Dunkin, William (1707?–65), poet and schoolmaster, was born in Dublin, son of Patrick Dunkin (d. 1719?), gentleman, who may have been briefly curate of Dromiskin, Co. Louth, before his early death. William's mother apparently also died young, but nothing else is known of her. In 1720 he was a pupil of Dr Lloyd at St Patrick's cathedral school, Dublin. His aunt, who had left her lands in Co. Louth to TCD, stipulated that the college should undertake responsibility for the young man's education. He entered TCD in 1725, and graduated with a BA (1727/9).
By the time he became Latin schoolmaster at St Patrick's school of St Michael le Pole, Dublin, he had acquired a considerable reputation in the city for his scholarship and brilliantly witty poems; they are frequently satirical, notable for their classical learning and for originality in rhyme-scheme and diction. His poems include ‘The parson's revels’, a long burlesque narrative full of references to social conditions, and a mock-epic on a former TCD porter called Paddy Murphy. He was involved in many poetical contests and feuds of the day, but his poetry has outlasted that of most of his contemporaries. Around 1733 he was introduced to Jonathan Swift (qv), who acknowledged him to be ‘a gentleman of much wit and the best English as well as the best Latin poet of this kingdom’. At Swift's request, Dunkin translated one of Swift's Latin poems, into English: ‘Carbery rocks’; the version was published in Swift's collected poems (1735). Dunkin was one of the witnesses to Swift's will.
Swift's friendship proved advantageous for the younger man: Theophilus Bolton (qv), archbishop of Cashel, had expressed his strong prejudice against the ‘unhappy genius’ of Dunkin, but after Swift's intercession on his friend's behalf, the archbishop ordained Dunkin in April 1735. In 1736 Swift obtained an increased annuity from TCD for Dunkin, although the board of the college was not impressed by Dunkin's ‘strange behaviour’ when interviewed about his role in the elopement of a Miss Cope. Dunkin was apparently not particularly interested in theology, but in 1744 received the degree of DD from Dublin University. Swift, despite his best efforts, failed to obtain any church preferment for Dunkin, and in 1746 Lord Chesterfield (qv), then lord lieutenant, who was friendly with Dunkin, appointed him headmaster of the Royal School at Enniskillen. There he remained till his death on 24 November 1765. His successor Mark Noble claimed that Dunkin had alienated part of the school's lands to benefit his own family; Noble's legal challenge to recover the leases was successful, though he was not awarded his costs. Dunkin's marriage, which took place before his ordination, was regarded by his friends as imprudent; his wife's name is not known. One son survived, and he seems to have had other children.
His poems circulated in manuscript, were published as single pieces, or appeared in periodicals; there were two editions (1770, 1774) of his collected Poetical works after his death. One poem, a prologue for the benefit of the Rotunda Hospital, is reprinted in T. P. C. Kirkpatrick (qv), The book of the Rotunda Hospital (1913).