In 18th century Ireland if you considered yourself to be a gentleman and you were insulted by someone of similar status you didn’t a) take it lying down b) bring him to court and sue his ass – you challenged him to a duel and tried to shoot or stab him to death.
One of the more quarrelsome gentlemen of the first half of the 1700s was Arthur Rochfort, a Westmeath grandee whose family had occupied land around Mullingar since the 13th century. The town of Rochfortbridge is called after them.
Arthur Rochfort was a justice of the peace, a man who exercised considerable power over the lesser orders from the bench. In 1737 he was challenged to a duel by one Thomas Nugent. Nugent’s beef was that Rochfort had jailed one of his servants for poaching and carrying arms. Proper order really. Nothing came of that particular challenge because the authorities got wind of it and prosecuted Nugent before he could do any damage. They weren’t having one of their magistrates shot up by an argumentative aristocrat.
Rochfort, however, did make it into the lists the following year when he had another quarrel, this one with an influential member of the Freemasons, Dillon Hampson Pollard. In the shoot out that followed the challenge Rochfort came off better, hitting his opponent in the stomach. Fortunately for the JP Pollard recovered. He died of natural causes two years later.
Rochfort’s own end was quite ignominious. As it happened he was the proud owner of two irascible, litigious and obnoxious brothers, Robert and George. Robert would go on to become the 1st Earl of Belvedere and build Belvedere House outside Mullingar.
Robert had married a beautiful young Dublin heiress, Mary Molesworth. They didn’t get on – few people did see eye to eye with the arrogant future Lord Belvedere – but she produced three children for him before he became bored with her and aribitrarily accused her of having had an affair with Arthur. Arthur denied all carnal knowledge of the alleged relationship. However, either cowed or convinced by friends that an admission of guilt would get her a divorce, Mary admitted adultery. For her supposed sins she was incarcerated for most of the rest of her life in one of the houses on the Belvedere estate while Arthur was forced to flee the country. When he came back Robert sued him for criminal conversation anyway, won a massive judgment of £2000 and when that was not forthcoming had his brother committed to the Marshalsea Debtors prison in Dublin, where he died. They took their sibling rivalries very seriously in the 18th century.
Later the charming Robert fell out with his other brother George. The latter had the effrontery to build a bigger and finer mansion and plonk it within sight of Belvedere House. Robert erected a folly – looking something like a ruined monastery – to cut off his view of George’s new manor. It became known, and still is, as The Jealous Wall. Neither Robert nor George, two utterly disagreeable gentlemen, were ever heard to express any regret at the passing of their brother Arthur.
Incidentally among the apparent descendants of the Rochforts is a certain former Kerry TD, the extremely agreeable Jackie Healy Rae.
Arthur Rochfort almost killed Dillon Hampson Pollard in a duel 276 years ago on this day.