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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 Painter Nathaniel Hone the Younger

nathaniel-hone-the-youngerNathaniel Hone the Younger, Irish painter and great-grand-nephew of painter Nathaniel Hone the Elder, is born in Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin on October 26, 1831. He is the son of Brindley Hone, a merchant and director of the Midland Great Western Railway.

Though a member of a very artistic family, Hone’s initial training is as an engineer at Trinity College Dublin followed by a brief period of work for the Irish Railway before going to Paris in 1853 to study painting. He first studies under Adolphe Yvon, the French military painter, and later Thomas Couture, who is one of the earliest exponents of realism and from whom he learns principles which influence his work throughout his career.

Most of Hone’s later paintings are landscapes, very often enlivened with animals and occasionally with figures. In France he is influenced by the painter Gustav Courbet who is taking a new and quite revolutionary realistic approach. His closest painting tips are, however, from another French impressionist, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. He becomes a close friend of one of Corot’s followers at the Barbizon school of landscape painting. At Barbizon he learns to appreciate colour, texture and tone in the landscape and applies it in strong and confident brushworks to the painting of Irish subjects on his return. In Paris he also works closely with artist Édouard Brandon, also a follower of Corot.

Hone’s paintings which are completed in France have many similarities to those that he completes at his country farm in County Dublin, but the finish is perhaps more polished and professional in the later Irish works.

From 1876, except for four years, Hone exhibits at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). He is elected a full member in 1880 and in 1894 becomes Professor of Painting. His exhibition with John Butler Yeats in 1901 is one of the turning points for the history of Irish art as it is their paintings which convince Sir Hugh Lane that Dublin should have a gallery of modern art.

Nathaniel Hone dies in Dublin on October 14, 1917. After his death his widow bequeaths the contents of his studio to the National Gallery of Ireland. He rarely dates his work so it is difficult to establish chronology. The similarity of many of his motifs and subjects often make it difficult to tell whether a view is Irish or French. Equally it is difficult to chart his developments on stylistic grounds alone.

(Pictured: Nathaniel Hone, the younger, self-portrait as an old man)