Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/MacNally, Leonard

MACNALLY, LEONARD (1752–1820), playwright and political informer, son of Leonard MacNally, merchant, of Dublin, was born at Dublin in 1752. His father died in 1756, and his education was neglected, though he resided long enough at Bordeaux to acquire a conversational knowledge of French. In 1771 he opened a small grocery shop in St. Mary's Lane, Capel Street, Dublin, but was called to the Irish bar in 1776, and to the English bar at the Middle Temple on 30 May 1783. He was in London during the Gordon riots (June 1780), and at the risk of his life rescued Dr. Thurlow, brother of the lord chancellor, who was suspected of an inclination to popery, from the violence of the mob. For some years he maintained himself by editing the 'Public Ledger' and writing for the stage (see bibliography infra). In 1782 he published a political pamphlet entitled 'The Claims of Ireland and the Resolutions of the Volunteers vindicated,' London, 8vo, in which he sought to throw the aegis of whig principles over the Irish revolutionaries. Subsequently he removed to Dublin, where in 1792 he was counsel for Napper Tandy in his action for false imprisonment against Lord Westmorland. An original member of the Society of United Irishmen he published rebellious verses in their organ, the 'Northern Star' (10 Nov. 1792), and fought a duel with Sir Jonah Barrington to vindicate their honour. From 1794, however, if not an earlier date, he played a double game, to all appearance hand in glove with the revolutionaries, while he secretly betrayed them to the government. His house in Dublin was one of their principal rendezvous. There he hospitably entertained them at the public expense and duly reported their conversation to the chief secretary. He was paid at first by irregular remittances, but from 1800 until his death was in receipt of a pension of 300l. from the secret service fund. One of his first services concerned Parson Jackson, whose legal adviser and executor he became, and whose will and other papers he placed in Lord Camden's hands [see Jackson, William, 1737?–1795]. Early in 1797 he pointed to Lord Edward Fitzgerald as one of the most active and determined of the conspirators. It appears to have been his regular practice when taking a brief for the defence in a government prosecution to disclose its contents to the crown lawyers. After this fashion he defended the more eminent of the 'defenders' in 1795-6 and the men of '98 and 1803. This difficult and dangerous part he played with extraordinary address and complete success. His eloquence on behalf of Patrick Finney in 1798 moved Curran to tears and a handsome compliment. Emmet, whom in 1803 he sold for 200l., he nobly defended in court, visited him in gaol on the morning of his execution, and comforted him with the pious reflection that he would soon meet his mother in heaven. He was one of the first and most fervid of the agitators for repeal of the union, and zealously defended two of the delegates arrested under the Convention Act in November 1811. He retained the confidence of Curran to the last, nor was his treachery discovered till after his death, which occurred on 13 Feb. 1820. His very death was ambiguous. He had lived as a protestant, but in his last moments he sent for a Roman catholic priest, confessed, and received absolution. He was buried in Donnybrook graveyard. In person MacNally was under the middle height, and went lame from a wound received in a duel; he had also lost one of his thumbs in another encounter; his features were handsome and his eyes dark and sparkling. He had good natural abilities, wrote a clear, nervous, and chaste English style, and though no great lawyer was an astute and eloquent advocate and a powerful cross - examiner. His dramatic work evinces a certain faculty for sprightly dialogue and smooth versification. His song in praise of Clorinda in 'Robin Hood' was much admired by Moore; another, 'Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill' [see Lennox, Charles, second Duke of Richmond], was written in honour of the lady who afterwards (16 Jan. 1787) became his first wife, Frances, daughter of William I'Anson or Janson, a wealthy attorney, of Bedford Row, London, and Hill House, Richmond, Yorkshire. She died in 1795, and in 1800 he married Louisa, daughter of the Rev. Robert Edgeworth. By his first wife he had a son, who died in 1869; another son died in 1817.

Of MacNally's dramatic pieces, some of which were acted at Covent Garden, the following have been printed: 'The Apotheosis of Punch: a Satirical Masque,' London, 1779, 8vo; 'Retaliation,' a farce in two acts, London, 1782, 8vo; 'Tristram Shandy: a Sentimental Shandean Bagatelle in Two Acts,' London, 1783, 8vo; 'Robin Hood, or Sherwood Forest,' a comic opera, London, 1784, 1787, and 1789; 'Fashionable Levities,' a comedv in five acts, London, 1785, 8vo; 'Richard Coeur de Lion : an Historical Romance from the French of M. Sedaine,' London, 1786, 8vo; 'Critic upon Critic: a Dramatic Medley,' London, 1792, 8vo; 'Cottage Festival : an Opera,' London, 1796, 8vo. The following were performed but not printed: 'The Ruling Passion,' a comic opera, 1779; 'Prelude for Covent Garden,' 1782; 'Coalition,' a musical farce, 1783; 'April Fool,' a farce, 1786. MacNally also published: 'Sentimental Excursions to Windsor,' 'Abstract of Acts passed in Parliament,' 1786, and two legal treatises, viz. : 'Rules of Evidence on Pleas of the Crown, illustrated from Printed and Manuscript Trials and Cases,' Dublin, 1802, 8vo, and 'The Justice of the Peace for Ireland,' 2nd edit. Dublin, 8vo, 1812, an exceedingly inaccurate work, which reached a second edition, Dublin, 1820, 4 vols. 8vo.

[Middle Temple Register; Wilson's Dublin Directory; St. George's, Hanover Square, Marr. Reg. (Harl. Soc.) 1778; Madden's United Irishmen, 1868, ii. 569; Fitzpatrick's Secret Service under Pitt, chap. xiv.; Sir Jonah Barrington's Personal Sketches of his own Times, ed. Townsend Young, i. 297; Cornwallis Corresp. ed. Ross, iii. 320; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 281, 341, ix. 392, 5th ser. zi. 52; Howell's State Trials, vois.xxv-viii.; Phillips's Curran and his Contemporaries, pp. 374-7; O'Keeffe's Recollections, 1826, i. 44; Gent. Mag. 1795 pt. ii. p. 880, 1800 pt. i. p. 484, 1817 pt. ii. p. 636; Moore's Journ. ed. Lord John Russell, vii. 75; Swift's Works, ed. Sir W. Scott, x. 673, 579; Baker's Biog. Dram.; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biog.; O'Donoghue's Poets of Ireland; and art. Garrick, David.]

J. M. R.