Richard Martin

From Academic Kids

Colonel Richard "Humanity Dick" Martin, M.P., of Ballinahinch, Co. Galway, Esq., was born in 1754 the only son of the Honourable Bridget Barnwall - a daughter of Baron Trimlestown - and Robert Martin Fitz Anthony of Birchall, Co. Galway. He was raised at Dangan House, situated on the Corrib River, four miles upriver from the town of Galway. His father's family, Jacobite in politics, were one of The Tribes of Galway, fourteen merchant families who ruled Galway from the 14th to 17th centuries. The Barnwalls were an enobled family of Norman descent based in the counties of Dublin, Kildare and Meath in Lenister. Bridget died when Richard was nine, and Robert later married Mary Lynch - another Tribal family - by whom he had sons Robert and Anthony.

Though both of his parents were Catholic, Richard was raised a Protestant in order to fight in the Irish Parliament for Catholic Emancipation. This he did with gusto from 1777 to its final sitting in 1800, after which The Act of Union dissolved it and obliged Irish M.P.'s to sit in Westminster, London. He continued his work towards Irish Catholic Emancipation till 1826, when he was found to be incorrectly elected. Emancipation was finally granted in 1829, much to his delight.

He is most famous for his work in connection with wanton cruelty to animals, which led to Martin's Act in 1822, and the foundation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Beyond this, however, was a very eventful life. He survived shipwreck on at least two occasions; fought in excess of one hundred duels with sword and pistol; had travelled extensively in Europe and the Americans in the 1770's (was present in New England when war broke out); founded Galway's first theatre; was present in Paris when the French Revolution broke out in 1789; divorced his first wife - who had at one time an affair with the Irish rebel Theobald Wolfe Tone - and was awarded 10,000 compensation which he threw away to the poor. He was on a first-name basis with many of the famous names of his age, Flood, Henry Grattan, William Pitt, King George IV, Queen Caroline, Daniel O'Connell.

After been found to have been elected illegally in 1826, Richard was forced into hasty exile to Bolounge, France, as he could no longer enjoy an immunity to arrest for debt. He died there peacefully in the presence of his second wife and their three daughters on the 6th January 1834. His vast Connamara estates were left to his eldest son, Thomas Barnwall Martin (1784-1847) while his only other surviving son, Rev. Richard Martin (1797-1878), left with his wife and six children for Canada in 1834, where the family still flourish.

See "The Eccentric Member for Galway: The Story of Richard Martin, Animal Rights Pioneer", Peter Phillips, 2003.


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