Roots: The Dowlings

The crest of the Dowling clan.

By Adam Farley, Editorial Assistant
December / January 2014

In 1609, the few patrician members of the Dowling clan were transplanted from their native Laois to the border of north Kerry and west Limerick, dividing the clan’s geography. Today, the majority of Dowlings can be found still in the east of Ireland, where the new British landowners generally ignored the lay clansmen in their home territory along the western bank of the River Barrow. That region, anciently known as Fearann ua n-Dunlaing, or the Dowlings’ country, hints at the etymology of the name, which is theorized to be one of the few “residential” surnames in Irish, coming from dun, fort, and laing, possibly a corruption of the Irish long, meaning ship.

After the transplantation of the clan’s leaders, the remainders in Laois spread east and south down the River Barrow through Counties Carlow, Kilkenny, and eventually Wicklow. In fact, in the Rathdrum area of Wicklow, there are at least four townlands called Ballydowling. It is from this area that the oldest notable Dowling emerged: Thady Dowling (1544 – 1628), an annalist and Irish language grammarian.

Coming forward in the centuries and across the pond, another man of learning was Victor J. Dowling (1866 – 1934), a New York State Supreme Court Justice and an active Knight in numerous Catholic chivalric orders, including the Order of St. Gregory the Great, Papal Chamberlain of the Cape and Sword. Another law man was the London-born colonial official Sir James Dowling (1787 – 1844), whose father was from Laois. This Dowling went on to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and wrote numerous influential treatises. His brother, Vincent George Dowling (1785 – 1852), opted to stay in London and became a successful publisher of sports magazines, including Bell’s Life and Fistiana, dedicated to boxing.

Continuing with writers, the 19th-century poem “The Brigade of Fontenoy” was composed by the Kerry-born Bartholomew Dowling (1823 – 1863) in commemoration of the Irish soldiers at France’s decisive defeat of Britain in the 18th-century Battle of Fontenoy.

In service of the British Army in India, William Dowling (1825 – 1887), born in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his deeds during the 1857 Indian Mutiny at the Siege of Lucknow. In America, Richard W. Dowling (1838 – 1867) was a key Irish figure in the Confederate Army (though he was born in Galway), achieving the rank of lieutenant in a unit of primarily Houston-based Irish dockworkers.

Perhaps the oddest connection to the hard side of history is the 1910 marriage of Dubliner Bridget Dowling (1891 – 1969) to Alois Hitler, Jr., making her sister-in-law to Adolf Hitler. Alois had been working as a waiter at the Shelbourne Hotel since the late 1890s, though pretended to be a well-to-do European businessman when he met Bridget. They eloped in London and eventually moved to Liverpool, where Bridget had a son, William Patrick, in 1911. Three years later, however, Alois abandoned the family, returned to Germany, illegally remarried, and arranged for word to be sent to Bridget that he was dead. German officials eventually discovered the illegal bigamy however, and they were finally divorced in 1929.

After World War II, Bridget and William Patrick re-located to the U.S., where William had previously traveled, lecturing on his infamous uncle. They settled in Long Island and changed their last name to Stuart-Houston.

Also on Long Island is Dowling College, named for Robert W. Dowling (1895 – 1973). Born in New York, Robert was an important real-estate investor and philanthropist and had key roles in the development of Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. He also won a Tony award in 1948 for his contribution to theater development (he owned or partly owned at least four theaters), and was one of the original producers for The Sound of Music.

More recently in the theater business is actor and director Vincent Dowling (1929 – 2013). The Dublin-born thespian got his start at the Abbey Theater before transplanting to Cleveland in the 1970s to head the Great Lakes Theater Festival, where he was the spur that turned Tom Hanks from a festival intern to a Cleveland Critics Circle Award-winning actor. Later, Vincent Dowling moved to Massachusetts, founded his own theater company, and won an Emmy for his production and direction of the PBS film of John Millington Synge’s Playboy of the Western World.

Finally, in a bit of serendipity, who would happen to have an honorary doctorate from Dowling College but this year’s Business 100 Keynote Speaker, the Limerick native Michael J. Dowling? Read more about him in his keynote interview.

28 Responses to “Roots: The Dowlings”

  1. Robert Dowling says:

    I would love it if some one in conemara was related in anyway shape or format .we live in Newcastle upon Tyne and family also lived in Shotts parish Scotland.

  2. Martha Dowling Durbin says:

    Would love to contact Dowlings still in Ireland. I have traveled there twice and never met anyone . Would love to locate Ballydowling (I understand there are 3-4 towns by that name) .

    • frank dowling says:

      My name is Frank Dowling. I live in Dublin. You are welcome to message me and tell me about yourself.
      Regards F

      • Maria Russell says:

        Hi There Frank,

        My dowlings are from Kildare and Dublin, my mum was a dowling born Dublin 1939 and my GF Leo was born think 1909 I am aware many were master plasterers and went back and forth between Dublin and Liverpool.
        Other family names are Leigh, Campbell and possibly Russell.

        Do any of these names correspond with yours.

        • Sharon Dowling says:

          My Dowlings come from Clane, Kildare and South Dublin. I’ve been on Ancestry and traced back to early 1800s in Naas. All Richard and Patrick Dowling, father and son names. My father, Richard Dowling b. 1919 in US was first US born citizen in my tree. It is possible that we are related.

          • Chris Myers says:

            Is that you, Cousin Sharon? Planning a trip to Dublin this summer and wish to look into family there.

          • Sharon says:

            Hi Chris! Small world!! Lol
            Our family are from Naas, Clane, Timahoe and Straffan, Celbridge. Back in the day it was considered So. Dublin. If you go to Celbridge, you can go to the church where our great grandparents were married in 1877. I found the certificate in Dublin archives on my 2014 trip. There are Dowlings in Prosperous in our tree. Richard Dowling owned the main bar there. He was our cousin. His great grandfather and ours were siblings.
            I have a large tree worked up with 4 years of researching and can go back to 1600s. I’m now going to Shapinsay, Orkney Islands next month to see Nana’s side of the IrviCambridge,
            I gave the tree to Mike. If you want it Let me know.
            Love ya!

          • Joe Sprowl says:

            Hi Sharon,

            My Dowlings also come from Nass. My particular Dowling family is Esther Dowling who married Martin Carr 17 Jun 1821 in Monasterevan, County Kildare. They lived at Ballysax and Suncroft. Would love to know more about Esther’s family. Any help is greatly appreciated.

            Kind regards,

      • Sharon Dowling says:

        Hi Frank,

        My Dowlings come from Clane, Kildare and South Dublin. I’ve been on Ancestry and traced back to early 1800s in Naas. All Richard and Patrick Dowling, father and son names. My father, Richard Dowling b. 1919 in US was first US born citizen in my tree. I wonder if we are related.

      • Loretta says:

        Hi Frank, My grandmother Annie Dowling Condron had a brother named Frank. Also there were brothers Joe, and Dominick as well as sisters Molly, Tessie & Bernadette (I’m missing a few). She came to US in early 1900s from Dublin. I do remember visits from her brother Joe & his wife Kitty when I was a girl. If any of these names are familiar to you, I’d love to hear from you

      • Bernice Faloon says:

        I am in the process of searching out my Irish roots. Thus far I have found to be descended from John Dowling who was married to Margaret Dowling, begat John Dowling II who in turn married Deborah (Libby) Dowling. ( they became my grandfathers grandparents)… also I belive that John & Margaret had another child named James. He married Mary Elder (Molly). they bcame my grandmothers great grandparents…
        Is it possible that James is brother and not son of John I…

        My grandmother was born in 1896 and my grandfather in 1882….

        John I & Margaret I have led to believe both were born in Ireland, unfortunately I know not in which county…how do I find this info????

  3. Rosco says:

    My father is law is a dowling, he is actually trying to find the identify of his great grand mother who married William Dowling (fr William, mother Elizabeth). The story goes, william married an indian woman, and upon returning home, the family disowned him in England, so he moved to South Africa. So there are dowlings here.

  4. Am a cousin of the iris actor Vincent Dowling. Will be in Ireland this fall. Wonder if I will meet any relatives.

  5. Wyatt Dowling says:

    I live in Houston, Texas. My dad is a “Dowling” and I have no idea how we got the name. Not sure if I’m Irish, English, or whatever. But now I’m a Texan, so maybe it doesn’t matter. Nothing is as important as good fajitas.

  6. Kiley Dowling-Mercer says:

    My dad is Michael T Dowling…..Im sure we are all related somehow!

  7. Melanie Radack says:

    My great great grandfather was Thomas Francis Dowling of Kildare. He came to the USA in 1893 and married my GG grandmother, Ellen Conway, also from Kildare. Are we perhaps related/cousins? I would love to visit Kildare someday!

    • Hi my father was born to Norah Dowling in 1934
      She was from
      Glenkitt Ireland
      Would anyone know her family
      She married James Keenan
      Norah died in 1934

    • Sharon Dowling says:

      Hi Melanie,
      My family comes from Kildare also. My grandfather emigrated to US in 1881 . His name is Patrick Dowling. Born in Clane, Kildare. 1880. His father, Patrick, was born 1858 in Ballynafaugh, Kildare. Perhaps we are related. I have done research through ancestry and have a tree to compare notes with.

  8. Matt Jones says:

    Hello and good evening I am tracing my family back and my ancestor was michael Dowling that is buried in Ontario Canada. If any one can help me with the gap between him and Ireland it would be greatly apprciated

    • Karen says:

      I don’t know if your Michael and ours are the same, but I have a Michael Dowling buried in Ontario. He’s the earliest ancestor any of us has found. We have no idea how he got to America, though.

  9. My mother is Dorothy Dowlng her family is from Freshford in county Killkenny. Her dad was Edward Joseph Dowling and her mom was Anastasia Doyle.They came to the US in 1919 and lived in the Bronx. My mom married William F. Ashton and they moved to New Jersey and had 12 children

  10. Ereka Dowling says:

    Hi.. I am a Dowling in India.. And know thatbmy four fathers were irish.. My grandfather was Benjamin Dowling and great grandfather was Alfred Dowling and both served the British military in India.. Like all of you im just tracing my ancestors back

  11. Kimberly Dowling says:

    My great-grand father was John Dowling from Allenwood, Co. Kildare. One of his brothers was Patrick Dowling. They both came to Ellis Island in the early 1900’s via Cork.

    I met some of my grandfather’s cousins when I went to Allenwood. One of the 8 sons of that family and a widow, Kathleen, and her family. Apparently my Dowling family was only 1 of 2 in Allenwood but Dowlings are more prevent in Co. Kildare.

  12. Francine says:

    Hello, I am looking for my ancestor named John Dowling who married Jane Tubman. He immigrated to New Brunswick Canada. He was born around 1780.

    Thank you

  13. Mrs H Ferguson says:


    I am of the Dowling’s from Chew Magna in Somerset, George Pyke Dowling, Rev of St Andrew’s, father to Eliza Dowling – Clarke ( Tasmania & Victoria, Australia ) & Maria Dowling – Whittaker, of Dowlingville, South Australia).
    Traveling to Somerset, England & Ireland in from 21st June 2018.
    Please contact me for follow up & chat up. From Mrs H Ferguson

  14. Mark Dowling says:

    Hello Dowlings
    Im interested in my Dowling ,Quinlivan Conlon and Mariner ancestry we will be visiting Ireland from Australia in September 2018 would love to do some research and may be catch up with some long lost cousins?

    Warm Regards

    Mark Dowling

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