The Story of Beauchamp Bagenal

We have already written about Carlow men of every creed and class who painted a trail of daring exploits across not the face of Ireland and Europe but around the world. We have seen how a Carlow man played a big part in the starting of the Wars of the Roses, fought and died with Custer at the Battle of the Litttle Big Horn, gave a name to a mountain peak in the Alps, fought in the wars of the Austrian Succession, worked on the Panama and Suez Canal’s, fought at Waterloo, took part in the Indian Revolution and a hundred other things and places for which he gets no credit. As far as deeds of Carlow men in our own country are concerned, they are countless. If there was something afoot in which there was danger, the betting was there was a Carlow man in the thick of it.

But let us take a look at the doings of another Carlow man, a Parliamentarian at that, who in the words of Sean Piondar, ‘Fought a Prince, Jilted a Princess, Intoxicated the Dodge of Venice, carried off a Duchess from Madrid, fought a duel in Paris, and returned to Ireland with a deep contempt for all Continental men and manners.’

The man in question was Beauchamp Bagenal Parliamentarian and Playboy, and the name he bore was later to become well known and used to many members of supporters of both sides in the troublesome times which were to follow. It was after his family that the town of Bagenalstown in county Carlow was called. What was the first real move of the family into Irish society came with the marriage of the sister of Sir Henry Bagenal, Marshal of Queen Elizabeth’s forces in Ireland, to Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. To make the mix a little more involved Beauchamp and one of his grandmothers was a Miss Mathew of Thomastown in county Kilkenny who was related to Fr. Mathew, founder of the Temperance Movement, and also to Lord Landaff. The Bagenals had settled in the area of the river Barrow where they built the beginning of the town that was to bear their names in later years.

Beauchamp was born in 1741 and later inherited what had grown to be a huge estate. At this time it was considered the finishing part of a gentleman’s education to make a Grand Tour of Europe. Again such tours cost money and Beauchamp had already lived life at the top. He found it necessary to sell some of the estate to give him enough funds to continue that lifestyle during his travels through the cities of Europe. He visited most of the capitals of the continental countries and blazed a trail that was marked by some wild adventures. Having made a name for himself as a duelist on the continent, he made up his mind when he came back to Ireland that he would follow two professions, politics and duelling. The stories of his path across Europe had spread throughout the country and he was elected to the House of Commons in College Green in Dublin.

His letter to the electorate was simple and to the point and acted as a dusl appeal for himself and another Carlow man whose name is remembered in the name of his home, Burton Hall, for his running mate for the two Carlow seats was William Burton, Prior to the election of 1768 the following was the joint appeal sent by the two men to the voters of Carlow.

“To the gentlemen, clergy and freeholders of the county of Carlow:
Gentlemen, as the present Parliment will soon be dissolved, we beg to offer ourselves as candidates for your county, and request the favour of your votes and interest, which shall be every gratefully acknowledged by Gentlemen”

Your most humble servants, Beauchamp Bagenal William Burton.
‘Finns Leinster Journal of the 20th of July, 1768 reported great celebrations and enjoyment on the election of Beauchamp Bagenal and William Burton, Esquires’.

It was on the 27th may 1782 that the Carlow MP Bagenal, without consulting Graten or his friends, got to his feet in the House of Commons and proposed that a sum of £100.00 be voted to Henry Graten for the work he had done for his country.

The motion was passed unanimously but Graten would only accept half the amount. If he did nothing else during his term in the House, Bagenal was remembered for this. He was also rememberedfor the many duels he fought in the near-by St Stephens Green.

Strange to say, although he fought his duels in many places, his favourite ground was a graveyard. There was a reason for this. Bagenal was lame and he liked to have a tombstone to lean against while firing. He also knew that such a spot would have an unnerving effect on at least some of his apponents. He also used to comment that his opponent should pick a place for interment immediately after the duel. It was said that he had “the eccentricity of the Bagenals, the parsimony of the Beauchamps, the pride of the Mathews’. He retired from public life in 1783 and died in 1802.

Courtesy of the Carlow Nationalist
Willie White