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


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Birth of Physicist John Joly

John Joly, Irish physicist famous for his development of radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer, is born in Bracknagh, County Offaly, on November 1, 1857. He is also known for developing techniques to accurately estimate the age of a geological period, based on radioactive elements present in minerals.

Joly is a second cousin of Charles Jasper Joly, the astronomer. He enters Trinity College, Dublin in 1876, graduating in Engineering in 1882 in first place with various special certificates in branches of engineering, at the same time obtaining a First-Class Honours in modern literature. He works as a demonstrator in Trinity’s Engineering and Physics departments before succeeding William Johnson Sollas in the Chair of Geology and Mineralogy in 1897, a position which he holds until his death in 1933.

Joly joins the Royal Dublin Society in 1881 while still a student, and is a frequent contributor of papers. During his career he writes over 270 books and scientific papers.

On May 17, 1899 Joly reads his paper “An Estimate of the Geological Age of the Earth” to the Royal Dublin Society. In it, he proposes to calculate the age of the earth from the accumulation of sodium in the waters of the oceans. He calculates the rate at which the oceans should have accumulated sodium from erosion processes, and determines that the oceans are about 80 to 100 million years old. The paper is quickly published, appearing four months later in the Society’s Scientific Transactions. Although this method is later considered inaccurate and is consequently superseded, it radically modifies the results of other methods in use at the time.

In 1903 he publishes an article in Nature in which he discusses the possibility of using radium to date the Earth and goes on to study the radioactive content of the Earth’s crust to formulate a theory of thermal cycles, and examines the radioactive constituents of certain rocks as a means of calculating their age. Working in collaboration with Sir Ernest Rutherford, he uses radioactive decay in minerals to estimate, in 1913, that the beginning of the Devonian period could not be less than 400 million years ago, an estimate which is in line with modern calculations.

Joly serves as President of Section C (Geology) when the British Association for the Advancement of Science meets in Dublin in 1908, during which he presents his paper “Uranium and Geology” in an address to the society. This work describes radioactive materials in rocks and their part in the generation of the Earth’s internal heat.

Along with his friend Henry Horatio Dixon, Joly also puts forward the cohesion-tension theory which is now thought to be the main mechanism for the upward movement of water in plants.

In 1914 Joly develops a method of extracting radium and applies it in the treatment of cancer. As a Governor of Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin, in collaboration with Walter Stevenson, he devises radiation therapy methods and promotes the establishment by the Royal Dublin Society of the Irish Radium Institute where they pioneer the “Dublin method” of using a hollow needle for deep radiation therapy, a technique that later enters worldwide use. The Radium Institute also supplies capillary tubes containing radon to hospitals for some years for use in the treatment of tumours.

Joly is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1892, is awarded the Boyle Medal of the Royal Dublin Society in 1911, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1910, and the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1923. He is also conferred honorary degrees by the National University of Ireland, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Michigan. After his death in 1933, his friends subscribe the sum of £1,700 to set up a memorial fund which is still used to promote the annual Joly Memorial Lectures at the University of Dublin, which were inaugurated by Sir Ernest Rutherford in 1935. He is also remembered by the Joly Geological Society, a student geological association established in 1960.

In 1973 a crater on Mars is named in Joly’s honour.

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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.


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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.