seamus dubhghaill

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


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Placement of the First Section of the Spire of Dublin

The first section of the Spire of Dublin, alternatively titled the Monument of Light, is lifted into place on December 18, 2002. The spire is a large, stainless steel, pin-like monument 390-feet in height, located on the site of the former Nelson’s Pillar and statue of William Blakeney on O’Connell Street in Dublin.

The Spire is designed by Ian Ritchie Architects, who sought an “elegant and dynamic simplicity bridging art and technology.” The contract is awarded to SIAC-Radley JV and it is manufactured by Radley Engineering of Dungarvan, County Waterford, and erected by SIAC Construction Ltd & GDW Engineering Ltd.

The first section is installed on December 18, 2002. Construction of the sculpture is delayed because of difficulty in obtaining planning permission and environmental regulations. The Spire consists of eight hollow stainless steel cone sections, the longest being 66 feet, which are installed on January 21, 2003. It is an elongated cone of diameter, 9.8 feet at the base narrowing to 5.9 inches at the top. It features two tuned mass dampers, designed by engineers Arup, to counteract sway. The steel undergoes shot peening to alter the quality of light reflected from it.

The pattern around the base of the Spire is based on a core sample of rock formation taken from the ground where the spire stands and the DNA double helix. The pattern is applied by bead blasting the steel through rubber stencil masks whose patterns are created by water jet cutting based on core sample drawings supplied by the contractor. The design around the 33-foot lower part of the Spire is created by the architects making a 3D pattern model combining the core sample and double helix and then digitally translated to a 2D image drawing supplied to the contractor and used by specialists for cutting the masking material.

At dusk, the base of the monument is lit and the top 33 feet is illuminated through 11,884 holes through which light-emitting diodes shine.

The monument is commissioned as part of a street layout redesign in 1999. O’Connell Street had been in decline for a number of reasons such as the proliferation of fast food restaurants and the opening of bargain shops using cheap plastic shop fronts which were unattractive and obtrusive, the existence of derelict sites and the destruction in 1966 of Nelson’s Pillar following a bombing by former Irish Republican Army (IRA) members.

The Anna Livia monument is installed on the site for the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations. In the 1990s, plans are launched to improve the streetscape. The number of trees in the central reservation, which had overgrown and obscured views and monuments, are reduced dramatically. This is controversial, as the trees had been growing for a century. Statues are cleaned and in some cases relocated. Shop-owners are required to replace plastic signage and frontage with more attractive designs. Traffic is re-directed where possible away from the street and the number of traffic lanes is reduced to make it more appealing to pedestrians. The centrepiece of this regeneration is to be a replacement monument for Nelson’s Pillar, the Spire of Dublin, chosen from a large number of submissions in an international competition by a committee chaired by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Joe Doyle. The Anna Livia monument is moved to make way for the Spire in 2001.

Some opposition initially greets the monument. Supporters compare it to other initially unpopular urban structures such as the Eiffel Tower, while detractors complain that the Spire has little architectural or cultural connection to the city. It has inspired a number of nicknames, as is common with public art in Dublin, including the nail in the Pale, the stiletto in the ghetto, the pin in the bin, the stiffy by the Liffey, the spire in the mire, or the spike.


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The Piltown Cross Ambush

Irish Republican Army (IRA) fighters from West Waterford, under Column O/C George Lennon, ambush a British army patrol at Piltown (Kinsalebeg), County Waterford, on November 1, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence. Two soldiers are killed, six wounded, and thirty captured although those captured are later released. Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Constable Maurice Prendiville promises to leave the RIC but is fatally shot the following month at the Youghal Bridge.

Involved is the IRA West Waterford Brigade, specifically the newly formed Deise Flying Column under O/C Lennon of Dungarvan, as well as Volunteers from the local Ardmore battalion. Returned Great War veteran John Riordan plans the successful engagement involving a feint attack on the RIC barracks in Ardmore.

The British garrison in Youghal subsequently dispatches nearly twenty troops in a single lorry. They are ambushed at Kinsalebeg and suffer two dead and six wounded. The ambush results in the capture of several rifles and a large quantity of ammunition which are used to equip the flying column. Captured are RIC constables O’Neill and Prendiville who give their word that they will resign. Prendiville is subsequently killed from a shot from the Waterford side of the Youghal Bridge.

(Pictured: Piltown Cross Ambush Memorial unveiled in 2008)


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The Treaty of Windsor (1175)

The Treaty of Windsor, a territorial agreement made during the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland, is signed in Windsor, Berkshire on October 6, 1175 by King Henry II of England and the High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor (Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair). The witnesses are Richard of Ilchester, Bishop of Winchester; Geoffrey Ridel, Bishop of Ely; Lorcán Ua Tuathail, Archbishop of Dublin; William de Mandeville, 3rd Earl of Essex; Justiciar Richard de Luci; Geoffrey de Purtico, Reginald de Courtenea (Courtenay) and three of Henry’s court chaplains.

Under the Treaty, O’Connor recognizes King Henry II as his overlord and agrees to collect tribute for him from all parts of Ireland. Henry agrees that O’Connor can be king of the areas not conquered by the Normans. But O’Connor cannot control the territories of which he is nominally king. Henry and his barons annex further land without consulting O’Connor.

Overall, the agreement leaves O’Connor with a kingdom consisting of Ireland outside the provincial kingdom of Leinster (as it was then), Dublin and a territory from Waterford Dungarvan, as long as he paid tribute to Henry II, and owed fealty to him. All of Ireland is also subject to the new religious provisions of the papal bull Laudabiliter and the Synod of Cashel (1172).

O’Connor is obliged to pay one treated cow hide for every ten cattle. The other “kings and people” of Ireland are to enjoy their lands and liberties so long as they remain faithful to the kings of England, and are obliged to pay their tribute in hides through O’Connor.

The Annals of Tigernach record that: “Cadla Ua Dubthaig came from England from the Son of the Empress, having with him the peace of Ireland, and the kingship thereof, both Foreigner and Gael, to Ruaidhrí Ó Conchobhair, and to every provincial king his province from the king of Ireland, and their tributes to Ruaidhrí.” The Annals also list the ongoing violence in Ireland at the time. The text reveals a misunderstanding of the scope of the treaty and the matters agreed by the two kings that soon prove fatal to the peace of Ireland. Henry sees O’Connor as his subordinate within the feudal system, paying him an annual rent on behalf of all his sub-kings. O’Connor sees himself as the restored High King of Ireland, subject only to a very affordable annual tribute to Henry.

The treaty breaks down very quickly, as O’Connor is unable to prevent Norman knights from carving out new territories on a freelance basis, starting with assaults on Munster and Ulaid in 1177. For his part Henry is by now too distant to suppress them and is preoccupied with events in France. In 1177 he replaces William FitzAldelm with his 10-year-old son Prince John and names him as Lord of Ireland.


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Death of Irish Artist Sarah Henrietta Purser

sarah-purser-by-john-butler-yeatsSarah Henrietta Purser, Irish artist mainly noted for her work with stained glass, dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943.

The Purser family had come to Ireland from Gloucestershire in the eighteenth century. Purser is born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin on March 22, 1848. She is raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford, one of the numerous children of Benjamin Purser, a prosperous flour miller and brewer, and his wife Anne Mallet. She is related to Sir Frederic William Burton, RHA (1816-1900), who is a son of Hannah Mallet. Two of her brothers, John and Louis, become professors at Trinity College Dublin. Her niece Olive Purser, daughter of her brother Alfred, is the first woman scholar at Trinity.

At thirteen Purser attends the Moravian school, Institution Evangélique de Montmirail, Switzerland where she learns to speak fluent French and begins painting. In 1873 her father’s business fails and she decides to become a full-time painter. She attends classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and joins the Dublin Sketching Club, where she is later appointed an honorary member. In 1874 she distinguishes herself in the National Competition. In 1878 she again contributes to the Royal Hibernian Academy, and for the next fifty years becomes a regular exhibitor, mainly portraits, and shows an average of three works per show.

In 1878-1879, Purser studies at the Académie Julian in Paris where she meets the German painter Louise Catherine Breslau, with whom she becomes a lifelong friend.

Purser becomes wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness, for which several of her male relatives have worked over the years. She is very active in the art world in Dublin and is involved in the setting up of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House in Parnell Square to house the gallery.

Purser works mostly as a portraitist. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she is very successful in obtaining commissions. When the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland commissions her to portray his children in 1888, his choice reflects her position as the country’s foremost portraitist. Various portraits painted by Purser are held in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser finances An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), a stained glass cooperative, at 24 Upper Pembroke and runs it from its inauguration in 1903 until her retirement in 1940. Michael Healy is the first of a number of distinguished recruit, such as Catherine O’Brien, Evie Hone, Wilhelmina Geddes, Beatrice Elvery and Ethel Rhind. She is determined the stained glass workshop should adhere to true Arts and Crafts philosophy. An Túr Gloine archive is held in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser does not produce many items of stained glass herself. Most of the stained glass works are painted by other members of the co-operative, presumably under her direction. Two early works are St. Ita (1904) for St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea and The Good Shepard (1904) for St. Columba’s College, Dublin. Her last stained glass work is believed to be The Good Shepard and the Good Samaritan (1926) for the Church of Ireland at Killucan, County Westmeath.

Until her death Purser lives for many years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. Here she is “at home” every Tuesday afternoon to Dublin’s writers and artists. Her afternoon parties are a fixture of Dublin literary life.

Purser dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery beside her brothers John and Louis. Mespil House is demolished after her death and developed into apartments.

Purser is the second woman to sit on the Board of Governors and Guardians, National Gallery of Ireland, 1914-1943. She is made an Honorary Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1890, becoming the first female Associate Member in 1923 and the first female Member in 1924. Also in 1924 she initiates the movement for the launching of the Friends of the National Collection of Ireland. Archives relating to Sarah Purser are housed in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sarah Purser by John Butler Yeats, c. 1880–1885)


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Birth of Physicist Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton

ernest-waltonErnest Thomas Sinton Walton, Irish physicist, is born in Abbeyside, Dungarvan, County Waterford on October 6, 1903. He is the corecipient, with Sir John Douglas Cockcroft of England, of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of the first nuclear particle accelerator, known as the Cockcroft-Walton generator.

Walton is the son of a Methodist minister, Rev John Walton (1874–1936), and Anna Sinton (1874–1906). In those days a general clergyman’s family moves once every three years, and this practice carries him and his family, while he is a small child, to Rathkeale, County Limerick, where his mother dies, and to County Monaghan. He attends day schools in counties Down and Tyrone, and at Wesley College in Dublin before becoming a boarder at Methodist College Belfast in 1915, where he excels in science and mathematics. He obtains degrees in mathematics and experimental science from Trinity College Dublin in 1926.

Walton goes to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1927 where he works with Cockcroft in the Cavendish Laboratory under Ernest Rutherford until 1934. In 1928 he attempts two methods of high-energy particle acceleration. Both fail, mainly because the available power sources could not generate the necessary energies, but his methods are later developed and used in the betatron and the linear particle accelerator. In 1929 Cockcroft and Walton devise an accelerator that generates large numbers of particles at lower energies. With this device in 1932 they disintegrate lithium nuclei with protons, the first artificial nuclear reaction not utilizing radioactive substances and so becomes the first person in history to split the atom.

After gaining his Ph.D. at Cambridge, Walton returns to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1934, where he remains as a fellow for the next 40 years and a fellow emeritus thereafter. He is Erasmus Smith Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy from 1946 to 1974 and chairman of the School of Cosmic Physics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies after 1952.

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 at the age of 91 in Belfast on June 25, 1995. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Ernest T.S. Walton, 1951, by Nobel foundation)


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Birth of Artist Sarah Henrietta Purser

Sarah Henrietta Purser, Irish artist mainly noted for her work with stained glass, is born on March 22, 1848, in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin, and raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford. She is educated in Switzerland and afterwards studies at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin and in Paris at the Académie Julian.

Purser works mostly as a portraitist. She is also associated with the stained glass movement, founding a stained glass workshop, An Túr Gloine, in 1903. Some of her stained glass work is commissioned from as far as New York City, including a window at Christ Church, Pelham dedicated to the memory of Katharine Temple Emmet and Richard Stockton Emmet, grandson of the Irish patriot, Thomas Addis Emmet. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she is very successful in obtaining commissions, famously commenting, “I went through the British aristocracy like the measles.”

In 1977 Bruce Arnold noted, “some of her finest and most sensitive work was not strictly portraiture, for example, An Irish Idyll in the Ulster Museum, and Le Petit Déjeuner (in the National Gallery of Ireland).”

Sarah Purser becomes wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness. She is very active in the art world in Dublin and is involved in the setting up of the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House to house the gallery. In 1923 she becomes the first female member of the Royal Hibernian Academy.

Until her death she lives for years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. After her death in Dublin on August 7, 1943, it is demolished and is developed into apartments. She is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Stained glass window in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, by Sarah Purser made in 1906: a depiction of King Cormac of Cashel)


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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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The Burgery Ambush in County Waterford

burgery-ambushThe Burgery Ambush takes place during the Irish War of Independence on the night of March 18, 1921 near Dungarvan, County Waterford.

A British military convoy of Black and Tans and including a Royal Irish Constabulary Sergeant named Michael Hickey, sets off from Dungarvan Castle on the night of March 18, heading east for the coastal village of Clonea. Their goal that night is the arrest of Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer John Murphy, who has been involved in gun running between Clonmel, County Tipperary, and Dungarvan.

Irish Republican Army volunteers of the West Waterford flying column have plans that night to demolish Tarr’s Bridge over the Colligan River between Dungarvan and the Abbeyside. However, when they receive word of the British convoy heading east out of Dungarvan, a last-minute action is organized by the Active Service Unit (ASU) to intercept it on its way back to Dungarvan.

The IRA volunteers ambush the convoy at the Burgery, about a mile and a half northeast of Dungarvan. In overall command of the IRA unit is IRA General Headquarters (GHQ) Officer George Plunkett. Also present are West Waterford Brigade Commandant Pax Whelan, Active Service Unit (ASU) leader George Lennon, and Mick Mansfield.

A British Crossley tender is set on fire and prisoners are taken by the IRA, including Sergeant Hickey. Early on the morning of March 19, Hickey is executed by an IRA firing squad with a sign reading “police spy” affixed to his tunic. Hickey is later buried in an unmarked grave. Other prisoners, including Captain DV Thomas, the commander of the British garrison, are released.

After the ambush, a group of volunteers under Plunkett return to search for any armaments left behind by the British forces. Crown forces who are now searching the area engage the IRA party. IRA volunteers Seán Fitzgerald and Pat Keating are shot dead. Constable Sydney R. Redman, a Black and Tan, is shot dead during the return fire.