Bellagill Bridge, scene of the last known fatal duel in Ireland
Bellagill Bridge crosses 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. Both these men were aged about 22 at the time, from neighbouring townlands, and both were the eldest sons of wealthy landowning families.
The duel took place at dawn, just after sunrise
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 just after sunrise, on the morning of Friday 28th of May 1841, and was attended by members of the 2 men’s families and friends, and possibly some 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 and friends took him home to his house in Woodmount about 5 miles away and someone called a local doctor, Dr. Colohan.
Lynch was acquitted
Dr. William Colohan came to see him. He found that the lead bullet was lodged deep in the lower pelvic area and though it is not clear if it was removed, it appears that the area where it was lodged was inoperable and Malachy died at home from his wounds the following week on the 3th of June 1841. Lynch evaded the law for a year but handed himself in to the authorities, was arrested on a charge of ‘wilful murder’ and eventually brought to trial in Galway City in July of 1842. At the end of the trial hearing, the jury deliberated for an hour and delivered a verdict of not guilty, and the Judge acquitted him commenting that he found that in the circumstances that there was no malice involved in how Kelly came about his death. Owen Lybch was a free man. Malachy Kelly left a wife and at least 3 children behind him. Owen Lynch eventually left Woodpark Lodge and settled down in a place called Cooleeny House about 1 mile west of Kilreekil in Co. Galway. He married in 1865 and had 5 children. He died in 1894 while living with his son, also called Owen, in 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 Bellagill Bridge is of historic significance as it was the last known duel that resulted in a fatality on the Island of Ireland.