seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Astronomer William Edward Wilson

William Edward Wilson, Irish astronomer, is born at Greenisland, County Antrim, on July 19, 1851. He is the only son of John and Frances Wilson of Daramona House, Streete, County Westmeath, and is privately educated.

Wilson becomes interested in astronomy and travels to Oran in 1870 to photograph the solar eclipse. In 1871 he acquires a reflecting telescope of 12 inches (30.5 cm) aperture and sets it up in a dome in the gardens of Daramona House. He uses it to experiment on the photography of the moon with wet plates and also begins to study solar radiation using thermopiles. In 1881, he replaces the original telescope with a Grubb reflector of 24 inches (61 cm) aperture and a new dome and mounting that has an electrically controlled clock drive. The new telescope is mounted in a two-story tower attached to the house with an attached physical laboratory, darkroom and machine shop.

Wilson’s main research effort, in partnership with P.L. Gray, is to determine the temperature of the sun using a “differential radio-micrometer” of the sort developed by C.V. Boys in 1889, which combines a bolometer and galvanometer into one instrument. The result of their measurements is an effective temperature of about 8000 °C for the sun which, after correction to deal with absorption in the earth’s atmosphere, give a value of 6590 °C, compared to the modern value of 6075 °C.

Some of Wilson’s other astronomical projects include observations on the transit of Venus, determination of stellar motion, observations of sunspots and a trip to Spain to photograph a solar eclipse. He takes a great many excellent photographs of celestial bodies such as nebulae. His astronomical findings are published in a series of memoirs such as Experimental Observations on the Effective Temperature of the Sun.

Wilson is elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1875 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896. He receives an honorary doctorate (D.Sc.) from the University of Dublin in June 1901. He serves as High Sheriff of Westmeath for 1894.

Wilson dies on March 6, 1908 at Daramona at the relatively young age of 56, and is buried in the family plot in Steete churchyard. He had married Caroline Ada in 1886, the daughter of Capt. R.C. Granville, and they have a son and two daughters. His son donates his telescope to the University of London, where it is used for research and teaching, finally becoming a feature in Liverpool museum.


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Birth of Astronomer William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse

William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, Anglo-Irish astronomer, naturalist, and engineer, is born in York, England on June 17, 1800. He is President of the Royal Society (UK), the most important association of naturalists in the world in the nineteenth century. He builds several giant telescopes. His 72-inch telescope, built in 1845 and colloquially known as the “Leviathan of Parsonstown,” is the world’s largest telescope, in terms of aperture size, until the early 20th century. From April 1807 until February 1841, he is styled as Baron Oxmantown.

Parsons is the son of Lawrence Parsons, 2nd Earl of Rosse, and Alice Lloyd. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating with first-class honours in mathematics in 1822. He inherits an earldom and a large estate in King’s County (now County Offaly) in Ireland when his father dies in February 1841.

Parsons marries Mary Field, daughter of John Wilmer Field, on April 14, 1836. They have thirteen children, of which four sons survive to adulthood: Lawrence, 4th Earl of Rosse, Rev. Randal Parsons, the Hon. Richard Clere Parsons, and the Hon. Sir Charles Algernon Parsons.

In addition to his astronomical interests, Parsons serves as a Member of Parliament (MP) for King’s County from 1821 to 1834, president of the British Science Association in 1843–1844, an Irish representative peer after 1845, president of the Royal Society (1848–1854), and chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin (1862–1867).

During the 1840s, Parsons has the Leviathan of Parsonstown built, a 72-inch telescope at Birr Castle, Parsonstown, County Offaly. He has to invent many of the techniques he uses for constructing the Leviathan, both because its size is without precedent and because earlier telescope builders had guarded their secrets or had not published their methods. Details of the metal, casting, grinding and polishing of the 3-ton ‘speculum’ are presented in 1844 at the Belfast Natural History Society. His telescope is considered a marvelous technical and architectural achievement, and images of it are circulated widely within the British commonwealth. Building of the Leviathan begins in 1842 and it is first used in 1845, with regular use waiting another two years due to the Great Famine. Using this telescope he sees and catalogues a large number of nebulae, including a number that would later be recognised as galaxies.

Parsons performs astronomical studies and discovers the spiral nature of some nebulas, today known to be spiral galaxies. His telescope Leviathan is the first to reveal the spiral structure of M51, a galaxy nicknamed later as the “Whirlpool Galaxy,” and his drawings of it closely resemble modern photographs.

Parsons dies at the age of 67 on October 31, 1867 at Monkstown, County Dublin.

Parsons’s son publishes his father’s findings, including the discovery of 226 New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars (NGC) objects in the publication Observations of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars Made With the Six-foot and Three-foot Reflectors at Birr Castle From the Year 1848 up to the Year 1878, Scientific Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society Vol. II, 1878.


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Birth of Thomas Romney Robinson, Astronomer & Physicist

Reverend John Thomas Romney Robinson, 19th-century astronomer and physicist usually referred to as Thomas Romney Robinson, was born at St. Anne’s in Dublin on April 23, 1792. He is the longtime director of the Armagh Observatory, one of the chief astronomical observatories in the United Kingdom at the time. He is remembered as the inventor in 1846 of the Robinson 4-cup anemometer, a device for measuring the speed of the wind.

Robinson is the son of the English portrait painter Thomas Robinson (d.1810) and his wife, Ruth Buck (d.1826). He is educated at Belfast Academy then studies Divinity at Trinity College Dublin, where he is elected a Scholar in 1808, graduating BA in 1810 and obtaining a fellowship in 1814, at the age of 22. He is for some years a deputy professor of natural philosophy (physics) at Trinity.

In 1823, at the age of 30, Robinson gains the appointment of astronomer at the Armagh Observatory. From this point on he always resides at the Armagh Observatory, engaged in researches connected with astronomy and physics, until his death in 1882. Having also been ordained as an Anglican priest while at Trinity, he obtains the church livings of the Anglican Church at Enniskillen and at Carrickmacross in 1824.

During the 1840s and 1850s Robinson is a frequent visitor to the world’s most powerful telescope of that era, the so-called Leviathan of Parsonstown telescope, which had been built by Robinson’s friend and colleague William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse. He is active with Parsons in interpreting the higher-resolution views of the night sky produced by Parsons’ telescope, particularly with regard to the galaxies and nebulae and he publishes leading-edge research reports on the question.

Back at his own observatory in Armagh, Robinson compiles a large catalogue of stars and writes many related reports. In 1862 he is awarded a Royal Medal “for the Armagh catalogue of 5345 stars, deduced from observations made at the Armagh Observatory, from the years 1820 up to 1854; for his papers on the construction of astronomical instruments in the memoirs of the Astronomical Society, and his paper on electromagnets in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy.”

Robinson is president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1851 to 1856, and is a long-time active organiser in the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a friend of Charles Babbage, who says was “indebted” for having reminded him about the first time he came up with the idea of the calculating machine.

Robinson marries twice, first to Eliza Isabelle Rambaut (d.1839) and secondly to Lucy Jane Edgeworth (1806–1897), the lifelong disabled daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth. His daughter marries the physicist George Gabriel Stokes. Stokes frequently visits Robinson in Armagh in Robinson’s later years.

Robinson dies in Armagh, County Armagh at the age of 89 on February 28, 1882.

The crater Robinson on the Moon is named in his honour.


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Birth of William McCrea, Astronomer & Mathematician

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100Sir William Hunter McCrea, English astronomer and mathematician, is born in Dublin on December 13, 1904.

McCrea’s family moves to Kent in 1906 and then to Derbyshire where he attends Chesterfield Grammar School. His father is a school master at Netherthorpe Grammar School in Staveley. He goes to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1923 where he studies mathematics, later gaining a PhD in 1929 under Ralph H. Fowler.

In 1928, McCrea studies Albrecht Unsöld‘s hypothesis and discovers that three quarters of the sun is made of hydrogen and about one quarter is helium with 1% being other elements. Previous to this many people thought the sun consisted mostly of iron. After this, people realise most stars consist of hydrogen.

From 1930 McCrea lectures in mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. In 1931, during his time in Edinburgh, he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers are Sir Edmund Taylor Whittaker, Sir Charles Galton Darwin, Edward Copson and Charles Glover Barkla. He wins the Society’s Keith Medal, jointly with Edward Copson, for the period 1939-1941.

In 1932 McCrea moves to Imperial College London as a Reader and marries Marian Core the following year. In 1936 he becomes Professor of Mathematics and head of the mathematics department at the Queen’s University Belfast.

During World War II McCrea is co-opted onto the Admiralty Operational Research Group. After the war, he joins the mathematics department at Royal Holloway College in 1944. He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1952.

McCrea is president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1961 to 1963 and president of Section A of the British Association for the Advancement of Science from 1965–1966.

In 1964 McCrea proposes mass transfer mechanism as an explanation of blue straggler stars. In 1965, he creates the astronomy centre of the physics department at the University of Sussex.

McCrea wins the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1976 and is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985.

William McCrea dies on April 25, 1999 at Lewes in Sussex. The McCrea Building on the Royal Holloway College campus is named after him.


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Birth of Aubrey Thomas de Vere, Critic & Poet

aubrey-de-vereAubrey Thomas de Vere, a critic and poet who adapts early Gaelic tales, is born on January 10, 1814 at Curraghchase House, now in ruins at Curraghchase Forest ParkCurraghchase Forest Park, Kilcornan, County Limerick.

Hunt de Vere is the third son of Sir Aubrey de Vere, 2nd Baronet and his wife Mary Spring Rice, daughter of Stephen Edward Rice and Catherine Spring, of Mount Trenchard, County Limerick. He is a nephew of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon and a younger brother of Sir Stephen de Vere, 4th Baronet. His sister Ellen marries Robert O’Brien, the brother of William Smith O’Brien. In 1832, his father drops the original surname “Hunt” by royal licence, assuming the surname “de Vere.”

de Vere is strongly influenced by his friendship with the astronomer Sir William Rowan Hamilton through whom he comes to a knowledge and reverent admiration for William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He is educated privately at home and in 1832 enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he reads Immanuel Kant and Coleridge. Later he visits Oxford, Cambridge, and Rome, and comes under the potent influence of John Henry Newman. He is also a close friend of Henry Taylor.

The characteristics of de Vere’s poetry are high seriousness and a fine religious enthusiasm. His research in questions of faith leads him to the Roman Catholic Church where in 1851 he is received into the Church by Cardinal Henry Edward Manning in Avignon. In many of his poems, notably in the volume of sonnets called St. Peters Chains (1888), he makes rich additions to devotional verse. For a few years he holds a professorship, under Newman, in the Catholic University in Dublin.

In A Book of Irish VerseW. B. Yeats describes de Vere’s poetry as having “less architecture than the poetry of Ferguson and Allingham, and more meditation. Indeed, his few but ever memorable successes are enchanted islands in gray seas of stately impersonal reverie and description, which drift by and leave no definite recollection. One needs, perhaps, to perfectly enjoy him, a Dominican habit, a cloister, and a breviary.”

de Vere also visits the Lake Country of England, and stays under Wordsworth’s roof, which he calls the greatest honour of his life. His veneration for Wordsworth is singularly shown in later life, when he never omits a yearly pilgrimage to the grave of the poet until advanced age makes the journey impossible.

de Vere is of tall and slender physique, thoughtful and grave in character, of exceeding dignity and grace of manner, and retains his vigorous mental powers to a great age. According to Helen Grace Smith, he is one of the most profoundly intellectual poets of his time. His census return for 1901 lists his profession as “Author.”

Aubrey de Vere dies at Curraghchase on January 20, 1902, at the age of eighty-eight. As he never married, the name of de Vere at his death becomes extinct for the second time, and is assumed by his nephew.


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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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Death of Vergilius of Salzburg, Churchman & Astronomer

virgilius-of-salzburgVergilius of Salzburg, also known as Virgilius, Feirgil or Fergal, Irish churchman and early astronomer, dies on November 27, 784, in Salzburg, Austria. He serves as abbot of Aghaboe, bishop of Ossory and bishop of Salzburg. He is called “the Apostle of Carinthia” and “the geometer.”

He originates from a noble family of Ireland, where his name is Feirgil, and is said to have been a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Feirgil is likely educated at the Iona monastery.

In the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster he is mentioned as Abbot of Aghaboe, in County Laois, where he is known as “the Geometer” because of his knowledge of mathematics.

Around 745 Vergilius leaves Ireland, intending to visit the Holy land but, like many of his countrymen who seem to have adopted this practice as a work of piety, he settles down in France, where he is received with great favour by Pepin the Short, who is then Mayor of the Palace under Childeric III of Franconia. He serves as an adviser to Pepin. He probably uses a copy of the Collectio canonum Hibernensis, an Irish collection of canon law, to advise him to receive royal unction in 751, to assist his recognition as king Pippin III after the deposition of Childeric. After spending two years at Cressy, near Compiègne, he goes to Bavaria, at the invitation of Duke Odilo, where he founds the monastery of Chiemsee, and within a year or two is made Abbot of St. Peter’s at Salzburg. Among his notable accomplishments is the conversion of the Alpine Slavs and the dispatching of missionaries to Hungary.

While Abbot of St. Peter’s, Vergilius comes into collision with Saint Boniface. A priest, through ignorance, confers the Sacrament of Baptism using, in place of the correct formula, the words “Baptizo te in nomine patria et filia et spiritu sancta.” Vergilius holds that the sacrament has been validly conferred, but Boniface complains to Pope Zachary. The latter, however, decides in favour of Vergilius. Later on, Boniface accuses Vergilius of spreading discord between himself and Duke Odilo of Bavaria and of teaching a doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth, which is “contrary to the Scriptures.” Pope Zachary’s decision in this case is that “if it shall be clearly established that he professes belief in another world and other people existing beneath the earth, or in another sun and moon there, thou art to hold a council, and deprive him of his sacerdotal rank, and expel him from the church.”

Unfortunately we no longer possess the treatise in which Vergilius expounds his doctrine. Two things, however, are certain: first, that there is involved the problem of original sin and the universality of redemption; secondly, that Vergilius succeeds in freeing himself from the charge of teaching a doctrine contrary to Scripture. It is likely that Boniface, already biased against Vergilius because of the preceding case, misunderstands him, taking it for granted, perhaps, that if there are antipodes, the “other race of men” are not descendants of Adam and are not redeemed by Christ.

After the martyrdom of Boniface, Vergilius is made Bishop of Salzburg in 766 or 767. Until his death in 784, he labours successfully for the upbuilding of his diocese as well as for the spread of Christianity in neighbouring heathen countries, especially in Carinthia.

Vergilius is venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. In 1233 he is formally canonized by Pope Gregory IX. Aside from being personally associated with Abbey of Aghaboe and Salzburg Cathedral, a number of parishes around the world are dedicated to him, mostly being founded by small populations of far-flung Irish Catholics, like himself. There is a church still bearing his name dedicated to him in Broad Channel, Queens, New York. A parish in Morris Plains, New Jersey is also dedicated to him.