Richard ‘Thespian’ Daly of County Galway

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When he wasn’t fighting a duel or gambling his money away, Richard Daly was chasing a young actress from the Dublin Theatre. James N. Dillon introduces us to the best-dressed landowner of the eighteenth century.


Two maps showing the major landowners (landed gentry) and the location of their mansions in relation to the highway between New Inn and Athenry circa I778 are reproduced below. No chapel or shebeen, no peasant farmer’s house or labourer’s cabin blots this late eighteenth century landscape! Most of the road ran east/west through the half barony of Athenry and at the time descendants of Dermot O’Daly, who died in 1614, owned so much of the land that the whole area was known as Daly Country.

Daly Gentry resided in: Clooncha House and Killimor House in Killimordaly parish; Benmore House near Bullaun; Raford House in Kiltullagh parish; Dunsandle House in Lickerrig (modern Carabane) Parish. Even Dominican Esker was shown as a Daly residence because the community was under the protection of Daly of Carrownekelly (later of Dunsandle) during penal times! Daly Gentry also resided at Mount Pleasant, Loughrea; Dalystown, south of Loughrea; Dalysgrove near Ahascragh; Callow Castle, north of Kilconnell and Lismore Castle near Eyrecourt.

At various times during the uncertain 17th century, members of this Daly clan owned or occupied: Clonbrusk Castle, east of Athenry; Corrabane Castle near Newcastle; possibly Ballydavid Castle near Athenry; Laragh Castle near Attymon; Clough Castle east of Newcastle as well as their principal residence, Killimor Castle.

Undoubtedly the colourful subject of this story came from one of the gentry families mentioned above but researched pedigrees for the Dalys of Killimor, Raford, Dunsandle, Callow, Dalystown, Dalysgrove and Mount Pleasant fail to acknowledge or identify him!

Gambling and fighting

Richard Daly, younger son of a Co. Galway gentleman, was sent to Trinity College, Dublin, to further his education and thereby enhance his prospects in life. He was, or shortly became, addicted to gambling and duelling and rapidly squandered his patrimony. He was a very fine looking fellow but with such a squint that it was totally impossible to say what he looked at, except his nose which he never lost sight of! Of necessity, he applied his natural skill and striking stature to a successful career on the stage and was considered a master of the revels.

ln his heyday Richard had a partiality to single combat and was reputed to have fought at least sixteen duels in the space of two years. Three of these were fought with swords, thirteen with pistols and all with so little skill or such good fortune that not a wound worth mentioning occurred during the course of his many hostile encounters.

Impeccable grooming

He usually arrived at the appointed place by coach and accompanied by his slovenly second, Jack Patterson. Daly, a keen follower of fashion, usually favoured a pea-green coat, a large tucker with a diamond brooch stuck in it, a three-cocked hat with a gold button-loop and tassels, silk stockings and a large hunting knife hanging gracefully from his thigh. In fact, his whole appearance was so magnificent and overbearing that many adversaries was psyched into believing that Daly was already triumphant, having effortlessly vanquished and trampled on his rival. His steady pose, showy surface and mysterious squint were enough to weaken the resolve of the most hardened and experienced duellist.

During one well-documented pistol duel with Sir Jonah Barrington, Daly courageously presented a full front to Barrington who instantly fired a ball hitting Daly’s brooch but fortunately, however, the ball had not penetrated. The brooch had been broken and a piece of the setting was sticking fast to his breastbone — otherwise Richard was unscathed and charitably didn’t return fire as honour had been satisfied!

Word creation

Daly’s extravagant lifestyle frequently left him with acute cash shortages. Once when labouring under such financial strain he provisionally attempted to rectify his insolvency by resorting to lady luck. Apparently, being a shrewd betting man, he laid a wager that he would introduce a new meaningless four-lettered word into the English language within twenty-four hours. There was no shortage of takers among the affluent sons of the Ascendancy Class who were delighted with the diversion of such a mad undertaking. Accordingly, Daly picked four letters and invented the word ‘Quiz’; he hired a gang of young street urchins and overnight they chalked ‘Quiz’ on walls in public places until all Dublin society was enquiring what the word meant! Needless to say, Richard Daly was delighted with the success of his bold venture but even he could not foresee that “Quiz’ would gain such worldwide usage in modern English.

The plethora of popular radio and TV shows not to mention quiz books bears ample evidence that Daly deserved his winnings!

Culture capital

In 1781, when Dublin was one of the leading cities of Europe, Daly opened the famous Smock Alley Theatre where Kimble and Mrs Siddons (in vogue English stage artistes of the period) appeared under his management. The Dublin Theatrical Scene is set in the following extract:

The playhouses in Dublin were then lighted with tallow candles, stuck into tin circles hanging from the middle of the stage, which were every now and then snuffed by some performer. And two soldiers, with fixed bayonets, always stood like statues on each side of the stage, close to the boxes, to keep the audience in order. The galleries were very noisy and very droll. The ladies and gentlemen in the boxes always went out dressed, nearly, as for court. The strictest etiquette and decorum were preserved in that circle The pit, being full of critics and wise men, was particularly respected except when the young gentlemen of the University occasionally forced themselves in, to revenge some insult, real or imagined, to a member of their body. On such occasions the well-dressed peaceful men with their ladies fled the premises and the young students proceeded to beat or turn out the residue of the audience!

Secret affair

Richard Daly married Mrs. Lister, an actress and singer of good reputation who owned considerable property. But he secretly lusted after a beautiful and talented young actress, Dorothy (her smile had the effect of sunshine) Francis, then appearing on the Dublin stage. With a potent cocktail of sweet talk and threats he successfully seduced her. By 1782, Dorothy, pregnant by Daly, fled to England and in view of her condition, changed her name to Mrs. Dora Jordan. After their daughter, Frances, was born Dora played the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and established herself as the foremost comic actress of the day. By 1785 she had formed a further hopeless liaison with Sir Richard Ford and had two daughters by him. But her expectation of conjugal bliss with the elusive Ford came to naught.

Richard Daly had also moved on and was proprietor of the Crow Street Theatre and a patentee of Dublin’s Theatre Royal. These ventures failed to prosper primarily due to competition but equally due to vicious personal attacks on his competence by John Magee, critic and proprietor of the Dublin Evening Post. Daly sued his merciless critic for libel. And the case eventually came before the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Lord Clonmel (another noted duellist who met Daly in a duel in 1970, with Richard Daly emerging victorious).

Meanwhile Dora’s performances had captivated William, Duke of Clarence (third son of ‘Mad’ King George 111). Together with the three daughters by her two previous relationships, Dorothy and “William the Besotted” set up home together in 1791. The prolific Dorothy bore William ten ‘natural children’, five boys and five girls — known as the Fitzclarences.


By 1799 Daly had disposed of his theatrical interests in exchange for an annuity for himself and his legitimate children: afterwards he appears to have dropped out of the limelight. But Royal William, in need of more youthful diversions and tired of the continuous drain imposed by his numerous brood in his less than adequate purse, abandoned Dora Jordan about 1810. The parting was termed ‘amicable’ and William’s derisory settlement even contained a small financial consideration for Dora’s daughter by Richard Daly.

Richard ‘Thespian’ Daly died in 1813. Dora, harassed by her children’s squabbles and consumed with worries that were exacerbated by debt, fled to Paris. There, about1816, she died alone thus ending her futile wait for a communication of improved funds.

Two years later William married the much younger Princess Adelaide but Mrs. Jordan’s profligate royal stud could not with Adelaide endow the throne of imperial Britain with a live heir!

Following the death of his eldest brother, the heirless George IV, William, Duke of Clarence, became William 1V of Great Britain and Ireland in 1830. He reigned for seven years and was succeeded by his niece, Queen Victoria.

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About this record

Written by James N. Dillon

Published here 14 Aug 2023 and originally published Winter 2002

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