Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barrington, Jonah

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BARRINGTON, Sir JONAH (1760–1834), judge in the court of admiralty in Ireland, was of a good protestant family of the Pale, and was the fourth of the sixteen children of John Barrington, Esq., of Knapton, near Abbeyleix, Queen's County. The surroundings of his childhood, as he describes them, would, in their mixture of extravagance and discomfort, have done no discredit to Castle Rackrent. Barrington was sent to Trinity College, Dublin, and in course of time was called to the bar. He confesses, without any appearance of shame, that having been at first intended for the army he received an offer of an ensign's commission from General Hunt Walsh; but having ascertained that the regiment was likely to be ordered into immediate service in America, he declined the offer, requesting the general to bestow the favour upon ‘some hardier soldier.’ In the profession which he finally chose his abilities, his position, and his social qualifications contributed as much as legal knowledge to secure his rapid rise; in 1793 he took silk, and became a judge in admiralty in 1798. In 1792 he was returned to the Irish House of Commons as member for Tuam, but lost his seat in 1798; was again returned in 1799 as member for Bannagher, and sat till the dissolution of the Irish parliament consequent upon the Act of Union in 1800.

Of that measure Barrington was a steady opponent. He relates that, when early in 1799 the scheme was mooted by the English government, he received from Lord Clare an offer of the solicitor-generalship, on condition that he would give his support to such a measure. This he peremptorily refused to do; and by the refusal he not only put a stop to his professional advancement, but deprived himself of a lucrative sinecure which he then held. Nevertheless, it has been generally believed that he was made the instrument for buying over to the government side some politicians of a character not so professedly incorruptible. It is impossible to explain this inconsistency. In the course of a few years he became concerned in other transactions not less questionable. His extravagant habits had brought him considerably into debt. He himself humorously describes some of the more harmless shifts to which he was reduced to extricate himself from his difficulties. In 1805 he went so far as to appropriate some of the money which had been paid into his court; and he committed the same offence on at least two other occasions, in 1806 and 1810. These peculations were brought to light by a commission of inquiry into the Irish courts of justice in 1830; and in the same year Sir Jonah was, upon petition of both houses of parliament, deprived of his office. He thereupon left England, and never again returned. He died at Versailles on 8 April 1834.

His works were:

  1. ‘Personal Sketches of his own Time,’ two volumes, 1827; a third volume in 1832.
  2. ‘Historic Memoirs of Ireland,’ two volumes, 1832.
  3. ‘The Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation’ (chiefly an account of the passing of the Act of Union) (Paris, 1833).

The first of these, which consists of a series of humorous pictures of the Irish society of his days, is the only book by which Barrington's name is now remembered.

[Personal Sketches, third edition, with Memoir by Dr. Townsend Young, where, however, the date of Barrington's death is incorrectly given; cf. Annual Register, 1834.]

C. F. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.16
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
291 i 9 f.e. Barrington, Sir Jonah: for 1792 read 1790
7 f.e. for 1798 read 1797
6 f.e. for 1799 read 1798, and for Bannagher read Clogher
5-4 f.e. for the dissolution .. . . in 1800 read January 1800. He contested Dublin City unsuccessfully in 1802. He was knighted in May 1807.