DUIGENAN, Patrick (?1737-1816), of Lilliput Lodge, Sandymount, Dublin.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1801 - 11 Apr. 1816

Family and Education

b. ?1737, 1st s. of Hugh Duigenan of Derry and Dublin. educ. Trinity, Dublin 19 June 1753, aged 16, scholar 1756, BA 1757, MA 1761, fellow 1761, LLB 1763, LLD 1765; regius professor of feudal and English laws 1776; M. Temple 1765, called [I] 1767. m. (1) c.1782, Angelina (d. 7 Nov. 1799), da. of Thomas Berry of Eglish Castle, King’s Co., s.p.; (2) 2 Oct 1807, Hester Watson, wid. of George Heppenstall, solicitor to the Dublin police, of Sandymount, s.p.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1791-1800.

KC [I] 1784, bencher, King’s Inn 1784; vicar-gen. consistorial ct. [I] 1784, and of dioceses of Armagh, Meath and Elphin; King’s adv.-gen. ct. of Admiralty [I] 1790; judge of PCC [I] 1795; PC [I] May 1808; commr. of Union compensation 1801, of public records 1810.

Grand sec. Orange Order 1801.


At the time of the Union, Dr Duigenan was described as ‘a most interesting subject to the speculative and philosophical reader’. From an obscure Catholic background he had risen to a chair at Trinity College and he became the most virulent opponent of Catholic relief in Parliament, although his first wife was a Catholic, who harboured a resident priest while her husband uncovered the ‘evil designs’ of her church. He was, moreover, a very odd man, who insisted on wearing a bob wig and long, gaudy stockings in defiance of the change of fashion.1

Duigenan’s parents had intended him for the priesthood, but he was probably tutored by a protestant cleric at a school in Dublin. He was an excellent scholar at Trinity College, but in 1777 marred his academic career by a resolute and abusive attack on the Provost. He turned to the law instead and became an eminent civilian. By 1791 his anti-Catholic opinions had already attracted sufficient notice for him to be returned for one of the ‘Bishop’s boroughs’ to the Irish parliament, and in 1797 he was returned for the Irish primate’s borough of Armagh. He then published an attack on Grattan which was damaging, and characterized by a residual coarseness, and other pamphlets followed it. His support of government in the Irish parliament was tempered only by his hatred of concessions to the Catholics: he opposed the relief bill of 1793 and on the eve of the Union was critical of Lord Cornwallis’s moderate and lenient line towards them. Consequently, Cornwallis was not averse to the proposal that Duigenan, a placeholder, should vacate Armagh in favour of Isaac Corry, but George III objected to the substitution of a pro-Catholic for ‘a strong friend of the established church’. The primate too preferred to retain Duigenan in his seat.2

At Westminster Duigenan reserved his energies almost solely for the Catholic question, speaking in nearly every debate on it: on 14 May 1805 he spoke for two hours in reply to Fox. His oratory evoked strong reactions both for its content and style. Curran likened it to ‘the unrolling of a mummy—nothing but old bones and rotten rags’. Certainly Duigenan went further than others in imputing sinister designs to the Catholic church. He argued that no Catholic could be a loyal citizen of a protestant state and his proofs, for which he delved in papal pronouncements centuries old, were embalmed in books which he dumped by his seat in the House. His speeches were in 1829 characterized by Lord Binning as notable examples of the ‘No Popery’ cry of a bygone age.3 Their style was ponderous and, apart from their length and repetitiveness, only Duigenan’s affected inability to pronounce any Catholic surname but his own was noteworthy. In 1810 he published a pamphlet against the Catholic demands.

On other matters he had less to say and was classed a supporter of government who was acting according to the Irish primate’s wishes. He boasted of attending regularly, to the neglect of his legal duties in Ireland. When in 1805 he was proposed as a commissioner for the Dublin paving board, Lord Redesdale complained, 17 June, that he was ‘so much in England that he very much neglects the business of his court’, as well as being ‘Mr Foster’s man’.4 The Grenville ministry thought him ‘not likely to vote against government, although his language out of Parliament may import the contrary’: indeed his private view in February 1806 was that the ministry was dominated by Fox ‘and his party of deists and republicans’ and that the crown and protestant constitution would go under, the country being ‘on the very brink of the precipice of republican anarchy’.5 He came out into the open against them after they were dismissed, 9 Apr. 1807. In the previous April Lord Grenville had induced Duigenan to drop a bill he had drafted to enforce clerical residence in Ireland which he had ready for over a year.6 Under such circumstances he could be very obstinate: as when, having prepared an anti-Catholic speech to be delivered when Castlereagh introduced a measure for the relief of the Catholic clergy, despite being informed en route that it was postponed, he ‘forced the same horse to carry him in seven days from Holyhead to London’ to make use of his speech in the debate on the Maynooth College grant. Arriving a day late, he was with the greatest difficulty induced not to smuggle the speech into the second reading of Wickham’s Irish revenue officers disqualification bill.7

Duigenan’s appointment as a privy councillor was agreed to by the King in May 1808 after Lord Hawkesbury had prevailed on a reluctant Irish administration to meet his wishes, expressed in May 1807. It did not pass without incident. On 6 May Duigenan’s support for the reduction of the Maynooth College grant proposed by government was so characteristically anti-Catholic as to cast doubt on the sincerity of the government’s economic justification of it. On 11 May his appointment was exposed to censure on Foster Barham’s motion and defended for government only by Sir Arthur Wellesley, who stated that Duigenan’s services as a civilian were needed. The motion was defeated by 174 votes to 107, but got the government into ‘a very bad scrape’, Canning, who was ignorant of the intended appointment, being particularly vindicative on the occasion and calling for a revocation of it. The bishop of Meath, on the other hand, protested that Duigenan had been ‘sacrificed to Popish resentments’. He was ‘muzzled’ for the Catholic debate on 25 May 1808 and, to drown the noise, other Irish privy councillors were appointed whose claims had previously been resisted.8

Following the Catholic debates of 1812 it was suggested to the chief secretary, Peel, by the Irish attorney-general that Duigenan, whose speeches were found de trop, might be eased into retirement to make way for a new protestant champion; but Peel thought the veteran should

consult his own inclinations exclusively in retiring from the field. I would not only let him consult them, but I would really wish that he might feel an impression that the government was sensible, I had almost said of his services, and that they would lend him a hand in buckling on his cumbrous armour for another encounter.9

Duigenan resumed his fulminations against the Catholics, the last taking place a week before he was removed from the parliamentary arena by a stroke. He died 11 Apr. 1816. When his widow presented herself to government as ‘an object of distress’, the viceroy refused to believe it: ‘the fact is that Dr Duigenan impoverished himself in order to enrich her’.10

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. H. Macdougal, Sketches of Irish Political Character (1799), 188-93; Life of Grattan, iv. 96-99, but cf. Gent. Mag. (1817), i. 604; C. Maxwell, Hist. Trinity Coll. 125-8.
  • 2. Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 62; Castlereagh Corresp. ii. 52; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2329, 2332-3, 2338; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 394.
  • 3. Parl. Deb. iv. 865; n.s. xiii. 80. Colchester, ii. 2.
  • 4. Add. 31230, ff. 22, 49.
  • 5. Spencer mss, Irish list. May 1806; Normanton mss, Duigenan to Normanton.
  • 6. HMC Fortescue, viii. 82, 94.
  • 7. Add. 35714, f. 24; 35722, f. 123.
  • 8. Wellington mss, Hawkesbury to Wellesley, 15 May, reply 18 May 1807, Richmond to Wellesley, 16 May 1808; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 419, 440; Geo. III Corresp. v. 3657; NLI, Richmond mss 59/147, 72/1493.
  • 9. Add. 40211, f. 1; 40280, f. 46; Parker, Peel, i. 45.
  • 10. Add. 40192, f. 72.