05 January 2019

Why are the brothers
William and Thomas Dongan
the forgotten Earls of Limerick?

The site of Dungan’s Castle in Dalkey … once a family home of earlier Earls of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The presence of the Earls of Limerick continues on the streets of Limerick long after the Pery family has moved on to new homes in England. The names of streets and squares recall their role in developing Newtown Pery as an elegant new area in Limerick, including Pery Square and Pery Street, Mallow Street, Glentworth Street, Henry Street, Hartstonge Street. Why, even the pew once reserved for the Earls of Limerick still survives at the west end of Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

The title of Earl of Limerick was created for the Pery family in 1803 when Edmund Henry Pery (1758-1844), who had already inherited the title of Baron Glentworth, made Earl of Limerick.

The title survives, and the present holder is the seventh earl. But, as I walked around the streets of Dalkey earlier this week, on New Year’s Day, and searched for the sites of the seven mediaeval castles of Dalkey, I was surprised to realise that over a century earlier the title Earl of Limerick was once held by the Dongan or Dungan family, who had a family home in Dungan’s Castle, on the corner of Castle Street and Hyde Road, in Dalkey, and also owned Archbold’s Castle on Castle Street, Dalkey, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

John Dungan, second remembrancer of the exchequer, held Archbold’s Castle in Dalkey in 1585. After the Cromwellian confiscations, the castle was leased to James Kennan. The Dungan family recovered Archbold’s Castle at the Caroline Restoration, only to lose once again at the Williamite confiscations.

Archbold’s Castle is still standing but is not open to the public (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

By the early 17th century, the Dongan family also owned Castletown, near Celbridge, Co Kildare, with an estate of about 21,000 acres.

The Dungan Baronetcy, of Castletown in the County of Kildare, was created in the Baronetage of Ireland in 1623 for Sir Walter Dungan or Dongan. Walter and his wife, Jane (Rochfort) were the parents of eight sons and five daughters, and he died on 21 December 1626, the title passed to his eldest son, Sir John Dongan, second baronet, who was MP for Newcastle, Co Kildare.

This Sir John Dongan married Mary Talbot of Carton, sister of Peter Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin, and Richard Talbot, the Jacobite Duke of Tyrconnell. They were the parents of five sons – William, Walter, Robert, Michael and Thomas – and three daughters, Alice, Margaret and Bridget.

When Sir John died in 1650, the title of baronet passed to his eldest son, Sir Walter Dongan, as third baronet. He died in 1686, and the title passed to his brother Sir William Dongan, 4th Baronet. That year, Sir William Dongan also became the first person to receive the title of Earl of Limerick, along with the Viscount Dungan of Clane, Co Kildare, in the Peerage of Ireland.

The coat-of-arms of William Dongan and Thomas Dongan as Earls of Limerick

At the time, peerage titles normally descended in the direct male line, from father to son. William’s son, Walter Dongan, was the obvious heir, and as heir he used the courtesy title of Lord Dungan. But the grant of titles specified that if William’s male line of descent died out, the titles should pass to his brothers Robert, Michael and Thomas, and ‘the heirs male of their bodies.’

It was an unusual concession for any peerage titles, and perhaps was designed by James II to ensure that the peerage titles would pass to any later baronets, and that they would, perhaps, eventually honour William’s youngest brother, Thomas Dongan (1634-1715), then Governor of New York (1683-1688).

William Dongan, 1st Earl of Limerick, and his son Colonel Walter Dongan, Lord Dungan, fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Walter was killed in battle, and his body was carried from the battlefield to the family mansion at Castletown and then buried in the parish church in Celbridge.

When William Dongan died in 1698, an inquisition found that he owned two castles, six messuages and gardens, seven acres of arable land together with meadow and pasture, totalling 74 acres, in Dalkey.

it might have been expected that his titles would die out because of his active Jacobite sympathies. But the government was deeply indebted to his brother Thomas Dongan for his work in New York and the colonies in North America. And so it was that Thomas Dongan, by then living in relative poverty, was allowed to succeed as the 2nd Earl of Limerick in 1698.

Thomas Dongan (1634-1715), 2nd Earl of Limerick, was Governor of the Province of New York

Thomas Dongan (1634-1715), 2nd Earl of Limerick, was a member of the Irish Parliament, a Royalist officer during the English Civil War, and Governor of the Province of New York. He is still remembered for having called the first representative legislature in New York, and for granting New York its first Charter of Liberties.

Thomas was born in 1634, the youngest son of Sir John Dongan MP and his wife Mary Talbot. After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, he went into exile in France, and later became a colonel in the French army in 1674.

When the Treaty of Nijmegen brought an end to the French-Dutch War in 1678, Dongan returned to England. The king’s brother, James, Duke of York, later King James II, arranged for him to receive an army commission and income. That year Thomas Dongan was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Tangiers, which had been granted to England as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza, and he was part of the Tangier Garrison that defended the settlement.

In September 1682, the Duke of York, as Lord Proprietor of the Province of New York, appointed Dongan as provincial governor (1683-1688) to replace Edmund Andros and granted him an estate on Staten Island. The estate eventually became the town of Castleton. Later, another section of the island was named Dongan Hills in his honour.

Thomas Dongan addresses the first-ever representative assembly in New York in 1683

At the time of his appointment, New York was bankrupt and in a state of rebellion. On 14 October 1683, Dongan convened the first-ever representative assembly in New York at Fort James – like New York, Fort James was named after Dongan’s patron, the Duke of York, later James II.

The New York General Assembly passed an act entitled ‘A Charter of Liberties.’ It decreed that the supreme legislative power under the Duke of York shall reside in a governor, council, and the people convened in general assembly. It conferred on the members of the assembly rights and privileges making them a body coequal to and independent of the British Parliament. It established town, county, and general courts of justice. It solemnly proclaimed the right of religious liberty. And it passed acts guaranteeing many liberties, including taxes being levied only by the people met in general assembly, the right of suffrage, and the prohibition of martial law or quartering soldiers without the consent of the inhabitants.

As Governor of New York, Dongan granted Albany a municipal charter on 22 July 1686 that was almost identical to the charter granted to New York City. The charter incorporated the city of Albany, establishing a separate municipal entity in the midst of the Van Rensselaer Manor.

Dongan also delineated the boundary lines of New York, settling disputes with Connecticut to the east, French Canada and the Iroquois to the north, and Pennsylvania to the South, marking out the present limits of New York State.

Dongan executed land grants establishing several towns throughout New York State including the eastern Long Island communities of East Hampton and Southampton. These grants, called the Dongan Patents, set up Town Trustees as the governing bodies with a mission of managing common land for common good.

The Dongan Patents still hold force of law and have been upheld by the US Supreme Court, with the Trustees – rather than town boards, city councils or even the State Legislature – still managing much of the common land in the state.

Dongan also established a college in New York City under the direction of three Jesuit priests, Harvey (his own private chaplain), Harrison, and Gage.

But the Assembly of New York was dissolved in 1687 by King James II, who later consolidated the colonial governments of New York, New Jersey and the United Colonies of New England into the Dominion of New England. Edmund Andros, was reappointed Governor-General, and Dongan transferred his office back to Andros on 11 August 1688.

Dongan turned down the offer of the command of a regiment with the rank of major-general, and instead retired to his estate on Staten Island, New York. But he was obliged to flee for safety during a religious persecution in 1689, and he returned to England in 1691.

When William Dongan, Earl of Limerick, died in 1698 without a surviving male son, his titles passed to his only surviving brother, Thomas Dongan, as 2nd Earl of Limerick. Thomas was also granted a portion of his brother’s forfeited estates under the terms of a special Act of Parliament. In 1709, Lord Limerick sold his 2,300-acre property at Celbridge to William Conolly.

Dongan lived in London for the last years of his life and he died poor and childless on 14 December 1715, without any direct male heirs. In his will, dated 1713, he asked to be buried at a cost of no more than £100. He was buried in Old Saint Pancras churchyard in London. He left the rest of his estate to his niece, wife of Colonel Nugent, afterwards Marshal of France.

As I wondered whether the Pery family were ever aware of the earlier Earls of Limerick in the Dongan family, I realised I too had overlooked the role of Thomas Dongan, 2nd Earl of Limerick, as Lieutenant-Governor of Tangier in 1678. When I visited Tangier two months ago, I had noted that three Irish men had been Governors of Tangier: Colonel Sir John FitzGerald from Co Limerick (1664-1665); William O’Brien, 2nd Earl of Inchiquin (1675-1680); and Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory (1680). Lord Inchiquin was Governor of the small English outpost on the Moroccan coast of North Africa when Dongan was sent there as his deputy.

This week, as I walked through Limerick, I wondered whether the Dongans are remembered anywhere in the city as Earls of Limerick. They are not forgotten in Dalkey today. Perhaps they were forgotten in Celbridge until 1995, when a plaque in honour of Thomas Dongan was unveiled at the Tea Lane Graveyard by the then American Ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy-Smith.

By the early 17th century, the Dongan family also owned the Castletown estate near Celbridge, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Gerry said...

Thank you for this information Patrick. I have recently discovered the wonderful Tea Lane Graveyard and seen the Trojan work carried out here by the local community.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the Dungan info. I am a Dungan descendant, 15th generation and recently returned from Celbridge. What a wealth of information I was able to gather!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! I also am part of the Dungan lineage, with [so far as my research has taken me] a my direct descendants going back to William Dungan, Royal Perfumer to the King. Your information will help me trace back even further!

Anonymous said...

I found out in 2021 I am also part of the Dungan family lineage. It’s so interesting to read the history. I now have a new place to visit!