seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Dublin Society Renamed Royal Dublin Society

royal-dublin-societyThe Dublin Society for Improving Husbandry, Manufactures and Other Useful Arts, which is originally founded on June 25, 1731, becomes the Royal Dublin Society on June 19, 1820.

The society is founded by members of the Dublin Philosophical Society, chiefly Thomas Prior. On July 1, 1731, at the second meeting of the Society, the designation “and Sciences” is added to the end of its name. The Society’s broad agenda is to stimulate economic activity and aid the creation of employment in Ireland. For the first few years of its existence, the Dublin Society concentrates on tillage technology, land reclamation, forestry, the production of dyestuffs, flax cultivation and other agricultural areas.

In 1738, following the publication of his pamphlet entitled Reflections and Resolutions Proper for the Gentlemen of Ireland, Samuel Madden initiates a grant or “premium” scheme to create incentives for improvements in Irish agricultural and arts. He proposes that a fund of £500 be raised for this purpose and he personally contributes £130. By 1740 the premium scheme has raised £900, and is adjudicated upon the following January and awarded to enterprises in earthenware, cotton, leatherwork, flax, surveying, as well as a number of painters and sculptors.

In 1761 the Irish Parliament votes for £12,000 to be given to the Dublin Society for the promotion of agriculture, forestry, arts and manufactures. This funding is used to increase the amount of premiums distributed by the Dublin Society. Further funds are given by Parliament to the Dublin Society on a sporadic basis until 1784 when an annual parliamentary vote of £5,000 is put in place and remains so until the dissolution of Grattan’s Parliament in 1800.

The “Royal” prefix is adopted in 1820 when George IV becomes Society patron.

The society purchases Leinster House, home of the Duke of Leinster, in 1815 and founds a natural history museum there. The society acquires its current premises at Ballsbridge in 1879, and has since increased from the original fifteen to forty acres. The premises consist of a number of exhibition halls, a stadium, meeting rooms, bars, restaurants, and RDS Simmonscourt Pavilion, a multi-purpose venue.

The Boyle Medal, named after Robert Boyle (1627–1691), is inaugurated in 1899 and is awarded jointly by the RDS and The Irish Times for scientific research of exceptional merit in Ireland. As of 2014 the medal has been awarded to 39 scientists.

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Birth of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

william-drennanWilliam Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’


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Birth of William Dargan, 19th Century Engineer

william-darganWilliam Dargan, arguably the most important Irish engineer of the 19th century and certainly the most important figure in railway construction, is born at Killeshin near Carlow in County Laois (then called Queen’s County) on February 28, 1799. He designs and builds Ireland’s first railway line from Dublin to Dún Laoghaire in 1833. In total he constructs over 1,300 km (800 miles) of railway to important urban centres of Ireland. He is a member of the Royal Dublin Society and also helps establish the National Gallery of Ireland. He is also responsible for the Great Dublin Exhibition held on the lawn of Leinster House in 1853. His achievements are honoured in 1995, when the Dargan Railway Bridge in Belfast is opened, and again in 2004 when the William Dargan Bridge in Dublin, a new cable stayed bridge for Dublin’s Light Railway Luas, are both named after him.

Dargan is the eldest in a large family of tenant farmers on the Earl of Portarlington‘s estate. He attends a local hedge school in Graiguecullen near Carlow, where he excels in mathematics and accounting. He subsequently works on his father’s 101-acre farm before securing a position in a surveyor’s office in Carlow. With the assistance of prominent local people, particularly John Alexander, a prominent Carlow miller, and Henry Parnell MP for County Laois, he begins working with the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford on the Holyhead side of the London-Holyhead road. He works there between 1819 and 1824.

In 1824 Telford asks Dargan to begin work on Howth Road, from Raheny to Sutton in Dublin. He earns the relatively large sum of £300 for his work on this road and this provides the capital for future public works investments. Henry Parnell describes the road as “a model for other roads in the vicinity of Dublin.” Around the same time Dargan contributes roads in Dublin, Carlow and Louth as a surveyor. He also serves as assistant manager for about three years on the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal and the Middlewich Branch, which are two canals in the English midlands.

On October 13, 1828, Dargan marries Jane Arkinstall in the Anglican Church of St. Michael & All Angels, Adbaston, Staffordshire. He and Jane do not produce any offspring.

When Dargan comes back to Ireland, he is occupied by minor construction projects, including rebuilding the main street of Banbridge and the 13 kilometers long Kilbeggan branch of the Grand Canal. After Irish parliament decides to launch a plan for the very first railway, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway in 1825, he becomes increasingly invested in the project. To fight against the skepticism of any railway program in Ireland, he spends a considerable amount of unpaid time promoting this first railway of Ireland, working along with engineer Charles Vignoles to plan the route. After a persistent effort, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway is opened on December 17, 1834, with eight trains running in each direction.

Dargan next constructs the water communication between Lough Erne and Belfast, afterwards known as the Ulster Canal, a signal triumph of engineering and constructive ability.

Other great works follow – the Dublin and Drogheda Railway, the Great Southern and Western Railway and the Midland Great Western Railway. By 1853 Dargan has constructed over six hundred miles of railway, and he has contracts for two hundred more. He pays the highest wages with the greatest punctuality and his credit is unbounded. At one point he is the largest railway projector in Ireland and one of its greatest capitalists.

Dargan has a strong sense of patriotism to Ireland. He is offered a knighthood by the British Viceroy in Ireland, but declines. Following this, Britain’s Queen Victoria visits Dargan at his residence, Dargan Villa, Mount Annville on August 29, 1853. She offers him a baronetcy, but he declines this also. Wishing to encourage the growth of flax, he then takes a tract of land which he devotes to its culture, but owing to some mismanagement the enterprise entails a heavy loss. He also becomes a manufacturer, and sets some mills working in Chapelizod, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, but that business does not prosper.

In his later years Dargan devotes himself chiefly to the working and extension of the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, of which he is chairman. In 1866 he is seriously injured by a fall from his horse. He dies at 2 Fitzwilliam Square East, Dublin, on February 7, 1867, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His widow, Jane, is granted a civil list pension of £100 on June 18, 1870.


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Death of Brian Merriman, Poet & Teacher

brian-merrimanBrian Merriman, Irish language poet and teacher, dies in County Limerick on July 27, 1805. His single surviving work of substance, the 1000-line long Cúirt An Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court) is widely regarded as the greatest comic poem in the history of Irish literature.

Merriman ius born at Ennistymon, County Clare, the son of a journeyman stonemason, about 1747. He spends his childhood in the district of Lough Graney, near Killanena, Feakle. Some years later he is known to own a 20-acre farm near Lough Graney.

Merriman teaches at various schools in the area for about twenty years, first at Kilclaran and later in a school near his farm. The teaching profession in those days attracts those with a taste for literature. Many of the Irish poets of the 18th and 19th centuries are school teachers. It allows them to exist while they write. Later on he becomes resident tutor to the families of the local gentry.

This may be where Merriman gets the subject matter for his poem Cúirt an Mhéan Óiche. It is likely that he has access to books of European literature which give him ideas for the theme. His famous poem, written in his native Irish language, has well over a thousand lines. It has been translated into English as The Midnight Court by many translators. The principal themes are the plight of young women who lack husbands, clerical celibacy, free love, and the misery of a young woman married to a withered old man. It is written in the form of a vision or aisling. Merriman falls asleep on the shores of Lough Graney near Feakle in East Clare and finds himself present at a fairy court where the women of Ireland are discussing their great problems. It is believed that he writes the poem as a result of certain frustrations he has or of some complex he suffers from. His vigour, fluency and earthy humour make his poem widely popular and while he is still alive numerous manuscript copies are circulated.

Merriman marries around 1787 and has two daughters. In 1797, the Royal Dublin Society awards him two prizes for his flax crop. Around 1800 he moves to County Limerick, where he runs a school until his death on July 27, 1805. He is buried in Feakle. His grave has not been located but a plaque honouring his memory has been erected in Feakle churchyard.

In commemoration of Merriman’s poetic works an Annual Merriman Summer School is held each year in County Clare.