The Dillon Family

Dillon family crest

(Crest No. 327. Plate 65.)

THE Dillon family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heremon. The founder of the family was Dillune or Delion, sprung from a branch of the Southern Hy Nial, in Meath, and a lineal descendant of Nial the Great, or Nial of the Nine Hostages, King of Ireland, A. D. 379.

This chieftain Dillune, or Delion, went to France in the seventh century, and being a famous warrior became Duke of Aquitaine. Some of his descendants came to England with William the Conqueror; and in 1185 Chevalier Henry Delion, of Aquitaine, was sent by King Henry II. of England with his youngest son, Prince John, afterward King John, as his First Gentleman and one of his Secretaries. He was granted, by John, large territories belonging to the MacCarrons, MacGeoghegans, and O’Melaghlins in the present Counties of Longford and Westmeath. His descendants were Lords of Drumrany, in the barony of Kilkenny West; and having founded many great families in Meath and Connaught, they became Earls of Roscommon, Viscounts Dillon in Mayo, Barons of Clonbrock, and Barons of Kilkenny West. Their territory was known as “Dillon’s Country,” until it was reduced to shire ground in the reign of Henry VIII., when it was divided into baronies.

This Chevalier, or Sir Henry Dillon, built a mansion house, with a church in Drumrany, and abbeys at Athlone, Kilkenny West, Ardnecrany, Holy Island, Hare Island, and other places. His wife was a daughter of the famous Sir John De Courcy, Earl of Ulster. “He,” writes a learned authority, “was progenitor to all who bear the name of Dillon, a name of great note in the Counties of Meath, Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, Mayo, and other parts of the kingdom, where, and in many foreign countries, they have flourished in the highest departments of church and state.”

One of his descendants, Theobald Viscount Dillon, was created a knight in 1559 by Elizabeth for his bravery on the battlefield. He was also collector-general of the composition money of Connaught and Thomond, and general cessor and collector for a number of counties, and was created Viscount Dillon of Costello-Gallen for his services to the crown by James I., 1622. He died in 1624 at so advanced an age that on one occasion “he had the satisfaction of seeing above a hundred of his descendants in his house of Killenfeagh,” in Westmeath.

Thomas, fourth Viscount Dillon, supported the royal cause against the Parliamentarians, and commanded a division of Ormond’s army in Ireland in 1649. His estates were confiscated by Cromwell, and he and his four sons were compelled to live in exile on the Continent until the restoration. In 1663 he returned to Ireland, when most of his estate, amounting to over 64,000 acres, was restored to him. His eldest son, Charles, was an officer in the military services of France and Spain, and was governor of Tournay, in Flanders. Sir James Dillon was lieutenant-governor of Connaught in the royal cause, was proscribed by the Cromwellians, and became a major-general in the services of both France and Spain, and was pensioned by the crown for his loyalty after the restoration. James Dillon also supported the royal cause against the Cromwellians, and afterward became major-general in the service of France, 1653, and raised an Irish regiment, called the Dillon regiment, which he commanded with distinction, especially at the battle of Dunkirk.

In the revolution of 1688 the Dillon family was also noted for its loyal adherence to the Stuart cause. Lord Theobald Dillon, head of the family, raised two regiments of infantry for King James II., one of which was commanded by his eldest son and successor, Hon. Henry Dillon. The latter also served in James’s Dublin Parliament, 1689, for the County of Westmeath, and was afterward governor of Galway. The other regiment was commanded by his Lordship’s second son, Colonel, the Hon. Arthur Dillon, who was then twenty years of age. His mother had been killed by the second bomb which King William’s army threw into Limerick.

Colonel Arthur Dillon, with his regiment, went to France in 1690 as part of Mountcashel’s brigade, and served with marked distinction in the French army for nearly forty years. He participated in nearly all the prominent operations of that period, signalizing himself especially under the Duke de Vendome, Marshal Villery, and other commanders. In 1704 he was made major-general, and afterward lieutenant-general. He served with the Duke of Noailles in the campaigns of 1691-95, inclusive, and in the following year participated in the raising of the siege of Palamos, under the Duke of Vendome, and the defeat of the Spanish cavalry under the Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1697 he assisted in the capture of Barcelona, and in other minor actions preceding the peace of Ryswick. In 1702, under the Duke of Vendome, he fought at Santa Vittoria and Luzzara, receiving the grade of brigadier-general for his services. In 1703 and 1704 he signalized himself in all the principal actions of the campaign, and was raised to the rank of major-general. He next served at the brave defence of Moscolino and at the victory of Cassano over Prince Eugene, and those of Calcinato, and Castilglione. His last campaigns were on the Rhine in 1713, where he took several towns and strongholds, and in that of 1714, under Marshal Duke of Berwick, in Spain, where he again distinguished himself in the second capture of Barcelona. He was esteemed a most gallant and able officer by the great commanders under whom he served. His wife was Lady of Honor to James II.’s queen.

Major-General Arthur Dillon


His son Charles, tenth viscount, became colonel of the regiment after his father, and served with distinction on the Rhine. He afterward obtained possession of the family estates in Ireland, where he died, 1741. Henry, his brother, the eleventh viscount, also served with credit in the French army; and James, another brother, was killed at the head of his regiment at the battle of Fontenoy. Edward, a fourth brother, next commanded the Dillon regiment, until his death at the battle of Laffeldt, 1747. A fifth brother became a priest, was raised to the bishopric of Evreux, and afterward became Archbishop of Toulouse and Archbishop of Narbonne, and was regarded as one of the most eminent prelates of his time. He devoted much time and labor to the study and elucidation of the antiquities of Ireland.

Many other members of this family signalized themselves in the military service of France, notably Major-General Count Theobald Dillon (1745-1792); Captain Dillon, who held the gate of Po, at Cremona; Major-General Arthur Dillon, who served with his regiment, under d’Estaing, against the English in the war for American Independence, and largely contributed to the capture of the islands of Tobago, Grenada, St. Eustachia, and St. Christopher in the West Indies; Count Edward Dillon, who served in the same campaign; Captain Dillon of the regiment of Vexin, who won the admiration of friend and foe by his famous defence of Fort St. Louis, Toulon, and many others of equal distinction. The Dillon regiment continued in the command of the Dillon family for a hundred and one years, until the disbandment of the Irish brigade, 1792.

Many of this name acquired distinction also in the services of Austria, Spain, and other countries, where they became counts, generals, and civil officers. Peter Dillon, an officer in the British navy, and afterward captain in the service of the East Indian Government, made many voyages of investigation, and discovered the relics of the ill-fated La Perouse expedition, receiving from Charles X. of France the star of the Legion of Honor, and an annual pension for life. He published in 1829 an account in two volumes of his travels.

Among the modern representatives of this name, one of the most esteemed was the late John Blake Dillon, of Galway, Ireland, a prominent leader in 1848. With Duffy and Davis he was one of the founders of the Dublin Nation. After the failure of the young Ireland movement he came to New York, where he practised his profession of the law for some years in partnership with his former colleague, the late Judge Richard O’Gorman.

The late Mr. Sidney Dillon, of New York City, was for more than thirty years one of the leading railroad constructors and business men of the country. He was connected with many of the largest enterprises of his day, and contributed in a great degree to the development of our railroad system. He was for many years director of the Union Pacific Railroad, President of the Kansas Pacific, director of the Manhattan Elevated Railroad, New York City, the Western Union Telegraph Company, Pacific Mail Steamship Company, and other great financial associations. Mr. Dillon was distinguished for his business judgment and foresight, while his honesty and sincerity of character won universal esteem.

Many other members of this family have attained honorable distinction in America. Among them we may mention Hon. John F. Dillon, of New York. Judge Dillon has filled many high judicial positions in both the State and Federal services. A man of superior intellect, of great legal learning, and sterling character he has for years been regarded as one of the ornaments of the American bench and bar, and his numerous legal works are standard authorities on the many important subjects on which they treat. He is a member of the Institute de Droit International and other learned bodies. His son, Mr. Hiram P. Dillon, is a prominent member of the Kansas bar.