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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 Lawyer & Politician Philip Tisdall

philip-tisdallPhilip Tisdall, lawyer and politician who is a leading figure in the Irish Government for many years, is born on March 1, 1703, in County Louth.

Tisdall is the son of Richard Tisdall, who is MP for Dundalk in 1703–1713 and for Louth in 1717–1727, by his wife Marian Boyle, daughter of Richard Boyle, MP, a cousin of the Earl of Cork. His father is also Registrar of the Court of Chancery.

Tisdall is educated at Thomas Sheridan‘s school in Dublin, and at the University of Dublin, where he graduates Bachelor of Arts in 1722. He enters Middle Temple in 1723 and is called to the Irish Bar in 1733.

In 1736 he marries Mary Singleton, daughter of the Rev. Rowland Singleton and Elizabeth Graham, and niece and co-heiress of Henry Singleton, Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, a marriage which brings him both wealth and influence. He quickly becomes one of the leaders of the Bar, partly through his legal ability and partly through his marriage into the wealthy and influential Singleton family. He is made a Bencher of the King’s Inns in 1742.

He sits in the Irish House of Commons as MP for Dublin University from 1739 to 1776 and then for the city of Armagh from 1776 until his death. He is elected as member for Armagh in 1768, but chooses to continue sitting for the University.

In 1742 Tisdall is appointed Third Serjeant, then Solicitor-General in 1751 and Attorney-General in 1760. He is also appointed judge of the Prerogative Court of Ireland, an office he holds from 1745 until his death. In 1763 he becomes Principal Secretary of State, and on February 28, 1764 he is appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland. For almost 20 years he is a crucial figure in the Irish Government, which relies on him on to manage the Irish House of Commons, a task which he performs with great skill and tact. Tisdall is almost all-powerful until 1767, when George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend, arrives as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Townshend has a mandate to restore the direct power of the Crown over Irish affairs and to bypass the Irish managers like Tisdall. To his credit, Townshend recognises that Tisdall’s support is still an asset to the Government, and makes great efforts to conciliate him. Townshend lobbies hard for Tisdall to be appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland, but comes up against the inflexible British reluctance, then and for many years after, to appoint an Irishman to this crucial office. He retains the confidence of successive Lords Lieutenants. In 1777, despite his age and failing health, he is asked to resume his role as Government leader in the House of Commons. He agrees, but dies at Spa, Belgium on September 11 of the same year.

Tisdall is strikingly dark in complexion, hence his nicknames “Black Phil” and “Philip the Moor,” and is described as “grave in manner and sardonic in temper.” Despite his somewhat forbidding appearance, he is a hospitable character, who is noted for entertaining lavishly, even when he is well into his seventies, both at his town house in South Leinster Street, and his country house at Stillorgan. John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, who succeeds him as Attorney General, writes that Tisdall would have lived longer if he had adopted a more sedate lifestyle in his later years.