Turtle Bunbury

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Above: Joshua Dawson, by an unknown artist. '
Courtesy Lady Moyola.
With thanks to Dr. Mary Clark, City Archivist,
Dublin City Library & Archive.


NB: This article was written with a degree of haste for the Irish Daily Mail, which published an abbreviated version in April 2015 to mark the tercentenary of the Mansion House. My understanding of the complex politics of Britain and Ireland in the time of Dawson’s life are still fledgling so please be sure to check my sources in the extensive footnotes and to conduct further research before quoting direct from this page.


It’s unlikely Joshua Dawson was present when Edward Tyrrell finally swung from the gallows on Baggot Street. As the noose tightened around Tyrrell’s neck, he was more likely seated at his desk in Dublin Castle or perhaps he took a walk down to Dawson Street to see how the masons were getting on with the large townhouse he was erecting on what had been useless marshland just a few years earlier. It would have been unwise for Dawson to attend Tyrrell’s execution. And yet there must have been some in the crowd who knew just how close the Secretary to the Lord Justices of Ireland had been to Tyrrell.

Tyrrell was hanged on Gallows Hill, Dublin, in 1713. His crime was bigamy, considered an offence to God himself. Dawson had nothing to do with Tyrrell’s bigamy. But Tyrrell was the most successful spy in Dawson’s network, as well as the most notorious priest-hunter of his age.

Best known today as the man who built Dublin's Mansion House - the Lord Mayor's Official Residence since 1715 - the tenacious Mr. Dawson was infamous in his day for his massive efforts to suppress the Catholic faith in Ireland and to exile all priests from Ireland.

Joshua Dawson was born at about the time of the Restoration of the House of Stuart to the throne of Britain and Ireland in 1660. His ancestors hailed from the Lake District in England and his grandfather had purchased an estate, later called Castle Dawson, near Magherafelt on the north-western shore of Lough Neagh in County Derry.[i]

Dawson’s father had been a senior figure in the army in Ireland while his older brother Thomas, who succeeded to Castle Dawson, was MP for Antrim in the Irish Parliament.[ii]

Dawson appears to have gone to work at Dublin Castle, the seat of British authority in Ireland, during his 20s. This coincided with the accession of James II as king and his massive project to dismantle the Protestant state and to effectively reestablish Britain and Ireland as Catholic dominions.

As an ardent Protestant, the king’s behaviour must have been utterly abhorrent to Dawson.

By 1690 Dawson was working as Under-secretary to the Chief Secretary for Irish Affairs. Headquartered in Dublin Castle, he followed the progress of the army of William of Orange as it overpowered James II’s forces at the Boyne and Aughrim. William’s victory paved the way for the infamous Penal Code, a series of laws passed between 1691 and 1728 to seriously restrict the rights of the Catholic majority.

Among the laws imposed were a prohibition on Catholics buying land, voting, carrying arms or educating their children as Catholics. Although Catholics were ostensibly permitted to worship freely, their churches were not to have steeples or crosses while priests were forbidden from wearing clerical garb or holy emblems in public.

During the 1690s, Dawson began purchasing property in Dublin, including two pubs near Dublin Castle, while continuing his steady rise through the ranks of the civil service. [iii] He was also a member of the guild of merchants and over Christmas 1702 he was admitted to the freedom of the city of Dublin.

By 1703 he was running the Paper Office, a state bureau of his own creation, dedicated to duplicating every letter, order, petition and warrant that passed through Dublin Castle.[iv] Such zealous efficiency – and powerful knowledge - propelled him to the office of Secretary to the Lords Justices by 1705.

For the next nine years, Dawson effectively ruled Ireland during the long absences of the Lord Lieutenant and Chief Secretary.

Much of his time was spent monitoring the threat of invasion from French or Spanish privateers (ships) in support of the exiled James II. This became even more pertinent from 1701 when, following James II’s death, the Pope and the Kings of France and Spain had recognised his son as James III. The supporters of James III (aka the Pretender) were known as Jacobites. Dawson kept a close eye on international affairs. He was one of the first to learn about the death of Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne, in 1708, and of the near murder of the rising Tory statesman Robert Harley in 1711. [iv.a]

Dawson was also closely involved in orchestrating troop movements and monitoring press-gang activity during this era.

However, by far his most dramatic role was to oversee the removal of Catholic priests from Ireland. One of the earliest penal laws had ordered all Catholic archbishops, bishops, Jesuits, monks and friars to leave Ireland. The Act of Abjuration, passed in 1701, called on all priests to swear an oath denying James III ‘any right or title whatsoever to the Crown of these realms’ and affirming that the succession belonged to the Protestant line. Inevitably many priests refused to take the oath and so found themselves on the run.

From Dublin Castle he established an intricate web of spies and informers that operated in every port and major town in Ireland.[v] He also began recruiting priest hunters to track renegade priests down.

None were more effective than Edward Tyrrell, a Catholic from County Galway who had been educated in France.[vi] Dawson appears to have become acquainted with Tyrrell shortly after he had escaped from an English prison where he had been held on a charge of bigamy, considered at the time to be an offence against God punishable by death. Dawson provided him with the necessary papers to travel to Flanders and work as an undercover spy, particularly at the Irish College of Louvain (Leuven) where the Franciscans and Dominicans were training large numbers of priests to send back to Ireland.

Tyrrell’s reports to Dawson were replete with the names of Irish families who had sent their children to be educated at Louvain, or whose sons were now serving in the Catholic armies of Spain or France. He also provided details on priests in Ireland alleged to be support the Jacobites, as well as on the activities of men like the Duke of Ormond, the most senior Irish peer in exile.

Although some of Tyrrell’s reports were exaggerated, and he himself is said to have been solely driven by a lust for money, such information empowered Secretary Dawson to swoop down on the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. From his office came a stream of letters to magistrates across Ireland directing them to chase and arrest the priests.[vii] When a magistrate wavered, he was apt to be quickly reprimanded. For instance, when an informer told Dawson that William Butler, High Sheriff of Clare, had failed to arrest a single priest, Dawson told Butler his behaviour had caused great resentment in Dublin and ordered him to ‘exert yourself with more than ordinary diligence and zeale’.[viii]

One might have expected any priests accused of supporting the Jacobites to have been tried for treason and hanged. In fact, most of the priests arrested on Dawson’s watch were transported away from Irish or British shores and warned not to return.[ix]

In October 1712 Dawson recruited Tyrrell to hunt down Hugh Macmahon, the Catholic Primate, who had apparently returned to Ireland from Flanders and was staying with relatives near Carrickmacross.[x] Tyrrell was on the case when he was arrested and put on trial for the same bigamy charge he had faced two years earlier. He told the court that he had been employed by Dawson but the Secretary was either unwilling or unable to help him. And so Tyrrell swung.

Meanwhile, Dawson had become one of Dublin’s leading property magnates. In 1705, recognizing Dublin’s potential to expand east of its medieval nucleus, he purchased the strip upon which Duke Street and Dawson Street were laid out; a map of 1685 had described it as 'a piece of marshy land without even a bare lane crossing it'. He immediately began draining the land and in 1709 he issued building leases for the construction of houses along what he now grandly called Dawson Street after his own family. By the time these first houses were completed, Dawson Street was considered the finest in Dublin. Its residents included Colonel Thomas Burgh (1670-1730), the great architect and engineer who may have had a hand in the construction of some of the houses.

When Dawson Street was complete, he began developing Duke Street and Anne Street, thereby linking Dawson Street with the earlier Grafton Street. In 1707 an act of Parliament reconstituted Dawson’s lands as the new parish of St. Anne; Dawson also financed the construction of St. Anne’s Church on Dawson Street by the architect and master craftsman Isaac Wills, along with a new vicarage. I'm inclined to think he was sucking up to Her Majesty as she too was called Anne. He also agreed to have four houses near the new church pulled down so that Dawson Street could be linked with the adjoining Molesworth Street, thus improving access to the church.

In 1710 Dawson commissioned a private residence on Dawson Street. Set well back from the street, the original Mansion House was a two-storey, seven bay, red brick, complete with stone quoins and curved sweeps.[xi] Today the Mansion House is the oldest free-standing house in Dublin, as well as being a rare example of Queen Anne style architecture.

Dawson remained in his lucrative office until the accession of George I in 1714. [xii] That same year, he sold the Mansion House to the Dublin Corporation for £3,500 sterling, a yearly rent of 40 shillings (later waived) and a 6lb sugar loaf every at Christmas.[xiii]

Dawson died aged 65 in 1725, three years before the enactment of the final Penal Law by which all Catholics were deprived of the vote.[xiv]


[i] Dawson’s great-grandfather Christopher Dawson hailed from Acorn Bank in Westmoreland and moved to Ireland in 1611. His son Thomas Dawson purchased the estate at Magherafelt from George and Dudley Philips in 1633. ‘Toujours propice’ meaning ‘Always propitious’ was the Dawson family motto.

[ii] Joshua’s father Thomas Dawson was Commissary of the Musters of the army in Ireland. When he died in 1683 he was succeeded at Castle Dawson by Joshua’s older brother, another Thomas Dawson, Member of Parliament for the Borough of Antrim. Thomas married Arabella Upton of Castle Upton, Co. Antrim. In 1695, Thomas Dawson died and Joshua succeeded to Castle Dawson. Joshua built the eponymous castle at Castledawson in 1713.

[iii] In 1697, the London-born poet and diplomat Mathew Prior became Chief Secretary of Ireland. Dawson asked to be made his clerk, stating his hope that Prior - serving as the Secretary in absentia - would not bring a clerk over with him. See also Walter Graham, ed., The Letters of Joseph Addison [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941] 125n2). Also, google search the following:

a) Letter of Arthur Podmore (Joshua Dawson’s uncle and co-worker) to Matthew Prior saying he and Dawson had worked under the Chief Secretaries in Ireland and would like to be employed by Prior. Dublin Castle, May 22, 1697.

b) Letter of J. Dawson to M. Prior asking to be made a clerk under the Secretary and hoping Prior will not bring one over from England with him. July 27, 1697.

c) Letter of Joshua Dawson to M. Prior setting out the reduction in fees payable by army officers to the Chief Secretary's Office. Dublin Castle, July 24, 1697.

In 1698 Dawson laid claim to two properties in Dublin and sold to him by the Sheriffs of the City of Dublin, namely ‘The Whitehorse’ on Fishamble Street and the ‘Golden Flagon’ on High Street. The lessee was William Flood while the proprietors were James Talbot and Ignatius Browne. Had they been dispossessed? See ‘A list of the claims as they are entred [sic] with the Trustees: at Chichester-House on College-Green Dublin, on or before the tenth of August, 1700, Volume 1 (Google eBook)’ via

When the Tory statesman Lord Rochester became Viceroy of Ireland in 1700, he recommended that the Lords Justices of Ireland choose Dawson as their Secretary. However, the Lord Justices overlooked Dawson in favour of William Palmer and Dawson was instead appointed clerk of the State Paper Office. See 'The Correspondence of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon and of His Brother Laurence Hyde Earl of Rochester: With Their Diarys from 1687 to 1690', Volume 2, Colburn, 1828.

Consider also the M' Cracken correspondence, being letters written, 1707-13, by Rev. Alex. M' Cracken, a Presbyterian minister of Lisburn, to Joshua Dawson, Secretary in Dublin Castle, re his pecuniary affairs and his trouble with the authorities.

[iv] "Calendar of the state papers, domestic series, of the reign of Queen Anne : preserved in the public record office", Vol. 1 (1702-1703), edited by Egbert Pentland Mahaffy, BA:


Joshua Dawson has petitioned, shewing that : The Governors of Ireland have been used, on leaving office, to take with them " the books of entries belonging to both their Secretaries' offices, wherein were entered all King's letters, orders, warrants and letters directed to and given by such chief Governors, the removal of which has not only been a great injury to our subjects of that Kingdom for want of copies of such orders upon many occasions, but a great prejudice to all succeeding chief Governors in being deprived of the knowledge and information of what had been done by their predecessors."

Petitioner has been employed in the office of the Chief Secretary to the said chief Governors for many years, and, during that time, has had many applications for copies of such warrants and letters, which he has not been able to grant for the above reason. He therefore prays for the erection of a Paper Office in Ireland, in which copies of all these documents may be kept, except private letters. He has been bred up in the Chief Secretary's Office and has been zealous in his long discharge of the duties of that office.

He prays for letters under the Privy Signet and Sign Manual creating and erecting an office, to be called the Paper Office, with directions to future chief Governors to allow him to take copies of the books of entries of all warrants, orders &c., belonging to either Secretary's office (private letters excepted), and that a room be appointed for the office in Dublin Castle ; and for £100 a year for himself and his clerks, to be inserted in the Irish Civil List as a perpetuity. You approve his request.

Pass patents under the Great Seal &c. erecting a Paper Office accordingly, wherein shall be kept " duplicates and copies of all King's and Queen's letters whereon any warrants, orders or directions shall be given by you and also duplicates of all warrants &c. issued thereon ; and also all other warrants, petitions and letters which have [passed] or shall pass the said Secretaries' offices or either of them " (private letters excepted).

The patents shall grant to Dawson the office of Clerk of the Paper office to hold during pleasure, to exercise by himself or a deputy approved by you. Salary of 100/. a year, to be inserted in the Civil List as a perpetuity. Allow Dawson to take all the copies aforesaid "to be kept by him in the said office which is to be an office of Record," and appoint and fit up at our expense a proper room in the Castle to be his office. Favourable clauses.

Pp. 3. S.P. Signet Office 15, pp. 91-4.

[iv.a] After Prince George died from severe asthma and dropsy, Charles Dering wrote to Dawson in October 1708: 'He dyed in his chair his face as as a sloch two hours before he expired: the Queen upon her knees kissing his hand till she was put away, a quarter of an hour before his death by Lady Marlborough and Admiral Churchill into another room, that she might nott see him breath his last and when be was actually dead they carried her down the back stairs and putt her into Lady Marlborough's coach, the Duchess and Lady Hyde with her, and brought Her Majesty to St James's: HM has been mighty averse to the opening his body, butt the physicians assuring her that he could not keep without it she has att last consented to it.' [Reports from Commissioners, Volume 33, By Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons]

In March 1711 the ex-abbé La Bourlie (better known by the name of the marquis de Guiscard), a French refugee, attempted to stab Henry St John, the Secretray of State, while he was being examined before the Privy Council on a charge of treason. Guiscard inadvertently missed St John and stabbed the rising political Tory star Robert Harley (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) in the stomach with his penknife. [Reports from Commissioners, Volume 33, By Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons]

[v] In June 1702, for instance, he was active in the arrest of four priests who arrived into Baltimore, County Cork, from Nantes. [Letter to Dawson from Robert Hill, dated 21 June, 1702: ‘Four Irish priests are brought to Gaol this day havinge left Nantz about twenty dayes past and came in the Mary of Galloway to Baltimore which was loaden with salt and Indigo and bounde for Galloway.’ [Burke, Rev. William P. (2013). p. 178. The State Papers in H. M. Record Times Dublin and London, the Bodleian Library, and the British Museum. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work published 1914)]

Two months later, Dawson ordered the Mayor of Cork to place Dr. Sleyne, the ‘Popish Bishop’ of Cork ‘on board the first ship that shall be bound from Corke to Portugall’. [Letter from Dawson to John Whiting, the Mayor of Cork, written from Dublin Castle on 8 August 1702 and again in February 1703 on behalf of the Lord Justices, urging the Mayor to oversee Dr. Sleyne’s exile, with passage to be paid by the Collector of Cork Harbour. [Burke, Rev. William P. (2013). p. 139. The State Papers in H. M. Record Times Dublin and London, the Bodleian Library, and the British Museum. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work published 1914)

Dawson fully supported the ‘Act to prevent the further growth of popery’ passed in 1704 under which any priest wishing to remain in Ireland had to register with the government. Much of the subsequent paperwork relating to the tracking of these priests made its way onto Dawson’s desk. In 1708, for example, John Eyre of Galway informed him of a ship expected in the port from China carrying a ‘ffrench popish Bishop and some other Roman Cleargy men’; Dawson advised him to show no quarter. [Burke, Rev. William P. (2013). P. 175. The State Papers in H. M. Record Times Dublin and London, the Bodleian Library, and the British Museum. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work published 1914)]

[vi] Tyrrell, a son-in-law of historian Roderic O’Flaherty, was ‘a lusty man, well set and made, with the sign of the small pox in his face, hollow-ey’d, bigg-mouth’d, round nos’d, thick legg’d, burnt in the left hand … and mark’d. He hath a black suit of English cloth and speaks but indifferent English’. In January 1710 he carried a letter of introduction to Lord Cholmondeley in London. In Coventry soon afterwards he penned this 'characteristic epistle': ‘Honoured Sir, Though a stranger I made bould to trust you with those following lines. That I have left Dublin the 4th of this instant in Womens aparell and was driven in to Blew Morris [Beaumaris] in Wales. That I have come out of Ireland in order to make a full discovery to the Queen and Parliament of Great Britain in Relation of a Private Rebellion Intended and upon footing now in our kingdom and a great number of disaffected persons to our Government hath lately landed in the Remoat parts of our kingdom. They are harboured and entertained and supported by men of very great Interest and Quality in our Country prodestands as well as papists. Sir, this is nothing of what service I can doe to our Queen and Government when I wend to London.

He was arrested in 1710 and charged with bigamy. He somehow managed to escape from Newgate and by the close of 1710 he was working as an agent for the Privy Council in Dublin. Born a Catholic and educated in France, he had the perfect background to become a spy. Dawson instructed him to infiltrate the Irish College on Louvain, the main source of returning priests. He made his way to Ghent and the Irish College at Louvain where he met many Catholics from Ireland who had spoken openly of their hope that the Pretender – the son of James II – would retake the throne on the death of Queen Anne. He also provided the names of officers and soldiers who had joined the Catholic armies of Spain and France and of parents who had sent their children to the Irish College, as well as disclosing vital details on secret locations of Catholic gatherings in Ireland and the whereabouts of the Duke of Ormonde, the senior most Irish peer in exile at this time. In 1712 he reported report that Counsellor McNamara, of Killaloe had 2 sons studying for the priesthood on the continent, Florence McNamara at Louvain College, his brother at St. Germains. A warrant for the arrest of Florence was later issued when he returned to serve in Clare.

As part of his cover, Tyrell operated under a series of aliases. During 1712 he travelled to Louth, Monaghan, King’s County, Wicklow, Tipperary, Cork, Wexford, et al. in a commission and with orders to magistrates for assistance and military escort. He was arrested for bigamy before the end of 1712 and promptly petitioned for freedom so that he could give evidence against priests, complaining, ‘the very papishes come out of the street into the gaol to abuse me in my confinement’ and adds, ‘what misery I am in for serving Her Majesty’s Government’. He alleged that the charge against him was ‘the invention and malice of several Irish papists.’ Lord Chancellor Phipps and Protestant Archbishop Vesey of Tuam, a Lord Justice, reported that of all his information against priests ‘we could never get the fact proved by any other testimony than his own’, and that they ‘could never find any other effect from his service than to get money from us.’ He was convicted of bigamy and executed in May 1713. The other leading priest-hunter was Garzia, who arrested Edward Byrne, soon after acquitted. [See http://www.ricorso.net/rx/library/criticism/histry/Wall_M.htm

He was found guilty and hanged at Gallows Hill (now Baggot Street) on May 28, 1713. Full particulars of the case against Edward Tyrrell can be found at http://archive.org/stream/MN42003ucmf_6/MN42003ucmf_6_djvu.txt).

[vii] In 1712, Dublin Castle decided the Catholic clergy were responsible for a series of agrarian outrages in Connaught. A directive from Dawson ordered the Justices of the Peace in Counties Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Clare ‘to commit all the priests of the popish religion in their respective counties to Gaole.’ [Burke, William P. (2013). pp. 428-9. The State Papers in H. M. Record Times Dublin and London, the Bodleian Library, and the British Museum. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work published 1914)] All priests were to be arrested, irrespective of whether or not they had taken the Oath of Abjuration.

One unlucky priest was Patrick Duffy of Ballinrobe. A search of his possessions apparently found a Bull from the Pope empowering him to absolve anyone who had taken the Oath of Allegiance. Duffy was later captured and exiled to Spain.

[viii] Dawson’s informers included Francis Burton of Buncraggy who disclosed that William Butler, High Sheriff of Clare, had failed to arrest any priests in the county. Dawson duly dispatched a stinging letter on 4 March 1712 stating that ‘His Excellency [ie: the Viceroy] and their Lordships do highly resent your neglect and disregard of their orders so to compensate that omission you will exert yourself with more than ordinary diligence and zeale in seizing and committing the priests.’ Butler then issues a summons to priests to come forward; 24 priests obeyed and were imprisoned in Ennis jail. Dawson was sufficiently impressed by this voluntary surrender to permit these priests to take healthier lodgings near the gaol. Elsewhere there was a hunt for any priests who would not surrender but the search was hampered by the refusal of other Protestant gentry to assist with the pursuit. Butler advised Dawson that it was 'easier to catch wolves or foxes than priests'.

[ix] Anytime any priest was rounded up, Dawson would be immediately informed, or else he directed magistrates in specific areas to hunt the priests down. When the magistrates failed, he whistled up the priest hunters.

And when priests were found he invariably charged the Mayors and Sheriffs of towns such as Dublin, Cork, Galway and Youghal with the task of arranging for their transportation from British or Irish shores.

Other letters indicate that Dawson was instrumental in encouraging the magistrates oto close down ‘a Riotous Assembly of Papists’in Wicklow. As Sheiff Reeves gleefully reported, ‘Wee pulled down their Tentes, threw down and demolished their superstitious crosses, destroyed the wells, apprehended and committed one Tool a Popish school master.’

In Sligo, magistrates claimed in October 1714 that ‘The Papists are so numerous in this county that without the assistance of the army there is no good to be done.’

Fr. Bryan McHugh, a priest from Longford, escaped from gaol by audaciously forging an order of release from Dawson in his capacity as Clerk of the Privy Council and returned to preach in Longford.

In January 1713 Dawson initiated legal proceedings against the Mayor of Youghal ‘for taking money to allow Popish Priests to say mass in the town of Youghall’.

[x] In October 1712, Dawson learned that Hugh Macmahon, ‘the titular popish Primate McMahon’ had returned to Ireland from Flanders ‘and now resides at the house of Cullogh Duff McMahon near Carrickmacross’. He commanded Dunleer-based magistrate Capt. William Barton to ‘immediately take such numbers of persons as you shall think necessary and proper for that service and cause the said Primate to be apprehended and committed to Gaole’. Barton got on the case immediately but McMahon had vanished by the time he got there. Dawson now turned to Edward Tyrrell, the notorious priest hunter, who ventured into Ulster and rounded up several clergy but McMahon again eluded him. In November 1712, Tyrrell took part in a raid on a gathering of Dominican friars at Ferbane. [See also

In 1712 several dissenters were prosecuted in Armagh for refusing to assist the constable in arresting Bryan McGuirk, the Catholic dean of Armagh. Joshua Dawson’s brother Walter Dawson who conducted the arrest begged the Castle authorities not to proceed since the arrest had ‘brought odium on him and a reflection to his family’, as well as appealing to the suffering of the dean then ‘the most miserable wretch as he now lies that was ever seen’. Walter’s appeal fell on deaf ears.

[xi] The original Mansion House included a broken pediment over the front door, which contained a bust, and a parapet surmounted by four stone urns and ornamented with figures in panels made of stone or plaster.

[xii] In 1712 Joshua was elected to Parliament as M.P. for the Borough of Wicklow. He celebrated by constructing a new castle at Castle Dawson in County Derry.

During the last months of Queen Anne’s reign, Dawson was active in tackling anyone critical of the proposed Hanoverian succession. In June 1714, for instance, Secretary Dawson and three officers raided the Essex Street offices of Edward Waters, printer of a libellous poem called "England's Eye” about the Lord Lieutenant. Waters had ‘gone fishing’ but they instead ‘seized’ his papers and arrested Mr Dixon, another printer, in connection to ‘a scandalous ballad’ about Hanover called "Tis time to come over”. Waters was later arrested and brought to trial but released following considerable efforts by Jonathan Swift, whose works Waters also printed. [Jonathan Swift and the Eighteenth-Century Book, edited by Paddy Bullard, James McLaverty.

Following the accession of George I in August 1714, Dawson was succeeded as Secretary to the Lord Justices by Eustace Budgell, a former Under Secretary and cousin to Joseph Addison, who became Chief Secretary in 1714. In a letter published in 1718 Budgell described Dawson as ‘a Gentleman who was indeed a most diligent Office, and perfectly a Master of all the Forms of Business relating to his Post. It was this Consideration which had continued him in his Employment for about Nineteen Years successively under Governours [sic] of very different Principles; since tho’ it was generally thought his Heart was with the Tories, it was as generally agreed that the Publick Business would suffer too much by his Removal.’ From Eustace Budgell, A Letter to the Lord ****, 5th edition, E. Curll, 1719.

Letter of J. Dawson to Edward Southwell, telling of the courage of the Dublin Lord Mayor who daily snubs the Recorder, as for example in refusing to drink the health of Mr Allen Broderick. Dublin Oct. 22, 1712. [Broderick was a hot-tempered Whig who served as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and Lord Chancellor of Ireland]

[xiii] In 1714, the Dublin City Assembly formed a committee to look for a suitable residence ‘for the honour and advantage of the city and a conveniency to the Lord Mayor’. They soon lit upon the Mansion House which Dawson sold to them on 18n May 1715 for £3,500 sterling, a yearly rent of 40 shillings (later waived) and a loaf of double refined sugar weighing 6lbs at Christmas. The payment required the construction of an extra room, now known as the Oak Room, a rather more elaborate than the rest of the house. This where the annual City Ball was held in the 18th century, the guests sexed up on a yearly grant of twenty thousand oysters gifted to the Lord Mayor from the civic oyster beds.It is sometimes said that the oak wainscoting in the Oak Room were put in by Dawson but Guinness and O’Brien suggest the dark panneling and top-lighting are 20th century, probably Edwardian. The room is bedecked in portraits of past Lord Mayors and Viceroys, as well as Charles Stewart Parnell by Thomas Alfred Jones. For more, see Guinness & O'Brien, Dublin: A Grand Tour, pp. 48-51.

As well as the house, Dawson agreed to sell 'all the brass locks and marble chimney pieces, as also the tapestry hangings, silk window curtains and window seats and chimney glass in the great bed chamber; the gilt leather hangings, four pairs of scarlet calamanco window curtains and chimney glass in the walnut parlour [and] the Indian calico window curtains in the Dantzick oak parlour.'

[xiv] In 1720, the Irish House of Commons proposed branding every unregistered priest in Ireland with a large ‘P’ on their cheek. The Irish Privy Council declared their disapproval of branding and urged that castration would be ‘the most effectual remedy’. Fortunately the proposals were overruled in England. In 1728, three years after Dawson’s death, the government passed the Disenfranchising Act by which all Catholics were denied a vote.

Joshua Dawson died on 3 March 1725 aged 65. [The Historical Register: Containing an Impartial Relation of All Transactions, Foreign and Domestick, Volume 10. Sun Fire Office, 1725. ] He was succeeded by his eldest son Arthur Dawson, a long-standing MP for Londonderry and Baron of the Exchequer. Arthur married Jane O'Neil of Shane's Castle, and dying 1775 was succeeded by his nephew, Arthur, the son of William Dawson by his wife Sarah Newcomen, widow of Colonel Dawson of Co. Tipperary. [See also http://www.dippam.ac.uk/ied/records/24657]

Dawson’s daughter married Charles Carr, the son of a Kildare landowner and graduate of Trinity who became chaplain to the House of Commons. Swift didn't think much of Carr reckoning he wouldn't be fit to curate 'the smallest of your parishes'.

The castle built at Castle Dawson by Joshua in 1713 was in ruins by the time Samuel Lewis visited in 1837. The family had relocated to The House, built in 1768 by Arthur Dawson, MP for Londonderry, and chief baron of the exchequer. A ‘beautiful and lofty obelisk’ erected in Castle Dawson by the Earl of Bristol commemorates ‘the virtues and benevolence of the Dawson family’ [Is it still standing?]

“The Bread Shelf' at St. Anne's (via http://stann.dublin.anglican.org/history/index.php): " Since 1723 these shelves have contained loaves of bread for the poor of the city by bequest of Lord Newton of Newtown Butler. We still maintain this tradition almost 300 years later as the charity still exists. It is a symbol of our ministry to all. Any person may remove the bread without hindrance or risk of question.” [The church site was donated to them by Joshua Dawson and they pray for the Lord Mayor of the day by name every morning at the morning service.]


1. It would be 20 years before London followed Dublin's lead and provided an official residence for its Lord Mayor. The Mansion House in Dublin is the only remaining mayoral residence in Ireland and it is older than any surviving mayoral residence in Britain.

2. For Cathal O'Neill, former Head of the School of Architecture at UCD, the Mansion House of his childhood meant the large circular room with the conical slate roof directly behind the Lord Mayor's House where 'we appeared from the age of about seven in countless performances of poetry, recitation, storytelling, Irish dancing and drama as part of the annual Feis or Arts festival competitions'. Cathal O'Neill's Dublin (Marino Books, 1998).

3. Dublin has had a civic government since the Normans came, and a mayor since 1229. The first Lord Mayor was Sir Daniel Bellingham in 1665. In 1841 Daniel O'Connell became the first Roman Catholic elected to the office since the reign of James II.

4. In 1821, the Round Room was built beside the Mansion House for the visit of King George IV. It was built - and probably designed - by John Semple, father of the architect of the Black Church. Measuring nearly 100 feet in diametre its domed ceiling was 'painted to represent a beautiful sky'. The room was built in six weeks to be ready to receive the new king on. (Google Book the Mansion House in 1821).

5. The original brick elevation was gradually plastered over to its present appearance during the 19th century. Henry Byrne, City Architect, designed the frilly surrounds which were added to the windows in 1851, beneath which boxes full of flowers now splash welcome colour from the sills.

6. When members of the Reform Club in next door Northland House (19 Dawson Street) began making faces at the Lord Mayor, there was a threat to block the windows. In 1851, to coincide with the new frills on the Mansion House, Northland became the headquarters of the Royal Irish Academy.

7. A frilly wrought-iron and glass canopy was added by D. J. Freeman, City Architect, in 1896 to keep the rain off dignitaries as they made their way from the entrance to their carriages. In 1906 a handsome cornice and pediment were added containing the arms of the city.

8. 'Sensitive improvements' were carried out in 1991 to mark the occasion of Dublin City of Culture, including the reinstatement of the cobbles and bollards to the forefront, and the restoration of the Oak Room.

9. In January 1919 the first Dail met at the Mansion House to ratify the Declaration of Independence.

10. In 1953, Early Mist, the Irish winner of the Aintree Grand National was paraded through the streets of Dublin and then received outside the Mansion House by the Lord Mayor.

11. In 1991, a small street to the south of Dawson Street, which gives access to the Royal Irish Automobile Club, was named Joshua Lane by Dublin City Council, as 'a further tribute to the person who had done so much to develop the area.'

12. In 1993, three elephants from Fosset's Circus were brought into the forecourt to launch an appeal for arthritis.

13. In 2017 Turtle Bunbury delivered the annual SSAFA talk in the Mansion House.


· The Priest Hunters - The True Story of Ireland's Bounty Hunters by Colin Murphy (O’Brien Press, 2014).

· The Irish priests in the penal times (1660-1760) [microform] : from the state papers in H. M. Record Offices, Dublin and London, the Bodleian Library, and the British Museum.