W. James Doherty, Buncrana, Historian and Engineer, 1834-1898

W. James Doherty wrote ‘Inis-Owen and Tirconnell – being some account of Antiquities and Writer in the County of Donegal’ in 1895. Running to 609 pages, it contains wood engraved illustrations with information on Donegal bells, Cardinal Logue, Donegal poets, the cross of St. Boden, Seán Óg O’Dochartaigh, the Cathach, Isaac Butt, Sir George Ferguson Bowen of Bogay, Newtowncunningham, William Elder of Malin, Bernard Doherty, Josias Porter of Burt, Robert Patterson of Letterkenny and John Joseph Keane of Ballyshannon.

Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 – 1940

Engineering contractor. William Doherty, who was born in Buncrana in 1834, started his career by serving a four-year pupilage from 1852 to 1855 an assistant to JAMES BAYLISS on the Lough Swilly Reclamation Works, which were being carried out by the contractors McCormack & Brassey. In 1856 he worked on the surveying and laying out of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway and was contracting engineer for the Derry grain dock and wharf under D. & T. Stevenson. From the end of 1856 until 1858 he was contractor’s engineer on works at Birkenhead and Liverpool docks, under John B. Hartley, and from 1858 to 1862 at Hull Docks under Sir JOHN HAWKSHAW . He returned to Ireland in 1863 and set up in independent practice in Belfast, subsequently opening an office in Dublin, where he carried out several major works, including O’Connell Bridge, Grattan Bridge and Butt Bridge. A note in the Irish Builder of 15 July 1880, suggested that Doherty should receive a knighthood on the completion of Carlisle (O’Connell) Bridge: ‘The builder of the new Essex, Carlisle and Swivel Bridges is no mere contractor, for he has shown his capacity in originating methods of construction as well as carrying out the designs of others….For several years…Mr Doherty has been constantly engaged in works of magnitude and of great difficulty, and his practical skill and ready resources have never failed him in any one of his great undertakings. We therefore consider that such a man is entitled to credit…and honour, for his works will, for many a long year, reflect honour upon our city.'(1) The following month, on 17 August Doherty was entertained at a dinner in the Gresham Hotel and presented with an address ‘by a number of the leading citizens of Dublin’.(2)

Doherty was elected High Sheriff of the City of Dublin in 1893 and was nominated mayor the following year, an appointment which he declined on account of the poor state of his health. He died on 27 February 1898. A man of literary and antiquarian interests, he published various papers and two books on the antiquities of Tyrconnell and Innishowen.(3) He was an advocate of an improved educational system, and gave evidence before Sir Eardley Wilmot’s commission

Inst.CE: elected associate, 7 December 1875; reads paper, ‘Description of Cofferdams used at Dublin, Birkenhead and Hull’, 11 December 1877,(4) and contributes to correspondence and discussions on docks, harbours, embankments, &c.;(5) associate member, 1879.  ICEI: elected associate member, 18 March 1874;(6) council member, 1876;(7) elected member, 1890.(8)  RIA: member RSAI: member.(9)

Addresses:(10) Work: 76 Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin, and 121 Victoria Street, Belfast, 1874; 29 Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin, and 121 Victoria Street, Belfast, 1875; 29 Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin, and Belfast, 1883-1896
Home: 67 Wellington Road, Dublin, 1874; 52 Mount Street Lower, Dublin, 1875; Clonturk House, Drumcondra, 1883; St Mura’s, Co. Donegal, 1896.

All information in this entry not otherwise accounted for is from the records of the Institution of Civil Engineers, courtesy of Mrs Carol Morgan, and from the obituaries of Doherty in Min Proc ICE 135 (1898-99) Pt 1, 365 and IB 40, 1 Mar 1898, 38. There are some minor differences in Doherty’s account of his early career in his application for membership of the ICEI, see ICEI admissions applications, I, 141.

Thanks to Maura Harkin, Carndonagh, for the extract from the Dictionary of Irish Architects.


4 Replies to “W. James Doherty, Buncrana, Historian and Engineer, 1834-1898”

  1. Sean:

    Many thanks for the information on William James Doherty. His book is of such importance and although I had a copy once, it got burned in a fire. However, I can read it here, and that is some consolation: https://archive.org/details/inisowentirconne00doheiala.

    I look forward to seeing you the Colgan Heritage Weekend. It looks like it will be an interesting weekend.

    Regards, Aidan.

  2. Good to see a focus on this important Donegal historian – as even historians are quickly forgotten! – raymond blair

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