The duel at Ardcandrisk
Written by Tom & Teresa Wickham
After the upheaval of the 1798 rebellion and the dissolution of the Irish Parliament with the passing of the Act of Union, an election to the Westminster Parliament was held on 30 May 1807. John Colclough of Tintern Abbey presented himself to the electorate with his colleague the famous Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Opposing them was William Congreve Alcock of Wilton Castle and Mr Able Ram. Until this time Colclough and Alcock had been close friends though their political allegiances were very far apart. Colclough was the popular candidate and was regarded as the champion of the people, while Alcock was a supporter of the Ascendancy.
At this time very few people had a vote and ‘forty shilling’ freeholders were obliged to vote to the dictates of their landlord. It became apparent that some voters had decided to change their allegiance from Alcock to Colclough. A dispute arose between the two candidates over these voters. Alcock remonstrated with Colclough who replied that he had not solicited the votes which were freely given. It was then decided that before the next day’s election poll the two candidates should decide by duel the question in dispute. This was arranged to be held in Ardcandrisk. Word quickly spread and hundreds of people came to witness the event.
The duellists were each handed a loaded pistol and then took up their positions. Alock fired the first shot which went through Colclough’s heart. He fell bleeding badly and died without uttering a word. As Colclough fell there was a shocked silence and then a roar of grief from the people as their hero lay dead. Alcock and his supporters immediately and in great haste fled the field. Mr Colclough’s remains were placed in his carriage in a sitting position between his two friends to be taken to his Wexford town house in George Street, accompanied in shocked silence by his faithful followers. The duel took place in the shadow of the Three Rocks and by a remarkable coincidence occurred on the ninth anniversary of that famous battle.
An extract from the diary of Elizabeth Richards:
On 30th May 1807 Mr William Alcock and Mr John Colclough, we heard, had quarrelled about electioneering business and were going to fight a duel, that Mr Colclough had been killed at the first fire. Soon after his body was brought into town in his own carriage attended by about one hundred people including several gentlemen who had accompanied him to the field. Everything was perfectly quiet, although Mr Colclough had been the popular candidate and that the people had shown much anxiety for his success.
The parliamentary election poll proceeded as planned and within an hour of the fatal duel William Alcock and Able Ram were returned unopposed as duly elected parliamentary representatives for Wexford County. It is said that Mr Alcock disappeared for a time but subsequently returned and surrendered himself for trial.
On arrival at his town house on the Saturday, John Colclough’s body was waked there over the weekend and on Monday morning his remains were removed to Tintern Abbey. The assemblage of people in attendance was immense and the greatest ever seen in the county on such an occasion. There were at least 15,000 horsemen in solemn procession and as it proceeded, mourners joined in their hundreds along the way and walked as far as they were able. There was also a great number of carriages and other vehicles in the cortege. So affected were all in the procession that for the whole journey from Wexford to Tintern Abbey – a distance of 18 miles – no man could be heard to raise his voice above a whisper. A vast number of people remained for the night at Tintern to see the remains of their lamented friend interred on the following day.
The trial of Mr Alcock
At the Wexford Assizes in March 1808 before the Hon. Baron Smith, William Alcock was charged with killing in a duel the late John Colclough. The jury after five minutes deliberation returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’ and the prisoner was discharged. The horror of his crime, which caused the death of his close friend, and the gravity of the trial affected his reason and intellect. He became mentally deranged and died in 1812. Alcock’s sister was very distressed by the death of John Colclough, her intimate friend, and by the subsequent trial of her brother. Her reason and mental state declined and she died shortly after her brother.
Browne, E and T Wickham. Lewis’ Wexford (1983).
Burke’s Peerage (1888).
Cantwell, Brian J. Memorials of the Dead.
Hore, Philip H. History of the town and county of Wexford (6 vols).
Kehoe, Fr Lory. Glynn 1789-1989.
Lacy, Thomas. Sights and scenes in our Fatherland (1863).
O’Donovan, John. Ordnance Survey Letters (1933).
Wilton Estate Papers
Diary of Elizabeth Richards 1807
The Free Press
Wickham, Martin. Irish Times School’s History Project, 1988.
Interview with the late Michael “Bossy” Broaders
Conversations with the late Margaret Wickham
Our thanks to: Michael Dempsey, Wexford County Library; Jane Wickham Devane; Alice Wickham McIntyre.