Dowling, Richard (1846–98), writer, was born 3 June 1846 in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, only son of David Jeremiah Dowling (d. c.1855), schoolmaster, and Margaret Dowling. His father died when he was 9 years old. He was educated in Clonmel, Waterford, and St Munchin's Jesuit college, Limerick, before entering, aged 18, the shipping office of his uncle William Downey in Waterford. He distinguished himself in the Waterford Literary and Debating Society and contributed to local newpapers, including the Waterford Citizen and the Waterford Chronicle. In 1870 he joined the staff of the Nation and moved to Dublin. On the outbreak of the Franco–German war, he edited for A. M. Sullivan (qv) a war-sheet, the Daily Summary (1870–71), and subsequently became editor and contributor successively to the humorous but short-lived Zozimus (1871–2) and Ireland's Eye.
He settled in London (1874), joined the staff of the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, and founded Yorick (1876), a comic paper with cartoons by Harry Furniss (qv) which lasted six months. In 1879 he published the first and most successful of his many novels, The mystery of Killard – a strange tale of a deaf-mute fisherman in Co. Clare – which was hailed as one of the most striking romances of the year. Though his later novels were intensely realistic, exciting, and clever, they never achieved the same high standard; according to Furniss, who thought Dowling would be a great author, he ‘drifted into the quicksand of Bohemianism . . . He sank a wreck, with a rich cargo of genius that was never delivered to the world’ (Furniss, 40). Other writers later mentioned Dowling's unfulfilled promise. Among his other novels of Irish interest are Sweet Inisfail (1882) and Old Corcoran's money (1892); a dramatisation of Below bridge (1895) was staged (6 April 1896) at the Novelty Theatre, London.
He contributed poems, short stories, and essays to several magazines, including Belgravia, London Society, and Saturday Journal, and was a frequent contributor to Tinsley's Magazine, writing its leading serials (1880–82), which were later published as novels: Under St Paul's (1881) and The duke's sweetheart (1881). His collections of essays include On babies and ladders (1873), which some critics believe to be his best work; Ignorant essays (1887); Indolent essays (1889), full of wit and original thought; and descriptive essays, London town (1880); he also edited the Poems (1891) of John Francis O'Donnell (qv). He wrote both under his own name and under various pseudonyms, including ‘Peter Mendaciorum’, ‘Marcus Fall’, and ‘Emmanuel Kink’. A selection of his letters was published as ‘Some old letters’ (IBL, xi, nos 3–4 (Oct.–Nov. 1919), 20–23) and ‘More old letters’ (ibid., xi, nos 6–7 (Jan.–Feb. 1920), [51–4]).
According to his daughter, he worked erratically, often continuously for several days and nights. An invalid during his later years, he composed his works on a sofa, invariably wearing a cap and with a soup-plate full of pipes beside him, which he enjoyed in turn. A mild, kind, and gentle personality, he was an effective raconteur and a witty conversationalist. His cousin Edmund Downey (qv), who published many of his works, was introduced to the publishing world by Dowling. He was an applicant to the British charity for authors, the Royal Literary Fund, and left his family ill provided for. He died 28 July 1898 at his home, 2 Foulser Rd, Tooting, and was buried in Mortlake catholic cemetery, London. Dowling was married (his wife's name and the date of their marriage are not known) and had three children.