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


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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.


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First Horse-Drawn Coach Service in Ireland

charles-bianconiCharles Bianconi, Italo-Irish entrepreneur, opens his first horse-drawn coach service, between Clonmel and Cahir, County Tipperary, a distance of 10 miles, on July 6, 1815.

Born Carlo Bianconi, in Tregolo, Costa Masnaga, Italy on September 24, 1786, he moves from an area poised to fall to Napoleon and travels to Ireland via England in 1802, just four years after the Irish Rebellion of 1798. At the time, British fear of continental invasion results in an acute sense of insecurity and additional restrictions on the admission of foreigners. He is christened Carlo but anglicises his name to Charles when he arrives in Ireland in 1802.

At the age of 16, Bianconi works as an engraver and printseller in Dublin, near Essex Street, under his sponsor, Andrea Faroni. In 1806 he sets up an engraving and print shop in Carrick-on-Suir, moving to Clonmel in 1815.

Bianconi eventually becomes famous for his innovations in transport and is twice elected mayor of Clonmel. He is the founder of public transportation in Ireland, at a time preceding railways. He establishes regular horse-drawn carriage services on various routes beginning in 1815. These are known as “Bianconi coaches” and the first service, Clonmel to Cahir, which takes five to eight hours by boat, takes only two hours by Bianconi’s carriage. Travel on a coach costs one penny farthing a mile.

Bianconi’s carriage services continue into the 1850s and later, by which time there are a number of railway services in the country. The Bianconi coaches continue to be well-patronised, by offering connections from various termini, one of the first and few examples of an integrated transport system in Ireland. By 1865 Bianconi’s annual income is about £35,000.

Bianconi also establishes a series of inns, the Bianconi Inns, some of which still exist; in Piltown, County Kilkenny and Killorglin, County Kerry.

In 1832 Bianconi marries Eliza Hayes, the daughter of a wealthy Dublin stockbroker. They have three children. Bianconi dies on September 22, 1875 at Longfield House, Boherlahan, County Tipperary.

Having donated land to the parish of Boherlahan for the construction of a parish church, Bianconi wishes to be buried on the Church grounds. He, and his family, are buried in a side chapel, separate from the parish church in Boherlahan, approximately 5 miles from Cashel, County Tipperary.


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Death of Inventor Alexander Mitchell

alexander-mitchellAlexander Mitchell, Irish engineer who from 1802 is blind, dies on June 25, 1868. He is known as the inventor of the screw-pile lighthouse.

Mitchell is born in Dublin on April 13, 1780. His family moves to Belfast while he is a child. He receives his formal education at Belfast Academy where he excels in mathematics. He begins to notice that his eyesight is failing. By the age of 16 he can no longer read and by the age of 22 he is completely blind.

Undeterred, Mitchell borrows £100 and starts up a successful business making bricks in the Ballymacarrett area of Belfast. This enables him to start building his own houses and he completes approximately twenty in the city. It is during this period that his talent for inventing comes to the fore and he fabricates several machines for use in brick-making and the building trade.

Mitchell patents the screw-pile in 1833, for which he later gains some fame. The screw-pile is used for the erection of lighthouses and other structures on mudbanks and shifting sands, including bridges and piers. His designs and methods are employed all over the world from the Portland, Maine breakwater to bridges in Bombay. Initially it is used for the construction of lighthouses on Maplin Sands in the Thames Estuary in 1838, at Fleetwood Lancashire (UK) Morecambe Bay in 1839 and at Belfast Lough where his lighthouse is finished in July 1844.

In 1848 Mitchell is elected member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and receives the Telford Medal the following year for a paper on his invention.

In May 1851 Mitchell moves to Cobh to lay the foundation for the Spit Bank Lighthouse. The success of these undertakings leads to the use of his invention on the breakwater at Portland, the viaduct and bridges on the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway and a broad system of Indian telegraphs.

Mitchell becomes friendly with astronomer John Thomas Romney Robinson and mathematician George Boole.

Alexander Mitchell dies at Glen Devis near Belfast on June 25, 1868 and is buried in the old Clifton graveyard in Belfast. His wife and daughter predecease him.


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Guinness First Exported from Ireland

guinnessJust ten years after Guinness is first brewed in St. James Gate, Dublin, the beautiful magic brew is first exported from Ireland on May 19, 1769 as six-and-a-half barrels are shipped to England.

Guinness is an Irish dry stout that originates in the brewery of Arthur Guinness (1725–1803) at St. James’s Gate brewery in the capital city of Dublin. Guinness, produced by the Diageo beverages company, is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide. It is brewed in almost 50 countries and is available in over 120. Annual sales total of Guinness in 2011 was 850 million litres (220,000,000 US gal).

Guinness features a burnt flavour that is derived from malted barley and roasted unmalted barley. The use of roasted barley is a relatively modern development, not becoming part of the grist until the mid-20th century. For many years, a portion of aged brew is blended with freshly brewed beer to give a sharp lactic acid flavour. Although Guinness’s palate still features a characteristic “tang,” the company has refused to confirm whether this type of blending still occurs. The draught beer‘s thick, creamy head comes from mixing the beer with nitrogen and carbon dioxide when poured. It is popular with the Irish, both in Ireland and abroad. In spite of declining consumption since 2001, it is still the best-selling alcoholic drink in Ireland where Guinness & Co. Brewery makes almost €2 billion worth of the beverage annually.

The company is started in 1759 in Dublin, but has to move its headquarters to London at the beginning of the Anglo-Irish Trade War in 1932. In 1997, Guinness plc merges with Grand Metropolitan to form the multinational alcoholic drinks producer Diageo.