Handsome devil – Alison Healy on Beauchamp Bagenal

He was once deemed to be the most handsome man in Ireland. Step aside Cillian Murphy and Colin Farrell, for you must make way for Beauchamp Bagenal. The Carlow man's Wikipedia page describes him as "as an Irish rake, buck, duellist and politician", and you would have needed the constitution of an ox to survive one of his dinner parties.

But let’s be shallow for a moment – just how good-looking was Carlow’s answer to Casanova to earn the title of Ireland’s most handsome man? Images are scarce and the one I saw suggests that all the duelling and debauchery may have diminished his good looks. Nevertheless, he could still pass for Michael Fassbender’s older brother – in a dim light.

He was born into great privilege and wealth in 1735, as the son of the MP Walter Bagenal – whose family gave Bagenalstown its name – and Eleanor Beauchamp of Ballyloughan Castle. And it seemed to have been his mission to burn through that money as soon as he was old enough.

He failed to graduate from college in Cambridge, but it didn’t prevent him from embarking on a post-college holiday that would make those Magaluf Uncovered documentaries look as innocent as a playschool picnic. According to the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, Beauchamp went on a “hugely expensive and riotous grand tour”. It quotes Sir Jonah Barrington’s Historic Memoirs of Ireland, which says he “fought a prince, jilted a princess, intoxicated the Doge of Venice, carried off a duchess from Madrid ”, among other things.

The jilted princess, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, went on to marry King George III, so who’s to say if she was any better off?

Continuing his grand tour around Europe, young Beauchamp also "scaled the walls of a convent in Italy, narrowly escaped the Inquisition at Lisbon, (and) concluded his exploits by a celebrated fencing match at Paris; and returned to Ireland with a sovereign contempt for all continental men and manners and an inveterate antipathy to all despotic kings and arbitrary governments".

But he was only getting started. The Dictionary of Irish Biography reports that he scandalised the good citizens of Carlow with his succession of mistresses and riotous behaviour at his home in Dunleckney.

He was an MP for Enniscorthy, and later Carlow, but he didn't let that interfere with his insatiable socialising and general revelry.

Being invited to dinner at his place must have been a poisoned chalice where you had to choose between dying from a hangover or dying from being shot for not drinking enough.

The amount of food offered was negligible. It was all about the drink. He reportedly kept two pistols on the dining table. One was used to shoot the bung out of the barrel of claret and the other was for shooting guests who did not empty their glasses quickly enough. There is no record of any guest ever telling him that they would prefer water because they had an early start the following morning.

The Men Who Stare at Hens – Simon Leyland’s book about Irish eccentrics – tells of a clergyman who was invited to one of Beauchamp’s soirées. He quickly realised that he was in over his head and made the excellent decision to run off and hide in a tree for the night. The next morning, he watched as the few guests who were still able to walk piled their insensible and comatose companions onto a cart for delivery to their homes.

In fairness to the host, Wikipedia says there is no proof that Beauchamp shot “all, or many of his guests”, despite the ever-present pistols. And while he prided himself on duels, only a handful have been documented so there may be a degree of exaggeration in the stories surrounding this bon viveur of Bagenalstown.

One duel involved his own godson Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey. He issued the challenge to see if the younger man was brave enough to go through with it. When Harvey fired at him, his godfather was delighted and sent him home to order a good breakfast. Bravery was not an issue for Harvey, a supporter of Catholic emancipation, who would later be executed for his involvement in the 1798 rebellion.

Beauchamp’s riotous lifestyle finally caught up with him and he was bedevilled with gout when he fought his last duel from a chair. You may wonder what terrible slight the ailing sexagenarian had suffered to take up the pistol again. His neighbour’s pigs had wandered onto his land. That was enough for him.

The neighbour was wounded in the duel, according to The Men Who Stare at Hens. The arm of Bagenal’s chair was blown off but he was unhurt.

But it appears to have been the drink, rather than the pistols, that got Beauchamp Bagenal in the end. It was reported that he died, aged 67, after drinking three bottles of claret and a bottle of port with his dinner. There is no record of what he ate for that fateful last supper.

There are many surprising facts about Beauchamp Bagenal’s life but perhaps the biggest one of all is that a movie has not been made about him.

It's never too late. I hear Michael Fassbender is a dab hand with a duelling pistol.

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