Open main menu

Nehemiah Donnellan (1649–1705)

Nehemiah Donnellan (1649 – 25 December 1705) was an Irish lawyer and judge.

Contents

Early lifeEdit

He was the son of Sir James Donnellan, Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas and grandson of Nehemiah Donnellan, Archbishop of Tuam. His mother was Sarah Wheeler, daughter of Jonah Wheeler, Bishop of Ossory. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1666. Though he had originally intended to become a soldier, he resolved on a legal career instead, and entered Middle Temple in 1669. He was an exceptionally unruly student, who was fined for breaking down doors and for gambling at Christmas. He was called to the Irish Bar about 1672 and became Commissioner of Revenue Appeals in 1677. After the Revolution of 1688 he lived for a time in England.

He was appointed Prime Serjeant on 29 December 1692 and represented the borough of Galway in the Irish House of Commons from 1692 to 1693. In 1693 he was also made Recorder of Dublin.

JudgeEdit

He was raised to the High Court bench as a Puisne Baron of the Irish Court of Exchequer in 1695, and on 31 December 1696 was one of the Commissioners of the Great Seal of Ireland, pending the appointment of John Methuen as Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1697. He became Chief Baron of the Exchequer on 27 December 1703, holding the office until his death. His elevation was said to be part of an effort to remove judges suspected of Tory or pro-Catholic views; but it was a little surprising that Donnellan, who was a descendant of an Old Irish, Gaelic-speaking family with Roman Catholic members, was not suspected of such sympathies himself.

In 1698 the Irish born writer and publisher John Dunton, on a visit to Dublin, gave a favourable verdict on the Irish judiciary, including Donnellan: "men whose reputation is such that no one complains of them".

FamilyEdit

He married twice; little is known of his first wife, who died before 1688, leaving one surviving son, James. He remarried Martha Ussher, daughter of Christopher Ussher, who outlived him by many years, and married secondly Phillip Perceval, brother of the 1st Earl of Egmont. Nehemiah and Martha had two sons, Nehemiah, MP for Tipperary, and Christopher, and two daughters, Katherine and Anne (died 1762).

Anne is remembered today as the friend of most of the leading Irish writers of her time, and for founding the Donnellan Lectures at Trinity College Dublin. Katherine married Robert Clayton, Bishop of Cork and Ross. The artist and letter writer Mary Delaney wrote an unflattering sketch of Katherine "giving herself the airs of a Queen" after her husband was made a bishop. She may well have come to regret his preferment, as his religious opinions were so unorthodox as to raise doubts as to whether he was a Christian at all. Horace Walpole said unkindly that his writings seemed calculated to destroy anyone's faith, and it seems that only his sudden death averted an inquiry by his fellow bishops into his fitness for office.

 
Portrait of Robert Clayton and his wife Katherine, daughter of Nehemiah Donnellan

ReferencesEdit