’s favourite barber’s shop in Dublin and challenged him, starting with the ritual slap of the glove.
  6. The two duellists were both in their 30s, and Ryan was considered an expert swordsman. But he may have been pressed by White, as he needed to brace himself against the barber’s door.
  7. The barber’s wife, thinking that she was helping Ryan, opened the door a crack, distracting him enough for White to land a fatal blow, and Ryan died soon after.

This account dates from 120 years after the event, it’s obviously not first hand (“old Bill Feehan” would surely have been born at least forty years after the duel happened) and, as I said, we have only a second-hand transcription. But most of it is consistent with what I already knew, and the one new detail – the role of the barber’s wife – is sufficiently remarkable that one can accept the story making its way from Dublin to Tipperary, and a folk memory surviving the event by four or five generations.

Also it is interesting that this is recorded in 1840. In 1839, the previous year, Ryan’s great-grandson George Ryan had married White’s great-great-granddaughter Catharine Whyte. (In 1862, their daughter Caroline married another of White’s great-great-grandchildren, John Joseph Whyte, and they were my great-grandparents.) So that will have stirred up memories of the duel among those who enjoy talking about family lore; not exactly a minority pursuit in Ireland, in 1840 or indeed now.

Many thanks to Derek Ryan for sending me the details.

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