Bagenal, Beauchamp (c.1735–1802), landowner and MP, was the eldest of three surviving children (one son and two daughters) of Walter Bagenal (c.1670–1745), landowner of Dunleckney, Co. Carlow, and MP for Co. Carlow (1725–7), and his second wife, Eleanor (née Beauchamp) of Ballyloughan Castle, Co. Carlow. Educated at Hillsborough, Yorkshire, he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge (1753), but did not graduate. After leaving Cambridge he embarked on a hugely expensive and riotous grand tour on which he ‘quite eclipsed the petty potentates with whom Germany was garnished. His person was fine – his manners open and generous – his spirit high – and his liberality profuse. During his tour, he had performed a variety of feats which were emblazoned in Ireland, and endeared him to his countrymen. He had fought a prince, jilted a princess, intoxicated the doge of Venice, carried off a duchess from Madrid, scaled the walls of a convent in Italy, narrowly escaped the Inquisition at Lisbon, concluded his exploits by a celebrated fencing match at Paris; and returned to Ireland with a sovereign contempt for all continental men and manners and an inveterate antipathy to all despotic kings and arbitrary governments’ (Barrington, 27).
On reaching his majority, he inherited a large estate with lands in Co. Carlow and Co. Armagh; his annual rental in 1760 was £6,681. Regarded as one of the handsomest men in Ireland, he possessed his full share of the virtues and vices of the archetypal Irish country gentleman, and scandalised Carlow society with his succession of mistresses and riotous behaviour. He dealt with his guests in a high-handed manner, earning the nickname ‘King Bagenal’. His seat at Dunleckney was the scene of lavish and boisterous entertainment, and was described as a ‘terrestrial paradise . . . for all lovers of good wine, good horses, good dogs, and good society’ (Bagenal, 153). Because of his extravagance he had to sell much of his estate to make ends meet.
A notorious duellist, he favoured as a venue the churchyard of Killanane, where he could compensate for his lameness – the result of an accident – by propping himself against a tombstone. Among those he traded shots with were the chief secretary, Col. John Blaquiere (qv), for a perceived social slight, and his cousin and godson, Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey (qv), whom he fought simply to test his courage. He did not, however, regard himself as a quarrelsome man, and expressed his deepest admiration for quakers and their principles. In July 1788 he signalled a change in the gentry's attitude towards duelling by taking his neighbour Weld to court for challenging him. At Carlow summer assizes Weld was sentenced to a month's imprisonment and fined £70.
The first founder of a Volunteer corps in Co. Carlow, he was elected colonel of the Graigue Volunteers. After a review of the Volunteers of Carlow and Kilkenny at Dunleckney in 1780, the celebrations were such that an observer compared the scene to a field of battle, with prostrate bodies and empty bottles strewn across the park. In 1783 he was Co. Carlow delegate to the National Volunteer Convention held in Dublin, and he continued to hold reviews long after they had ceased in the rest of the country. He was MP for Enniscorthy (1761–8) and Co. Carlow (1768–76 , 1778–83), breaking up the Burton and Butler domination of the county representation in 1768 by fighting a duel with Sir Richard Butler (1699–1771), MP for Co. Carlow (1730–60), and scaring off the Burton interest, although in later years he allied with the Burtons. His wealth allowed him considerable political independence, and he generally opposed the government and supported legislative independence and catholic relief, but he preferred ‘the chase, the turf, the sod, and the bottle’ (Barrington, 28) to attending parliament, and he did not stand after 1783. He spoke occasionally in parliament, but ‘with the most distressing hesitation’ (Sayles, 236). His most notable commons speech (27 May 1783) congratulated Henry Grattan (qv) on achieving legislative independence and successfully proposed that parliament should show its gratitude by voting Grattan £100,000 to buy an estate (a committee later decided on £50,000). He claimed that the constitution of 1782 would last forever and inaugurate a golden age for both Ireland and Britain. He was captain of the Bagenalstown infantry yeomanry corps from 1796. Despite his popularity as a landlord, his family home was attacked by rebels in the months before the 1798 rising. He died at Dunleckney 1 May 1802, and was buried at Dunleckney cemetery alongside Catherine (1786?–1800), a favourite niece. He married (c.1760) Maria, widow of Stannard Ryan of Inch, Co. Tipperary, with whom he had three children: Walter (1762–1814), MP for Carlow (1802, 1806–7), Emelia, and Catherine. He also had a natural daughter, Sarah (1770–1832), his favourite, on whom he settled much of his property, including Dunleckney manor.