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


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Birth of Walter Gordon Wilson, Co-inventor of the Tank

walter-gordon-wilsonMajor Walter Gordon Wilson, mechanical engineer, inventor and member of the British Royal Naval Air Service, is born in Blackrock, County Dublin, on April 21, 1874. He is credited by the 1919 Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors as the co-inventor of the tank, along with Sir William Tritton.

Wilson is a naval cadet on HMS Britannia. In 1894 he entered King’s College, Cambridge, where he studies the mechanical sciences tripos, graduating with a first-class degree, B.A., in 1897. He acts as ‘mechanic’ for the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls on several occasions while they are undergraduates in Cambridge.

Interested in powered flight, Wilson collaborates with Percy Sinclair Pilcher and the Hon. Adrian Verney-Cave to attempt to make an aero-engine from 1898. The engine is a flat-twin air-cooled and weighs only 40 lbs., but shortly before a demonstration flight planned for September 30, 1899 it suffers a crankshaft failure. Unwilling to let down his backers, Pilcher opts to demonstrate a glider, which crashes and he is fatally injured. The shock of Pilcher’s death ends Wilson’s plans for aero-engines.

Following Pilcher’s death, Wilson switches to building the Wilson–Pilcher motor car, which is launched in 1900. This car is quite remarkable in that it is available with either flat-four or flat-six engines, which are very well balanced, and with a low centre of gravity making good stability. Each water cooled cylinder is separate and identical for either engine. Cylinders are slightly offset with separate crankpins, and the crankshaft has intermediate bearings between each pair of cylinders.

The gearbox of the car is also novel, having dual epicyclic gears and being bolted directly to the engine. This allows four speeds, with direct drive in top gear. All the gears are helical, and enclosed in an oil bath, making for very silent transmission. Reverse gear is built into the rear axle, as is the foot operated brake drum, all of which are housed in a substantial aluminium casing.

After marrying in 1904 Wilson joins Armstrong Whitworth who takes over production of the Wilson-Pilcher car. From 1908 to 1914 he works with J & E Hall of Dartford designing the Hallford lorry which sees extensive service with the army during World War I.

The sole known surviving Wilson-Pilcher car is a four-cylinder version that is retained by the Amstrong Whitworth factory and after restoration in the 1940s is presented to W.G. Wilson in the 1950s. It stays in the Wilson family until 2012 when it is sold at auction to a private collector.

With the outbreak of World War I, Wilson rejoins the navy and the Royal Naval Armoured Car Division, which protects the Royal Naval Air Service in France. When the Admiralty begins investigating armoured fighting vehicles under the Landship Committee in 1915, 20 Squadron is assigned to it and Wilson is placed in charge of the experiments. He works with the agricultural engineer William Tritton resulting in the first British tank called “Little Willie.” At Wilson’s suggestion the tracks are extended right round the vehicle. This second design becomes the prototype for the Mark I tank.

Designing several of the early British tanks, Wilson incorporates epicyclic gearing which is used in the Mark V tank to allow it to be steered by a single driver rather than the four previously needed. In 1937, he provides a new steering design which gives a larger turning radius at higher speeds.

Wilson transfers to the British Army in 1916, becoming a Major in the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps. He is mentioned twice in dispatches and is appointed Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1917.

In 1928, Wilson invents a self-changing gearbox, and forms Improved Gears Ltd. with John Davenport Siddeley to develop the design commercially. Improved Gears later becomes Self-Changing Gears. The self-changing gearboxes are available on most subsequent Armstrong Siddeley automobiles, manufactured up to 1960, as well as on Daimler, Lanchester, Talbot, ERA, AC, Invicta and Riley automobiles as well as buses, railcars and marine launches.

Walter Gordon Wilson dies in Coventry, West Midlands, England on July 1, 1957.

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Barry’s Tea Centennial

barrys-teaOn April 4, 2001, former employees and staff join three generations of the Barry family in a celebration of 100 years in business for Barry’s Tea which has become an Irish institution.

Barry’s Tea is an Irish tea company founded in 1901 by James J. Barry in Cork, County Cork. In 1934, Anthony Barry, son of the founder, is awarded the Empire Cup for Tea Blending, confirming his expertise in the tea trade. Until the 1960s, the tea is only sold from a shop in Prince’s Street, but thereafter the company expands its wholesaling and distribution operations.

In 1960, Peter Barry, Anthony’s son, pioneers the concept of wholesaling tea and begins sourcing tea from East Africa. There is an incredible reaction to these new blends, and they become something of a Barry’s Tea signature.

By the mid-1980s Barry’s Tea has become a national brand. According to their website, www.barrystea.ie, they are currently responsible for 38% of all tea sales in the Irish market, which is worth an estimated €85 million annually. Today, Barry’s Tea is also available in the United Kingdom, Spain, and in some areas of Canada, Australia, France, Luxembourg and the United States where there are significant Irish immigrant communities.

Members of the Barry family have been elected representatives for Fine Gael: the founder’s son Anthony Barry (TD 1954–1957 and 1961–1965), Anthony’s son Peter Barry (TD 1969–1997) and Peter’s daughter Deirdre Clune (TD 1997–2001 and 2007–2011, and MEP since 2014).

In May 2018, it was revealed that many of Barry’s Tea teabags are made with polypropylene and are not compostable.


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Birth of William Dargan, 19th Century Engineer

william-darganWilliam Dargan, arguably the most important Irish engineer of the 19th century and certainly the most important figure in railway construction, is born at Killeshin near Carlow in County Laois (then called Queen’s County) on February 28, 1799. He designs and builds Ireland’s first railway line from Dublin to Dún Laoghaire in 1833. In total he constructs over 1,300 km (800 miles) of railway to important urban centres of Ireland. He is a member of the Royal Dublin Society and also helps establish the National Gallery of Ireland. He is also responsible for the Great Dublin Exhibition held on the lawn of Leinster House in 1853. His achievements are honoured in 1995, when the Dargan Railway Bridge in Belfast is opened, and again in 2004 when the William Dargan Bridge in Dublin, a new cable stayed bridge for Dublin’s Light Railway Luas, are both named after him.

Dargan is the eldest in a large family of tenant farmers on the Earl of Portarlington‘s estate. He attends a local hedge school in Graiguecullen near Carlow, where he excels in mathematics and accounting. He subsequently works on his father’s 101-acre farm before securing a position in a surveyor’s office in Carlow. With the assistance of prominent local people, particularly John Alexander, a prominent Carlow miller, and Henry Parnell MP for County Laois, he begins working with the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford on the Holyhead side of the London-Holyhead road. He works there between 1819 and 1824.

In 1824 Telford asks Dargan to begin work on Howth Road, from Raheny to Sutton in Dublin. He earns the relatively large sum of £300 for his work on this road and this provides the capital for future public works investments. Henry Parnell describes the road as “a model for other roads in the vicinity of Dublin.” Around the same time Dargan contributes roads in Dublin, Carlow and Louth as a surveyor. He also serves as assistant manager for about three years on the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal and the Middlewich Branch, which are two canals in the English midlands.

On October 13, 1828, Dargan marries Jane Arkinstall in the Anglican Church of St. Michael & All Angels, Adbaston, Staffordshire. He and Jane do not produce any offspring.

When Dargan comes back to Ireland, he is occupied by minor construction projects, including rebuilding the main street of Banbridge and the 13 kilometers long Kilbeggan branch of the Grand Canal. After Irish parliament decides to launch a plan for the very first railway, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway in 1825, he becomes increasingly invested in the project. To fight against the skepticism of any railway program in Ireland, he spends a considerable amount of unpaid time promoting this first railway of Ireland, working along with engineer Charles Vignoles to plan the route. After a persistent effort, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway is opened on December 17, 1834, with eight trains running in each direction.

Dargan next constructs the water communication between Lough Erne and Belfast, afterwards known as the Ulster Canal, a signal triumph of engineering and constructive ability.

Other great works follow – the Dublin and Drogheda Railway, the Great Southern and Western Railway and the Midland Great Western Railway. By 1853 Dargan has constructed over six hundred miles of railway, and he has contracts for two hundred more. He pays the highest wages with the greatest punctuality and his credit is unbounded. At one point he is the largest railway projector in Ireland and one of its greatest capitalists.

Dargan has a strong sense of patriotism to Ireland. He is offered a knighthood by the British Viceroy in Ireland, but declines. Following this, Britain’s Queen Victoria visits Dargan at his residence, Dargan Villa, Mount Annville on August 29, 1853. She offers him a baronetcy, but he declines this also. Wishing to encourage the growth of flax, he then takes a tract of land which he devotes to its culture, but owing to some mismanagement the enterprise entails a heavy loss. He also becomes a manufacturer, and sets some mills working in Chapelizod, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, but that business does not prosper.

In his later years Dargan devotes himself chiefly to the working and extension of the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, of which he is chairman. In 1866 he is seriously injured by a fall from his horse. He dies at 2 Fitzwilliam Square East, Dublin, on February 7, 1867, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His widow, Jane, is granted a civil list pension of £100 on June 18, 1870.


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Birth of Louis Brennan, Irish Australian Inventor

louis-brennanLouis Brennan, Irish Australian mechanical engineer and inventor, is born in Castlebar, County Mayo on January 28, 1852.

Brennan moves to Melbourne, Australia in 1861 with his parents. He starts his career as a watchmaker and a few years later is articled to Alexander Kennedy Smith, a renowned civil and mechanical engineer of the period. He serves as a sergeant in the Victorian Engineers under the command of Captain John James Clark. He invents the idea of a steerable torpedo in 1874, from observing that if a thread is pulled on a reel at an angle with suitable leverage, the reel will move away from the thread side. He spends some years working out his invention, and receives a grant of £700 from the Victorian government towards his expenses. He patents the Brennan torpedo in 1877. The idea is trialed at Camden Fort near Crosshaven, County Cork.

Brennan goes to England in 1880 and brings his invention before the War Office. Sir Andrew Clarke alerts the authorities to the possibilities of the torpedo if used in the defence of harbours and channels, and the patent is eventually bought for a sum believed to be more than £100,000 (£ 9,331,100 in 2019). In 1887 he is appointed superintendent of the Brennan torpedo factory, and is consulting engineer from 1896 to 1907.

Brennan does much work on a gyro monorail locomotive which is kept upright by a gyrostat. In 1903 he patents a gyroscopically-balanced monorail system that he designs for military use. He successfully demonstrates the system on November 10, 1909, at Gillingham, England, but fears that the gyroscopes might fail prevents adoption of the system for widespread use.

From 1916 to 1919 Brennan serves in the munitions inventions department. From 1919 to 1926 he is engaged by the air ministry in aircraft research work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, and gives much time to the invention of a helicopter. The government spends a large sum of money on it, but in 1926 the air ministry gives up working on it, much to Brennan’s disappointment.

Brennan marries Anna Quinn on 10 September 10, 1892. The marriage results in a son and a daughter. He is created a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1892, and is foundation member of the National Academy of Ireland in 1922.

In January 1932 Brennan is knocked down by a car at Montreux, Switzerland, and dies on January 17, 1932. He is buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London, in an unmarked plot numbered 2454 that is opposite the Chapel record office. On March 11, 2014, Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveils a new gravestone for Brennan at St. Mary’s in a ceremony honouring the inventor’s life and career.

Gillingham Library retains the archive of his papers.


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Birth of Sir Arthur Philip du Cros

arthur-du-crosSir Arthur Philip du Cros, British industrialist and politician, is born in Dublin on January 26, 1871.

Du Cros is the third of seven sons of Harvey du Cros. He is brought up in modest circumstances. His father, later a well-known manufacturer, is at the time only a bookkeeper with an income of £170 a year. He attends a national school in Dublin and then enters the civil service at the lowest grade. In 1892 he joins the Pneumatic Tyre and Booth’s Cycle Agency Ltd, of which his father is now the chairman, and is made a joint managing director in 1896 when it is floated as a public company.

In 1895 du Cros marries Maude Gooding, the daughter of a Coventry watch manufacturer. They have two sons and two daughters before a divorce in 1923.

In 1901 du Cros founds the Dunlop Rubber Company, converting 400 acres of land in Birmingham to produce and manufacture tires, with the area henceforth being known as Fort Dunlop. The firm eventually diversifies into making other rubber products as well as tires, and du Cros selects plantations in Malaya and Sri Lanka for the company, which by 1917 owns 60,000 acres of rubber-producing land.

In 1906 du Cros enters politics, unsuccessfully contesting the seat of Bow & Bromley as a Conservative Party candidate, a seat his brother is elected to in 1910. In 1908 he is elected Member of Parliament for Hastings, a position his father had held immediately before.

In 1909 du Cros forms, and is director of, the Parliamentary Aerial Defence Committee to ensure funding for military aeronautical development, of which he is a strong proponent. During World War I he works for the Ministry of Munitions on an honorary basis, buying two motorised ambulance convoys out of his own money and helping raise an infantry battalion, being a former captain of the Royal Warwickshires and for some years being the honorary colonel of the 8th battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. In 1916 he is created a baronet. He continues to represent Hastings until 1918, when he is elected as a Member of Parliament for Clapham, a position he resigns four years later.

His later career is awash with financial impropriety. He finds it difficult to distinguish between personal and company assets, using company funds to sponsor family investments and appointing family members to senior position with no regard for merit. He also participates in financial manipulation, being a close associate of James White, a financial expert who specialises in share rigging and whose actions leave Dunlop, had already lost influence within the company, close to collapse in 1921. He is quietly removed after the 1921 crash.

Arthur du Cros dies at home near Watford, Hertfordshire on October 28, 1955 at the age of 84. He is interred in Finstock, Oxfordshire.


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Birth of William X. O’Brien, Politician & Trade Unionist

william-x-obrienWilliam X. O’Brien, politician and trade unionist, is born on January 23, 1881 in Clonakilty, County Cork. He is christened “John William.”

O’Brien moves with his family to Dublin in 1897, and quickly becomes involved in the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). He is described as “a very significant figure in the ISRP” by ISRP historian David Lynch. He is a member of the Socialist Party of Ireland, serving on its executive.

A close friend and associate of James Connolly, O’Brien helps establish the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) in 1909, and is instrumental in the Dublin lock-out strike in 1913.

A member of the Irish Neutrality League and Anti-Conscription Committee during World War I, O’Brien is interned on several occasions by the Dublin Castle government. During one of these instances, he stands in the 1920 Stockport by-election, but is refused a release to campaign in it.

With the formation of the Irish Free State, O’Brien is elected as Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin South at the 1922 general election, and again for Tipperary in June 1927 and again in 1937.

An important figure in the Labour Party in Ireland in its formative days, O’Brien resists James Larkin‘s attempt to gain control of the Party on release from prison. Taking Larkin to court over his occupation of ITGWU headquarters, the Larkin-O’Brien feud results in a split within the labour and trade union movements, and the formation of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

In 1930, O’Brien seeks to have Leon Trotsky granted asylum in Ireland, but the head of the Free State government, W. T. Cosgrave, refuses to allow it.

Active in politics and the trade union movement into his 60s, O’Brien retires in 1946 and dies on October 31, 1968.


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Birth of Benjamin Lee Guinness

benjamin-lee-guinnessSir Benjamin Lee Guinness, 1st Baronet, Irish brewer and philanthropist, is born in Dublin on November 1, 1798.

Guinness is the third son of Arthur Guinness II (1768–1855), and his wife Anne Lee, and a grandson of the first Arthur (1725–1803), who had bought the St. James’s Gate Brewery in 1759. He joins his father in the business in his late teens, without attending university, and from 1839 he takes sole control within the family. From 1855, when his father dies, he has become the richest man in Ireland, having built up a huge export trade and by continually enlarging his brewery.

In 1851 Guinness is elected the first Lord Mayor of Dublin under the reformed corporation. In 1863 he is made an honorary LL.D. (Doctor of Laws) by Trinity College Dublin, and on April 15, 1867 is created a baronet by patent, in addition to which, on May 18, 1867, by royal licence, he has a grant of supporters to his family arms.

Guinness is elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in 1865 as a Conservative Party representative for Dublin City, serving until his death. His party’s leader is Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby. Previously he had supported the Liberal Party‘s Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, but in the 1860s the Liberals propose higher taxation on drinks such as beer. Before 1865 the Irish Conservative Party does not entirely support British conservative policy, but does so after the Irish Church Act 1869. The government’s most notable reform is the Reform Act 1867 that expands the franchise.

From 1860 to 1865, Guinness undertakes at his own expense, and without hiring an architect, the restoration of the city’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, an enterprise that costs him over £150,000. In 1865 the building is restored to the dean and chapter, and reopens for services on February 24. The citizens of Dublin and the dean and chapter of St. Patrick’s present him with addresses on December 31, 1865, expressive of their gratitude for what he has done for the city. The addresses are in two volumes, which are afterwards exhibited at the Paris Exhibition.

In recognition of his generosity, Guinness is made a baronet in 1867. He is one of the ecclesiastical commissioners for Ireland, a governor of Simpson’s Hospital, and vice-chairman of the Dublin Exhibition Palace. He dies the following year, on May 19, 1868, at his Park Lane home in London. At the time of his death he is engaged in the restoration of Marsh’s Library, a building which adjoins St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The restoration is completed by his son Arthur.

Guinness is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin, in the family vault, on May 27, 1868. His personalty is sworn under £1,100,000 on August 8, 1868. A bronze statue of him by John Henry Foley is erected by the Cathedral Chapter in St. Patrick’s churchyard, on the south side of the cathedral, in September 1875, which is restored in 2006.