Thomas Burgh (1670–1730)

Colonel Thomas de Burgh (1670 – 18 December 1730), always named in his lifetime as Thomas Burgh, was an Irish military engineer, architect, and Member of the Parliament of Ireland. He designed a number of the large public buildings of Dublin including the old Custom House (1704–6), Trinity College Library (1712–33), Dr Steevens' Hospital (1719), the Linen Hall (1722), and the Royal Barracks (1701 onwards).

Early lifeEdit

Thomas Burgh was the son of Rt Rev Ulysses Burgh (d. 1692) of Drumkeen, County Limerick, who was Dean of Emly and later Bishop of Ardagh. His mother was Mary, daughter of William Kingsmill of Ballibeg, County Cork. His brothers, Richard Burgh of Dromkeen and Drumrusk and William Burgh of Bert House, Athy, were both Members of the Irish Parliament.

Thomas was educated at Delany's school in Dublin, and Trinity College, Dublin, where he matriculated on 22 November 1685 and left without taking a degree. Prior to the outbreak of the 1688 wars he is likely to have left Ireland for London with his father. He returned to Ireland in the army of King William III, as a lieutenant in Lord Lovelace's regiment of foot, and served at the Siege of Limerick.[1] This may have been followed by a brief spell in the Irish engineers from 1691. In any case, de Burgh was commissioned as a Captain in 1692 in the Royal Regiment of Foot. In this capacity he served in the Low Countries at the battles of Steenkerke (1692) and Landen (1693), and as engineer at the siege of Namur (1695). During this time, he absorbed the ideas of the Dutch engineer Menno van Coehoorn (1641–1740).[1] In 1697 he became Third Engineer on the Irish establishment.[2]

In 1700, Burgh replaced the Surveyor General of Ireland, William Robinson, and one year later also became Barracks Overseer in Ireland. Under his command barrack building was expanded and the rebuilding of Dublin Castle, begun under Robinson, was completed. The Royal House at Chapelizod (County Dublin) and Chichester House in Dublin were repaired as well as the numerous coastal fortifications.

As well as a Colonel of Engineers (lieutenant-colonel, 11 April 1706), Burgh held a Captain's commission in Brasier's regiment of foot from 1707 to 1714.

Public lifeEdit

In 1704 Burgh was admitted as a freeman of the City of Dublin in recognition of his work in enriching Dublin's architecture. He was later admitted to the Dublin Philosophical Society. He served as Member of Parliament for Naas from 1713 to 1730 and as a government minister. He was appointed High Sheriff of Kildare in 1712, Governor of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in 1707 and served as a Trustee of St Steven's Hospital from 1717–1730.

From 1705 to 1714 he was Lieutenant of Ordnance for Ireland,[1] an appointment which, held with that of Surveyor General, made him the most influential officer in the Irish Board of Ordnance. In this role he was responsible for overseeing the construction and renovation of all military buildings in Ireland as well as other public works. De Burgh had his commission successively renewed over the 27 years following his appointment as Surveyor General in 1700.


De Burgh was responsible for the design of several public buildings in Dublin:

Burgh was also responsible for the building of several churches, including St Mary's Church in Dublin 1 (now a Popular Café Bar & Restaurant) and St Werburgh's (1715). He is known to have built a number of private houses, most of which no longer exist, including the O'Brien family house at Dromoland, County Clare, in about 1719.

His own country house at Oldtown near Naas, County Kildare, was the only building into which he introduced Palladian ideas. He acquired the land in 1696 and the house was built thirteen years later. His architectural style was otherwise "restrained" and notable mainly for massing on different planes, using a central five-bay front crowned by a large pediment, and arcading on the ground floor. Oldtown remained the family home, although a fire destroyed the original main house and a wing in the 1950s.[3] He also designed Kildrought House in nearby Celbridge.

He worked on several engineering projects, including improvements to Dublin Harbour and the proposed Newry Canal, although this was not built until after his death.[1] Burgh published a pamphlet entitled "A method to determine the areas of right-lined figures universally, very useful for ascertaining the contents of any survey" (Dublin, 1724).

In 1728 Burgh lost the commission to build the new Parliament House in Dublin to Edward Lovett Pearce (1699–1733), who succeeded de Burgh as Surveyor General on his death, after an illness, in 1730.[1]


Burgh was married to Mary, a daughter of Rt Rev William Smyth, Bishop of Kilmore, on 10 July 1700. They had five sons and four daughters. His town house was in Dawson Street (now rebuilt) and his country estate was at Oldtown in County Kildare. He also owned lucrative collieries in County Antrim.

Their children were:[4]


In 1848 Thomas Burgh's descendant Ulysses Burgh, 2nd Baron Downes was allowed to change the family surname to "de Burgh" by royal licence.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Burgh, Thomas". Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720–1940. Irish Architectural Archive. Retrieved 21 July 2010.
  2. ^ Bunbury, T (2004) The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of Co. Kildare. Irish Family Names, Dublin
  3. ^ Rolf Loeber, "Burgh, Thomas (1670–1730)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
  4. ^ Burke, E. (1912) Landed Gentry of Ireland, London

External linksEdit

Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
Alexander Gradon
James Barry
Member of Parliament for Naas
With: Theobald Bourke
Succeeded by
Thomas Burgh
John Bourke
Political offices
Preceded by
William Robinson
Surveyor General of Ireland
Succeeded by
Edward Lovett Pearce