Morrison, Sir Richard (1767–1849), architect, was born probably in Co. Cork, where his father, John Morrison, practised as an architect of some pretensions. Frederick Augustus Hervey (qv), bishop of Cloyne and future earl bishop of Derry, and Richard Boyle (qv), 2nd earl of Shannon, of Castlemartyr, Co. Cork, were his godparents. According to his son John, Morrison ‘left his native province early in life’ and went to Dublin, where he became a pupil of James Gandon (qv), being ‘enabled to pursue his studies with advantage from the emoluments of a government appointment in the ordnance department’ (Morrison, ‘Life’). He was admitted to the Dublin Society's school of architectural drawing in May 1786 and awarded a first class medal by the school the following November. He married (1790) Eliza Ould (d. 1854), daughter of the Rev. William Ould, who held, among other benefices, the chaplaincy of the Rotunda Hospital, where his father, Sir Fielding Ould (qv), had been master. Soon after the marriage, Morrison, having lost his position in the ordnance department, moved to Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, where he set up as an architect. He enjoyed the patronage of Charles Agar (qv), archbishop of Cashel, for whom he designed a tower and spire for Cashel cathedral (1791). It was to Agar that he dedicated his pattern book, Useful and ornamental designs in architecture (1793). In the introduction he gives himself a Dublin address, though he was probably still also practising in Clonmel. By 1800 he had moved to Dublin permanently and had a family of four sons: John, William, Richard, and Fielding.
Despite his move, Morrison won relatively few commissions in Dublin, where his principal work is Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital (1803). From 1807 to 1831 he was architect to TCD, where he completed the student accommodation in Botany Bay (1813) and designed an anatomy house (1823). Most of his other commissions were scattered countrywide. Many came from provincial grand juries: courthouses at Clonmel (a.1800), Wexford (from 1803), Portlaoise (a.1805), Naas (a.1807), and Galway (1812–15), and gaols at Enniskillen (1812), Tralee (1812), and Roscommon (1814). It was as the designer of country houses for the landed gentry that he was most frequently employed, often disguising an existing house in castellated dress, as at Shanganagh Castle, Co. Dublin (1803–5), Castle Howard, Co. Wicklow (in or after 1811), Thomastown Castle, Co. Tipperary (1812), and Castle Freke, Co. Cork (a.1815). He also designed a series of compact classical villas, including Bearforest, Co. Cork, Bellair and Cangort Park, King's Co. (Offaly), and Weston, Co. Galway, all dating from c.1807.
From 1809 onwards Richard Morrison collaborated increasingly with his second son, William Vitruvius Morrison (1794–1838), who was born 22 April 1794 in Clonmel. William was delicate from birth and was therefore educated at home. According to his brother John, he showed an early talent for drawing, producing a design for Ballyheigue Castle, Co. Kerry, when he was only 15; from then on, Richard Morrison ‘found in his son a valuable assistant’ and ‘an exhaustless mine of taste in design and composition’. Between 1810 and 1820, father and son collaborated on Borris House, Co. Carlow, on Shelton Abbey, Co. Wicklow, and on the remodelling of Kilruddery, Co. Wicklow. William Morrison visited the Continent in 1821, spending some months in Rome, and making an excursion to Paestum. He also stayed in Paris and, on his way home, toured England, making a particular study of Tudor architecture. On his return to Dublin he continued to work with his father; collaborative designs of the early 1820s include the classical Ballyfin, King's Co. (Offaly), and Fota, Co. Cork, and the Tudor Gothic Rossmore Park, Co. Monaghan.
Relations between father and son may well have grown difficult because of a marked difference in temperament: the father robust in health, combative, and go-getting; the son delicate and sensitive, with a keen interest in antiquities and a scholarly and informed approach to design. The fact that William had for some time been receiving commissions on his own account – including Miltown House, Co. Kerry, and Templemore Priory, Co. Tipperary (both c.1819), Glenarm Castle, Co. Antrim (1823–4), and Ormeau House, Co. Down (from 1823) – may have induced some professional jealousy on his father's part. About 1825 William set up his own practice, though apparently without moving premises. During the next decade or so, he designed a series of gabled, half-timbered ‘cottages’ – among them Carpenham in Rostrevor, and Lough Bray Cottage, Co. Wicklow – and Tudor manor houses at Hollybrooke, Co. Wicklow, Ballygiblin, Co. Cork, and Clontarf Castle (1836–7), his masterpiece in the genre, where he created a composition consisting of a Tudor manor with a Norman and a late medieval tower to suggest a building that had evolved over several centuries. Classical work included the Ross obelisk at Rostrevor (1826), courthouses at Tralee and Carlow (1828), Oak Park, Co. Carlow (1832), and Baronscourt, Co. Tyrone. Work on Baronscourt had scarcely begun when his health collapsed. He spent the winter of 1836 in the south of France, returning the following summer, but this provided only fleeting improvement. After a new attack resulting in paralysis, he died 16 October 1838 at his father's house, Walcot, near Bray. He was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin, where his friends erected a sarcophagus to his own design. A bust by Terence Farrell (qv) is in the RIA.
Richard Morrison's output appears to have declined after William began his independent practice. When William went to France in 1836, Richard took over the work at Baronscourt but his only other securely documented late works were refacing the stables at Howth Castle (1841) and the addition of wings to Tullynally Castle, Co. Westmeath (c.1842). He founded the Institute of the Architects of Ireland in 1839, of which he was the first vice-president. In recognition of this initiative, he was awarded a knighthood in January 1841.
Morrison died 31 October 1849 at Walcot, aged 83 and was buried with William in the family plot at Mount Jerome. Only photographs survive of the portrait of him as a young man by an unknown artist, which was formerly at the Institute. The present whereabouts of the bust by John Edward Jones (qv), dating from 1849 and exhibited at the Irish Industrial Exhibition in 1853, is also unknown.