Martin, Richard (1754–1834), politician, animal rights campaigner, and duellist, was born 6 February 1754 at Ballinahinch castle, Dangan, Co. Galway, the eldest son of Robert Martin, a landowner, and his first wife, Bridget Martin (née Barnewall), daughter of the 11th Baron Trimleston. His father had converted from catholicism and Richard was raised as a protestant. He was educated in England at Harrow School, and entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1773. After touring Europe, Jamaica, and America he entered Lincoln's Inn (1776) and was called to the Irish bar (1781).
He decided upon a career in politics and stood for election for Co. Galway in the 1776 general election but was defeated. Undaunted, he purchased a seat for Jamestown, Co. Leitrim (1776–83), and immediately took his place with the opposition. On 1 February 1777 Martin married Elizabeth (Eliza) Vesey; they had two sons and one daughter. Later, when Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) was hired as a private tutor to Richard's half-brothers, he soon developed an ardent passion for Eliza; the relationship, however, was almost certainly unconsummated.
In parliament Martin supported the viceroyalty of Lord Carlisle (qv), before becoming an enthusiastic admirer of Henry Flood (qv) and an adherent of the demands for legislative independence. A colonel in the Galway Volunteers, he represented the county at the various Volunteer conventions. He served as high sheriff for Co. Galway (1782), and then practised briefly on the Connacht circuit; it seems that the only case he took was the prosecution of the notorious duellist George Robert Fitzgerald (qv), who had shot the wolfhound of Lord Altamont; offended by this cruelty towards an animal, Martin secured a conviction. As a result he was threatened by Fitzgerald and the two men later fought a duel with pistols; Martin wounded his opponent twice, but not seriously, and received a wound in return. In 1783 he left parliament, having unsuccessfully contested the county seat in the general election. Because of his penchant for duelling Martin soon had the nickname ‘Hair-trigger Dick’. In 1785 he clashed with his cousin James Jordan over a careless remark; Jordan issued a challenge and, despite Martin's best efforts to apologise, the men fought a duel. Jordan was killed in the encounter and this became a great source of regret for Martin for the remainder of his life.
Martin served as solicitor of casual revenue and solicitor for the commissioners and overseers of barracks (1788–1800). In 1789 he visited France, on the eve of the revolution, and when he returned home he discovered that his wife had eloped to England with William Petrie, a merchant. Martin sued for damages and won £10,000 in 1791. Returning to parliament in 1798 through the patronage of Lord Clonbrock, he represented Lanesborough, Co. Leitrim (1798–1800). He supported the idea of an absentee tax to solve the financial problems of the Irish treasury, but it was overwhelmingly rejected. When a legislative union was proposed it was enthusiastically endorsed by Martin, who hoped emancipation would follow, and he secured petitions in favour of the measure in Galway. As a reward for his loyalty he was appointed a gentleman-at-large and a commissioner of stamps, and received a place at the board of accounts; the latter two of these appointments were sinecures worth £800 per annum. In August 1800 he was returned for Co. Galway, and took his seat in the united house of commons in 1801.
At Westminster Martin gave his maiden speech in favour of the union, and was a supporter of the government until 1805. Then, angered at the loss of his sinecures, he decided to go into opposition, but in the Grenville ministry (1806–7) he was appointed a collector of hearth tax and this softened his position. A committed supporter of catholic relief, he was far too quarrelsome for his own good and was defeated in the general election of 1812. Promising the government his support if he returned to parliament, he was elected for Co. Galway again in 1818.
Martin was deeply committed to the protection of animals and was a founder member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (afterwards the RSPCA); in 1822 he helped to pass legislation, which became known as the Martin Act, to safeguard the rights of animals. George IV was so impressed with his campaigning on this issue that he began to call him ‘Humanity Martin’. On 11 April 1827 he lost his seat after it was discovered that all of his tenants had illegally voted three times for him, wearing various elaborate disguises.
After his first wife's death, he married on 5 June 1796 Harriet Hesketh (née Evans), a widow; they had one son and three daughters. His eldest son from his first marriage, Thomas Barnewall Martin (1786–1847), was MP for Co. Galway (1832–47) and died of ‘famine fever’ after visiting his tenants in a workhouse. One of Martin's daughters from his second marriage, Harriet Letitia Martin (1801–91), was a successful novelist in America, where she was known as the ‘Queen of Connaught’. After his final political reverse, Martin moved to the continent, and died 6 January 1834 at Boulogne.
Years later, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals paid tribute to his considerable work on behalf of animals by naming its shelter the ‘Richard Martin Rest Fields’. In 1989 a Connemara marble tablet in his honour was erected at Ballinahinch castle. Jonah Barrington (qv) was an admirer of Martin and called him ‘Humanity Dick’, an amalgam of his previous two nicknames.