Famous People of Ireland.

William Dargan.

Go to famous Irish People

William Dargan.

(28th February 1799 - 7th February1867)

William Dargan was a native of County Carlow the son of a small tenant farmer, he was an engineer and is seen as the father of Irish railways. He was educated in England and was later employed as surveyor by Telford on Holyhead road in 1820 and was involved with George Stephenson in the Rocket project. After returning to Ireland he became the engineer responsible for the construction of Ireland's first railway, between Dublin and Dunlahoire. Throughout his life he constructed some 800 miles of track in Ireland and came to be known as 'The Father of Irish Railways'.

Dargan's first contract in Ireland was a mail coach road from Dublin to Howth harbour, next he constructed an embankment on the river Shannon, near Limerick. His next project was the Dublin to Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) railway the first in Ireland, the line opened on 17th December 1838. This was to be the first of many lines designed and built by Dargan all over Ireland, in all he was responsible for around 800 miles.

His talents were not confined to the railways, he was also responsible for the construction of the Ulster canal which connected Lough Neagh to Lough Erne, this was built around 1841 at a cost of £231,000, he is remembered in Belfast for his part in constructing part of the shipyard which was to become Harland and Wolff, it is said Queens Island named so after a visit from Queen Victoria was previously called Dargan's Island.

William Dargan's contribution to the Irish economy was considerable, it is estimated that between the years of 1845 - 50 he paid out some £4 million pounds in wages. He appears to have been a man who had the national interest at heart, he had seen the prosperity the linen industry had brought to Ulster and attempted to introduce flax growing to Cork. He built flax mills in Dublin and bought a large farm at Kildinan, outside Cork City where he experimented with flax growing, he offered to supply local farmers with flax seeds and buy the crops at current Belfast prices, few of the farmers took up his offer, fearing that flax would deplete the fertility of the soil. This venture proved to be a costly financial mistake.

Dargan was involved in many other engineering projects throughout Ireland, such as the cut made through Banbridge, County Down, in 1834 to make it easier for the mail coaches to reach the top of the town.

He was a member of the Royal Dublin Society and was largely responsible for organizing and funding the great exhibition held in 1853 which was opened by Queen Victoria, The Queen visited him at his home Mount Anville on 29 August 1853 where she offered him a knighthood, which he politely refused.

He lived for a time in Mount Anville House in Goatstown, County Dublin, he moved to Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin, this must have been before 1851, an advertisement for The Irish Sugar Beet Company in the Glasgow Herald 28 April 1851 listed his as a director and his address as Fitzwilliam Sq Dublin. (We are indebted to John Morris for the Glasgow Herald information)

He contributed £40,000 to the establishment of The National Gallery of Ireland at the peak of his success he is said to have been one of the richest men in Ireland.

He was a man loathe to delegate, preferring to run all aspects of the business personally. after suffering a serious fall from his horse preventing him from attending to his business which after a time began to decline, he died in his home Fitzwilliam Square Dublin on 7th February 1867.

He is interred at Glasnevin Cemetery County Dublin, his widow, Jane, was granted a civil list pension of £100. on 18 June 1870.

The award-winning cable-stay Luas bridge at Taney Junction was named “The William Dargan Bridge” on Monday July 19th by Fr. Daniel Dargan S.J. a direct descendant of William Dargan, in the presence of the Minister for Transport, Mr. Seamus Brennan T.D.

A plaque erected in Carlow station on 12th September 1993 is depicted above.

Read about William Dargan From A Compendium of Irish Biography, by Alfred Webb 1878.