Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 - 1940

Commissioner and Overseer of Barracks from 1759 until 1769 or later. Craig(1) gives the following account of Magill's career: 'He was born in 1703, his father a carpenter and his mother a buttermilk vendor. As a child (if we are to belive the hostile but very entertaining Life and Adventures of Buttermilk Jack (Dublin, 1760) he was employed as a 'pickle-herring' by Madame Violante at her booth in George's Lane, when the famous Peg Woffington was making her juvenile debut under the same auspices. Then, after working as a journeyman carpenter, he "went to Captain P[earce], and offered his Services as an Overseer to the Workmen, and was accepted". The anonymous author accuses Magill of profiteering on the building of the Parliament House, but in view of the very moderate cost at which Pearce had the work done, this seems unlikely. He next "ingratiated himself with some men of Rank and Fortune, so as to be appointed Surveyor of their Estates, Estimator of the Prices of Buildings, &c." and became "Measurer, Surveyor &c. … for the G[overnment] also". In spite of the fact that, according to this author, he was not only given to various sexual delinquencies,(2) but also ran naked round Stephen's Green for a wager, Magill prospered and for £500 bought himself a seat in Parliament. The pamphlet concludes by expressing the hope that the House will soon purge itself of such a rascal.'

Despite the hopes of the anonymous pamphleteer, Magill, who was member for Rathcormack. Co. Cork, from 1745(3) to 1860, was returned for Castlemartyr, Co. Cork, in 1761 and remained in parliament until 1768. In December 1847 he had been appointed to the committee charged with inspecting the Parliament House and enquiring into the cost of repairs, and he had been responsible for works at the Parliament House in the 1750s.(4) After ARTHUR JONES NEVILL  ARTHUR JONES NEVILL had been dismissed from the post of Surveyor General for neglecting his duties in relation to the maintenance of barracks, Magill became one of the supporters of his expulsion from the Irish House of Commons. Magill himself was appointed Commissioner and Overseer of Barracks in 1759, remaining in the post until 1769 or later.  He was the contractor for the West Front of Trinity College in the late 1750s and was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by the college in 1760.(5) According to the Georgian Society Records, he owned a sand pit on the west side of Sackville Street.(6)

Magill died on 13 May 1775. His will was proved in the Prerogative Court in 1780.(7)  On 28 December 1774, five months before his death, he married Elizabeth Moffit at St John's church, Dublin, having earlier fathered an illegitimate son, George, who was baptised at St Paul's church, Dublin, on 16 January 1774.(8)

Address: North Strand, Dublin.


All information in this entry not otherwised attributed is from Edith Mary Johnston-Lijk, History of the Irish Parliament 1692-1800 (Ulster Historical Foundation, 2002), V, 176-7. For a more detailed account of Magill's career, see F. O'Dwyer, 'Building empires: architecture, politics and the Board of Works 1760-1860', Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies 5 (2002), 112ff.

(1) Maurice Craig, Dublin 1660-1860 (lst edition, 1952), 169-170.
(2) He was acquitted of the charge of raping a twelve-year-old girl in July 1757 (Johnston-Lijk, loc. cit.).
(3) Could he be the 'John Magill, gent.' of Dublin, who converted to the established church in 1745? (Eileen O'Byrne & Anne Chamney, eds., The Convert Rolls (Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2005), 172.)
(4) IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc. 2008/44.
(5) Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin (2005), 392.
(6) Georgian Society Records (1909-13), III, 91.
(7) Arthur Vicars, Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland 1536-1810 (1897), 311.
(8) Irish Genealogy, http://churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords (last visited, Jun 2015);  George's mother is named as Anne.

4 work entries listed in chronological order for MAGILL, JOHN *

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Date: 1750s
Nature: Accused at profiteering on works at same by anonymous author of Life and Adventures of Buttermilk Jack (Dublin, 1760).
Refs: Maurice Craig, Dublin 1660-1860 (lst edition, 1952), 169-170.

Date: 1752-1757
Nature: JM clerk of works for building of same for Nathaniel Clements.
Refs: A.P.W. Malcomson, Nathaniel Clements, 1705-77. Politics, fashion and architecture in mid-eighteenth-century Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2015),107-10, 126-7.

Date: 1752-1758
Nature: JM contractor for same.
Refs: Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin (2005), 32,392.

Date: 1762-63
Nature: JM contractor for Deputy Master's house.
Refs: Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin (2005), 680.

Author Title Date Details
Anon. Life and Adventures of Buttermilk Jack 1760 Dublin, 1760. (Hostile account of the life of John Magill.)