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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of William Dargan, 19th Century Engineer

william-darganWilliam Dargan, arguably the most important Irish engineer of the 19th century and certainly the most important figure in railway construction, is born at Killeshin near Carlow in County Laois (then called Queen’s County) on February 28, 1799. He designs and builds Ireland’s first railway line from Dublin to Dún Laoghaire in 1833. In total he constructs over 1,300 km (800 miles) of railway to important urban centres of Ireland. He is a member of the Royal Dublin Society and also helps establish the National Gallery of Ireland. He is also responsible for the Great Dublin Exhibition held on the lawn of Leinster House in 1853. His achievements are honoured in 1995, when the Dargan Railway Bridge in Belfast is opened, and again in 2004 when the William Dargan Bridge in Dublin, a new cable stayed bridge for Dublin’s Light Railway Luas, are both named after him.

Dargan is the eldest in a large family of tenant farmers on the Earl of Portarlington‘s estate. He attends a local hedge school in Graiguecullen near Carlow, where he excels in mathematics and accounting. He subsequently works on his father’s 101-acre farm before securing a position in a surveyor’s office in Carlow. With the assistance of prominent local people, particularly John Alexander, a prominent Carlow miller, and Henry Parnell MP for County Laois, he begins working with the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford on the Holyhead side of the London-Holyhead road. He works there between 1819 and 1824.

In 1824 Telford asks Dargan to begin work on Howth Road, from Raheny to Sutton in Dublin. He earns the relatively large sum of £300 for his work on this road and this provides the capital for future public works investments. Henry Parnell describes the road as “a model for other roads in the vicinity of Dublin.” Around the same time Dargan contributes roads in Dublin, Carlow and Louth as a surveyor. He also serves as assistant manager for about three years on the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal and the Middlewich Branch, which are two canals in the English midlands.

On October 13, 1828, Dargan marries Jane Arkinstall in the Anglican Church of St. Michael & All Angels, Adbaston, Staffordshire. He and Jane do not produce any offspring.

When Dargan comes back to Ireland, he is occupied by minor construction projects, including rebuilding the main street of Banbridge and the 13 kilometers long Kilbeggan branch of the Grand Canal. After Irish parliament decides to launch a plan for the very first railway, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway in 1825, he becomes increasingly invested in the project. To fight against the skepticism of any railway program in Ireland, he spends a considerable amount of unpaid time promoting this first railway of Ireland, working along with engineer Charles Vignoles to plan the route. After a persistent effort, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway is opened on December 17, 1834, with eight trains running in each direction.

Dargan next constructs the water communication between Lough Erne and Belfast, afterwards known as the Ulster Canal, a signal triumph of engineering and constructive ability.

Other great works follow – the Dublin and Drogheda Railway, the Great Southern and Western Railway and the Midland Great Western Railway. By 1853 Dargan has constructed over six hundred miles of railway, and he has contracts for two hundred more. He pays the highest wages with the greatest punctuality and his credit is unbounded. At one point he is the largest railway projector in Ireland and one of its greatest capitalists.

Dargan has a strong sense of patriotism to Ireland. He is offered a knighthood by the British Viceroy in Ireland, but declines. Following this, Britain’s Queen Victoria visits Dargan at his residence, Dargan Villa, Mount Annville on August 29, 1853. She offers him a baronetcy, but he declines this also. Wishing to encourage the growth of flax, he then takes a tract of land which he devotes to its culture, but owing to some mismanagement the enterprise entails a heavy loss. He also becomes a manufacturer, and sets some mills working in Chapelizod, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, but that business does not prosper.

In his later years Dargan devotes himself chiefly to the working and extension of the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, of which he is chairman. In 1866 he is seriously injured by a fall from his horse. He dies at 2 Fitzwilliam Square East, Dublin, on February 7, 1867, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His widow, Jane, is granted a civil list pension of £100 on June 18, 1870.

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Birth of William Carleton, Writer & Novelist

william-carletonWilliam Carleton, Irish writer and novelist, is born in Clogher, County Tyrone on February 20, 1794. He is best known for his Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, a collection of ethnic sketches of the stereotypical Irishman.

Carleton receives a basic education at various hedge schools. Most of his learning is gained from a curate, Father Keenan, who teaches at a classical school at Donagh, County Monaghan which he attends from 1814 to 1816. He studies for the priesthood at Maynooth, but leaves after two years. Around the age of 19 he undertakes one of the religious pilgrimages then common in Ireland. His experiences as a pilgrim make him give up the thought of entering the church.

Carleton’s vacillating ideas as to a mode of life are determined by reading the picaresque novel Gil Blas by Alain-René Lesage. He decides to try what fortune has in store for him and he goes to Killanny, County Louth. For six months he serves as tutor to the family of a farmer named Piers Murphy. After some other experiments he sets out for Dublin, arriving with two shillings and sixpence in his pocket.

Carleton first seeks occupation as a bird-stuffer, but a proposal to use potatoes and meal as stuffing fails to recommend him. He then tries to become a soldier, but the colonel of the regiment dissuades him. After staying in a number of cheap lodgings, he eventually finds a place in a house on Francis Street which contains a circulating library. The landlady allows him to read from 12 to 16 hours a day. He obtains some teaching and a clerkship in a Sunday School office, begins to contribute to journals. “The Pilgrimage to Lough Derg,” which is published in the Christian Examiner, attracts great attention.

In 1830 Carleton publishes his first full-length book, Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry (2 volumes), which is considered his best achievement. A second series (3 volumes) appears in 1833, and Tales of Ireland in 1834. From that time until a few years prior to his death he writes constantly. “Fardorougha the Miser, or the Convicts of Lisnamona” appears in 1837–1838 in the Dublin University Magazine.

Carleton remained active publishing in Dublin magazines through the 1830s and 1840s writing many ethnic stories often drawn from the south Tyrone locality. He also writes a lot of fiction. During the last months of his life he begins an autobiography which he brings down to the beginning of his literary career. This forms the first part of The Life of William Carleton by David James O’Donoghue, which contains full information about his life, and a list of his scattered writings.

Carleton’s later years are characterised by drunkenness and poverty. In spite of his considerable literary production, he remains poor, but receives a pension in 1848 of £200 a year granted by Lord John Russell in response to a memorial on Carleton’s behalf signed by numbers of distinguished persons in Ireland.

William Carleton dies at his home at Woodville, Sandford Road, in Ranelagh, Dublin on January 30, 1869, and is interred at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin. The house, now demolished, is close to the entrance to the Jesuit residence at Milltown Park. Despite his conversion to Protestantism, Carleton remains on friendly terms with one of the priests there, Reverend Robert Carbery, who offers to give him the Last Rites of the Catholic Church. In the final weeks before his death, Carleton politely declines the offer, stating he had not been a Roman Catholic “for half a century and more.”

(Pictured: Portrait of Irish author William Carleton (1794-1869) by John Slattery (fl. 1850s))