Dargan, William (DNB00)

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DARGAN, WILLIAM (1799–1867), Irish railway projector, the son of a farmer, was born in the county of Carlow on 28 Feb. 1799, and having received an English education was placed in a surveyor's office. The first important employment he obtained was under Thomas Telford in constructing the Holyhead road in 1820; when that work was finished he returned to Ireland and took small contracts on his own account, the most important of which was the road from Dublin to Howth. In 1831 he became the contractor for the construction of the railway from Dublin to Kingstown, the first line made in Ireland. He next constructed 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 followed—the Dublin and Drogheda railway, the Great Southern and Western and the Midland Great Western lines. By 1853 he had constructed over six hundred miles of railway, and he had then contracts for two hundred more. He paid the highest wages with the greatest punctuality, and his credit was unbounded. At one time he was the largest railway projector in Ireland and one of its greatest capitalists. He made arrangements in 1853 for the Dublin exhibition. He began by placing 30,000l. in the hands of the committees, and before it was opened, 12 May 1853, his advances reached nearly 100,000l., of which he ultimately lost 20,000l. At the close of the exhibition the Irish National Gallery on Leinster Lawn, as a monument to Dargan, was erected, with a fine bronze statue of himself in front, looking out upon Merrion Square. The queen, who had visited Mr. and Mrs. Dargan at their residence, Dargan Villa, Mount Annville, on 29 Aug. 1853 (Illust. London News, 10 Sept. 1853, p. 205), offered him a baronetcy, but this he declined. Wishing to encourage the growth of flax, he then took a tract of land which he devoted to its culture, but owing to some mismanagement the enterprise entailed a heavy loss. He also became a manufacturer, and set some mills working in the neighbourhood of Dublin, but that business did not prosper. Latterly he devoted himself chiefly to the working and extension of the Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford railway, of which he was chairman. In 1866 he was seriously injured by a fall from his horse. While he was incapacitated for work, his affairs became disordered and he stopped payment, though it was believed that his assets would pay more than twenty shillings in the pound. His embarrassments, however, affected his health and spirits. He died at 2 Fitzwilliam Square East, Dublin, on 7 Feb. 1867, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. His widow, Jane, was granted a civil list pension of 100l. on 18 June 1870.

[Times, 8 Feb. 1867, p. 12; Gent. Mag. March 1867, pp. 388–9; Illustrated London News, 14 May 1853, p. 390; Sproule's Irish Industrial Exhibition (1854), pp. ix–xiv, portrait; Irish Tourists' Illustrated Handbook (1853), pp. 12, 41, 148, portrait.]

G. C. B.