seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of John Purser, Mathematician & Professor

John Purser, Irish mathematician and professor at Queen’s College, Belfast, is born in Dublin on August 24, 1835.

Purser is the son of John Tertius Purser (1809–1893), the general manager of the well known A Guinness, Son & Co. brewery, and Anna Benigna Fridlezius (1803-1881). He is educated in a wealthy family, which includes artists, as his cousin Sarah Purser, or engineers, as his brother-in-law John Purser Griffith. He is the brother of mathematician Frederick Purser. He receives his early education at the private boarding school run by his uncle, Dr. Richard W. Biggs, at Devizes, Wiltshire. He completes his schooling at Devizes and begins his university studies at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating BA in mathematics in 1856. He is the best mathematician of his year at the University and in 1855 he gains the Lloyd Exhibition.

Purser becomes a tutor to the four sons of William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse (1800-1867) in 1857. Lord Rosse’s 72-inch reflecting telescope, built in 1845 and colloquially known of as the “Leviathan of Parsonstown,” is the world’s largest telescope when it is built and continues to hold this distinction until the early 20th century. As well as acting as tutor to the children, Purser does become involved in Lord Rosse’s interest in astronomy but never does any observing.

In 1863, Purser is appointed professor of mathematics at Queen’s College, Belfast, a position he maintains until his retirement in 1901.

Purser is much better known as a teacher than as a researcher, and he has a good number of notable students, including Sir Joseph Larmor, theoretical physicist who serves as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge; Charles Parsons, the inventor of the steam turbine; Sir John Henry MacFarland, who becomes Chancellor of the University of Melbourne; and William McFadden Orr.

Purser never marries. When his father dies on April 5, 1893, Rathmines Castle passes to him. He dies at Rathmines Castle on October 18, 1903, a very wealthy man. In his will he leaves £100,000 to his brother Frederick Purser, £40,000 to his sister Anna Griffith and £5,000 to each of her children. In addition to the money, he owns property in Blessington Street, Essex Street and Eustace Street which he leaves to his brother-in-law John Purser Griffith. Other properties and interests that he owns he divides between his brother Frederick and his sister Anna. After his death, his sister Anna and her husband John Purser Griffith move into Rathmines Castle although, at this time, its ownership has gone to Frederick Purser. After Frederick dies in August 1910, the Castle and his considerable wealth passes to Anna.

(Pictured: Portrait of John Purser painted by the artist Sarah Purser, daughter of Tertius Purser’s brother Benjamin Purser. The portrait hangs in Queen’s College, Belfast.)


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Birth of Classical Scholar Sir William Ridgeway

Sir William Ridgeway, FBA, Anglo-Irish classical scholar and the Disney Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, is born on August 6, 1853 at Ballydermot, Kings County (now County Offaly).

Ridgeway is the son of Rev. John Henry Ridgeway and Marianne Ridgeway. He is a direct descendant of one of Oliver Cromwell’s settlers in Ireland. He is educated at Portarlington School and Trinity College Dublin, after which he studies at Peterhouse, Cambridge then Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, completing the Classical tripos there in 1880.

In 1880, Ridgeway marries Lucinda Maria Kate Samuels in Rathdown, County Dublin. Their daughter Lucy Marion Ridgeway (1882–1958) marries economist John Archibald Venn in 1906.

In 1883, Ridgeway is elected Professor of Greek at Queen’s College, Cork, then Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge in 1892. He also holds tenure as Gifford lecturer in Religion at the University of Aberdeen from 1909 to 1911 from which is published The Evolution of Religions of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Ridgeway contributes articles to the Encyclopedia Biblica (1903), Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) and writes The Origin of Metallic Currency and Weight Standards (1892), and The Early Age of Greece (1901) which are significant works in Archaeology and Anthropology.

Ridgeway is President of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland from 1908-10 and is instrumental in the foundation of the Cambridge school of Anthropology.

Ridgeway receives an honorary Doctorate of Letters (D.Litt.) from the University of Dublin in June 1902 and is elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1904. For his research on horses he receives the Doctor of Science (Sc.D.) of Cambridge in 1909. He is knighted in the 1919 Birthday Honours list.

Ridgeway dies on August 12, 1926.

(Pictured: “Sir William Ridgeway” by Richard Jack (1866-1952), oil on canvas, 1921, Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge)


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Birth of Walter Beckett, Composer & Music Critic

Walter Beckett, Irish composer, teacher and music critic, is born on July 27, 1914 in Dublin. He is a cousin of the writer Samuel Beckett.

Beckett studies organ with George Hewson and harmony with John Francis Larchet at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM), in addition to music at Trinity College Dublin where he is conferred with a Mus.D. (Doctor of Music) in 1942. He lives from 1946 to 1963 in Venice, where he teaches English and piano. He also writes reviews from abroad for The Irish Times and makes a series of orchestral arrangements of Irish traditional music for Radio Éireann.

In addition to Beckett’s activity as a music critic for The Irish Times, he also writes biographical articles for dictionaries, in particular for the first edition of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. His books include studies on Franz Liszt and ballet music.

Beckett’s more ambitious musical works from the 1940s and 1950s are a Suite for Orchestra (1945), Four Higgins Songs (1946), The Falaingin Dances (1958) and a Suite of Planxties (1960) for harp and orchestra.

In 1963 Beckett moves to England, where he teaches music at various schools before returning to Ireland in 1970 to succeed A. J. Potter at the RIAM as professor of harmony and counterpoint. In the 1980s he produces a number of remarkable works such as Quartet for Strings (1980) and Dublin Symphony (1989) for narrator, chamber choir and large orchestra. While he is never a modernist, his later works nevertheless contain some advanced harmony, particularly in the quartet.

Beckett is forced to retire from the RIAM in 1985 after suffering a stroke. In 1986 he is elected a member of Aosdána and an Honorary Fellow of the RIAM in 1990. He dies in Dublin on April 3, 1996.


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The Holy Cross Dispute

The Holy Cross dispute begins on June 19, 2001 and continues into 2002 in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast. During the 30-year conflict known as the Troubles, Ardoyne becomes segregated – Ulster Protestants and Irish Catholics living in separate areas. This leaves Holy Cross, a Catholic primary school for girls, in the middle of a Protestant area. During the last week of school in June 2001 before the summer break, Protestant loyalists begin picketing the school, claiming that Catholics are regularly attacking their homes and denying them access to facilities.

On Tuesday, June 19, Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers have to protect children and parents entering the school after they are attacked by loyalist stone throwers. Police describe the attack as “vicious.” Following the incident, a blockade of the school develops, with loyalists standing across the road and RUC officers keeping the children and their parents away.

The following day, the school is forced to close when loyalists block the entrance. During the evening, up to 600 loyalists and nationalists clash with each other and with the police. Shots are also fired at the police and over 100 petrol bombs are thrown. During the riots the police fire a number of the new ‘L21 A1’ plastic baton rounds for the first time. Thirty-nine RUC officers are injured. Nine shots in total are fired – six from loyalists and three from republicans. The trouble comes after an explosion at the rear of Catholic homes next to a peace line. Both loyalist and nationalist politicians blame each other for the violence. This is the first of many large riots to take place in Belfast within more than a year.

The morning blockade continues on Thursday, June 21. About 60 of the school’s 230 pupils enter the school through the grounds of another school. Senior Sinn Féin member Gerry Kelly says, “It’s like something out of Alabama in the 1960s.” Three Protestant families leave their homes in Ardoyne Avenue, saying they are afraid of a nationalist attack. During the evening and night there are serious disturbances in the area around the school. Loyalists fire ten shots, and throw six blast bombs and 46 petrol bombs at police lines. Two Catholic homes are attacked with pipe bombs, and a child is thrown against a wall by one of the blasts. Twenty-four RUC officers are hurt.

On Friday, June 22, a number of schoolchildren again have to enter the school through the grounds of another school. This is the last day of school before the summer break.

Talks between the protesters and the schoolchildren’s parents take place over the summer, but no agreement is reached. On August 20, a paint bomb is thrown at the home of a Protestant man in Hesketh Park, smashing a window and causing paint damage to furniture. The man had taken part in the loyalist protest.

The picket resumes on September 3, when the new school term begins. For weeks, hundreds of loyalist protesters try to stop the schoolchildren and their parents from walking to school through their area. Hundreds of riot police, backed up by the British Army, escort the children and parents through the protest each day. Some protesters shout sectarian abuse and throw stones, bricks, fireworks, blast bombs and urine-filled balloons at the schoolchildren, their parents and the police. Death threats are made against the parents and school staff by the Red Hand Defenders, a loyalist paramilitary group. The protest is condemned by both Catholics and Protestants, including politicians. Some likened the protest to child abuse and compare the protesters to North American white supremacists in the 1950s. During this time, the protest sparks bouts of fierce rioting between Catholics and Protestants in Ardoyne, and loyalist attacks on police. On November 23, the loyalists end the protest after being promised tighter security for their area and a redevelopment scheme. The security forces remain outside the school for several months.

In January 2002, a scuffle between a Protestant and a Catholic outside the school sparks a large-scale riot in the area and attacks on other schools in north Belfast. The picket is not resumed and the situation remains mostly quiet. The following year, the BBC airs a documentary-drama about the protests.


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Birth of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, educator, philanthropist, and the founder of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, is born in Westcourt, Callan, County Kilkenny on June 1, 1762.

Rice is born into a Catholic family and is one of nine children. It comes as a surprise that a Catholic family can be prosperous in these days but they have a lease of a good-sized farm and are industrious people. In view of his future work in education it is fortunate that he receives a very good education himself, first at a local hedge school and then at a private secondary school in Kilkenny.

Rice is apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in Waterford at the age of 17. Waterford is then the second largest port in Ireland with an expanding trade with England, France and Spain and has very special trading links across the Atlantic with Newfoundland. His uncle is involved in providing food and services for the crews and passengers of the ships trading in and out of the port of Waterford. His uncle becomes a very prosperous businessman and his business expands even more after it is handed over to his nephew. His great wealth is later to be used in transforming the lives of countless young boys.

At the age of 25 Rice marries Mary Elliot and is left a widower two years later when she dies after falling from a horse. He is left with a handicapped daughter, Mary. He calls in his step-sister Joan Murphy to help him care for his daughter so he can develop the business he inherited from his uncle.

In 1802, having properly cared for his daughter, Rice begins a night school for the uneducated boys from the quays of Waterford. His deep desire is to found a religious order of men who will educate these poor boys so that they can live with dignity and high self-esteem. But his volunteer assistants cannot stick with it. Neither can the paid teachers he later employs. Just when his spirits are lowest, and he looks to be a failure to all his business colleagues, two men from his native Callan join him not only to educate these unruly boys but also to join him in his plan to found a religious order. To do such a thing is contrary to the law. Nevertheless Rice and his growing number of companions proceed. In 1808 seven of them take religious vows under Bishop Power of Waterford. They are called Presentation Brothers. This is the first congregation of men to be founded in Ireland and one of the few ever founded in a Church by a layman. Rice has in the meantime built a substantial school out of his own money, but it is already proving too small for the many boys who flock to him for an education.

Gradually an extraordinary transformation takes place in the “quay kids” of Waterford. Rice and his Brothers educate them, clothe and feed them. Other Bishops in Ireland supply him with men whom he prepares for religious life and teaching. In this way the Presentation Brothers spread throughout Ireland. However, the groups in separate dioceses are not under his control but that of the Bishop. This creates problems when Brothers need to be transferred. Rice seeks and ultimately obtains approval from Pope Pius VII for his Brothers to be made into a pontifical congregation with Rice as Superior General. He is then able to move Brothers to wherever they are most needed. From this time on they are called Christian Brothers. By 1825 there are 30 Christian Brothers working in 12 towns and cities and educating 5,500 boys, free of charge. Many of these boys are also being clothed and fed.

Rice’s life is steeped in a spirituality that is strong and practical. He is forever caring for the poor in the wretched circumstances of their lives, for he believes there is a great need “to give to the poor in handfuls.” Many people, both men and women, from many cultures, young and old are helped and given hope and purpose and a new footing in life. He and his Brothers even card for the inmates of the jails of Waterford. He is privileged to comfort and accompany many a condemned man to the gallows. The poor never forget his love for them and see him as “a man raised up by God.”

Rice endures many and severe trials and in 1829 it seems the Christian Brothers are going to be suppressed by the law of the land. They face extinction but this does not happen. An even worse trial comes to him personally when some of his own Brothers try to undermine his work. Fortunately they are unsuccessful. He gave his Brothers as their motto a text from the Book of Job that means so much to him in his life: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord forever.”

In 1838, at the age of 76, Rice retires from leadership of the congregation and returns to Waterford. After living in a near-comatose state for more than two years, he dies at Mount Sion, Waterford on August 29, 1844, where his remains lie in a casket to this day.

Rice is declared to be Blessed Edmund Rice by Pope John Paul II in Rome on October 6, 1996. His Feast Day in the Catholic Church is 5 May.

(From: “Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice,” Diocese of Waterford & Lismore, http://www.waterfordlismore.ie)


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Birth of Samuel Henry Butcher, Scholar & Politician

Samuel Henry Butcher, Anglo-Irish classical scholar and politician, is born in Dublin on April 16, 1850.

Butcher is the son of Samuel Butcher, Bishop of Meath, and Mary Leahy. John Butcher, 1st Baron Danesfort, is his younger brother. He is educated at Marlborough College in Wiltshire and then receives a place at Trinity College, Cambridge, attending between 1869 and 1873 where he is Senior Classic and Chancellor’s medalist. He is elected fellow of Trinity in 1874.

Butcher leaves Trinity on his marriage, in 1876, to Rose Julia Trench (1840-1902), the daughter of Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench. The marriage produces no children.

From 1876 to 1882 Butcher is a fellow of University College, Oxford, and tutors there. From 1882 to 1903 he is Professor of Greek at the University of Edinburgh succeeding Prof. John Stuart Blackie. During this period he lives at 27 Palmerston Place in Edinburgh‘s West End. He is succeeded at the University of Edinburgh by Prof. Alexander William Mair.

Butcher is one of the two Members of Parliament for Cambridge University, between 1906 and his death, representing the Liberal Unionist Party. He is President of the British Academy from 1909 to 1910.

Butcher dies in London on December 29, 1910, and his body is returned to Scotland and interred at the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh with his wife. His grave has a pale granite Celtic cross and is located near the northern path of the north section in the original cemetery.

Butcher’s many publications include, in collaboration with Andrew Lang, a prose translation of Homer‘s Odyssey which appears in 1879 and the OCT edition of Demosthenes, Orationes, vol. I (Or. 1-19, Oxford, 1903), II.i (Or. 20–26, Oxford, 1907).


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Laying of the Trinity College Foundation Stone

The foundation stone of Trinity College is laid by the Lord Mayor of Dublin on March 13, 1592.

By 1590 English rule is, with the exception of Ulster, firmly secured throughout Ireland. The Catholic Gaels and Old English of Munster, Leinster, and Connacht have been more or less brought to heel, and Presidencies are established over each of them.

English law is dominant and Protestant English planters are laying claim to the lands seized from the Catholics. The present-day counties are already taking shape, land divisions modeled on the shires of Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth I feels that the time is right to bolster up English civility and in 1592 she grants the city of Dublin a charter to establish a university.

The university is to be named The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth, juxta Dublin. It has been commonly called Trinity College Dublin ever since.

The lands and buildings of the college are donated by the city corporation and are originally those of the Augustinian All Hallows Priory which had been suppressed in 1583. This property is situated about half a mile from the city walls.

The first Provost of the university is the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin Adam Loftus. A favorite of Elizabeth I, he had originally been brought over from England and appointed Dean of Armagh in 1565 but his tenure there was a short one as he fled the wrath of Shane (the Proud) O’ Neill the following year.

In Dublin Loftus is appointed the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and in 1567 he is appointed to the See of Dublin. He has opposition from the Lord Deputy of Ireland Sir John Perrot who had sought to have the university put to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. However, at this time Perrot is under suspicion for having verbally abused her majesty’s legitimacy and is to die in the Tower of London in September 1592.

Within two years of its foundation, Trinity College, consisting of a small square, is up and running with some fellows and a handful of students. Its raison d’etre is to provide a Protestant education and to consolidate the Tudor monarchy. Catholics and Dissenting Christians are not permitted entrance unless they convert to the Anglican faith. Those who do attend are the children of the New English and the children of Old English and native Irish who have abandoned their ancestors’ faith, for reasons of dogma or, as is more likely, in order to retain their lands and wealth.

Trinity is, over the next three centuries, to grow into a wealthy establishment. It receives appropriated properties and has annuities paid in from the government. In later years it is to be the the alma mater of many famous men. Sons of the Protestant Ascendency consider it their own during the 17th and 18th centuries but in the 20th century Trinity manages to adapt to the new Irish state with which it is fully involved in all aspects of Irish education and Irish life, and it is much loved by the Irish people.

(From: “The Founding of Trinity College Dublin 1592,” YourIrishCulture, http://www.yourirish.com)


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Death of John Robert Gregg, Inventor of Gregg Shorthand

John Robert Gregg, educator, publisher, humanitarian, and the inventor of the eponymous shorthand system Gregg shorthand, dies in Cannondale, Connecticut on February 23, 1948.

Gregg is born on June 17, 1867 in Shantonagh, County Westmeath, as the youngest child of Robert and Margaret Gregg, where they remain until 1872, when they move to Rockcorry, County Monaghan. He enters the village school in Rockcorry in 1872. On his second day of class, he is caught whispering to a schoolmate, which prompts the schoolmaster to hit the two children’s heads together. This incident profoundly damages his hearing for the rest of his life, rendering him unable to participate fully in school, unable to understand his teacher. This ultimately leads to him being unnecessarily perceived as dull or mentally challenged by his peers, teachers, and family.

In 1877, after seeing a friend use Pitman shorthand to take verbatim notes of a preacher’s sermon, Robert Gregg sees the shorthand skill as a powerful asset, so he makes it mandatory for his children to learn Pitman shorthand, with the exception of John, who is considered by his family too “simple” to learn it. None of the children succeed in fully learning the system. On his own, John learns the shorthand system of Samuel Taylor. He teaches himself the system fully, since he does not require the ability to hear in order to learn from the book.

Gregg says he initially set out to improve the English adaptation by John Matthew Sloan of the French Duployan shorthand, while working with one of Sloan’s sales agents, Thomas Malone. Malone publishes a system called Script Phonography, of which Gregg asserts a share in authorship is owed to him. Angered by Malone, he resigns from working with him and, encouraged by his older brother Samuel, publishes and copyrights his own system of shorthand in 1888. It is put forth in a brochure entitled Light-Line Phonography: The Phonetic Handwriting which he publishes in Liverpool, England.

In 1893, Gregg emigrates to the United States. That year he publishes Gregg shorthand with great success. He settles in Chicago in 1895 and by 1896 dozens of American public schools are teaching Gregg shorthand. The first Gregg Shorthand Association is formed in Chicago that year with 40 members. In 1897 the Gregg Publishing Company is formed to publish shorthand textbooks.

By 1907 Gregg is so successful that he opens an office in New York and then moves there. The popularity of his shorthand system continues to grow with it being taught in 533 school systems by 1912. In 1914 the New York City Board of Education approves the experimental introduction of Gregg shorthand into its high schools, where the Pitman system had long held sway. That same year the system is admitted to Columbia University (New York) and the University of California, Berkeley.

After World War I, Gregg travels extensively throughout Great Britain, hoping to popularize his system there. He is not quite as successful in this endeavor as he had been in America, but he sees Gregg shorthand become wildly popular in France, Germany, Poland, Spain, and especially Latin America, where for years Gregg’s birthday is a national holiday.

Following his wife’s death in 1928 Gregg returns to New York. He throws himself into volunteer work and continues to perfect the Gregg system. Over the next several years he is the recipient of several honorary degrees from American educational institutions. At one such ceremony in June 1930 he renews his acquaintance with Janet Kinley, daughter of the president of the University of Illinois. The two are married in October of that year. They purchase a home in Cannondale, a historic section of Wilton, Connecticut.

In the 1930s Gregg begins writing a history of shorthand, the subject that had been his lifelong obsession. The first chapter is printed in 1933 and successive chapters follow at intervals until 1936. He devotes time to charitable work and institutes scholarships in the arts and in court reporting at his Chicago school. His voluntary work on behalf of Allied soldiers and British civilians during World War II wins recognition from King George VI, who awards him a medal for “Service in the Cause of Freedom” in 1947.

In December 1947 Gregg undergoes surgery from which he seems to recover well. However, on February 23, 1948, he suffers a heart attack and dies in Cannondale, Connecticut at the age of eighty.


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Birth of Physicist Daniel Joseph Bradley

Daniel Joseph Bradley, physicist and Emeritus Professor of Optical Electronics at Trinity College, Dublin, is born on January 18, 1928 in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

Bradley is one of four surviving children of John and Margaret Bradley, Lecky Road, Derry. He leaves school to work as a telegraph boy but returns to education at St. Columb’s College. Following training as a teacher at St. Mary’s Training College, Belfast, he qualifies in 1947. While teaching in a primary school in Derry he studies for a degree in mathematics as an external student of the University of London, and is awarded a degree in 1953.

Moving to London where he teaches mathematics in a grammar school, Bradley decides to register for an evening course at Birkbeck College. His first choice is mathematics but as he already has a degree in the subject the admissions staff suggests that he study physics. In 1957, after four years of part-time study, he is awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in physics by Birkbeck, achieving the highest marks in his final exams in the University of London overall. He next joins Royal Holloway College as an assistant lecturer and simultaneously enrolls as a PhD student, working on Fabry–Pérot interferometer etalon-based high-resolution spectroscopy supervised by Samuel Tolansky. He receives a PhD in 1961.

Bradley is a pioneer of laser physics, and his work on the development of ultra-fast pulsed lasers adds a new and vitally important element to the capabilities of this new type of light source. In particular, working on dye lasers, he produces pulses of light as short as one picosecond (one picosecond is to a second as a second is to 31,800 years). His work paves the way for the completely new field of non-linear optical interactions. In addition, he inspires a new generation of laser scientists in Ireland and the UK, many of whom are international leaders in their fields.

Appointed to a lectureship in the physics department at Imperial College London, Bradley sets up a research programme in UV solar spectroscopy using rocket technology to reach high altitudes.

In 1963 Bradley begins work in laser physics but returns to Royal Holloway College as a reader one year later. In 1966 he is appointed professor and head of department at Queen’s University, Belfast. There he quickly establishes a space research group of international standing to do high-resolution solar spectroscopy. He attracts significant funding from a variety of agencies, allowing him to build his department into one of the world’s leading laser research centres, involving a total of 65 scientists. However, he leaves Belfast because of fears for his family’s safety as political violence escalates in the early 1970s amidst The Troubles.

Bradley returns to Imperial College London in 1973 to a chair in laser physics and heads a group in optical physics, laser physics and space optics. He is head of the Physics department from 1976 to 1980 but is frustrated by cutbacks and a rule governing the ratio of senior to junior positions, one consequence of which is that he is unable to maintain a long-established chair in optical design. He is also critical of the college administration’s handling of some departmental grant applications. He resigns in 1980 and moves to Dublin.

Among Bradley’s many lasting contributions to laser research in the UK is the setting up of one of the world’s leading research facilities for laser research, the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL).

Arriving at Trinity College, Dublin, Bradley decides the time is ripe to move on from laser research and development into laser applications. In 1982, with Dr. John Kelly, a chemist, and Dr. David McConnell, a geneticist, he forms a team which wins funding for a project using laser techniques to explore the structure of organic molecules like DNA and proteins. Unfortunately, however, his work at Trinity is cut short by ill health and he retires in 1984. His research on semiconductor lasers is carried on and this work on developing widely tuneable lasers for optical communications systems continues.

A member of the Royal Irish Academy, Bradley is Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin, and holds fellowships of the Royal Society, The Optical Society of America and Institute of Physics. Through time the ravages of his illness restricts his travelling and eventually he is cared for in a residential home in Dublin, where he passes away on February 7, 2010.


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Birth of Rev. William Corby, Chaplain & Notre Dame President

The Rev. William Corby, American priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross and Union Army chaplain in the American Civil War attached to the Irish Brigade, is born in Detroit, Michigan on October 2, 1833. He serves twice as president of the University of Notre Dame.

Corby is born to Daniel Corby, an Irish immigrant, and his wife Elizabeth, a Canadian. He attends public school until age 16, then joins his father’s real estate business. In 1853, he enrolls in the 10-year-old college of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and begins study for the priesthood three years later. Following ordination, he teaches at Notre Dame and serves as a local parish priest.

Corby leaves his position at Notre Dame and joins the predominately Catholic Irish Brigade in 1861. He spends the next three years as chaplain of the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry, which is one of the five original regiments in the Irish Brigade. He is perhaps best known for giving general absolution to the Irish Brigade on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Of the Brigade’s original 3,000 men, only about 500 remain. Of the men Corby absolves that day, 27 are killed, 109 are wounded, and 62 are listed as missing. The scene of Corby blessing the troops is depicted in the 1891 painting Absolution under Fire by Paul Wood, and dramatized in the 1993 film Gettysburg. His memoir of the Irish Brigade becomes a best-seller.

Following his service in the Civil War, Corby returns to Notre Dame and serves as its vice-president (1865–1866) and twice as its president (1866–1872, 1877-1881). Under his first administration, enrollment at Notre Dame increases to more than 500 students. In 1869 he opens the law school, which offers a two-year course of study, and in 1871 he begins construction of Sacred Heart Church, today the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame. The institution is still small, and he teaches in the classroom and knows most students and faculty members. In 1869, the entire student body and the faculty present him with the gift of a black horse and, when he leaves the presidency three years later, they present him with a matching carriage.

Corby becomes president again following the short term of Fr. Patrick Colovin. When he returns to the presidency, Notre Dame has not yet become a significant academic institution. His presidency sees the April 1879 fire that destroys the old Main Building of the school. He sends all students home and promises that they will return to a “bigger and better Notre Dame.” He overcomes the $200,000 fire loss and rebuilds the Main Building, which now stands with its “Golden Dome.” During his administration, he also constructs Washington Hall, in which he takes much pride, and starts the construction of St. Edward’s Hall for the minims program.

In addition to his presidency, Corby is also serving as the Holy Cross Provincial, when Rev. Edward Sorin, who had become Superior General of the Congregation, writes to him to tell him that he will have to relinquish one of his positions. He wants to remain president but is overruled by Sorin. Famous throughout the U.S. Catholic world as chaplain for the Irish Brigade, known as the “Fighting Irish,” it may be that the nickname followed Corby back to Notre Dame, where it stuck.

Corby dies at the age of 64 on December 28, 1897 in South Bend, Indiana. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Notre Dame, Indiana.

A statue by Samuel Murray, depicting Corby with right hand raised in the gesture of blessing, stands upon the same boulder at the Gettysburg Battlefield on which the priest stood while blessing the troops that second morning of the battle. It is the first statue of a non-general erected on the Gettysburg Battlefield, and is dedicated in 1910.

Corby is widely remembered among military chaplains and celebrated by Irish American fraternal organizations. Corby Hall at Notre Dame is named for him, and a copy of the Gettysburg statue stands outside the building. An organization of Notre Dame alumni is named The William Corby Society.

(Pictured: Statue of Father William Corby by Samuel Murray, Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)