Captain Robert Halpin – Wicklow’s Most Famous Son
Robert Charles Halpin (February 16, 1836 – January 20 1894) left Wicklow Town to become a seafarer at the age of 11, inspired by tales from the sailors that would come through the doors of The Bridge Tavern, owned by his family. By the age of 15, he had travelled 26,000 nautical miles and survived a shipwreck which claimed his parents.
He had already mastered two separate steam ships, survived a second shipwreck, and played a part in the American Civil War, all before his 30s.
As Captain of the then largest ship in the world, The Great Eastern, Halpin will be most well-remembered for helping connect the world through 41,800 km of transoceanic telegraph cables. This was among the greatest feats and advancements in global communication, and one he was rewarded for in honours and knighthoods worldwide.
Halpin returned to Wicklow in 1875, where he became Secretary of the Wicklow Harbour Commissioners, founded in 1856. Port trade in the town had become a booming industry by then and Halpin was present during the construction of the all-important East Breakwater in 1880. He resided in Tinakilly House with his wife and three daughters, until his untimely death in 1894.
An obelisk honouring Captain Robert Halpin stands in the very centre of Wicklow Town on Fitzwilliam Square, a fitting tribute to a man as important to the world as he is to his home.