Cregan, Martin (1788–1870), portrait painter, was born in Co. Meath and reared by foster parents named Creggan, of Martinstown, Co. Meath, whose name he adopted but later altered to Cregan. As a boy he was placed in the service of the Stewarts of Killymoon, Co. Tyrone, who recognised his artistic abilities and, from about 1804, financed his education at the Dublin Society Schools, where he won medals for drawing in 1806 and 1807. The Stewarts continued to support him during his studies in London, where he became the pupil of Martin Archer Shee (qv). An exhibitor at the Royal Academy (1812–21) and the British Institution, he is said while in London to have associated with Constable, Landseer, and Hayter. Having returned to Dublin about 1822 as an established portrait painter, he was one of the original members of the RHA in 1823. He became the academy's first secretary, and contributed twenty-six paintings to its first exhibition in 1826. He continued to exhibit with the RHA until 1859.
Following the resignation of William Cuming (qv), Cregan was elected president of the academy in October 1832. During the later years of his presidency, the organisation faced growing debts and increasingly unsuccessful exhibitions. Despite opposition from older members, he gave his unequivocal support to Michael Angelo Hayes (qv), the academy's secretary and leading reformer. The conflict among academicians came to a head in 1856, when, after a disruptive election, Matthew Kendrick (qv) was elected president. However, Cregan continued to regard himself as the legitimate president, and kept the academy's keys, accounts, and documents. He was eventually defeated when George Petrie (qv) was elected president in October 1857. It was only after government intervention in the shape of the Macleod Report, and a new constitution for the academy, that both he and Hayes were reinstated to their former positions.
During his heyday Cregan was regarded as one of the foremost portrait painters in Dublin. He received commissions from many of the leading members of Irish society, and held the post of portrait painter to the lord lieutenant. In 1816 he married Jane Schwertzel in London, with whom he had sixteen children. Their fourth son, William Stewart Cregan, exhibited with the RHA in 1860 and 1872. Although late in his career he faced competition from Stephen Catterson Smith (qv), Martin Cregan continued to paint and was working on an altarpiece at the time of his death. He died 10 December 1870 at his home in Lennox Street, Dublin, and was buried at Mount Jerome cemetery. Sir Thomas Jones (qv) painted a posthumous portrait of him in 1889.