illiam T. Mulvany exemplifies a familiar Victorian figure — the expatriat engineer (like Bleak House's Daniel Doyce) who for one reason or another left his homeland and did accomplished great, enormously important things in Russia, Germany, and other countries throughout the world. Mulvany, unlike some other expat engineers, first achieved a great deal at home — in this case Ireland — but nonetheless left for greener pastures. As a young man, he helped map County Connacht, after which he supervised the drainage of the Shannon and planned the Shannon-Erne waterway, which another enginneer, John McMahon, carried out. According to a review of John O'Sullivan's recent book on him in the Limerick Leader, Mulvany, who seems to have been a Carlylean Engineer-as-hero, played "a huge part in the alleviation of distress during the unspeakable horrors that was the famine, directing thousands of workers in relief schemes all over the country. In [County] Clare alone, he helped create no less 25,000 relief jobs, which encompassed work on roads, and boundary walls along the great demesnes, most of which can still be seen to his day."
Unfortunately, his work in the service of famine relief destroyed his career in Ireland. The Limerick Leader explains: "Landlords, with little by way of income following the famine, objected to what they maintained were excessive charges they had to pay towards drainage on their lands, and found in Mulvany the scapegoat. Most militant was the highly influential Earl of Rosse, and despite being exonerated by a board of enquiry of any wrong-doing, Mulvany had enough and eventually resigned on pension."
Leaving Ireland for London, Mulvany had one of those life-changing encounters when he met Michael Corr van der Maeren, who suggested that he visit German coal mines, which at the time were far more backward than those in England, so much so that coal imported from the U.K. was cheaper in Germany than that mined locally. Mulvany, who recognized the German mines' enormous potential, imported both British methods, particularly those used to drain water from mines, and skilled miners from Durham and Ireland. Persuading a group of Irish investors to fund his enterprise, he opened three successful mines — the Hibernia, the Shamrock and the Erin — became a wealthy man, and built a large estate in Germany. After his death the Irish Times commented: "It is a suggestive commentary on our system that long experience and abilities of high order, which should have been devoted to the amelioration of this country, and the development of its resources, were more highly prized and rewarded in a foreign land" (quoted from Limerick Leader)
- "An Irishman with a dream in 19th century Germany." Limerick Leader (November 2004)
- O'Sullivan, John. Breaking Ground, the story of William T. Mulvany
- The Shannon-Erne Waterway (Northern Ireland site)
- The Shannon Navigation (Ireland site)
Last modified 22 December 2005