William Dargan (1799–1867)

The civil engineer William Dargon is rightly regarded as the ‘father of Irish railways’. He was born in Co Laoise (then Queen’s County), near the town of Carlow, and as a young man enjoyed the patronage of the county’s influential member of parliament, Sir Henry Parnell (1776-1842), who chaired the Holyhead Road Commission. It was through Parnell that he came to work on the Holyhead Road in North Wales with Thomas Telford (1757-1834) between 1819 and 1824. He then undertook for Telford surveying work on the road between Raherty and Sutton in Co Dublin, and in 1831 was appointed engineer of the 10 km railway from Dublin to Dun Laoghaire (then Kingstown), sometimes reckoned to be the world’s first commuter railway. He subsequently built railways in Ireland extending over some 1300 km, including parts of the Dublin-Drogheda, Great Southern & Western and Midland & Great Western lines. He had a reputation for caring for the welfare of the navvies who built his lined, and insisted that contractors should pay them high wages. He lost money which he invested in the Dublin Exhibition of 1853. He was a member of the Royal Dublin Society, and one of the founders of the National Gallery of Ireland. A bridge in Belfast completed in 1995 linking the railways to the north with the line south towards the Irish Republic was named after him, and his bronze statue overlooks Merrion Square in Dublin.