Sir John PLUNKETT of Dunsoghly

Born: ABT 1504, Donsoghly, Dublin, Ireland

Died: 1 Aug 1582

Father: Christopher PLUNKETT

Mother: Catherine BIRMINGHAM

Married 1: Elizabeth PRESTON ABT 1530, St. Margarets, Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

Married 2: Catherine LUTTRELL ABT 1535, St. Margarets, Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


1. Alice PLUNKETT (b. ABT 1538 - d. 1 Sep 1607) (m. Richard Netterville)

2. Ellen PLUNKETT (b. ABT 1540) (m. William Manward)

3. Anne PLUNKETT (b. ABT 1542) (m. William Birmingham)

4. James PLUNKETT (b. 1550) (m. Catherine Fitzwilliam)

Married 3: Janet SARFIELD (d. 23 Feb 1597) (dau. of William Sarfield of Lucan) BEF 1579, St. Margarets, Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

Before 1547 Dunsoghly castle had passed to Sir John Plunkett, Christopher Plunkett's eldest son, and was his chief residence until his death. In the last decade of Henry VIII's reign there is an indication that John Plunkett was well known to those in high places, and not long after his succession to Dunsoghly he appears at the right hand of Edward VI's lord deputy, Sir Edward Bellingham. His post was hardly one that an embryo judge would now fill, and his chief duties seem to have been the provisioning and furnishing of the houses occupied by the lord deputy and his retinue. While the lord deputy was in the country he writes as an expert on the quality of beer to him, and in the same letter he promises to use his best efforts to procure for the lord deputy's retinue beds of the first quality in place of some which had been rejected on the ground that they were unfit for the lord deputy's servants, much less for his gentlemen. He was one of the few Irish officials privileged to approach Edward Seymour, Lord Protector, and was entrusted with the duty of providing for the spiritual care of his own parish.

But during the reign of Queen Mary John Plunkett is mentioned frequently as acting on commissions of a legal character, and in 1556 he appears as a member of the Irish privy council. He was not only appointed by  the Queen as member of her Irish council, hut was also admitted to her presence and given by her a grant of lands on more favourable terms than had been originally proposed.

He continued as a member of the Irish privy council on the accession of Elizabeth, and before she had been 12 months on the throne he was raised to the chief seat on the Common Law bench. He enjoyed the close friendship of the chancellor, Archbishop Loftus, the chief ecclesiastic of the Established Church, who refers to him after his death as "the good Sir John Plunkett".

In the winter of 1562 he was one of the three members of the Irish council sent to discuss with Queen Elizabeth the state of Ireland, and he displayed then such zeal for the English interest that her secretary assured him on his taking leave that he would be one of the first remembered for reward. When the controversy arose in regard to the cess the only land-owners in Dublin county, who approved of its imposition, were he and Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam, of Merrion, who was his cousin; and not long before his death he was commended by Archbishop Loftus to Sir Francis Walsingham for the "hearty service and great friendship" which he had always extended to "their whole nation".

In the year 1565, after the battle between the Earls of Ormond and Desmond at Affane, he was for many weeks at Waterford with Lord Justice Arnold, inquiring into the origin of the encounter; and at the close of the year 1567, when he received the honour of knighthood, he was sent with the Bishop of Meath, under a guard of 50 horse, to Munster, where he remained for several months settling the country after the Desmond confiscations. On that occasion his justice and incorruptibility were eulogized by Lord Justice Fitzwilliam and his successor Lord Deputy Sidney, and a few months before his death, in 1582, an effort to obtain some token of the Queen's recognition of his long service was made by the Irish government, but met no substantial response.

At the time of his death Sir John Plunkett had attained to a very great age. Three years before he is said to have been so blind as to have been scarcely able to see his food, and for some months before his death he was known to be dying. His later years were clouded by attacks made upon him by a step-son. His third wife, Janet Sarsfield, who is said to have been married five times (her second was James Luttrell, nephew of Catherine, Plunkett`s wife), was, at the time of her marriage to Sir John Plunkett, the widow of Sir Thomas Cusack, sometime lord chancellor of Ireland, and the attacks made upon him came from her son by that marriage, with whom he had long litigation.

In regard to these he wrote thus two years before his death to Sir Francis Walsingham:

"Truth urged me to visit your honour with those few lines, where I am informed Edward Cusack alleged my book concerning his proceeding contained but lies. I assure your honour every article therein in pith and substance is most true. I look not to live to write any untruth willingly, 'laudanti se videntur deesse vicini,' yet in truth a man may be his own herald. I have served my sovereign, beginning the first Michaelmas term of her Highness's reign to this present, and God be praised, uprightly, without respect to the contrary, and now to fail were too late."

As he mentions in his will, Sir John Plunkett received with his last wife "no small commodity", but although "he laid thereunto so much of his own", he says that he was "nothing the richer". His references to silver vessels, gilt, partly gilt, and ungilt, show that his cupboard was as well furnished as that of his grandfather; and a chapel adjoining Dunsoghly castle, another adjoining the church of the parish, and a chamber built over a mineral spring in the village, testified to his large ideas and piety.

Pride in his family and interest in the past were prominent in Sir John Plunkett's character. In regard to the first trait, it is related that he was very angry when a representation of his arms was blown down in Christ Church Cathedral, and in his will he is careful to emphasize his descent from the noble house of Killeen by large bequests to the churches with which that house was connected; and in regard to the second trait, it is recorded that it was from chronicles belonging to him that part of the "Book of Howth" was compiled, and his active support was given to the first proposal for printing the statutes of Ireland.

Of his office he was not a little proud, as a bequest of his judicial gown "furred with madder" shows; arid the fact that Dunsoghly was held from the Crown by royal service, and that it fell to his lot to contribute three archers to the muster, was to him, no doubt, a source of gratification.

As a neighbour at Dunbro, Sir John Plunkett had a leading gentleman of the Pale, Mark Barnewall, a great-grandson of Sir Nicholas Barnewall and Ismay Serjeant of Castleknock. Their son Edward married a daughter of his stepfather, Sir Robert Bold, by a previous marriage, and is said to have been the first of his name seated at Dunbro. He was succeeded there by his son Robert, who married Elizabeth Shelton, and was the father by her of Sir John Plunkett's neighbour. Mark Barnewall resembled in character Sir John Plunkett, being, in the words of Archbishop Loftus, "a very godly and honest man", and married a lady who had been previously wife of a son of Sir John Plunkett. He is mentioned first in connexion with the military expeditions against the Scots and Shane O'Neill, in which he served either in person or by deputy, and later on he appears on a mission to the English court on behalf of the Earl of Clanricarde.

But at the same time his own services were considered worthy of recognition, and he is found in correspondence with Lord Burghley about lands in county Kildare which were granted to him, together with a commissionership of the muster in Dublin county.

After Sir John Plunkett's death Dunsoghly came into the possession of Sir Christopher Plunkett, who was his grandson. He has been described as "an eminent and gracious lawyer", but he has left no mark in his professional capacity, and ire is now remembered as one of the leading landowners of the Pale in the reign of James I.

Ball, Francis Elrington: A History of the County Dublin
Publication: Originally published in six volumes (1902-1920). Online Source:
Media: Book

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