Gibbons, Barry Duncan (c.1797–1862), civil engineer, was born about 1797 but practically nothing is known of his early life. According to a posthumous memoir by M. Bernard Mullins (c.1862), he began his career in commercial activity and had taken up civil engineering by 1828 when he was superintendent of works in enlarging the pier designed by Alexander Nimmo (qv) for the fisheries board at Kilrush harbour, Co. Clare. He was evidently successful in his adopted profession, for which he may have had no formal training; Gibbons's completion of works at Kilrush led in 1832 to his joining the newly established Board of (public) Works (subsequently the Office of Public Works) as resident engineer in charge of repairs to Nimmo's harbour at Dunmore East, Co. Waterford. His career advanced significantly in 1834, when he was made county surveyor for Wexford, a post in which he remained until 1838.
On 19 April 1838 Gibbons received the prestigious appointment of resident engineer to Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) harbour commissioners in south Co. Dublin, following the death through fever of the incumbent, Richard Thomas. In addition he became resident engineer to the Dublin & Kingstown Railway (D & KR), Ireland's first operating train service, for which he had to provide political as well as practical support when called on to present parliament with the case for its continuation to Dalkey and Wicklow. He spent the remainder of his career based in Kingstown, except when supervising other works (mainly fishery piers and harbours) elsewhere in Ireland undertaken as famine relief projects in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Under the public works acts of 1846 he supervised or initiated (in his emergency role as engineer for piers and harbours) dozens of projects, which principally included his piers at Kilmore and Duncannon, Co. Wexford, at Moville, Co. Donegal, and at Newcastle, Co. Down. Other maritime facilities across the country included his short Belmullet canal, which provided swift and safe passage between Blacksod Bay and Broad Haven in the much indented coastline of north-west Co. Mayo.
Nearer home Gibbons contributed to the ongoing development of Howth harbour, begun by the elder John Rennie (qv), at the northerly end of Dublin Bay opposite Kingstown. In Kingstown itself he was responsible for the pre-famine construction of the traders' wharf (1842–5) towards the western end of the harbour, catering for increased demand from commercial shipping and effectively forming the ‘outer coal harbour’. In 1863 it was reached by rail from Co. Wicklow for the export of native minerals. Gibbons oversaw the building of a swivel bridge in the harbour in 1852. His New Packet (Carlisle) pier (1855–8) was the last major addition to the harbour area for many years and became the point of embarkation for emigrants to Britain for over a century.
In 1857 Gibbons was appointed to the permanent post of principal engineer at the Board of Works, although he remained in Kingstown (where he had an address at Susan Place and subsequently at 2 Connaught Place). He had just turned down another offer as engineer to the Dublin & Wicklow Railway company. In his secondary role (since 1838) as a railway engineer he had been involved, initially, in the experimental development of a pneumatic or ‘atmospheric’ railway from Kingstown to Dalkey. The opening (1834) of the original D & KR, and completion of works from Westland Row to its southern terminus by 1837, had fuelled the impulse towards building a rail network throughout Ireland. Gibbons, supported by the enthusiastic D & KR treasurer James Pim (qv), successfully presented the case before parliament for an atmospheric railway as demonstrated in London (1840) by Samuel Clegg. A stationary engine at Dalkey pumping air through a propulsion tube laid along a pre-existing tram route was a classic Victorian invention, which, in the absence of established automotive conventions, appeared as scientifically valid as the next. The short line, completed under Gibbons’s supervision, opened experimentally 19 August 1843, taking passengers from 1844. Operating reasonably successfully until 12 April 1854, its occasional inefficiency led to the introduction of locomotive power, latterly operated by the Dublin & Wicklow Railway. Gibbons surveyed the extension of the line from Dalkey to Wicklow (completed 1856) for the legendary British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Although apparently in robust health, Gibbons’s career as principal engineer was cut short by his sudden death 24 October 1862, aged 65, at 13 Dawson St. Dublin. His death was mourned in professional journals, the Mullins obituary in Transactions (vii, 1862–3) concluding that his numerous works would remain as his memorials.