Dowling, Matthew (‘Mat’) (1756–1805), United Irishman and attorney, was born in King's Co. (Offaly), son of Patrick Dowling and his wife. Little is known about his early life except that he came from a catholic family. He entered TCD in 1770 but does not appear to have taken his degree. Deciding upon a career in the law, he was admitted to practise as an attorney by King's Inns in 1777. His name was erased by order on 27 November 1778 for reasons that are not clear, but he was reinstated later. From 1780 he practised as an attorney in the exchequer at 4 Great Longford Street, Dublin. In 1783 he became a member of the Dublin Independent Volunteers and friends with Napper Tandy (qv), and he was later a captain in the Goldsmith's corps. He joined the freemasons on 31 May 1790 and was a member of lodge 7 in Dublin. Increasingly committed to radical reform, he was a founder member of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen in November 1791, and also served on the Catholic Committee. In December 1792 he fought a duel against the chief secretary's private secretary, Burrough. Accompanied by his friend and fellow mason, Hamilton Rowan (qv), he went to Holyhead for the engagement, and acquitted himself so well that a dinner was held in his honour on his return. On Sunday 9 December 1792 he assembled the national guards, and all the Volunteer corps of Dublin, for a meeting to celebrate a victory of the French. The announcement was addressed to all ‘citizen soldiers’. This meeting incensed the lord chancellor, John Fitzgibbon (qv), earl of Clare, and was a factor in the suppression of the Volunteers in 1793.
Dowling acted as agent to Lord Cloncurry (qv), and was close friends with his son Valentine Lawless (qv). He was also the agent of Napper Tandy and in 1793 advised him to flee the country. During Rowan's trial in January 1794, Dowling acted as his counsel alongside John Philpot Curran (qv), and then after his conviction assisted with his escape from prison. When the lord lieutenant, Lord Fitzwilliam, (qv) was recalled in March 1795, Dowling was suspected of inciting people to riot in protest. He was an active member of the United Irishmen and wrote several of its addresses in its early years. His other major contribution involved the recruitment of new members. He was chief recruiter for Co. Wexford, and swore in Anthony Perry (qv), one of his legal clients, in 1797, and a central group of members revolved around him. A major figure in the United Irishmen in Co. Kildare, he was described by one magistrate as ‘the executive officer of sedition and rebellion’ (Tillyard, 229). In March 1798 he was hired by the Wicklow United Irishmen to defend ninety prisoners. In April an informer reported that he and Dominick Rice had plotted at a house at Harold's Cross to assassinate the lord chancellor, Lord Clare, though it appears that the plan actually involved kidnapping either Fitzgibbon's children or those of Lord Lieutenant Camden (qv).
Identified as a dangerous radical, Dowling was arrested in May 1798. Together with other lawyers who were involved in the rebellion he was struck off the rolls in June 1799. With other prominent United Irishmen, he was banished under the terms of the ‘Kilmainham treaty’ and sent to Fort George, Scotland, in March 1799. After his release in June 1802 he went to the Continent, travelling first to Hamburg along with many of the other state prisoners. He left shortly after August 1802 and went to Rotterdam and then to Paris, where he died in June 1805 after two days' illness. He was an alcoholic and his death resulted from taking an excess of French brandy. He had married Margaret Dennison and had children; his eldest son and namesake trained as a barrister, and joined the freemasons in February 1801.