Ballygill Bridge, scene of the last known fatal duel in Ireland

Ballygill Bridge over the River Suck on the Galway Roscommon border.
Kevin Bergin
Ballygill Bridge today
Image courtesy of the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH)

Ballygill Bridge runs over the River Suck straddling the border between the counties of Roscommon and Galway about 2 miles north of the town of Ballinasloe, On this very Bridge, 180 years ago, a duel took place between two local men, a Malachy Kelly of Woodmount House, Tonalig, Creagh, Co. Roscommon, and an Owen Lynch of Woodpark House, Rathpeak, Moore, Co. Roscommon.

The duel took place at dawn

The duel was the result of an argument the 2 men had at a horse race meeting a few weeks previously. Kelly was an accomplished jockey, and Lynch owned racehorses and apparently Kelly, for whatever reason, refused to mount Lynch’s horse for a race and a heated exchange took place causing Kelly to take offence. Lynch offered a verbal apology, but Kelly demanded a written one and when it was not forthcoming Kelly challenged Lynch to a duel which he accepted. The duel took place at dawn, before 6am, on Friday 28th of May 1841, and was attended by members of the 2 men’s families and friends, and possibly locals. Malachy Kellys father, Hugh, checked and loaded the pistols. It appears that the men had to stand back to back on the roadway in the middle of the bridge and then walk forward 12 paces each on the sound of a signal, and then turn and fire their weapon. Both men fired, but Kelly got shot in the groin. Lynch fled the scene uninjured, and Kelly’s family took him home to their house in Woodmount about 5 miles away and called a local doctor.

Lynch was acquitted

Dr. William Holohan came to see him. Malachy however died at home from his wounds one week later on the 4th of June 1841. Lynch was arrested and eventually brought to trial in Galway City over a year later but the Judge acquitted him as he found that in the circumstances that there was no malice involved in how Kelly came about his death. Malachy Kelly left a wife and at least 3 children behind him. Owen Lynch eventually settled down in a place called Abbeyville House near Loughrea. The practice of duelling as a way of settling disputes was illegal and had already been outlawed long before the 1840s, but it continued to be used occasionally for a time after. This particular duel, held on Ballygill Bridge is of historic significance as it was the last known duel that resulted in a fatality on the Island of Ireland.

Comments about this page

  • Hi Amy,
    Regarding the grave slab in Creagh Cemetry in Ballinasloe that you refer to, the Hugh Kelly who resided at Woodmount (father of Malachy of the duel) died at home on 29/05/1868 and was given as 104 years old on his death cert available to view free on the http://www.irishgenealogy website. His wife was still living when he died, as he was given as married on the cert, but I am sure her maiden name was Joice (Joyce) going by some of their children’s baptism records. Also, and I might not be fully informed here, as far as I am aware they did not have any son called Michael. I could never find a definitive death cert for this Hughs wife Mary, even though she died after Hugh, she may have died away from Woodmount, with relatives in another part of the country. I am not saying that the Hugh and Mary Kelly recorded on the slab you refer to are not your ancestors, its just that I dont think they are of the Kellys of Woodmount.

    By KEVIN BERGIN (09/11/2023)
  • The headstone is on this page. Hugh is my great x4 grandpa.

    By Amy (07/11/2023)
  • Hello Fionnuala, I have numerous newspaper cuttings from that time that confirm that Malachy’s father, Hugh Kelly, was at the bridge that morning and that it was him in fact that loaded and checked the 2 pistols used. Dr Colohan had his practice in Ballinasloe, but lived in Kilbegly House very near to both Woodmount and Woodpark; he would have known both well. It is also in the newspapers about 5 years later that that Hugh Kelly, then quite elderly in his early 70s, challenged Owen Lynch to another duel, details of which were relayed to the police who intervened to stop it happening. I have to tell that I tried in vain to find where the Kelly was buried when he died. They were Catholic and lived in the Parish of Creagh & Ballinasloe (Kilclooney) so should have been buried in old Creagh cemetery but I can’t find a headstone for him or his parents (Hugh and Mary Kelly) who died later (1875- 1884). Owen Lynch got married and ended up living in Abbeyville outside Loughrea don’t know where he is buried either, if I recall correctly he converted to Church of Ireland. I have contacted Failte Ireland about having a plaque placed at Ballygill Bridge as there is nothing there to let people know that such a historic event took place there.

    By Kevin Bergin (28/08/2023)
  • Hi Annette, Malachy is my 3x GGF and Owen seemingly was a cousin. The story has had a few variations told or written. I’ve read that time had passed between the race and the duel and another it was next day. I read his mother told him to duel for the honour of his name and also that Hugh wasn’t present. I read too that Owen was bragging at a party about the incident and John Kelly, Malachy’s brother, was attending it and overheard Owen and he brought this back home. John’s family as next in line inherited Woodmount. They lived in Australia so it was sold.
    Nothing is clear or black in white but tis a sad historical story none the less with a loss of life.
    Have you done any dna testing Annette. I’ve loose links to Lynchs but nothing concrete. For years I used to see Woodpark and knew nothing about the connection. My email is if you wish to get in touch.

    By Fionnuala (24/01/2023)
  • Really interesting the house (Woodpark) was left in a will to my great great great grandfather 15 years after this duel by an Olivia Lynch, so I’m probably a distant relative of Owen. What a tragic story and all for nothing 😢

    By Annette McSherry (18/08/2022)
  • By Enda creaven (11/06/2021)
  • Really enjoyed the piece on duel.
    I am wondering if you know anything about the Railway Hotel in Ballinasloe.
    My brother and I recently bought it.
    Michael Glynn

    By michael m glynn (11/03/2021)
  • Never knew the story about this place – I spent many a summer’s day swimming here is in the 70s!

    By Marie lyons (10/03/2021)

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