seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Physicist & Engineer William Thomson

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, Scots-Irish mathematical physicist and engineer, is born in Belfast on June 26, 1824.

At the University of Glasgow he does important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and does much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form. He works closely with mathematics professor Hugh Blackburn in his work. He also has a career as an electrical telegraph engineer and inventor, which propels him into the public eye and ensures his wealth, fame and honour. For his work on the transatlantic telegraph project he is knighted in 1866 by Queen Victoria, becoming Sir William Thomson. He has extensive maritime interests and is most noted for his work on the mariner’s compass, which had previously been limited in reliability.

Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honour. While the existence of a lower limit to temperature (absolute zero) is known prior to his work, Thomson is widely known for determining its correct value as approximately −273.15 degree Celsius or −459.67 degree Fahrenheit.

Thomson is ennobled in 1892 in recognition of his achievements in thermodynamics, and of his opposition to Irish Home Rule, becoming Baron Kelvin, of Largs in the County of Ayr. He is the first British scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords. The title refers to the River Kelvin, which flows close by his laboratory at the University of Glasgow. His home is the imposing red sandstone mansion Netherhall, in Largs. Despite offers of elevated posts from several world-renowned universities, Thomson refuses to leave Glasgow, remaining Professor of Natural Philosophy for over 50 years, until his eventual retirement from that post. The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow has a permanent exhibition on the work of Thomson including many of his original papers, instruments and other artifacts such as his smoking pipe.

Always active in industrial research and development, he is recruited around 1899 by George Eastman to serve as vice-chairman of the board of the British company Kodak Limited, affiliated with Eastman Kodak.

In November 1907 he catches a chill and his condition deteriorates until he dies at his Scottish residence, Netherhall, in Largs on December 17.

Lord Kelvin is an elder of St. Columba’s Parish Church (Church of Scotland) in Largs for many years. It is to that church that his remains are taken after his death. Following the funeral service, his body is taken to Bute Hall in his beloved University of Glasgow for a service of remembrance before being taken to London for interment at Westminster Abbey, near the final resting place of Sir Isaac Newton.


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Birth of William Frederick Archdall Ellison, Clergyman & Astronomer

Reverend William Frederick Archdall Ellison FRAS, Irish clergyman, Hebrew scholar, organist, avid amateur telescope maker, and, from 1918 to 1936, director of Armagh Observatory in Armagh, Northern Ireland, is born on April 28, 1864. He is the father of Mervyn A. Ellison, the senior professor of the School of Cosmic Physics at Dunsink Observatory from 1958 to 1963.

Ellison comes from a clerical family, his father Humphrey Eakins Ellison having been Dean of Ferns, County Wexford. He gains a sizarship of classics at Trinity College, Dublin in 1883, becomes a Scholar of the House in 1886 and graduates in 1887 with junior moderatorships in classics and experimental science. In 1890 he takes Holy Orders and moves to England, where he becomes the Curate of Tudhoe and Monkwearmouth. In 1894 he takes his MA and BD degrees and in the following year wins the Elrington Theological Prize.

In 1899 he returns to Ireland to become secretary of the Sunday School Society, a post which he holds for three years before accepting the incumbency of Monart, Enniscorthy, moving in 1908 to become Rector of Fethard-on-Sea with Tintern in Wexford. Ellison develops an interest in astronomy, having been introduced to practical optics by Dr. N. Alcock of Dublin and sets up his first observatory at Wexford. He becomes highly adept at making lenses and mirrors and writes several books and articles on the subject, including major contributions to the Amateur Telescope Making series, the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, and the weekly newspaper The English Mechanic. His book The Amateur’s Telescope (1920) is still considered a standard for telescope-makers and a forerunner of the more extensive series on the same topic by Albert Graham Ingalls.

On September 2, 1918 Ellison is appointed Director of the Armagh Observatory. He finds the Observatory in a state of disrepair and sets about repairing the instruments and the observatory dome. On January 3, 1919 he deeds a telescope of his own to the observatory, an 18-inch reflecting telescope, which is still there.

Ellison is a highly regarded planetary and binary star observer. Working with his son Mervyn, he makes many measurements of binary stars using the observatory’s 10-inch Grubb refracting telescope and even discovers a new one close to Beta Lyrae, and according to Patrick Moore, is one of the few people to have observed an eclipse of Saturn’s moon Iapetus by Saturn’s outermost ring on February 28, 1919.

In 1934 Ellison becomes Canon and Prebendary of Ballymore, Armagh Cathedral. He dies on December 31, 1936, having held the office of Director of the observatory for nearly twenty years.


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Birth of Sir Thomas Molyneux, 1st Baronet FRS

Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Molyneux, 1st Baronet FRS, scientist, archaeologist, physician and Member of Parliament (MP), is born in Dublin on April 14, 1661. Molyneux is the first to assert that the Giant’s Causeway, now a National Nature Reserve of Northern Ireland and a major tourist attraction, is a natural phenomenon. Legend has it that it is the remains of a crossing between two areas of land over an inlet of the sea that has been built by a giant.

Molyneux is the youngest son of Samuel Molyneux of Castle Dillon, County Armagh, Master Gunner of Ireland, and grandson of Daniel Molyneux, Ulster King of Arms. His great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Molyneux, who is originally from Calais, comes to Ireland about 1576, and becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland.

Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Molyneux becomes a doctor with an MA and MB in 1683, at the age of 22. He goes to Europe and continues his medical studies, resulting in gaining the MD degree in 1687. He is admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society on November 3, 1686.

Molyneux practises medicine in Chester sometime before 1690. He returns to Ireland after the Battle of the Boyne. He is elected a Fellow of the Irish College of Physicians 1692 under Cardinal Brandr Beekman-Ellner and becomes the first State Physician in Ireland and also Physician General to the Army in Ireland, with the rank of lieutenant general. Between 1695 and 1699, Molyneux represents Ratoath in the Irish House of Commons. He is Regius Professor of Physic at Trinity College 1717–1733 and becomes a baronet in 1730. Both he and his brother William Molyneux are philosophically minded, and are friends of John Locke.

Molyneux marries twice, first to Margaret, sister of the first Earl of Wicklow, with issue of a son and daughter. It is believed that the son dies in childhood. In 1694 he marries Catherine Howard, daughter of Ralph Howard, at that time Regius Professor of Physic at Trinity College. They have four sons and eight daughters, of whom Daniel and Capel both succeed to the baronetcy.

Thomas Molyneux dies on October 19, 1733 at the age of 72. He is believed to be buried in St. Audoen’s Church, Dublin, however there is a fine monument to him in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh by the sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac, with an elaborate description of his honours and genealogy. His portrait is in Armagh County Museum.


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Death of Philosopher George Berkeley

george-berkeleyGeorge Berkeley, Irish philosopher whose primary achievement is the advancement of a theory he calls “immaterialism” (later referred to as “subjective idealism” by others), dies in Oxford, England, on January 14, 1753. His theory of immaterialism denies the existence of material substance and instead contends that familiar objects like tables and chairs are only ideas in the minds of perceivers and, as a result, cannot exist without being perceived. Berkeley is also known for his critique of abstraction, an important premise in his argument for immaterialism.

Berkeley is born at his family home, Dysart Castle, near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, the eldest son of William Berkeley, a cadet of the noble family of Berkeley. He is educated at Kilkenny College and attends Trinity College, Dublin, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1704 and completing a master’s degree in 1707. He remains at Trinity College after completion of his degree as a tutor and Greek lecturer.

In 1709, Berkeley publishes his first major work, An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, in which he discusses the limitations of human vision and advances the theory that the proper objects of sight are not material objects, but light and colour. This foreshadows his chief philosophical work, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, in 1710, which, after its poor reception, he rewrites in dialogue form and publishes under the title Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in 1713.

In this book, Berkeley’s views are represented by Philonous, while Hylas embodies the Irish thinker’s opponents, in particular John Locke. Berkeley argues against Sir Isaac Newton‘s doctrine of absolute space, time, and motion in De Motu (On Motion), published in 1721. His arguments are a precursor to the views of Ernst Mach and Albert Einstein. In 1732, he publishes Alciphron, a Christian apologetic against the free-thinkers, and in 1734, he publishes The Analyst, a critique of the foundations of calculus, which is influential in the development of mathematics.

His last major philosophical work, Siris (1744), begins by advocating the medicinal use of tar water and then continues to discuss a wide range of topics, including science, philosophy, and theology. Interest in Berkeley’s work increases after World War II because he tackles many of the issues of paramount interest to philosophy in the 20th century, such as the problems of perception, the difference between primary and secondary qualities, and the importance of language. It sold more copies than any of his other books during his lifetime.

In 1734, Berkeley is appointed Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland, a position he holds until his death. He remains at Cloyne until 1752, when he retires and goes to Oxford to live with his son and supervise his education. He dies soon afterward and is buried in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

The Berkeley portion of the Yale University campus is named after George Berkeley.


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Birth of Lucien Bull, Pioneer in Chronophotography

lucien-bullLucien Bull, a pioneer in chronophotography, is born in Dublin on January 5, 1876. Chronophotography is defined as “a set of photographs of a moving object, taken for the purpose of recording and exhibiting successive phases of motion.”

Born in Dublin to British father, Cornelius Bull, and French mother, Gabrielle Joune, Bull lives his younger years in Dublin where he attends school and lives at home with his parents. In 1894, Bull moves to France to visit his aunts. After several months, Bull eventually settles in the area and becomes an assistant to Étienne-Jules Marey in 1895. At the time, Marey is working on the cinematographic, which is a camera that is shaped like a rifle and takes pictures of moving objects from a rotating plate. This eventually becomes known as the “gun camera.”

This camera is designed to investigate the study of motion. Basically, the “gun camera” is designed to take an object in motion and snap still shots. By taking these still shots, each movement made by the object is captured and then studied to analyze movement patterns that were unable to be studied before. The first successful film is taken in 1904 when Bull is able to film the flight of a fly at 1,200 frames per second.

As a result of Marey’s death in May 1904, Bull becomes head of the Marey Institute, which forms part of the Collège de France. While remaining with the Marey Institute, Bull is naturalized as a French citizen in 1931. After a few years, Bull eventually introduces a few papers on a wide variety of subjects ranging from spark illuminations, high-speed motion-picture photography, original studies of insect and bird flight, and electrocardiography and muscle and heart functions.

In 1933, Bull is put in charge of research, National Office of Research and Invention in France. In 1948 he becomes President of the Institute of Scientific Cinematography in Paris. His work is eventually listed by Dr. W. Hinsch in Research Film for December 1953.

Lucien Bull dies in Paris on August 25, 1972.


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Ernest Walton Awarded Nobel Prize for Physics

ernest-waltonErnest Thomas Sinton Walton, Irish physicist, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on November 15, 1951, for his work with John Cockcroft with “atom-smashing” experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so becomes the first person in history to artificially split the atom.

Walton is born on October 6, 1903, in Abbeyside, Dungarvan, County Waterford to a Methodist minister father, Rev John Walton and Anna Sinton. In those days a general clergyman’s family moves once every three years, and this practice carries Ernest and his family to Rathkeale, County Limerick, and to County Monaghan. He attends day schools in counties Down and Tyrone, and at Wesley College Dublin before becoming a boarder at Methodist College Belfast in 1915, where he excels in science and mathematics.

In 1922, Walton wins scholarships to Trinity College, Dublin for the study of mathematics and science. He is awarded bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Trinity in 1926 and 1927, respectively. Walton receives seven prizes for excellence in physics and mathematics, including the Foundation Scholarship in 1924. Following graduation he is awarded an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and is accepted as a research student at Trinity College, Cambridge, under the supervision of Sir Ernest Rutherford, Director of Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory. At the time there are four Nobel Prize laureates on the staff at the Cavendish lab and a further five are to emerge, including Walton and John Cockcroft. Walton is awarded his PhD in 1931 and remains at Cambridge as a researcher until 1934.

During the early 1930s, Walton and John Cockcroft collaborate to build an apparatus that splits the nuclei of lithium atoms by bombarding them with a stream of protons accelerated inside a high-voltage tube. The splitting of the lithium nuclei produces helium nuclei. This is experimental verification of theories about atomic structure that have been proposed earlier by Rutherford, George Gamow, and others. The successful apparatus, a type of particle accelerator now called the Cockcroft-Walton generator, helps to usher in an era of particle-accelerator-based experimental nuclear physics. It is this research at Cambridge in the early 1930s that wins Walton and Cockcroft the Nobel Prize in physics in 1951.

Walton is associated with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies for over 40 years, serving long periods on the board of the School of Cosmic Physics and on the Council of the Institute. Following the 1952 death of John J. Nolan, the inaugural chairman of the School of Cosmic Physics, Walton assumes the role, and serves in that position until 1960, when he is succeeded by John H. Poole.

Although he retires from Trinity College Dublin in 1974, he retains his association with the Physics Department at Trinity up to his final illness. His is a familiar face in the tea-room. Shortly before his death he marks his lifelong devotion to Trinity by presenting his Nobel medal and citation to the college. Ernest Walton dies in Belfast on June 25, 1995, aged 91. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown.


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Death of Robert Mallet, the Father of Seismology

robert-malletRobert Mallet, geophysicist, civil engineer, and inventor who distinguishes himself in research on earthquakes and is sometimes called the Father of Seismology, dies on November 5, 1881.

Mallet is born in Dublin on June 3, 1810, the son of factory owner John Mallet. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, entering it at the age of 16 and graduating in science and mathematics in 1830 at the age of 20.

Following his graduation, he joins his father’s iron foundry business and helps build the firm into one of the most important engineering works in Ireland, supplying ironwork for railway companies, the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, and a swing bridge over the River Shannon at Athlone. He also helps manufacture the characteristic iron railings that surround Trinity College and which bear his family name at the base.

Mallet is elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832 at the early age of 22. He also enrolls in the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1835 which helps finance much of his research in seismology.

In 1838 he becomes a life member of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland, and serves as its President from 1846–1848. From 1848–1849 he constructs the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, southwest of Cape Clear.

On February 9, 1846 he presents to the Royal Irish Academy his paper On the Dynamics of Earthquakes, which is considered to be one of the foundations of modern seismology. He is also credited with coining the word “seismology” and other related words which he uses in his research. He also coins the term epicentre.

From 1852 to 1858, he is engaged in the preparation of his work, The Earthquake Catalogue of the British Association (1858), and carries out blasting experiments to determine the speed of seismic propagation in sand and solid rock.

On December 16, 1857, the area around Padula, Italy is devastated by the Great Neapolitan earthquake which causes 11,000 deaths. At the time it is the third largest known earthquake in the world and has been estimated to have been of magnitude 6.9 on the Richter Scale. Mallet, with letters of support from Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin, petitions the Royal Society of London and receives a grant of £150 to go to Padula and record at first hand the devastation. The resulting report is presented to the Royal Society as the Report on the Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857. It is a major scientific work and makes great use of the then new research tool of photography to record the devastation caused by the earthquake. In 1862, he publishes the Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857: The First Principles of Observational Seismology in two volumes. He brings forward evidence to show that the depth below the Earth’s surface, from where the impulse of the Neapolitan earthquake originated, is about 8–9 geographical miles.

One of Mallet’s papers is Volcanic Energy: an Attempt to develop its True Origin and Cosmical Relations, in which he seeks to show that volcanic heat may be attributed to the effects of crushing, contortion, and other disturbances in the crust of the earth. The disturbances leading to the formation of lines of fracture, more or less vertical, down which water would find its way, and if the temperature generated be sufficient volcanic eruptions of steam or lava would follow.

Mallet is elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1854, and in 1861 moves to London, where he becomes a consulting engineer and edits The Practical Mechanic’s Journal. He is awarded the Telford Medal by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1859, followed by the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his research into the theory of earthquakes in 1862, and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1877, the Geological Society’s highest award.

Blind for the last seven years of his life, Robert Mallet dies at Stockwell, London, on November 5, 1881 and is buried at West Norwood Cemetery.