seamus dubhghaill

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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Molly Malone Day

molly-malone-statueThe Dublin Millennium Commission proclaims in 1988 that June 13 is to be designated as “Molly Malone Day.”

Molly Malone is a popular song, set in Dublin, which has become the unofficial anthem of Dublin City. The song tells the fictional tale of a fishmonger who plies her trade on the streets of Dublin, but who dies of a fever at a young age. In the late 20th century a legend grows that there is a historical Molly, who lived in the 17th century. She is typically represented as a hawker by day and part-time prostitute by night. In contrast she has also been portrayed as one of the few chaste female street-hawkers of her day. However, there is no evidence that the song is based on a real woman of the 17th century or any other time for that matter. The name “Molly” originated as a familiar version of the names Mary and Margaret. While many such “Molly” Malones are born in Dublin over the centuries, no evidence connects any of them to the events in the song. Nevertheless, in 1988 the Dublin Millennium Commission endorses claims about a Mary Malone who died on June 13, 1699, and proclaims June 13 to be “Molly Malone Day.”

Artists who have recorded versions of Molly Malone include Heino, U2, The Saturdays, Danny Kaye, Pete Seeger, Frank Harte, Sinéad O’Connor, Johnny Logan, Ian McCulloch, Paul Harrington, and Damien Leith. However, the best-known version is recorded by The Dubliners.

Molly Malone is commemorated in a statue designed by Jeanne Rynhart and unveiled by then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Ben Briscoe during the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations. The statue is presented to the city by Jury’s Hotel Group to mark the Millennium. Originally placed at the bottom of Grafton Street in Dublin, the statue is known colloquially as “The Tart With The Cart,” “The Dish with the Fish,” and “The Trollop With The Scallops.” The statue portrays Molly as a busty young woman in seventeenth-century dress. Her low-cut dress and large breasts were justified on the grounds that as “women breastfed publicly in Molly’s time, breasts were popped out all over the place.”

The statue is later removed and placed in storage to make way for new tracks for Luas, Dublin’s tram/light rail system. On July 18, 2014, it is temporarily placed outside the Dublin Tourist Office on Suffolk Street. The statue is expected to be returned to its original location in late 2017.