Plunket, David Robert (1838–1919), 1st Baron Rathmore , politician and solicitor general, was born 3 December 1838 in Ireland, third son among five sons and eight daughters of John Plunket, 3rd Baron Plunket of Newton, and his wife, Charlotte, daughter of the lord chief justice Charles Kendal Bushe (qv). He was grandson of the distinguished politician and lord chancellor of Ireland, William Conyngham Plunket (qv), and edited and published a collection of his speeches. Educated at TCD, he was a prominent speaker in the College Historical Society, winning a gold medal for oratory, and graduated BA (1859). Deciding upon a career in the law, he entered the King's Inns and was called to the bar (1862). He built a successful practice on the Munster circuit, became a QC (1868), and was named as law adviser to Dublin Castle (1868–9). A conservative in politics, he ran unsuccessfully for parliament (1868) for the city of Dublin, but was returned unopposed for Dublin University two years later (1870–95). One of his earliest interventions was on behalf of the Irish civil service, and he succeeded in passing a resolution in 1873 – despite much opposition from the treasury benches – for equality of pay between civil servants in Britain and Ireland. Gifted academically, he graduated MA, LLB, and LLD from Trinity College in 1872. In parliament Plunket was a skilful speaker and was soon recognised as one of the finest orators in the commons; he was a committed unionist and was valued highly for his views on Irish affairs. As a result he was persuaded, somewhat reluctantly, to become solicitor general for Ireland (1875–7). In 1880 he was briefly paymaster general and became a privy councillor on 24 March. Although an opponent of Gladstone, he was respected by the liberal leader because of his eloquence, for example on the Irish land bill of 1881. In 1884 he opposed the extension of the franchise to all male heads of households, regardless of property qualifications, arguing that it would help create a separate Irish nationality. With the return to office of Lord Salisbury in 1885, he accepted the post of first commissioner of works (1885–6) and shortly afterwards served a second term (1886–92). In the general election of 1895 he was returned for Dublin University, but vacated his seat at the end of the year on his creation as Baron Rathmore of Shanganagh, Co. Dublin. A director of the North Western Company and chairman of the North London Railway, Rathmore took an active role in the development of the Central London Railway, one of the earliest underground lines in London. He died 22 August 1919 at the North Western Hotel, Greenore. He never married and on his death his barony became extinct. His obituary in The Times (28 August) noted his ‘unrivalled personal charm’ and ‘vivid wit’, and recognised that he was one of the most eloquent parliamentary speakers of the 1870s and 1880s.
John Morley, The life of Gladstone (3 vols, 1903); Burke, Peerage (1912), 1526; IBL, xi (1919), 31; Times, 23, 28 Aug. 1919; G.E.C., Peerage; Alumni Dubl. WWW (under Rathmore); Who's who of British members of parliament (1976), ii; R. B. McDowell, ‘Administration and the public services’, NHI, vi, 572–3; King's Inns admissions; Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian titan (1999)