Sir, - With the 1798 commemoration in full swing, names like Wolfe Tone, Bagenal Harvey and Father Murphy of Boolavogue have etched themselves into the public consciousness. Their images appear on medallions, plaques, and beautiful stone monuments are fitting tributes to our patriot dead.
There is, however, a man not listed among our heroes who, I think, deserves a mention: Richard Martin (1754-1834). Nicknamed "Humanity Dick", he is best remembered for his achievement as an MP in getting the world's first animal protection measure enacted into law in 1822.
But it was in 1783 that Martin may have helped to shape Ireland's future. In that year, he required the services of a tutor to educate his half-brothers, Robert and Anthony. The 20-year-old student who applied for the position was Wolfe Tone. He had been expelled from Trinity College the previous year for taking part in a duel.
Tone stayed for several months at Dangan, the Martin family home on the outskirts of Galway. While there, he was impressed by Martin's political ideology. Though a Protestant, like Tone, Martin supported parliamentary reform and the concept of Catholic emancipation. These later became the objectives of the United Irishmen movement, which Tone co-founded.
During his spell at Dangan, Tone joined Martin in a production of a comic drama entitled All the World's a Stage. It was performed at a theatre in Kirwin's Lane, a street in Galway. Tone played the part of Diggery, a character who attempts in vain to commit suicide. Towards the end of the play, Diggery proclaims: "My tragic thirst of blood not yet allayed/I must again draw forth my shing blade;/Nor shall I live in peace till all I kill/And at the last my own blood bravely spill."
Prophetic words! When Tone departed from Dangan, he and Martin went their separate ways. Martin served as an MP for Galway, fighting for civil liberties and animal welfare. Tone went on to become Ireland's greatest revolutionary.
In 1798, Martin sheltered rebels, including a priest from County Wexford, on his vast estates in Connemara. After the uprising, he used his skill as a lawyer to defend rebels in the courts. His task was made easier by the fact that many juries were sympathetic to the cause of republicanism.
Martin never advocated physical force. He abhorred the violence of the French Revolution, while applauding the ideals that inspired it. Even so, he does appear to have influenced Tone. This prompts the question: Could a duel have altered the course of Irish history? - Yours, etc., John Fitzgerald,