unacknowledged local star
Richard "Humanity Dick" Maritin does seem to be
largely unacknowledged in his native county and yet he is
one of the most colourful characters to enliven the pages
of history. However, this obscurity has now been rectified
by a Welsh author, who has written a worthy exposition of
His nickname was derived from his compassion towards animals
bestowed on him by the English, known today for their obsession
with animals. The anomaly is that it took an Irishman to
expose and overcome their then brutality towards them.
The latter day home of the Martins was Ballynahinch Castle
in Connemara. Descended from a Norman family, who had arrived
in the country 400 years previously, they stepped into history
at the Battle of Aughrim, when the Jacobite army was defeated
by the Williamites.
Dick Martins grandfather was among those fleeing and
to preserve his life and estate he became a Protestant
At that time the Martins, who were substantial merchants
in Galway, lived at Dangan, but also maintained a house
in Dublin and Dick was born into this wealthy and sporting
family in 1754. Eventually elected to parliament, he fought
throughout his life for Catholic emancipation, as well as
for animal rights, and became one of the longest serving
politicians in political history.
However, his parliamentary duties did not prevent, or interfere
with, his extravagant and colourful life-style, during which
he became known at home as Hairtrigger Dick
from his legendary feats as a duelist. He once challenged
the famous, if psychotic, Fighting Fitzgerald to a duel
after the latter had shot and killed Lord Altamouts
pet wolf hound.
After the duel in Castlebar, in which both men were hit,
Fitzgerald turned out to have been wearing concealed armour.
Dick was married to Elizabeth Vesy, who subsequently betrayed
him with Wolfe Tone, who was suspected of fathering her
daughter, Laetitia. He married secondly Harriet Hasketh,
with whom he had four children.
In time, Parliamentary duties necessitated a residence in
London, so an expensive and debt-ridden life-style ensued.
Maintaining his seat in Parliament was not always easy,
either, as he had several rivals in Galway. But as he was
was a hugely popular landlord his tenants would arrive en
masse by boat from all parts of what was the largest estate
in the British Isles and each man would vote three or four
times. Others would man the roads leading from the strongholds
of opponents and prevent their voters from passing.
Perhaps what really irked the English, though, was Dick
Martins insistence on animal rights legislation and
his descriptions in the House of animal baiting and other
practices, which included a dog being rubbed all over with
sulphuric acid as a punishment, horses with their eyes knocked
out and a greyhound nailed to a table by its ears and paws.
He was in the habit of prowling the streets of London by
himself and arresting perpetrators, once famously producing
a mall treated donkey to give its own evidence in Court.
In the end his Bill was passed, but finally Martins
debts and dodgy votes caught up with him and he was forced
into exile in Paris, leaving Ballynahinch, with his smuggling
activities, copper mine and marble factory in the charge
of his son, Thomas. He died in France in 1834, bequeathing
a memory to be blessed by animals in the 132 countries where
versions of the RSPCA prevail.
This book, Humanity Dick, the Eccentric Member for
Galway, by Peter Philips, at Eu24, is a must for all
who are interested in both local history and the countrys
connection with the wider world.
Courtesy of the Mayo News