Early life

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MacNally was a barrister, playwright, United Irishman and notorious informer who was born in Dublin in 1752. His father was a grocer and MacNally also briefly worked as a grocer in St Mary’s Lane off Capel Street. In 1774 he went to London and on 8 June he entered the Middle Temple to study law. On 19 June 1776 he was called to the Irish bar, where he practised for a time. He was called to the English bar at Middle Temple on 30 May 1783. He subsequently returned to London and remained there for at least the next ten years, and wrote many plays and songs. In 1790 MacNally returned to Ireland, resumed practice at the Irish bar and threw himself into radical politics. He became an active member of the United Irishmen and defended many of the main figures of the organisation; he was described as, next to John Philpot Curran, ‘the man most obnoxious to the government’ and the one who most hated the government and was most hated by it in return. So committed to the United Irishmen was MacNally that he fought a duel with Jonah Barrington because Barrington had apparently disparaged the society. Both of the Sheares brothers and Reginald Bagnal accompanied MacNally to the Phoenix Park for the duel, with John Sheares acting as his second. MacNally lost a thumb in the duel.


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