Engineer, of Dublin. John Griffith was born on 5 October 1848 in Holyhead, Anglesey, where his father, William Griffith, was a Congregationalist minister. Musing as an old man on the influence of environment in determing his career, Griffith recalled how a near neighbour in Holyhead, William Provis, resident engineer on the Conway and Menai Suspension Bridge, 'was the ideal gentleman of my childhood' and how the construction of the National Harbour of Refuge at Holyhead, which began in the year of his birth, fascinated him. He left Holyhead when he was thirteen and attended Dr Biggs's school in Devizes, Wiltshire, and the Fulneck School, Leeds. He then entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained the Licence in Civil Engineering in 1868. After serving his pupilage with BINDON BLOOD STONEY , chief engineer to the Dublin Port and Docks Board, he spent one year, from 1870 to 1871 as an assistant county surveyor for Co. Antrim under ALEXANDER TATE . In 1871 he returned to Dublin to work for the Port and Docks Board as second assistant engineer under Stoney, whom he succeeded as chief engineer in 1899. He retired in December 1912 after forty-two years in the Board's employment. During his service he had been in open disagreement with the Board's financial policy; after he was elected to the Board as traders' representative in January 1915 this disagreement developed into open conflict which culminated in his resignation in July 1916.
While he was still working for the Port and Docks Board, Griffith acted as a member of the Royal Commission on Canals and Waterways, 1906-1911, and of the Viceregal Commissions on a Bridge over the Suir at Waterford, and the Shannon at Portumna. He was also advising engineer to the Government on Wicklow harbour and foreshore works and on Arklow harbour. In 1911 he received a knighthood. After his retirement from the Board, he continued to lead an active public life as well as running a private engineering practice with his sons from Rathmines Castle, formerly the home of his father-in-law. He was elected a commissioner of Irish Lights in 1913, was a member and chairman of the Irish Peat Inquiry Committee, 1917-20, and a member and chairman of the Water Power Resource of Ireland Sub-Committee, 1918-20. In 1919 he was elected president of the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, the first practising engineer resident in Ireland to hold the position. In 1922 he became vice-president of the Royal Dublin Society, and in the same year he was elected a senator of the Irish Free State legislature. He remained a senator until 1936, when was awarded the honorary freedom of the city of Dublin. He died on 21 October 1938, a little over two weeks after his ninetieth birthday.
Griffith retained into old age a visionary belief in Ireland's development potential and faith in the capacity of engineering to improve the lot of mankind generally and Ireland in particular. 'We need only consider what has been done by our profession in the face of all the turmoil and distress which infest our land,' he observed in his presidential address to the Institution of Civil Engineers, in 1919, 'to come to the conclusion that under favourable conditions Ireland would be one of the most prosperous agricultural and industrial countries in the world.' In the same address he touched upon some of the schemes which were dear to his heart: the exploitation of peat and water-power as energy resources, and the development of a national western harbour in Galway Bay. 'I may be told that I am an old man who dreams dreams,' he concluded. 'I like to tell these dreams to you young men, to lead you on to visions which are your heritage - visions of progress and reconstruction - visions of the body corporate, formed of its various members, capitalist, management, and labour working together for the building up of the edifice of a happy and contented people - visions of the new heaven and the new earth, wherein dwell justice, honesty, virtue, and goodness.'
Griffith married in 1871 Anna Benigna Fridlezius Purser (1837-1912), daughter of John Tertius Purser (1809-1893), a partner in Guinness's brewery, who was a friend of his father. He was given the second name Purser on account of this friendship, but does not seem to have used it regularly until after his marriage. John and Anna had two sons, JOHN WILLIAM GRIFFITH and FREDERIC PURSER GRIFFITH , and a daughter, Alice.
ICEI: elected member, 1871; council member, 1876,1885,1889-1938; vice-president, 1886; president 1887; represented Institute at International Congress of Engineers, Chicago, 1893.
Inst.CE: elected associate, 4 Dec 1877; transferred to member, ?; representative of Ireland on council 'for…many years'; delivers James Forrest lecture, 24 Oct 1916; president, 1919.
Addresses: Home: Booterstown Avenue, Blackrock, 1871; 54 Booterstown Avenue, 1874; 33 Belgrave Square West, Rathmines, 1875; Greenane, Temple Road, Rathmines, <=1883->=1903; Rathmines Castle, Rathmines, <=1903 until death.
All information in this entry not otherwise accounted for is from the entries on Griffith in E. Macdowel Cosgrave, ed., Dublin and County Dublin in the Twentieth Century (1908), 257, and Who was Who 1920-1940, 559, and from Griffith's 'Engineering Reminiscences' in TICEI 62 (1935-36), 265-279. There are photographs of Griffith in Cosgrave,loc. cit., IB 54, 21 Dec 1912, 713; Min.Proc.Inst.CE 209 (1919-20), frontispiece; IB 64, 30 Dec 1922 (which appears again in IB 75, 8 Apr 1933, 284).
R.C. Cox, compiler, Trinity College School of Engineering: 'Graduates' in Engineering 1843-1992 (1993), unpaginated.
IB 54, 21 Dec 1912, 714.
H.A. Gilligan, A History of the Port of Dublin (1988), 151.
His appointment is noted in IB 48, 10 Mar 1906, 173.
For his advocacy of water power see see IB 63, 17 Dec 1921, 797, and IB 64, 28 Jan 1922, 61.
Min.Proc.Inst.CE 209 (1919-20), 1; Griffith's views on the registration of engineers expressed in his presidential address are the subject of editorial comment in Building News 117, 14 Nov 1919, 395.
His ninetieth birthday was marked in IB 80, 15 Oct 1938, 854, with an article entitled 'A maker of modern Dublin: Seventy Years of Engineering Achievement'; in the next issue of 29 Oct 1938 (p.898) his death was reported.
Min.Proc.Inst.CE 209 (1919-20), 3-29.
Information on the Griffith family from John O'Grady, The Life and Work of Sarah Purser (1996), 147,260,261,265,271.
From TICEI lists of members and officers and Jones's transcripts therefrom.
IB 35, 15 Jun 1893, 144.
Min.Proc.Inst.CE 209 (1919-20), 3.
Min.Proc.Inst.CE 51 (1877-78), 135.
IB 61, 8 Nov 1919, 144.
From Thom's and Post Office Directories and TICEI lists of members unless otherwise stated.
ICEI admissions applications, I, 108.