Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Prendergast, John Patrick

PRENDERGAST, JOHN PATRICK (1808–1893), historian, born on 7 March 1808, at 37 Dawson Street, Dublin, was eldest son of Francis Prendergast (1768–1846), registrar of the court of chancery, Ireland, by Esther (1774–1846), eldest daughter of John Patrick, of 27 Palace Row, Dublin. Prendergast derived his lineage from Maurice de Prendergast, a companion of Strongbow, under Robert Fitzstephen. Educated at Reading school under Dr. Valpy, he graduated at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1825, and was called to the Irish bar in 1830. In 1836 he succeeded his father and grandfather in the agency of Lord Clifden's estates, which he administered for many years. The knowledge and experience gained in this practical work made him an advocate of tenant right and a sympathiser with the schemes of the early land reformers in Ireland. In 1840 Prendergast was commissioned to make some pedigree researches in the county of Tipperary, and this led to a study of the settlement of Ireland at the restoration of Charles II, and also of the Cromwellian settlement. His researches culminated in the publication of ‘The History of the Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland’ in 1863 (2nd edit. 1875). In 1864 he was appointed by Lord Romilly a commissioner, in conjunction with the Rev. Dr. Russell, president of Maynooth College, for selecting official papers relating to Ireland for transcription from the Carte manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The report of the commissioners was published in 1871. Russell and Prendergast continued to calendar these state papers until 1877, when Russell died. Prendergast continued the work until 1880. In 1868 he issued for private circulation ‘The Tory War in Ulster’ (Dublin, 2 pts.). In 1881 he prefixed a notice of the life of Charles Haliday to the latter's ‘Scandinavian Kingdom of Dublin,’ and in 1887 he published ‘Ireland from the Restoration to the Revolution.’

Although his chief historical work was connected with the seventeenth century, Prendergast was also an authority on Irish pedigrees and archæology, contributing, among other papers, to the old Kilkenny Archæological Society's ‘Journal’ ‘The Plantation of Idrone by Sir Peter Carew.’ In articles published anonymously in the Dublin press (1884–90) he communicated a vast amount of local knowledge concerning the old houses of Dublin. In politics he was a liberal, with a strong tinge of Nationalist feeling of the days of O'Connell. He contributed to the old ‘Nation’ newspaper, and replied therein in 1872–4 to Froude's lectures in America on Irish history. He thus gained the reputation of being a strong nationalist, but he was never a home-ruler, and from 1878 he was a violent opponent of Parnell's general policy. Among his numerous pamphlets was one on the viceroyalty of Ireland, which he upheld. His manuscript collections concerning the Cromwellian restoration and revolution settlements of Ireland, consisting of many volumes, he bequeathed to the King's Inn, Dublin, together with other manuscripts, all bearing on the historical and political subjects in which he took most interest.

Prendergast was a brilliant talker, full of anecdote and reminiscence, both professional and political. He died in Dublin on 6 Feb. 1893. He married, on 1 Sept. 1838, Caroline, second daughter of George Ensor of Ardress, co. Armagh, and left one son, Francis, who settled in California and became a naturalised American.

[Private information; papers bequeathed to the writer.]

P. H. B.