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Crow Ryan.
John Lyde Wilson, ed.
“The Code Duello — Irish Code of Honor.”

Since the above Code was in press, a friend has favored me with the IRISH CODE OF HONOR, which I had never seen; and it is published as an Appendix to it. One thing must be apparent to every reader, viz., the marked ameliora tion of the rules that govern in duelling at the present time. I am unable to say what code exists now in Ireland, but I very much doubt whether it be of the same character which it bore in 1777. The American Quarterly Review for September, 1824, in a notice of Sir Jonah Harrington’s history of his own times, has published this code; and followed it up with some remarks, which I have thought proper to insert also. The grave reviewer has spoken of certain States in terms so unlike a gentleman, that I would advise him to look at home, and say whether he does not think that the manners of his own countrymen, do not require great amendment? I am very sure, that the citizens of the States so disrespectfully spoken of, would feel a deep humiliation, to be compelled to exchange their urbanity of deportment, for the uncouth incivilty of the people of Massachusetts. Look at their public journals, and you will find them, very generally, teeming with abuse of private character, which would not be countenanced here. The idea of New England becoming a school for manners, is about as fanciful as Bolinbroke’s “idea of a patriot king” I like their fortiter in re, but utterly eschew their suaviter in modo.

“The practice of duelling and points of honor settled at Clonmell summer assizes, 1777, by the gentlemen delegates of Tipperary, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon, and prescribed for general adoption throughout Ireland.

Rule 1. — The first offense requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. — Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology because he gave the first offense, and then (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by a subsequent apology.

Rule 2. — But if the parties would rather fight on, then after two shots each (but in no case before), B may explain first, and A apologize afterward.

Rule 3. — If a doubt exist who gave the first offense, the decision rests with the seconds; if they won’t decide, or can’t agree, the matter must proceed to two shots, or to a hit, if the challenger require it.

Rule 4. — When the lie direct is the first offense, the aggressor must either beg pardon in express terms; exchange two shots previous to apology; or three shots followed up by explanation; or fire on till a severe hit be received by one party or the other.

Rule 5. — As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore — the offender handing a cane to the injured party, to be used on his own back, at the same time begging pardon; firing on until one or both are disabled; or exchanging three shots, and then asking pardon without proffer of the cane.

“If swords are used, the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed; or until, after receiving a wound, and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon.

“N.B. A disarm is considered the same as a disable. The disarmer may (strictly) break his adversary’s sword; but if it be the challenger who is disarmed, it is considered as ungenerous to do so.

“In the case the challenged be disarmed and refuses to ask pardon or atone, he must not be killed, as formerly; but the challenger may lay his own sword on the aggressor’s shoulder, then break the aggressor’s sword and say, ‘I spare your life!’ The challenged can never revive the quarrel — the challenger may.

Rule 6. — If A gives B the lie, and B retorts by a blow (being the two greatest offenses), no reconciliation can take place till after two discharges each, or a severe hit; after which B may beg A’s pardon humbly for the blow and then A may explain simply for the lie; because a blow is never allowable, and the offense of the lie, therefore, merges in it. (See preceding rules.)

“N.B. Challenges for undivulged causes may be reconciled on the ground, after one shot. An explanation or the slightest hit should be sufficient in such cases, because no personal offense transpired.

Rule 7. — But no apology can be received, in any case, after the parties have actually taken ground, without exchange of fires.

Rule 8. — In the above case, no challenger is obliged to divulge his cause of challenge (if private) unless required by the challenged so to do before their meeting.

Rule 9. — All imputations of cheating at play, races, etc., to be considered equivalent to a blow; but may be reconciled after one shot, on admitting their falsehood and begging pardon publicly.

Rule 10. — Any insult to a lady under a gentleman’s care or protection to be considered as, by one degree, a greater offense than if given to the gentleman personally, and to be regulated accordingly.

Rule 11. — Offenses originating or accruing from the support of ladies’ reputations, to be considered as less unjustifiable than any others of the same class, and as admitting of slighter apologies by the aggressor: this to be determined by the circumstances of the case, but always favorable to the lady.

Rule 12. — In simple, unpremeditated recontres with the smallsword, or couteau de chasse, the rule is -- first draw, first sheath, unless blood is drawn; then both sheath, and proceed to investigation.

Rule 13. — No dumb shooting or firing in the air is admissible in any case. The challenger ought not to have challenged without receiving offense; and the challenged ought, if he gave offense, to have made an apology before he came on the ground; therefore, children’s play must be dishonorable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited.

Rule 14. — Seconds to be of equal rank in society with the principals they attend, inasmuch as a second may either choose or chance to become a principal, and equality is indispensible.

Rule 15. — Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intend leaving the place of offense before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hot-headed proceedings.

Rule 16. — The challenged has the right to choose his own weapon, unless the challenger gives his honor he is no swordsman; after which, however, he can decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenged.

Rule 17. — The challenged chooses his ground; the challenger chooses his distance; the seconds fix the time and terms of firing.

Rule 18. — The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honors they have charged smooth and single, which should be held sufficient.

Rule 19. — Firing may be regulated -- first by signal; secondly, by word of command; or thirdly, at pleasure -- as may be agreeable to the parties. In the latter case, the parties may fire at their reasonable leisure, but second presents and rests are strictly prohibited.

Rule 20. — In all cases a miss-fire is equivalent to a shot, and a snap or non-cock is to be considered as a miss-fire.

Rule 21. — Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place, or after sufficient firing or hits, as specified.

Rule 22. — Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake, must end the business for that day.

Rule 23. — If the cause of the meeting be of such a nature that no apology or explanation can or will be received, the challenged takes his ground, and calls on the challenger to proceed as he chooses; in such cases, firing at pleasure is the usual practice, but may be varied by agreement.

Rule 24. — In slight cases, the second hands his principal but one pistol; but in gross cases, two, holding another case ready charged in reserve.

Rule 25. — Where seconds disagree, and resolve to exchange shots themselves, it must be at the same time and at right angles with their principals, thus:

If with swords, side by side, with five paces interval.

N.B. All matters and doubts not herein mentioned will be explained and cleared up by application to the committee, who meet alternately at Clonmel and Galway, at the quarter sessions, for that purpose.

“CROW RYAN, president,


“AMBY BODKIN, secretaries.”


Rule 1. — No party can be allowed to bend his knee or cover his side with his left hand, but may present at any level from the hip to the eye.

Rule 2. — None can either advance or retreat, if the ground be measured. If no ground be measured, either party may advance at his pleasure, even to touch muzzle; but neither can advance on his adversary after the fire, unless the adversary steps forward on him.

“N.B. The seconds on both sides stand responsible for this last rule being strictly observed; bad cases having accrued from neglecting of it.

This precise and enlightened digest was rendered necessary by the multitude of quarrels that arose without “sufficient dignified provocation:” the point of honor men required a uniform government; and the code thus formed was disseminated throughout the island, with directions that it should be strictly observed by all gentlemen, and kept in their pistol cases. The rules, with some others, were commonly styled “the thirty-six commandments” and, according to the author, have been much acted upon down to the present day. Tipperary and Galway were the chief schools of duelling. We remember to have heard, in travelling to the town of the former name in a stage coach, a dispute between two Irish companions, on the point, which was the most gentlemanly country in all Ireland — Tipperary or Galway? and both laid great stress upon the relative duelling merits of those counties. By the same criterion, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and South Carolina, would bear away the palm of gentility among the States of the Union.


  1. Above Code. The Code Duello.
  2. Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo. Resolutely in action, bravely in manner. [Latin]

Text prepared by:


Ryan, Crow. “Code Duello.” The Code of Honor; or Rules for the Government or Principals and Seconds in Duelling. Ed. John Lyde Wilson. Charleston: James Phinney, 1858. 35-44. Internet Archive. Web. 7 Aug. 2015. <https:// archive.org/ details/ code ofhonoror rul00wils>.

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