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Lucas 300

Marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Lucas (1713-1771)

The year 2013 sees the tercentenary of the birth of Charles Lucas, apothecary, medical doctor, municipal politician, patriot, member of parliament and author. Lucas is not particularly well remembered today and has not infrequently been dismissed as a minor politician and anti-Catholic bigot. While not without imperfections and sometimes rather extreme in his pronouncements, Lucas was a man of sufficient worth and importance to merit more attention than he has received. Lucas's contributions to medicine, in particular in the areas of regulation of drugs and hydrotherapy, have been somewhat more studied than his political career. The writer has published a number of articles on Lucas since completing an MA in 1981 and continues to work on a full biography as time and resources permit.

Lucas was born in County Clare on 16 September 1713, the son of Benjamin Lucas of Ballingaddy and Mary Blood. His earliest surviving published work is a description of Kilcorney Cave and the Burren in his native county. Moving to Dublin Lucas qualified as an apothecary in the 1730s and, uninhibited by his junior status, endeavoured to reform certain abuses in his profession. He became a member of Dublin Corporation in 1741 and was soon involved in a campaign for municipal reform which culminated in an unsuccessful suit against the city's aldermanic oligarchy in the Court of King's Bench in 1744.

Lucas went on to contest the Dublin City by-election of 1748-49, issuing fiery pamphlets now featuring denunciation of English misgovernment in Ireland, later republished in collected form under the title The Political Constitutions of Great Britain and Ireland (1751). As a result of his radical propaganda Lucas was denounced as 'an enemy to his country' by the Irish parliament in October 1749 and was obliged to flee abroad. He took the opportunity to travel Europe examining various leading spas and qualifying as a doctor, publishing An Essay on Waters in London in 1756. Following his return from exile in 1761 he succeeded in being elected as one of Dublin City's MPs. Characteristically, he pursued his radical ideas in parliament and was instrumental in securing the Octennial Act in 1768, which provided for more frequent general elections.   

Lucas's final years were spent in even more intense conflict with government, his last major work being The Rights and Privileges of Parliaments (1770). Lucas died in Dublin on 4 November 1771 and was buried in St Michan's Graveyard where his tombstone can still be seen, and there is a fine statue in City Hall on Dame Street. A case can be made that despite Lucas’s undoubted Protestant prejudices, he was something more than a mere bigot, and furthermore that his ideology was in essence nationalist and marked a pivotal transition to the republican separatism of the United Irishmen.

Commemorative Events

Ennistymon Public Library presented an exhibition on the life and achivements of Charles Lucas during the month of August 2013, and the undersigned gave a talk there on Lucas and County Clare on Friday 16 August 2013.

The Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland held a Lucas Tercentenary Symposium at City Hall, Dame Street, Dublin, on Wednesday 25 September 2013, the undersigned speaking on the subject of Lucas's medical writings.

The undersigned was also among the speakers at Local History Day in Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street, on Saturday, 5 October 2013, giving a general overview of Lucas's life.

Lucas 300 Exhibition

During the month of October 2013 an exhibition to mark the tercentenary of Lucas's birth, compiled by the writer, will be on display in Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street (around the corner from Pearse Street Train Station, Westland Row).

Sean J Murphy

Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies


Further reading:   

Sean J Murphy, A Forgotten Patriot Doctor: Charles Lucas 1713-1771, revised Tercentenary Edition, Windgates, County Wicklow 2013, accessible via the author's website.   

Same, 'The Corporation of Dublin 1660-1760', Dublin Historical Record, 38, 1984, pages 22-35, accessible via JStor (registration required, free).   

Charles Lucas, The Political Constitutions of Great Britain and Ireland, 2 volumes (bound as 1), London 1751, accessible via Google Books.   

Same, An Essay on Waters, 3 parts, London 1756, accessible via Google Books, part 1, part 2, part 3.

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