Gardiner, Luke (1745–98), 1st Viscount Mountjoy (second creation), MP and property developer, was born 7 February 1745, eldest son of Charles Gardiner (qv) of Dublin and his wife Florinda, daughter of Robert Norman of Lagore, Co. Meath. His grandfather and namesake, Luke Gardiner (qv), had married Anne Stewart, granddaughter of William Stewart, 1st Viscount Mountjoy. Luke the younger attended Eton from 1759 to 1762 and was admitted to St John's College, Cambridge in the latter year, graduating BA (1766) and MA (1769). In the company of his younger brother William (later a general), Luke Gardiner embarked on a grand tour during 1770–72, visiting Florence, Venice, and Rome. Gardiner became a noted connoisseur and patron of art, his commissions including works by Francis Cotes, Gavin Hamilton, and Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Gardiner was elected MP for Co. Dublin in 1773 and served continuously until 1789. Although generally a supporter of government, he displayed a marked degree of liberalism, distinguishing himself in particular by his efforts to relieve Roman Catholics from the effects of the penal laws. The first of two catholic relief acts that bear Gardiner's name was passed in 1778, enabling catholics to lease land for a period up to 999 years and to inherit on the same terms as protestants. In a letter to Edmund Burke (qv) dated 11 August 1778, Gardiner explained that he had accepted limitations to this act in order to secure its acceptance by the Irish parliament, with the intention that the remainder of the popery laws ‘might remain for the business of a future session' (Works and correspondence of Edmund Burke, i, 374–5). This gradualist strategy was pursued with Gardiner's second act (1782), which allowed catholics to acquire land and removed restrictions on catholic clergy and conditions of worship. Gardiner was appointed a member of the Irish privy council in 1780, and he was also active in the Irish Volunteers, being a colonel in the Dublin company.
A contemporary, the Rev. John Scott, described Gardiner's bearing in parliament in the following terms: ‘Mr Gardiner's voice is good, clear, strong and deep, and his action though perhaps too theatrical has often both grace and strength. His language is plain, simple and flowing . . . His matter is commonly very good, for he is a man of learning . . . ' Scott noted also that Gardiner had been for a long time the ‘devoted servant of Administration, labouring with incessant assiduity for the attainment of a peerage’ (Falkland, 26–8). Gardiner's ambition was realised when the title of his Stewart ancestors was revived in his person, and in 1789 he was created Baron Mountjoy of Mountjoy, Co. Tyrone, and subsequently (1795) Viscount Mountjoy.
As well as establishing the family fortunes, the elder Luke Gardiner had commenced the development of an extensive estate on the northside of Dublin city. Luke the younger continued the work of his grandfather and father, his finest achievement being Mountjoy Square, commenced in 1792. The Gardiner development scheme proceeded by issuing building leases for single or multiple sites to builders and speculators, with a degree of building uniformity achieved by inserting covenants in the leases controlling height, brickwork, windows, and doors. These provisions did not entirely remove scope for a pleasing variety still to be observed in the surviving building stock of north Georgian Dublin, which, although often in a decayed or neglected condition, is indeed the most notable monument to Luke Gardiner and his family.
Gardiner greatly augmented the family landholdings when he emerged victorious in the 1790s from a lengthy legal battle with the earl of Granard (qv), which concerned succession to a Co. Tyrone estate claimed by virtue of a relationship through his grandmother Anne Stewart. Gardiner's principal residences in Dublin were 10 Henrietta St. and Mountjoy House in the Phoenix Park, the latter later being sold to the government. The Co. Tyrone estates, comprising over 30,000 acres in Newtownstewart, Rash, and Mountjoy Forest, contained two residences of modest size, Rash House and The Cottage. Given his wealth, status, and interest in architecture, it is surprising that Gardiner never constructed a large country residence in Co. Tyrone, although it was reported in 1791 that he was ‘about building’ a great house near Omagh.
The hopes and expectations that underlay reforms such as the gradual removal of penal laws were not to be realised, and continuing catholic disaffection was one of the principal reasons for the slide into repression and rebellion in the late 1790s. Although a person of his rank and age clearly need not have done so, Gardiner entered the field in command of a regiment of the Co. Dublin militia during the 1798 rebellion, indicating that his liberalism did not preclude a stern sense of duty and support for the established order in time of danger. On 5 June 1798 Gardiner was caught in an ambush at the battle of New Ross and was shot and piked to death by the rebels. The irony of the circumstances of his death was not lost on his brother-in-law, the more hardline John Beresford (qv), who lamented that his ‘dear friend’ had been ‘cut off by those villains whose cause he was the first great advocate for’ (Beresford to Lord Auckland, 8 June 1798, BL, Add. MS 34454, f. 324, cited in PRONI, The ’98 rebellion (n.d.; Educational Facsimiles, no. 83)).
Gardiner married first (3 July 1773) Elizabeth (d. 1783), daughter of Sir William Montgomery, baronet, of Magbiehill, Co. Peebles, Scotland; they had two sons and six daughters. Elizabeth was famously portrayed with her sisters Barbara and Anne in Sir Joshua Reynolds's ‘Three ladies adorning a tree of Hymen’, a work commissioned by Gardiner. He married secondly (20 October 1793) Margaret, daughter of Hector Wallis of Spring Mount, Queen's Co. (Laois); they had one daughter. Gardiner's elder son, also named Luke, died in infancy (1781), and his second son, Charles John (b. 1782), succeeded to his father's title and estates after his death. Charles John was created earl of Blessington in 1816, and is perhaps best remembered as the husband of the author Marguerite Power (qv), countess of Blessington. The couple's spendthrift ways and association with the dandy Alfred, Count D'Orsay, resulted in financial haemorrhaging of the Gardiner estate and its eventual bankruptcy and sale after their deaths.
There are portraits extant of Luke Gardiner by Francis Cotes (d. 1770) and Reynolds, both of which are said to be in private collections (Coleman, ‘Luke Gardiner’, 161–3). The main body of surviving Gardiner family papers is in the NLI, comprising mostly title deeds, with little or no correspondence of Luke Gardiner and other family members. The absence of both a concentrated collection of personal papers and a near-contemporary memoir, together with the decline in the family's fortunes after his demise, may explain why Luke Gardiner has never been the subject of a full-length biography. Yet his life was a full one despite its premature and tragic end, and his political and cultural contributions were significant, particularly in the areas of catholic relief and the architectural development of Dublin.