Building contractor and railway entrepreneur. William Dargan, a farmer's son, was born in Co. Carlow on 28 February 1799 and went to school in Graiguecullen. After being placed in a surveyor's office, he worked in Britain on the construction of the Holyhead road under Thomas Telford and on the Liverpool Docks. On returning to Ireland, he undertook various contracts, including the road from Dublin to Howth, the road from Dublin to Blessington and the railway from Dublin to Kingstown (1831-4). He was engineer to the Limerick Navigation Company in 1833, and in the North he undertook the construction of the Ulster Canal between Lough Erne and Belfast. Further railway developments followed, most notably the Great Southern and Western and the Midland and Great Western Railways.
Dargan became one of the largest railway projectors in Ireland. Not only was he involved in the laying out and construction of most of the railways in the country, but he contributed personally towards the cost of doing so, at a time when funds for railway projects were very difficult to raise. He believed in good wages and conditions for his workers, 'so that it may be said', writes his obituarist in The Builder, 'that he did more to elevate the character of the labourer of his country than perhaps any individual of his time.'
In 1853 Dargan promoted the Dublin Great Industrial Exhibition, erecting the exhibition hall at his own expense. The enterprise, to which he contributed nearly £100,000, involved him in an eventual loss of £20,000. His portrait appears on two medals cast to commemorate the exhibition. His munificence was commemorated in a more substantial form at the close of the exhibition by the establishment of the Dargan Fund. The sum of £5,758.5s. was raised from subscribers, of which £5000 went towards the erection of the National Gallery of Ireland, and the balance was spent on a portrait of Dargan for the gallery by Catterson Smith and a bronze statue of him by Thomas Farrell, which was erected in front of the gallery and unveiled on 30 January 1864. Dargan refused Queen Victoria's offer of a baronetcy as a reward for his efforts.
From about 1854 onwards Dargan was engaged in developing Bray, Co. Wicklow, into a marine resort, an activity which sprang from his involvement in the Dublin, Wicklow & Wexford Railway Co. He owned considerable property in Bray, including the Marine Hotel. A flax cultivation project and the establishment of flax mills at Chapelizod did not prosper.
Dargan was seriously injured by a fall from his horse in 1866. This accident and the embarrassment of his business affairs brought about a decline in health, which was, according to the obituary in The Builder, 'aggravated by a personal failing'. He sold his house at Mount Anville to the Sacred Heart nuns and moved to Fitzwilliam Square. He died of malignant liver disease on 7 February 1867 and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His English wife, Jane, daughter of Thomas Arkinstall of Adbaston, Staffordhire, whom he married in 1828 while he was working in Britain, survived him. The couple had no children.
Addresses Work: 34 Anglesea Street, 1835-39; 31 Abbey Street Upper, & Belfast, 1847; 74 Harcourt Street, 1853-57; 62 William Street South, 1863.
Home: The Tower, Mount Anville, 1853-1865; also Darganvelle, Killarney, Bray, 1863; 2 Fitzwilliam Square, 1865 until death.
All information in this entry not otherwise accounted for is from the obituaries of Dargan in IB 9, 15 Feb 1867, 47, and B 25, 16 Feb 1867, 117, and from the entry by Fergus Mulligan in DIB, which gives a much fuller account of his life. A memoir by F.C. Wallace Healey, reprinted from the Irish Manufacturers' Journal was published in 1882.
Mulligan, loc. cit., above; according to B 10, 6 Nov 1852, 710, he was educated at Carlow College.
Irish Board of Works First Report (1833), 6.
DB 6, 1 Feb 1864, 17; B 22, 6 Feb 1864, 101; the Gallery also owns a portrait bust of Dargan by John Edward Jones.
B 19, 20 Jul 1861, 503; the article states that Dargan started to develop Bray in 1856, but he was already at work two years earlier, see WORKS.
J. Sheeehy, 'Railway architecture - its heyday', Journal of the Irish Railway Records Society 12 (Oct 1975), 131.
This was sold by the Landed Estates Court in 1869, see IB 11, 15 Jun 1869, ?.
From Wilson's Dublin Directory, the Post Office Dublin Directory Pettigrew & Oulton's Dublin Almanac, and Thom's Directory, and Thom's Directory.