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


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Death of Robert Boyle, Philosopher & Writer

robert-boyleRobert Boyle, Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, theological writer, chemist, physicist, inventor and a preeminent figure of 17th-century intellectual culture, dies on December 31, 1691 in London.

Boyle is born on January 25, 1627 at Lismore Castle, in County Waterford. At age eight, he begins his formal education at Eton College, where his studious nature quickly becomes apparent. In 1639 he and his brother Francis embark on a grand tour of the continent together with their tutor Isaac Marcombes. In 1642, owing to the Irish rebellion, Francis returns home while Robert remains with his tutor in Geneva and pursues further studies.

Boyle returns to England in 1644, where he takes up residence at his hereditary estate of Stalbridge in Dorset. There he begins a literary career writing ethical and devotional tracts, some of which employ stylistic and rhetorical models drawn from French popular literature, especially romance writings. In 1649 he begins investigating nature via scientific experimentation. From 1647 until the mid-1650s, he remains in close contact with a group of natural philosophers and social reformers gathered around the intelligencer Samuel Hartlib. This group, the Hartlib Circle, includes several chemists who heighten his interest in experimental chemistry.

Boyle spends much of 1652–1654 in Ireland overseeing his hereditary lands and performing some anatomic dissections. In 1654 he is invited to Oxford, and he takes up residence at the university until 1668. In Oxford he is exposed to the latest developments in natural philosophy and becomes associated with a group of notable natural philosophers and physicians, including John Wilkins, Christopher Wren, and John Locke. These individuals, together with a few others, form the “Experimental Philosophy Club.” Much of Boyle’s best known work dates from this period.

In 1659 Boyle and Robert Hooke, the clever inventor and subsequent curator of experiments for the Royal Society, complete the construction of their famous air pump and use it to study pneumatics. Their resultant discoveries regarding air pressure and the vacuum appear in Boyle’s first scientific publication, New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and Its Effects (1660). Boyle and Hooke discover several physical characteristics of air, including its role in combustion, respiration, and the transmission of sound. One of their findings, published in 1662, later becomes known as “Boyle’s law.” This law expresses the inverse relationship that exists between the pressure and volume of a gas, and it is determined by measuring the volume occupied by a constant quantity of air when compressed by differing weights of mercury.

Among Boyle’s most influential writings are The Sceptical Chymist (1661), which assails the then-current Aristotelian and especially Paracelsian notions about the composition of matter and methods of chemical analysis, and the Origine of Formes and Qualities (1666), which uses chemical phenomena to support the corpuscularian hypothesis. He argues so strongly for the need of applying the principles and methods of chemistry to the study of the natural world and to medicine that he later gains the appellation of the “father of chemistry.”

Boyle is a devout and pious Anglican who keenly champions his faith. He sponsors educational and missionary activities and writes a number of theological treatises. He is deeply concerned about the widespread perception that irreligion and atheism are on the rise, and he strives to demonstrate ways in which science and religion are mutually supportive. For Boyle, studying nature as a product of God’s handiwork is an inherently religious duty. He argues that this method of study would, in return, illuminate God’s omnipresence and goodness, thereby enhancing a scientist’s understanding of the divine. The Christian Virtuoso (1690) summarizes these views and may be seen as a manifesto of his own life as the model of a Christian scientist.

In 1668 Boyle leaves Oxford and takes up residence with his sister Katherine Jones, Vicountess Ranelagh, in her house on Pall Mall in London. There he sets up an active laboratory, employs assistants, receives visitors, and publishes at least one book nearly every year. Living in London also provides him the opportunity to participate actively in the Royal Society.

Boyle is a genial man who achieves both national and international renown during his lifetime. He is offered the presidency of the Royal Society and the episcopacy but declines both. Throughout his adult life, he is sickly, suffering from weak eyes and hands, recurring illnesses, and one or more strokes. He dies at age 64 on December 31, 1691 after a short illness exacerbated by his grief over Katherine’s death a week earlier. He leaves his papers to the Royal Society and a bequest for establishing a series of lectures in defense of Christianity. These lectures, now known as the Boyle Lectures, continue to this day.

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Birth of William Lewery Blackley, Divine & Social Reformer

william-lewery-blackley

William Lewery Blackley, divine and social reformer, is born at Dundalk, County Louth on December 30, 1830.

Blackley is the second son of Travers Robert Blackley of Ashtown Lodge, County Dublin and Eliza, daughter of Colonel Lewery, who is taken prisoner by the French at Verdun. His maternal grandfather is Travers Hartley, MP for Dublin (1776-1790) and governor of the Bank of Ireland.

In boyhood Blackley is sent with his brother John to a school at Brussels kept by Dr. Carl Martin Friedlander, a Polish political refugee, whose daughter, Amelia Jeanne Josephine, he subsequently marries on July 24, 1855. There he acquires proficiency in French, German, and other foreign languages. In 1847 he returns to Ireland, entered Trinity College, Dublin, graduating B.A. in 1850, M.A. in 1854, and takes holy orders. In 1854 he becomes curate of St. Peter’s, Southwark, but an attack of cholera compels his retirement from London. From 1855 to 1867 he has charge of two churches at Frensham, near Farnham, Surrey. He is rector of North Waltham, Hampshire (1867-1883), and King’s Somborne (1883-1889). In 1883 he is made honorary canon of Winchester.

Blackley, who is an energetic parish priest and is keenly interested in social questions, carefully elaborates a scheme for the cure of pauperism by a statutory enforcement of thrift which has far-reaching results at home and abroad. In November 1878 he contributes to the Nineteenth Century an essay entitled National Insurance a Cheap, Practical, and Popular Way of Preventing Pauperism, and thenceforth strenuously advocates a scheme of compulsory insurance, which the National Providence League, with the Earl of Shaftesbury as president, is formed in 1880 to carry into effect. At the same time he recommends temperance as a means of social regeneration. His views reach a wide public through his writings, which include How to teach Domestic Economy (1879), Collected Essays on the Prevention of Pauperism (1880), Social Economy Reading Book, adapted to the New Code (1881), Thrift and Independence; a Word for Working-men (1884).

Blackley’s scheme provides that all persons between eighteen and twenty should subscribe to a national fund, and should receive in return a week in time of sickness, and a week after the age of seventy. The plan is urged on the House of Lords by the Earl of Carnarvon in 1880, and is the subject of inquiry by a select committee of the House of Commons from 1885 to 1887. The majority of the boards of guardians in England and Wales support the proposals, but the commons’ committee, while acknowledging Blackley’s ingenuity and knowledge, reports adversely on administrative and actuarial grounds. At the same time the friendly societies, which Blackley has censured in his Thrift and Independence, regards the principle of compulsion as a menace to their own growth, and their historian and champion, the Rev. John Frome Wilkinson, sharply criticises Blackley’s plan in The Blackley National Providence Insurance Scheme; a Protest and Appeal (1887). Blackley’s plan, although rejected for the time, stimulates kindred movements in the colonies and in foreign countries, and leads directly to the adoption of old age pensions in England by legislation in 1908, while the national insurance scheme which receives parliamentary sanction in 1911 bears some trace of Blackley’s persistent agitation.

In 1887 Blackley, who is director of the Clergy Mutual Insurance Company, makes proposals to the church congress which lead to the formation of the “Clergy Pension Scheme” and of a society for ecclesiastical fire insurance. In the autumn of 1889 Blackley, whose active propagandism brings him constantly to London, becomes vicar of St. James the Less, Vauxhall Bridge Road. There he enlarges the schools and builds a parish hall and a vicarage.

William Lewery Blackley dies after a brief illness at 79 St. George’s Square, on July 25, 1902. Brasses are put up in Blackley’s memory in the churches of St. James the Less, North Waltham, and Frensham.


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Birth of St. Columba

St. Columba, also called Colum or Columcille, Irish abbot and missionary Evangelist is born on December 7, 521, in Tír Chonaill (mainly modern County Donegal) in the north of Ireland. He is credited with spreading Christianity in what is today Scotland at the start of the Hiberno-Scottish mission. He also founds the important abbey on Iona, which becomes a dominant religious and political institution in the region for centuries. He is the Patron Saint of Derry and is highly regarded by both the Gaels of Dál Riata and the Picts. Today he is remembered as a Catholic saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Columba studies under Saints Finnian of Movilla and Finnian of Clonard and is ordained into the priesthood around 551. He founds churches and the famous monasteries Daire Calgaich, in Derry, and Dair-magh, in Durrow.

Columba and his twelve disciples erect a church and monastery on the island of Iona (c. 563) as their springboard for the conversion of Scotland. It is regarded as the mother house and its abbots as the chief ecclesiastical rulers even of the bishops. Columba gives formal benediction and inauguration to Áedán mac Gabráin of Dunadd as king of Dál Riata.

Columba accompanies Aidan to Ireland in 575 and takes a leading role in a council held at Druim Cetta, which determines the position of the ruler of Dál Riata in relation to the king of Ireland. The last years of Columba’s life are apparently primarily spent in Iona, where he is already revered as a saint. He and his associates and successors spread the gospel more than any other contemporary group of religious pioneers in Britain.

Columba dies on Iona and is buried in 597 by his monks in the abbey he created. In 794 the Vikings descend on Iona. Columba’s relics are finally removed in 849 and divided between Scotland and Ireland. The parts of the relics which go to Ireland are reputed to be buried in Downpatrick, County Down, with St. Patrick and St. Brigid or at Saul Church neighbouring Downpatrick.

Three Latin hymns may be attributed to Columba with some degree of certainty. Excavations in 1958 and 1959 revealed Columba’s living cell and the outline of the original monastery.

St. Columba’s Feast Day, 9 June, has been designated as International Celtic Art Day. The Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, great medieval masterpieces of Celtic art, are associated with Columba.


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Opening of Assembly’s College, Belfast

assemblys-college-belfastAssembly’s College, Belfast, opens for the training of Presbyterian clergy on December 5, 1853.

The Renaissance Revival style building with its grand Doric porch and Baroque attic is designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, the architect of the main building at Queen’s University Belfast and built with Scrabo stone at a cost of £5,000. Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné of Geneva participates in the opening ceremony alongside Henry Cooke, President of the Faculty. The five other professors in the new college are John Edgar, Robert Wilson, William Dool Killen, James G. Murphy and William Gibson.

There is a large influx of students in the wake of the 1859 Ulster revival and the south wing with its dining hall and student accommodations is added in 1869. Princeton Theological Seminary has an important influence in the shaping of the ethos of the College during this period as the Reverend Roberts Watts, who is appointed Professor of Systematic Theology in 1866, hopes to make “Belfast another Princeton.” The north wing with its wood-panelled chapel is designed by John Lanyon, son of original architect, and completed in 1881. The first degrees under the Royal Charter are conferred in 1883. However, the death of Watts in 1895 marks the beginning of the end of the Princetonian influence. A partial union takes place between the faculties in Belfast and Magee in 1922.

The newly formed Parliament of Northern Ireland meets in Assembly’s College from 1921 until 1932 while Stormont is being built with the House of Commons meeting in the Gamble Library and the Senate in the College chapel. During this period the College conducts classes in a house and provides library resources in a house on University Square. In 1926 the College becomes a Recognised College of Queen’s University. During this period the College comes under criticism for its embrace of theological liberalism. This culminates in a charge of heresy being brought against Professor James Ernest Davey in 1926-27. The College officially reopens in October 1932 and the inaugural lecture is delivered by the Scottish Historian Robert Rait.

Between 1941 and 1948 the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the city police, use the College as its own headquarters are bombed in the Belfast Blitz. In 1953, to mark the College’s centenary year, Prof. Davey is elected Moderator of the General Assembly.

In 1976 theological teaching at Magee College in Derry, County Londonderry, ceases and the two colleges amalgamate in 1978. The new college, constituted by an Act of Parliament, is named Union Theological College.

Today Union Theological College offers a full range of courses in Theology. The professors of the College constitute the Presbyterian Theological Faculty Ireland (PTFI) which was granted a Royal Charter in 1881 to confer academic degrees. The PTFI still awards degrees, diplomas and certificates. The majority of students are enrolled for degrees and diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate, through the Institute of Theology of the Queen’s University of Belfast, in particular the BTh, BD, MTh and PhD.


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Death of Saint Columbanus

saint-columbanusColumbanus, Irish missionary notable for founding a number of monasteries on the European continent from around 590 in the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms, dies on November 21, 615. He is one of the earliest identifiable Hiberno-Latin writers.

Columbanus is born in 543 in the Kingdom of Meath, now part of Leinster. Well-born, handsome and educated, he is torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decides to withdraw from the world. His family opposes the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He leaves home and studies Scripture extensively under Sinell, Abbot of Cluaninis in Lough Erne. He then moves to Bangor Abbey on the coast of Down, where Saint Comgall is serving as the abbot. He stays at Bangor until his fortieth year, when he receives Comgall’s permission to travel to the continent.

In middle age, Columbanus feels a call to missionary life. With twelve companions (Saint Attala, Columbanus the Younger, Cummain, Deicolus, Eogain, Eunan, Saint Gall, Gurgano, Libran, Lua, Sigisbert and Waldoleno) he travels to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, has fallen far from the faith, but are ready for missionaries, and they have some success. They are warmly greeted at the court of King Gontram of Burgundy, and the king invites the band to stay. They choose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columbanus as their abbot.

The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group draws disciples to join them and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columbanus, to find solitude for prayer, often lives for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks over-crowds the old fortress, King Gontram gives them the Gallo-Roman castle called Luxovium in present-day Luxeuil-les-Bains, some eight miles from Annegray, in 590. Soon after, a third house called Ad-fontanas is founded at present-day Fontaine-lès-Luxeuil. Columbanus serves as master of them all, and writes a Rule for them. It incorporates many Celtic practices, is approved by the Council of Mâcon in 627, but is superseded by the Benedictine.

Problems arise early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops object to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602 he is summoned to appear before them for judgment. Instead of appearing, he sends a letter advising them to hold more synods and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he uses to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continues for years, with Columbanus appealing to multiple popes for help. It is only settled when Columbanus abandons the Celtic calender when he moves to Italy.

In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columbanus speaks out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court, which is in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunhilda of Austrasia stirs up the bishops and nobilty against the abbot. Theuderic II orders him to conform to the local ways and shut up. Columbanus refuses and is briefly imprisoned at Besançon, but he escapes and returns to Luxeuil. Theuderic II and Brunhilda send an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship sets sail, a storm drives them back to shore. The captain takes it as a sign and sets the monks free.

They make their way to King Chlothar II at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theudebert II of Austrasia in 611. Columbanus travels to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, where he sails up the Rhine to the lands of the Suebi and Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelization work there is unsuccessful and the group passes on to Arbon, then Bregenz on Lake Constance. Saint Gall, who knows the local language best, takes the lead in this region. Many are converted to the faith and the group founds a new monastery as their home and base. However, a year later political upheaval causes Columbanus to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treats him well, and he preaches and writes against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, King Agilulf, the king of the Lombards, gives him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilds a half-ruined church of Saint Peter, and around it he founds an abbey that is to be the source for evangelization throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.

Columbanus always enjoys being in the forests and caves, and as he walks through the woods, birds and squirrels ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life comes word that his old enemies are dead and his brothers want him to come back north, but he declines. Knowing that his time is almost done, he retires to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia River. Columbanus dies of natural causes at Bobbio, Italy on November 21, 615.

Columbanus’ influence continues for centuries as those he converted hand on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelize untold numbers more, and his brother monks found over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.

(Pictured: Saint Columbanus stained glass window, Bobbio Abbey crypt)


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Death of Saint Laurence O’Toole

st-laurence-o-tooleLorcán Ua Tuathail, also known as Saint Laurence O’Toole, Archbishop of Dublin at the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland, dies in Eu, Normandy, France on November 14, 1180.

O’Toole is born in Castledermot in what is now County Kildare in 1128. His father is Maurice O’Toole, King of Hy Murray. It is common practice in the day for princes of one clan to be given as hostages to another clan, as a guarantee of peace. When he is ten years old O’Toole is given as hostage to Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster, who treats him very badly. He is sent in chains to a remote place, where he gets very little to eat and does not have enough clothes to keep him warm in the winter. For two years, even though he is a king’s son, he learns what it is like to be poor and to be oppressed.

After two years, it is agreed that O’Toole is to be released. He is sent to a monastery at Glendalough, and the monks make him welcome. It is agreed that his father is to come and collect him there. But he soon comes to love Glendalough and likes joining the monks in prayer. After his two years as a hostage, he realises that wealth and power are not important. He feels very close to God in Glendalough. He asks his father’s permission to stay there and become a monk, to which his father agrees. At the age of only 25 years old, he is elected Abbot of the monastery. As the leader of the community he encourages the monks in their learning. There is always a welcome in the monastery for the poor. When there is a famine in the area, he sells some of the treasures of Glendalough to provide food for those who are hungry.

In 1162 O’Toole becomes the first Irish-born Archbishop of the Danish city of Dublin. In those days, many of the people of Dublin do not take their Christian religion very seriously. He encourages them to become real Christians. He brings monks to Dublin from France and they live at Christ Church Cathedral. They help many people to come back to Mass and the Sacraments. O’Toole himself never forgets his own days of poverty. He continues to care for the poor, especially homeless children. He makes room for them in his own house, and they share the food at his table.

The Normans land in Ireland in 1169. The following year they besiege Dublin under their leader, Strongbow. O’Toole meets Strongbow to arrange peace but the Normans attack while the talks are going on. They seize the city and begin killing the citizens and looting their houses. O’Toole saves the lives of many people.

As Archbishop of Dublin, O’Toole participates in the Third Council of the Lateran in Rome in 1179, with some of the other Irish bishops. Pope Alexander III knows that Ireland has been going through a bad time. He knows that many people, including priests, are no longer taking their religion seriously. He entrusts to O’Toole the task of reforming the Church in Ireland.

A new dispute breaks out between the King of England and the Irish Kings. In the spring of 1180, O’Toole leaves Ireland to see if he can help settle the dispute. The English King, Henry II, does not have much time for bishops. He has already arranged to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, murdered. He does not welcome O’Toole. He sees a chance to get rid of O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin and does not let him return to Ireland. Henry has control of Normandy as well as England. O’Toole follows him there. As long as there is a chance of peace, he would not give up trying.

In 1180, O’Toole becomes seriously ill. The monks at Eu in Normandy look after him in their monastery but on November 14, 1180, at the age of 52, he dies. His tomb is in the crypt under the Collegial Church at Eu. Many people still go there to pray. Laurence O’Toole is canonized in 1225 by Pope Honorius III.

(From “St. Laurence O’Toole: a spiritual leader for difficult times,” CatholicIreland.net, November 30, 1999)


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Death of Jonathan Swift, Satirist & Essayist

jonathan-swiftJonathan Swift, satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric who becomes Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, dies in Dublin on October 19, 1745.

Swift is born in Dublin on November 30, 1667. His father, an attorney, also named Jonathan Swift, dies just two months before he is born. Without steady income, his mother struggles to provide for her newborn. Moreover, he is a sickly child. It is later discovered that he suffers from Ménière’s disease, a condition of the inner ear that leaves the afflicted nauseous and hard of hearing. In an effort to give her son the best upbringing possible, Swift’s mother gives him over to Godwin Swift, her late husband’s brother and a member of the respected professional attorney and judges group Gray’s Inn. Godwin Swift enrolls his nephew in the Kilkenny Grammar School (1674–1682), which is perhaps the best school in Ireland at the time. His transition from a life of poverty to a rigorous private school setting proves challenging. He does, however, make a fast friend in William Congreve, the future poet and playwright.

At age 14, Swift commences his undergraduate studies at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1686, he receives a Bachelor of Arts degree and goes on to pursue a master’s degree. Not long into his research, huge unrest breaks out in Ireland. The king of Ireland, England and Scotland is soon to be overthrown. What becomes known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688 spurs him to move to England and start anew. For 10 years, Swift works in Surrey‘s Moor Park and acts as an assistant to Sir William Temple.

During his Moor Park years, Swift met the daughter of Temple’s housekeeper, an 8-year-old named Esther Johnson. They become lovers for the rest of their lives until Johnson’s death. It is rumored that they marry in 1716 and that Swift keeps of lock of Johnson’s hair in his possession at all times.

During his decade of work for Temple, Swift returns to Ireland twice. On a trip in 1695, he takes all necessary requirements to become an ordained priest in the Anglican tradition. Under Temple’s influence, he also begins to write, first short essays and then a manuscript for a later book. Temple dies in 1699. Swift completes the task of editing and publishing Temple’s memoirs. He then leans on his priestly qualifications and finds work ministering to a pea-sized congregation just 20 miles outside of Dublin. For the next ten years, he gardens, preaches and works on the house provided to him by the church. He also returns to writing. His first political pamphlet is titled A Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome.

In 1704, Swift anonymously releases A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books. Tub, although widely popular with the masses, is harshly disapproved of by the Church of England. Ostensibly, it criticizes religion, but Swift means it as a parody of pride. Nonetheless, his writings earn him a reputation in London and when the Tories come into power in 1710, they ask him to become editor of The Examiner, their official paper. After a time, he becomes fully immersed in the political landscape and begins writing some of the most cutting and well-known political pamphlets of the day, including The Conduct of the Allies, an attack on the Whigs. Privy to the inner circle of Tory government, he lays out his private thoughts and feelings in a stream of letters to his beloved Stella. They are later published as The Journal to Stella.

When he sees that the Tories will soon fall from power, Swift returns to Ireland. In 1713, he takes the post of dean at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. While leading his congregation at St. Patrick’s, he begins to write what would become his best-known work. In 1726, at last finished with the manuscript, he travels to London and benefits from the help of several friends, who anonymously publish it as Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, more simply known as Gulliver’s Travels. The book is an immediate success and has not been out of print since its first run.

Not long after the celebration of this work, Swift’s longtime love, Esther Johnson, falls ill. She dies in January 1728. Her death moves Swift to write The Death of Mrs. Johnson.

In 1742, Swift suffers a stroke and loses the ability to speak. On October 19, 1745, Jonathan Swift dies. He is laid to rest next to Esther Johnson inside Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.