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


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Birth of Sir Hans Sloane, Physician & Naturalist

Generated by IIPImageSir Hans Sloane, Irish physician and naturalist whose collection of books, manuscripts, and curiosities form the basis for the British Museum in London, is born on April 16, 1660 in Killyleagh, County Down in what is now Northern Ireland.

As a child Sloane possesses a strong curiosity of nature, and he develops a particular interest in plants. After studying medicine in London, he travels in France, taking an M.D. degree at the University of Orange in 1683. In 1685 he returns to London and is elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He proceeds to practice medicine as an assistant to British physician Thomas Sydenham. He is made a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1687. That same year he accepts an opportunity to visit Jamaica, traveling as personal physician to the Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albermarle, who had been appointed to govern the island.

The journey to Jamaica provides Sloane with the chance to pursue his interest in the natural sciences. During the 15 months of his travels, he visits multiple islands in the West Indies, including Saint Kitts, Nevis, and Barbados. He ultimately collects specimens of about 800 plants. He also records information on and collects specimens of various fish, mollusks, and insects, and he observes the local peoples and contemplates the natural phenomena of the area. His observations and the specimens he collects during the voyage lay the foundation for his later contributions to botany and zoology and for his role in the formation of the British Museum. He returns to England in 1689, his trip having been cut short by Monck’s death. His collection of plants from the West Indies is one of the first from that region to reach England.

Sloane’s trip to Jamaica also leads to his invention of a milk chocolate beverage. While on the island, he encounters a local drink made from a cacao plant. The beverage apparently makes him nauseous. To avoid this, he decides to mix the cacao material with milk. He finds this concoction to be not only more tolerable but also tasty and healthy. Shortly after his return to England, his milk-based concoction is sold by apothecaries as a medicinal product. His recipe later forms the basis for a milk chocolate product manufactured by Cadbury.

In 1696 Sloane publishes in Latin an elaborate catalogue, Catalogus Plantarum Quae in Insula Jamaica, on the plants he collected in Jamaica. He later publishes Natural History of Jamaica (2 Vol., 1707 and 1725), a comprehensive account of his studies of the natural phenomena of the island country.

Sloane also makes important contributions to medicine. He is physician to Queen Anne, King George I, and King George II. He is created a baronet in 1716, becoming the first medical practitioner to receive a hereditary title. He is relatively progressive as a physician, and, while serving George I, he adopts the practice of inoculation against smallpox for members of the royal family. In 1719 he is elected president of the Royal College of Physicians, a post he serves until 1735. In 1727 he becomes president of the Royal Society, succeeding physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. He holds the position until 1741. He earns a reputation as a specialist in eye diseases, and he eventually publishes Account of a Medicine for Soreness, Weakness and Other Distempers of the Eyes (1745).

Sloane is also known as an avid collector, and he benefits greatly from the acquisition of the cabinets of other collectors, including amateur scientist William Charleton and English apothecary and botanist James Petiver. When he retires from active work in 1741, his library and cabinet of curiosities has grown to be of unique value, and on his death he bequeaths his collection to the nation, on condition that parliament pay his executors £20,000. The bequest is accepted and goes to form the collection opened to the public as the British Museum in 1759.

Sloane has no son that survives beyond infancy, and the baronetcy becomes extinct upon his death in London on January 11, 1753.

(From: Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Sir-Hans-Sloane-Baronet/)

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Laying of the Foundation Stone of Parliament House

parliament-houseThe foundation stone of Parliament House in College Green is laid on February 3, 1729 by Thomas Wyndham, 1st Baron Wyndham, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Parliament House is initially home to the Parliament of Ireland and later houses the Bank of Ireland. It is the world’s first purpose-built bicameral parliament house. The current parliament building is Leinster House.

The building is home to the two Houses of Parliament, serving as the seat of both chambers, the House of Lords and House of Commons, of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Ireland for most of the 18th century until that parliament is abolished by the Acts of Union 1800, when Ireland becomes part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

In the 17th century, parliament settles at Chichester House, a town house in Hoggen Green (later College Green) formerly owned by Sir George Carew, Lord President of Munster and Lord High Treasurer of Ireland, which had been built on the site of a nunnery disbanded by King Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. Carew’s house, named Chichester House after its later owner Sir Arthur Chichester, is a building of sufficient importance to have become the temporary home of the Kingdom of Ireland’s law courts during the Michaelmas law term in 1605. Most famously, the legal documentation facilitating the Plantation of Ulster is signed there on November 16, 1612.

Chichester House is in a dilapidated state, allegedly haunted and unfit for official use. In 1727 parliament votes to spend £6,000 on a new building on the site. It is to be the world’s first purpose-built two-chamber parliament building.

The then ancient Palace of Westminster, the seat of the English before 1707 and, later, British Parliament, is a converted building. The House of Commons‘s odd seating arrangements are due to the chamber’s previous existence as a chapel. Hence MPs face each other from former pews.

The design of the new building, one of two purpose-built Irish parliamentary buildings (along with Parliament Buildings, Stormont), is entrusted to an architect, Edward Lovett Pearce, who is a member of parliament and a protégé of the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, William Conolly of Castletown House. During construction, Parliament moves into the Blue Coat Hospital on Dublin‘s Northside.

The original, domed House of Commons chamber is destroyed by fire in the 1790s, and a less elaborate new chamber, without a dome, is rebuilt in the same location and opened in 1796, four years before the Parliament’s ultimate abolition.

Pearce’s designs come to be studied and copied both at home and abroad. The Viceregal Apartments in Dublin Castle imitate his top-lit corridors. The British Museum in Bloomsbury in London copies his colonnaded main entrance. His impact reaches Washington, D.C., where his building, and in particular his octagonal House of Commons chamber, is studied as plans are made for the United States Capitol building. While the shape of the chamber is not replicated, some of its decorative motifs are, with the ceiling structure in the Old Senate Chamber and old House of Representatives chamber (now the National Statuary Hall) bearing a striking resemblance to Pearce’s ceiling in the House of Commons.

(Pictured: Architectural drawing of the front of Parliament House by Peter Mazell based on the drawing by Rowland Omer, 1767)


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Death of Philologist Eugene O’Curry

eugene-ocurryEugene O’Curry, philologist and antiquary, dies of a heart attack in Dublin on July 30, 1862.

O’Curry is born at Doonaha, near Carrigaholt, County Clare, the son of Eoghan Ó Comhraí, a farmer, and his wife Cáit. Eoghan has spent some time as a traveling peddler and has developed an interest in Irish folklore and music. Unusual for someone of his background, he is literate and is known to possess a number of Irish manuscripts. It is likely that Eoghan is primarily responsible for his son’s education.

Having spent some years working on his father’s farm and as a school teacher, O’Curry moves to Limerick in 1824 and spends seven years working there at a psychiatric hospital. He marries Anne Broughton, daughter of John Broughton of Killaderry near Broadford, County Limerick on October 3, 1824. He is a supporter of Catholic emancipation and in 1828 writes a poem congratulating Daniel O’Connell on his election as an MP.

During this period O’Curry is establishing a reputation for his knowledge of the Irish language and Irish history, and, by 1834, is in correspondence with the antiquary John O’Donovan. He is employed, from 1835 to 1842, on O’Donovan’s recommendation, in the topographical and historical section of Ordnance Survey Ireland. O’Donovan goes on to marry O’Curry’s sister-in-law, Mary Anne Broughton, in 1840. O’Curry spends much of the remainder of his life in Dublin and earns his living by translating and copying Irish manuscripts. The catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the British Museum (1849) is compiled by him for a fee of £100. He is responsible for the transcripts of Irish manuscripts from which O’Donovan edits the Annals of the Four Masters between 1848 and 1851.

In 1851 O’Curry is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy and, on the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland in 1854, he is appointed professor of Irish history and archaeology. He works with George Petrie on the Ancient Music of Ireland (1855). In 1852, he and O’Donovan propose the Dictionary of the Irish Language, which is eventually begun by the Royal Irish Academy in 1913 and finally completed in 1976.

O’Curry’s lectures are published by the university in 1860, and give a better knowledge of Irish medieval literature than can be obtained from any other one source. Three other volumes of lectures are published posthumously, under the title On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish (1873). His voluminous transcripts, notably eight huge volumes of early Irish law, testify to his unremitting industry. The Celtic Society, of the council of which he is a member, publishes two of his translations of medieval tales.

Eugene O’Curry dies of a heart attack at his home in Dublin on July 30, 1862, and is survived by two sons and two daughters. He is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. O’Curry Road in the Tenters area of Dublin 8 is named in his honour.


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Birth of Peig Sayers, Author & Seanchaí

peig-sayersPeig Sayers, Irish author and seanchaí, is born in the townland of Vicarstown, Dunquin, County Kerry, on March 29, 1873. Seán Ó Súilleabháin, the former archivist for the Irish Folklore Commission, describes her as “one of the greatest woman storytellers of recent times.”

Sayers is born Máiréad (Margaret) Sayers, the youngest child of the family. She is called Peig after her mother, Margaret “Peig” Brosnan, from Castleisland. Her father Tomás Sayers is a renowned storyteller who passes on many of his tales to Peig. At age 12, she is taken out of school and goes to work as a servant for the Curran family in the nearby town of Dingle. She spends two years there before returning home due to illness.

She spends the next few years as a domestic servant working for members of the growing middle class produced by the Land War. She plans to join her best friend, Cáit Boland, in the United States, but Boland writes that she has had an accident and can not forward the cost of the fare. Peig moves to the Great Blasket Island after marrying Pádraig Ó Guithín, a fisherman and native of the island, on February 13, 1892. She and Pádraig have eleven children, of whom six survive.

The Norwegian scholar Carl Marstrander, who visits the island in 1907, urges Robin Flower of the British Museum to visit the Blaskets. Flower is keenly appreciative of Sayers’ stories and tales. He records them and brings them to the attention of the academic world.

In the 1930s, a Dublin teacher, Máire Ní Chinnéide, who is a regular visitor to the Blaskets, urges Sayers to tell her life story to her son Micheál. She is illiterate in the Irish language, although she receives her early schooling through the medium of English. She dictates her biography to Micheál. He then sends the manuscript pages to Máire Ní Chinnéide in Dublin, who edits them for publication. It is published in 1936.

Over several years beginning in 1938 she dictates 350 ancient legends, ghost stories, folk stories, and religious stories to Seosamh Ó Dálaigh of the Irish Folklore Commission.

Sayers continues to live on the island until 1942, when she leaves the Island and returns to her native Dunquin. She is moved to a hospital in Dingle, County Kerry where she dies on December 8, 1958. She is buried in the Dún Chaoin Burial Ground on the Dingle Peninsula. Her surviving children, except for her son Micheál, emigrate to the United States and live with their descendants in Springfield, Massachusetts.