seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.