Westropp, Thomas Johnson (1860–1922), antiquarian, was born 16 August 1860 at Attyflin, near Patrickswell, Co. Limerick, son (and only surviving child) of John Westropp and his second wife and cousin, Charlotte Louisa Whitehead. His father, a substantial landowner with estates in Co. Limerick and Co. Clare, also had four sons and three daughters from his first marriage. He was educated at home, initially by his mother, an Englishwoman from a military family, and then with a private tutor, both of whom encouraged his interest in antiquities. His diary shows an exceptionally close bond with his mother, especially after the death of his father in 1866. He entered TCD in 1879, obtaining his MA degree in 1882 and qualified as a civil engineer in 1885. He worked only briefly at this profession, as an assistant surveyor in Co. Meath, and from 1888 devoted his time entirely to antiquarian work, living for the rest of his life on a private income. He did not marry and lived in Monkstown, Co. Dublin with his mother until her death in 1891, then in Lower Leeson St., Dublin, and for the last twenty years of his life with his nephew and his family at Strand Road, Sandymount.
He had started recording, sketching, and drawing archaeological features, castles, and abbeys from his teenage years and read his first paper to the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland in 1886. His first academic article appeared in the 1887 volume of the RHAAI journal. Thereafter he produced over 300 publications. His major field work and research was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries and the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Other work appeared in local journals, particularly those of the Limerick Field Club, North Munster Archaeological Society, Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, and Galway Archaeological Society. He also contributed articles to Folklore, Irish Monthly, and Irish Builder. While he never produced a major monograph, he wrote a short life of Brian Boru (1914), was the main contributor to a Handbook of antiquities in the Limerick area (1916), and his long paper on forts, which had originally appeared in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, was also issued as a separate publication (1902).
Westropp's greatest achievements were the comprehensive surveys of the prehistoric monuments and medieval buildings of Co. Limerick and Co. Clare, and the academic papers on the more important castles, abbeys, and friaries in each county. He also wrote a range of articles on structures or sites throughout Munster and Leinster as well as in Galway, Mayo, Londonderry, and Armagh. In addition to this vast output of major publications he regularly contributed short notes or miscellanea on an enormous range of topics. These show the impressive breadth of his interests and erudition. He drew attention to and summarised neglected historical source material, published corrections of place name derivations, recorded stray archaeological finds, and elucidated heraldic devices. He offered informed comments on architecture, corrected errors and unwarranted assumptions relating to folklore, and promoted oral history.
In contrast to that of most of his contemporaries, Westropp's work is still frequently used by modern scholars. His detailed surveys, with their excellent plans, detailed sketches, and meticulous notes, provide an invaluable resource where deterioration, modification, or destruction has occurred. Ironically their excellence has meant that no revision or fresh examination of many sites has been undertaken since. His extensive use of documentary materials from the Irish PRO, destroyed in 1922, has provided invaluable information, often buried in extensive footnotes.
He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (1893), vice-president for two periods (1902–5, 1913–16), and finally president (1916). He was also librarian, honorary curator of the photographic collection, indexer of its journal, and member of the publications and other committees. Elected MRIA (1894), he became a council member and editor of the RIA's Proceedings four years later. He was on the committees also of the North Munster Archaeological Society and the Society for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland.
In declining health for the last decade of his life, Westropp suffered from interstitial nephritis, a debilitating condition, though he still continued his arduous field work and publishing activity. He died, 9 April 1922 at his Dublin home, and was buried in the family vault at Kilpeacon, near his childhood home in Co. Limerick.
The bulk of his papers, including two large volumes of field notes and seven books of sketches, are in the RIA. His extensive photographic collection is divided between the National Museum of Ireland, the National Photographic Archive, TCD, the RIA, the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, and the Irish Architectural Archive. Clare county library, Ennis, has some photographs and drawings, and it is known that material has also found its way into private collections. A Thomas Johnson Westropp room, detailing his life and achievements, has been opened in the Kilfenora heritage centre.