seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William Ireland de Courcy Wheeler, Surgeon

William Ireland de Courcy Wheeler, surgeon, is born on May 9, 1879 in Dublin, fourth son among six sons and four daughters of William Ireland de Courcy Wheeler, a distinguished doctor, and Frances Victoria Wheeler (née Shaw), cousin of George Bernard Shaw.

Wheeler is educated at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and loses an eye as a result of an accident but overcomes the disability. He wins a moderatorship, a medal, and prizes and graduates BA (1899) in anatomy, natural science, and experimental science and, following postgraduate study in Berne, an MB, B.Ch., and MD (1902). The following year he receives the Dublin University Biological Association’s medal for his paper Deaths under chloroform. He is appointed demonstrator and assistant to the professor of the TCD anatomy department before becoming honorary surgeon (1904–32) to Mercer’s Hospital, Dublin. He is also attached to several other institutions including the Rotunda Hospital and the National Children’s Hospital. An outstanding teacher, he attracts large numbers to his clinical classes and lectures in surgery to postgraduates at TCD.

Ambitious and abounding in self confidence, Wheeler dedicates all his indomitable energy and time to his work, is a frequent visitor to foreign clinics, becomes a skilled general surgeon and a specialist in orthopaedics, and earns an international reputation. During World War I he serves in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and from 1915 converts his private hospital, 33 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, into the Dublin Hospital for Wounded Officers and makes it available to the St. John’s Ambulance brigade and the British Red Cross. He acts as honorary officer in charge and is also surgeon to the Duke of Connaught‘s Hospital for Limbless Soldiers, and honorary surgeon to the forces in Ireland.

In 1916 Wheeler visits the western front, tours the hospitals in Boulogne, and is attached to a casualty clearing station at Remy Siding near Ypres. Returning to Dublin on the request of Robert Jones, he organises the Dublin Military Orthopaedic Centre, Blackrock, where he serves as surgeon (1916–21). His advice is widely sought and he serves on several committees, including the War Office Council of Consulting Surgeons (1917) and the Ministry of Pensions Medical Advisory Council on Artificial Limbs. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1918, he receives the General Service Medal and is twice mentioned in dispatches, having courageously treated wounded soldiers under fire during the 1916 Easter Rising. Appointed surgeon-in-ordinary to the lord-lieutenant, he is knighted in 1919.

Principal founder of the Dublin Hospitals’ Club (1922), Wheeler publishes two textbooks, A Handbook of Operative Surgery (1906) and Selected Papers on Injuries and Diseases of Bone (1928). He contributes numerous authoritative papers on a variety of surgical subjects to professional journals and edits the chapter on general surgery in the Medical Annual from 1916 to 1936. Inspector of examinations for the Medical Research Council of Ireland, he is external examiner to universities in Ireland and Scotland. Interested in hospital policy and nursing, he advocates the federation of the smaller hospitals and is chairman of the City of Dublin Nursing Institute. Fellow (1905) and council member (1906), he follows in his father’s footsteps and is elected president (1922–24) of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He is also president of the Dublin University Biological Association and of the surgical section of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, and is awarded an honorary ChM from Cairo University in 1928.

Troubled and bewildered by the political situation in Ireland, Wheeler is persuaded by Rupert Guinness, 2nd Earl of Iveagh, to accept the position of visiting surgeon (1932) to the new hospital at Southend-on-Sea, Essex, to which Iveagh had donated £200,000. The departure of such a leading figure in Irish medical circles is widely regretted. His posts in London include surgeoncies to All Saints Hospital for Genito-Urinary Diseases and to the Metropolitan Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital. The diversity of his interests and his general competence make him a valued member of the editorial staff of several journals including the British Journal of Surgery, the British Journal of Urology, and the American Journal of Surgery, Gynaecology, and Obstetrics. He is also a member of the American Editors Association. He enjoys many affiliations with America, where he is well known and honoured by being elected honorable fellow of the American College of Surgeons and selected as their John B. Murphy orator (1932), and by election as honorary member and president of the Post Graduate Assembly of North America. An active member of the British Medical Association, he is president of the Leinster branch (1925–26) and of the Orthopaedic section (1933), vice-president of the Surgical section (1930, 1932), and chairman of the council and president of the Metropolitan Counties Branch (1938). President of the Irish Medical Schools and Graduates Association, he is awarded their Arnott gold medal in 1935.

During World War II Wheeler serves as consultant surgeon to the Royal Navy in Scotland, with the rank of rear admiral (1939–43), and is posted to Aberdeen. Strong-minded, unconventional, and often controversial, he has a gift for friendship, is charming and good-humoured, and excels in the art of the after-dinner speech. Immensely proud of Dublin’s medical and surgical traditions, he always eagerly returned to Ireland, where he planned to retire and write his memoirs.

Wheeler dies suddenly on September 11, 1943 at his home in Aberdeen and is cremated at the Aberdeen crematorium. As a memorial to his father, he bequeaths his library and that of his father to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and also leaves a fund for the Sir William Wheeler memorial medal in surgery.


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Birth of Maureen O’Sullivan, Irish Independent Politician

Maureen O’Sullivan, former Irish Independent politician who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin Central constituency from 2009 to 2020, is born in East Wall, Dublin, on March 10, 1951.

O’Sullivan is educated locally at Mount Carmel school. After completing a BA at University College Dublin (UCD), she then goes on to work as an English and History teacher and guidance counsellor in a secondary school in Baldoyle, a position she holds for thirty years.

O’Sullivan is a member of Tony Gregory‘s local political organisation in the 1970s, first canvassing for him and later serving as his election agent. She is co-opted onto Dublin City Council for the North Inner City local electoral area from September 2008 to June 2009, after the retirement of Mick Rafferty. After the death of Tony Gregory, she wins the resulting by-election which is held on the same day as the local elections where she also wins a seat on Dublin City Council, for the North Inner City local electoral area. Marie Metcalfe is co-opted to take the seat due to the dual mandate rule. Subsequently Anna Quigley replaces Metcalfe on Dublin City Council, who is in turn replaced by Mel MacGiobúin in March 2014. MacGiobúin fails to be elected at the local elections held in May.

O’Sullivan is re-elected to the Dáil at the 2011 Irish general election. She joins the Dáil technical group which gives independents and minor parties more speaking time in Dáil debates. She describes a proposal for political gender quota legislation as “tokenistic” and that women are able to get themselves nominated for election.

In December 2015, O’Sullivan and fellow independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace each put forward offers of a €5,000 surety for a 23-year-old man being prosecuted under terrorism legislation in the Special Criminal Court in Dublin charged with membership of an illegal dissident republican terrorist organisation.

After the 2016 Irish general election O’Sullivan unsuccessfully stands for election as Ceann Comhairle. She joins a technical group aligned with Independents 4 Change, while remaining outside the Independents 4 Change party. She is criticised by the brother of late TD Tony Gregory, over an allegedly false claim made in her election literature.

On January 16, 2020, O’Sullivan announces she will not be standing in the 2020 Irish general election in February.


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Death of Tony Gregory, Independent Politician & TD

Tony Gregory, Irish independent politician and a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin Central constituency from 1982 to 2009, dies in Dublin on January 2, 2009.

Gregory is born on December 5, 1947, in Ballybough on Dublin’s Northside, the second child of Anthony Gregory, warehouseman in Dublin Port, and Ellen Gregory (née Judge). He wins a Dublin Corporation scholarship to the Christian BrothersO’Connell School. He later goes on to University College Dublin (UCD), where he receives a Bachelor of Arts degree and later a Higher Diploma in Education, funding his degree from summer work at the Wall’s ice cream factory in Acton, London. Initially working at Synge Street CBS, he later teaches history and French at Coláiste Eoin, an Irish language secondary school in Booterstown. His students at Synge Street and Coláiste Eoin include John Crown, Colm Mac Eochaidh, Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Liam Ó Maonlaí.

Gregory becomes involved in republican politics, joining Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1964. In UCD he helps found the UCD Republican Club, despite pressure from college authorities, and becomes involved with the Dublin Housing Action Committee. Within the party he is a supporter of Wicklow Republican Seamus Costello. Costello, who is a member of Wicklow County Council, emphasises involvement in local politics and is an opponent of abstentionism. Gregory sides with the Officials in the 1970 split within Sinn Féin. Despite having a promising future within the party, he resigns in 1972 citing frustration with ideological infighting in the party. Later, Costello, who had been expelled by Official Sinn Féin, approaches him and asks him to join his new party, the Irish Republican Socialist Party. He leaves the party after Costello’s assassination in 1977. He is briefly associated with the Socialist Labour Party.

Gregory contests the 1979 local elections for Dublin City Council as a “Dublin Community Independent” candidate. At the February 1982 general election he is elected to Dáil Éireann as an Independent TD. On his election he immediately achieves national prominence through the famous “Gregory Deal,” which he negotiates with Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey. In return for supporting Haughey as Taoiseach, he is guaranteed a massive cash injection for his inner-city Dublin constituency, an area beset by poverty and neglect.

Although Gregory is reviled in certain quarters for effectively holding a government to ransom, his uncompromising commitment to the poor is widely admired. Fianna Fáil loses power at the November 1982 general election, and many of the promises made in the Gregory Deal are not implemented by the incoming Fine GaelLabour Party coalition.

Gregory is involved in the 1980s in tackling Dublin’s growing drug problem. Heroin had largely been introduced to Dublin by the Dunne criminal group, based in Crumlin, in the late 1970s. In 1982 a report reveals that 10% of 15- to 24-year-olds have used heroin at least once in the north inner city. The spread of heroin use also leads to a sharp increase in petty crime. He confronts the government’s handling of the problem as well as senior Gardaí, for what he sees as their inadequate response to the problem. He co-ordinates with the Concerned Parents Against Drugs group in 1986, who protest and highlight the activities of local drug dealers, and defend the group against accusations by government Ministers Michael Noonan and Barry Desmond that it is a front for the Provisional IRA. He believes that the solution to the problem is multi-faceted and works on a number of policy level efforts across policing, service co-ordination and rehabilitation of addicts. In 1995 in an article in The Irish Times, he proposes what would later become the Criminal Assets Bureau, which is set up in 1996, catalysed by the death of journalist Veronica Guerin. His role in its development is later acknowledged by then Minister for Justice Nora Owen.

Gregory also advocates for Dublin’s street traders. After attending a sit-down protest with Sinn Féin Councillor Christy Burke, and future Labour Party TD Joe Costello on Dublin’s O’Connell Street in defence of a street trader, he, Burke and four others are arrested and charged with obstruction and threatening behaviour. He spends two weeks in Mountjoy Prison after refusing to sign a bond to keep the peace.

Gregory remains a TD from 1982 and, although he never holds a government position, remains one of the country’s most recognised Dáil deputies. He always refuses to wear a tie in the Dáil chamber stating that many of his constituents could not afford them.

Gregory dies on January 2, 2009, following a long battle with cancer. Following his death, tributes pour in from politicians from every party, recognising his contribution to Dublin’s north inner city. During his funeral, politicians from the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are told that although they speak highly of Gregory following his death, during his time in the Dáil he had been excluded by many of them and that they were not to use his funeral as a “photo opportunity.” He is buried on January 7, with the Socialist Party‘s Joe Higgins delivering the graveside oration.

Colleagues of Tony Gregory support his election agent, Dublin City Councillor Maureen O’Sullivan, at the 2009 Dublin Central by-election in June. She wins the subsequent by-election.


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Death of Henry Ireton, General in the Parliamentarian Army

Henry Ireton, an English general in the Parliamentarian army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, dies in Limerick, County Limerick on November 26, 1651.

Ireton is the eldest son of a German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and is baptised in St. Mary’s Church on November 3, 1611. He becomes a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1626, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in 1629, and enters the Middle Temple the same year.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War, Ireton joins the Parliamentary army, commanding a cavalry force in the indecisive Battle of Edgehill in October 1642, and at the Battle of Gainsborough in July 1643. In 1643 he meets and befriends Oliver Cromwell, then a colonel in the army of eastern England. Cromwell appoints him deputy governor of the Isle of Ely in 1644, and he fights at the Parliamentary victories in the Battle of Marston Moor (July 1644), and the Battle of Naseby (June 1645). In the summer of 1646 he marries Cromwell’s eldest daughter, Bridget. The marriage brings Ireton’s career into parallel with Cromwell’s.

Although Ireton’s military record is distinguished, he earns his fame in politics. Elected to Parliament in 1645, he looks on while a conflict develops between the Independents in the army and the Presbyterians who control the House of Commons. In 1647 he presents his “Heads of the Proposals,” a constitutional scheme calling for division of political power among army, Parliament, and king and advocating religious tolerance for Anglicans and Puritans. These proposals for a constitutional monarchy are rejected by the king. At the same time they are attacked by the Levellers, a group that calls for manhood suffrage and an unfettered liberty of conscience in matters of religion.

Ireton then turns against the king. When the Independents in the army triumph over Parliament during the second phase of the Civil War, his “Remonstrance of the Army” provides the ideological foundation for the assault on the monarchy. He helps to bring Charles I to trial and is one of the signatories of the king’s death warrant. From 1649 to 1651 he prosecutes the government’s cause against Roman Catholic rebels in Ireland, becoming Lord Deputy of Ireland and acting commander in chief in 1650.

In early June 1650, Ireton mounts a counter-guerrilla expedition into the Wicklow Mountains to secure his lines of supply for the Siege of Waterford in southeast Ireland. Thomas Preston surrenders Waterford after a three-month siege. Ireton then advances to Limerick by October, but has to call off the siege due to cold and bad weather. He returns to Limerick in June 1651 and besieges the city for five months until it surrenders in October 1651. At the same time, parliamentarian forces conduct the Siege of Galway, and he rides to inspect the command of Charles Coote, who is blockading that city. The physical strain of his command takes hold and he falls ill.

After the capture of Limerick, Ireton has dignitaries of Limerick hanged for their defence of the city, including Alderman Thomas Stritch, Bishop Terence O’Brien, and an English Royalist officer, Colonel Fennell. He also wants the Irish commander, Hugh Dubh O’Neill hanged, but Edmund Ludlow cancels the order after Ireton’s death.

Ireton falls ill of the plague that is raging through the town, and dies on November 26, 1651. His loss reportedly “struck a great sadness into Cromwell” and he is considered a great loss to the administration. At his funeral in Westminster Abbey, John Watson and others wear new tabards that replace the royal arms with the new arms of the commonwealth.

On January 30, 1661, following the Restoration of the English monarchy of 1660, Charles II has Ireton’s corpse exhumed from Westminster and mutilated in a posthumous execution, along with those of Cromwell and John Bradshaw, in retribution for signing his father’s death warrant. The date is symbolic, being the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.

(Pictured: Painting of Henry Ireton, circa 1650, National Portrait Gallery: NPG 3301)


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Birth of Roma Downey, Actress, Producer & Author

Roma Downey, actress, producer, and author, is born in the Bogside district of Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on May 6, 1960.

Downey attends Thornhill College, a Catholic girls school. Her mother, Maureen O’Reilly Downey, a homemaker with an interest in the performing arts, dies of a heart attack at age 48 when Downey is 10 years old. Her father, Patrick Downey, is a schoolteacher by training but works as a mortgage broker. He dies when Downey is 20. Originally, she plans to be a painter and earns a Bachelor of Arts at Brighton College of Art. She studies BA(Hons) Expressive Arts at Brighton Polytechnic, which later becomes the University of Brighton. Based at the Falmer campus she combines Art and Drama for her degree.

Downey joins the Abbey Players in Dublin and tours the United States in a production of The Playboy of the Western World. She moves to New York after an agent, whom she met during the tour of The Playboy of the Western World, suggests she has potential for success there. She takes a job as a coat checker at an Upper West Side restaurant before getting cast in Broadway shows. The production leads to a nomination during the Broadway run for the Helen Hayes Award for Best Actress in 1991. She also stars on Broadway in The Circle with Rex Harrison and also at the Roundabout Theater and The Public Theater in New York City.

For nine seasons Downey plays Monica, the tender-hearted angel and employee of Tess (played by Della Reese), on the CBS television series Touched by an Angel (1994-2003), for which she earns multiple Emmy and Golden Globe Best Actress nominations. She plays the leading role of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the miniseries A Woman Named Jackie for NBC.

Downey stars in and is executive producer for a number of hit television movies for the CBS network. She is an ambassador for Operation Smile, a nonprofit medical service organization. On August 11, 2016 she is honored for her work as an actress and producer with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In her acceptance speech, she dedicates her star to the people of Derry and anyone who ever “walked Hollywood Boulevard with a dream in their hearts.”

As President of Lightworkers Media, the family and faith division of MGM, Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, produce the Emmy-nominated miniseries The Bible for History channel, which airs in 2013 and is watched by over 100 million people in the United States. She also stars in the miniseries in the role of Mary, mother of Jesus. They also executive-produce the feature films Son of God (2014), Little Boy (2015), Woodlawn (2015), and Ben-Hur (2016) starring Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell and Morgan Freeman.

Variety recognizes Downey and Burnett as “Trailblazers” and lists Downey as one of Variety’s “100 Most Powerful Women in Hollywood.” The Hollywood Reporter includes the couple in their “Most Influential People of 2013” and Downey as one of the “100 Women in Entertainment Power” in 2014. She is honored on Variety‘s “Women of Impact in 2014.” Downey and Burnett also produce The Dovekeepers (2015) based on the best selling book by Alice Hoffman for CBS and A.D. The Bible Continues (2015) for NBC, Women of the Bible for Lifetime, and Answered Prayers (2015) for TLC. Downey is the executive producer of the documentary “Faithkeepers” about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

Downey is the author of two books, Love Is a Family (2001) and Box of Butterflies: Discovering the Unexpected Blessing All Around Us (2018).


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Birth of Lord John Beresford, Archbishop of Armagh

Lord John George de la Poer Beresford, Anglican Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, is born at Tyrone House, Dublin on November 22, 1773.

Beresford is the second surviving son of George de La Poer Beresford, 1st Marquess of Waterford, and his wife Elizabeth, only daughter of Henry Monck and maternal granddaughter of Henry Bentinck, 1st Duke of Portland. He attends Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in 1793 and a Master of Arts three years later.

Beresford is ordained a priest in 1797 and begins his ecclesiastical career with incumbencies at Clonegal and Newtownlennan. In 1799 he becomes Dean of Clogher and is raised to the episcopate as Bishop of Cork and Ross in 1805. He is translated becoming Bishop of Raphoe two years later and is appointed 90th Bishop of Clogher in 1819. He is again translated to become Archbishop of Dublin the following year and is sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland. In 1822, he goes on to be the 106th Archbishop of Armagh and therefore also Primate of All Ireland. He becomes Prelate of the Order of St. Patrick and Lord Almoner of Ireland. Having been vice-chancellor from 1829, he is appointed the 15th Chancellor of the University of Dublin in 1851, a post he holds until his death in 1862.

Beresford employs Lewis Nockalls Cottingham, one of the most skilled architects at that time, to restore St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. Cottingham removes the old stunted spire and shores up the belfry stages while he rebuilds the piers and arches under it. The arcade walls which had fallen away as much as 21 inches from the perpendicular on the south side and 7 inches on the north side, are straightened by means of heated irons, and the clerestory windows which had long been concealed, are opened out and filled with tracery.

Beresford is unsympathetically represented by Charles Forbes René de Montalembert with whom he has breakfast at Castle Gurteen de la Poer during his tour of Ireland.

Beresford dies on July 18, 1862 at Woburn, Bedfordshire, England, the home of his niece, in the parish of Donaghadee and is buried in the cathedral. There is a memorial to him in the south aisle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.


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Death of Bishop James Ussher

james-ussherJames Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, dies in Reigate, Surrey, England on March 21, 1656. He is best known for his massive compendium of ancient history, The Annals of the World, in which he attempts to calculate the number of years that had elapsed since creation.

Ussher is born in Dublin on January 4, 1581. Early in life he is determined to pursue a career with the Church of England, a resolve quite similar to that of the Biblical Judge, Samuel.

A gifted polyglot, Ussher enters Dublin Free School and then the newly founded Trinity College, Dublin on January 9, 1594, at the age of thirteen (not an unusual age at the time). He receives his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1598, and is a fellow and MA by 1600. In May 1602, he is ordained in the Trinity College Chapel as a deacon (and possibly priest on the same day) in the Protestant Church of Ireland by his uncle Henry Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

At the age of 26, Ussher becomes Professor and Chairman of the Department of Divinity at the University of Dublin, and he holds his professorship from 1609 to 1621. In 1625, he becomes Archbishop of Armagh, an office he apparently holds until his death. In 1628, King James I makes him a Privy Councillor.

Ussher is considered well-read and well-versed in history, a subject that soon becomes his primary focus. He writes several histories of the doings of the Irish and English churches dating back to Roman times. He also makes himself an expert in Semitic languages, an expertise that informs his argument in favor of the Masoretic Text of the Bible in preference to the Septuagint.

Ussher’s Confessions appear in 1643, followed in 1646 by his fifth work, Here I Stand. His most famous work, the dating of the creation as calculated from the Biblical record, appears in writing in the 1650s.

In 1656, Ussher goes to stay in the Countess of Peterborough’s house in Reigate, Surrey. On March 19, he feels a sharp pain in his side after supper and takes to his bed. His symptoms seem to have been those of a severe internal haemorrhage. Two days later, on March 21, 1656, he dies at the age of 75. His last words are reported as: “O Lord, forgive me, especially my sins of omission.” His body is embalmed and is to have been buried in Reigate, but at Oliver Cromwell‘s insistence he was given a state funeral on April 17 and is buried in the chapel of St. Erasmus in Westminster Abbey.

Ussher’s extensive library of manuscripts, many of them Middle Eastern originals, become part of the collection at the University of Dublin.


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Caroline Casey Completes 4-month Elephant Ride Across India

caroline-caseyVisually-impaired Irish adventurer, activist and management consultant Caroline Casey arrives back in Dublin on May 11, 2001 after a four-month elephant ride across India during which she raises €250k for charity.

Casey, born in 1971, is diagnosed with ocular albinism as a child but is not personally informed until her 17th birthday. She graduates from University College Dublin with BA, DBS and MBS degrees. She works at a couple of jobs including as a management consultant for Accenture.

In 2000, at the age of 28, Casey leaves her job at Accenture to launch the Aisling Foundation, with an aim to improve how disability is treated. In early 2001, she begins her solo trek across India on elephant back. She travels approximately 1,000 km and raises €250k for The National Council for the Blind of Ireland and Sightsavers. She becomes the first female mahout from the west. The journey is the subject of a National Geographic documentary Elephant Vision and a TED Talk.

Then, as founding CEO of Kanchi in Dublin, Casey develops a set of best practices for businesses, to help them see “disabled” workers as an asset, as opposed to a liability. Hundreds of companies have adopted these standards, changing their policies and attitudes. In 2004, she starts the Ability Awards, sponsored by O2, to recognize Irish businesses for their inclusion of people with disabilities, as employees, suppliers, customers and members of the community. The initiative receives great international praise and, in 2010, a parallel program is launched in Spain, backed by Telefónica.

In 2015 Casey founds business inclusion company Binc which, in August 2017, launches #valuable – a worldwide call to action for business to recognise the value and potential of the 1 billion people living with a disability and position disability equally on the global business agenda. To start the conversation and build momentum, Casey embarks on a 1,000km horse adventure through Colombia, ending with a keynote address at “One Young World Summit 2017” in Bogotá.


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Birth of Walter Gordon Wilson, Co-inventor of the Tank

walter-gordon-wilsonMajor Walter Gordon Wilson, mechanical engineer, inventor and member of the British Royal Naval Air Service, is born in Blackrock, County Dublin, on April 21, 1874. He is credited by the 1919 Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors as the co-inventor of the tank, along with Sir William Tritton.

Wilson is a naval cadet on HMS Britannia. In 1894 he entered King’s College, Cambridge, where he studies the mechanical sciences tripos, graduating with a first-class degree, B.A., in 1897. He acts as ‘mechanic’ for the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls on several occasions while they are undergraduates in Cambridge.

Interested in powered flight, Wilson collaborates with Percy Sinclair Pilcher and the Hon. Adrian Verney-Cave to attempt to make an aero-engine from 1898. The engine is a flat-twin air-cooled and weighs only 40 lbs., but shortly before a demonstration flight planned for September 30, 1899 it suffers a crankshaft failure. Unwilling to let down his backers, Pilcher opts to demonstrate a glider, which crashes and he is fatally injured. The shock of Pilcher’s death ends Wilson’s plans for aero-engines.

Following Pilcher’s death, Wilson switches to building the Wilson–Pilcher motor car, which is launched in 1900. This car is quite remarkable in that it is available with either flat-four or flat-six engines, which are very well balanced, and with a low centre of gravity making good stability. Each water cooled cylinder is separate and identical for either engine. Cylinders are slightly offset with separate crankpins, and the crankshaft has intermediate bearings between each pair of cylinders.

The gearbox of the car is also novel, having dual epicyclic gears and being bolted directly to the engine. This allows four speeds, with direct drive in top gear. All the gears are helical, and enclosed in an oil bath, making for very silent transmission. Reverse gear is built into the rear axle, as is the foot operated brake drum, all of which are housed in a substantial aluminium casing.

After marrying in 1904 Wilson joins Armstrong Whitworth who takes over production of the Wilson-Pilcher car. From 1908 to 1914 he works with J & E Hall of Dartford designing the Hallford lorry which sees extensive service with the army during World War I.

The sole known surviving Wilson-Pilcher car is a four-cylinder version that is retained by the Amstrong Whitworth factory and after restoration in the 1940s is presented to W.G. Wilson in the 1950s. It stays in the Wilson family until 2012 when it is sold at auction to a private collector.

With the outbreak of World War I, Wilson rejoins the navy and the Royal Naval Armoured Car Division, which protects the Royal Naval Air Service in France. When the Admiralty begins investigating armoured fighting vehicles under the Landship Committee in 1915, 20 Squadron is assigned to it and Wilson is placed in charge of the experiments. He works with the agricultural engineer William Tritton resulting in the first British tank called “Little Willie.” At Wilson’s suggestion the tracks are extended right round the vehicle. This second design becomes the prototype for the Mark I tank.

Designing several of the early British tanks, Wilson incorporates epicyclic gearing which is used in the Mark V tank to allow it to be steered by a single driver rather than the four previously needed. In 1937, he provides a new steering design which gives a larger turning radius at higher speeds.

Wilson transfers to the British Army in 1916, becoming a Major in the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps. He is mentioned twice in dispatches and is appointed Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1917.

In 1928, Wilson invents a self-changing gearbox, and forms Improved Gears Ltd. with John Davenport Siddeley to develop the design commercially. Improved Gears later becomes Self-Changing Gears. The self-changing gearboxes are available on most subsequent Armstrong Siddeley automobiles, manufactured up to 1960, as well as on Daimler, Lanchester, Talbot, ERA, AC, Invicta and Riley automobiles as well as buses, railcars and marine launches.

Walter Gordon Wilson dies in Coventry, West Midlands, England on July 1, 1957.


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Birth of Denis Devlin, Poet & Diplomat

denis-devlinDenis Devlin, poet, translator, and career diplomat, is born in Greenock, Scotland of Irish parents on April 15, 1908. Along with Samuel Beckett and Brian Coffey, he is one of the generation of Irish modernist poets to emerge at the end of the 1920s.

Devlin and his family return to live in Dublin in 1918. He studies at Belvedere College and, from 1926, as a seminarian for the Roman Catholic priesthood at Clonliffe College. As part of his studies he attends a degree course in modern languages at University College Dublin (UCD), where he meets and befriends Brian Coffey. Together they publish a joint collection, Poems, in 1930.

In 1927, Devlin abandons the priesthood and leaves Clonliffe. He graduates with his BA from UCD in 1930 and spends that summer on the Blasket Islands to improve his spoken Irish. Between 1930 and 1933, he studies literature at the University of Munich and the Sorbonne in Paris, meeting, amongst others, Beckett and Thomas MacGreevy. He then returns to UCD to complete his MA thesis on Michel de Montaigne.

Devlin joins the Irish Diplomatic Service in 1935 and spends a number of years in Rome, New York and Washington, D.C.. During this time he meets the French poet Saint-John Perse, and the Americans Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren. He goes on to publish a translation of Exile and Other Poems by Saint-John Perse, and Tate and Warren edit his posthumous Selected Poems.

Since his death on August 21, 1959, there have been two Collected Poems published; the first in 1964 is edited by Coffey and the second in 1989 by J.C.C. Mays.

Devlin’s personal papers are held in University College Dublin Archives. His niece goes on to become writer Denyse Woods.