seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Opening of Ireland’s First Passenger Railway

Ireland’s first passenger railway, the Dublin and Kingstown Railway (D&KR), opens on October 9, 1834. It links Westland Row in Dublin with Kingstown Harbour (Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin. The D&KR is also notable for a number of other achievements besides being Ireland’s first passenger railway. It operates an atmospheric railway for ten years, claims the first use of a passenger tank engine and is the first railway company to build its own locomotives.

Construction begins on a new harbour at Dunleary village in 1817 that soon begins to attract traffic due to silting problems elsewhere around Dublin Bay. Proposals for canal or rail infrastructure links to Dublin are variously proposed through to the 1830s. James Pim takes the initiative and commissions a plan by Alexander Nimmo which is presented as a petition to the House of Commons on February 28, 1831 for a rail line from near Trinity College Dublin to the west pier at the Royal Harbour of Kingstown under a company to be known as the D&KR. A bill is presented and is progressing but is scuppered by a prorogation of parliament and an election. A fresh bill receives Royal assent on September 6, 1831.

A meeting of D&KR subscribers on November 25, 1831 at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce includes the submission of a long report which indicates that Westland Row is to be the Dublin terminus and that the enterprise is initially to focus on passenger traffic with a high train frequency.

The construction contract is awarded to William Dargan, with Charles Blacker Vignoles as engineer. The construction contract is signed on May 7, 1833 and is completed in about 18 months. The railway proves expensive to build with the final cost being a little under £60,000 per mile. Thomas Grierson, the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway (DW&WR) chief engineer comments in a presentation to the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland in 1887 that speed of construction is remarkably short and leads to “many failures in masonry, bridges, etc.”

On October 4, 1834 the first recorded train with invited passengers is hauled by the engine Vauxhall and runs as far as the Williamstown Martello Tower at what is now Blackrock Park before returning. The engine Hibernia on October 9, 1834 hauls another train of invited passengers composed of eight carriages the entire length of the line and back. Plans are made to introduce a service on October 22, 1834 but storms and flooding damage the line including wrecking the bridge over the River Dodder and this leads to delays for repairs. A timetabled regular service is introduced from January 1835.

On June 30, 1856 the Dublin and Wicklow Railway (D&WR) takes over operation of the line from the D&KR with the D&KR continuing to lease out the line. The D&WR had formerly been known as the Waterford, Wicklow, Wexford and Dublin Railway (WWW&DR or 3WS). It changes its name to the Dublin Wicklow and Wexford Railway (DW&WR) in May 1860 and is ultimately renamed the Dublin and South Eastern Railway (D&SER) in 1907, a name which is retained until the amalgamation of the D&KR and D&SER with the Great Southern Railways on January 1, 1925. As of 1974, its independent existence of over 90 years by a railway company is only exceeded in the British Isles by the Great Western Railway and the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway.

(Pictured: Sketch of Second Class Carriage on the Dublin and Kingstown Railway by E. Heyden, with Patent Spiral spring Buffer, as invented by T.F. Bergin)


Leave a comment

Death of Inventor Alexander Mitchell

alexander-mitchellAlexander Mitchell, Irish engineer who from 1802 is blind, dies on June 25, 1868. He is known as the inventor of the screw-pile lighthouse.

Mitchell is born in Dublin on April 13, 1780. His family moves to Belfast while he is a child. He receives his formal education at Belfast Academy where he excels in mathematics. He begins to notice that his eyesight is failing. By the age of 16 he can no longer read and by the age of 22 he is completely blind.

Undeterred, Mitchell borrows £100 and starts up a successful business making bricks in the Ballymacarrett area of Belfast. This enables him to start building his own houses and he completes approximately twenty in the city. It is during this period that his talent for inventing comes to the fore and he fabricates several machines for use in brick-making and the building trade.

Mitchell patents the screw-pile in 1833, for which he later gains some fame. The screw-pile is used for the erection of lighthouses and other structures on mudbanks and shifting sands, including bridges and piers. His designs and methods are employed all over the world from the Portland, Maine breakwater to bridges in Bombay. Initially it is used for the construction of lighthouses on Maplin Sands in the Thames Estuary in 1838, at Fleetwood Lancashire (UK) Morecambe Bay in 1839 and at Belfast Lough where his lighthouse is finished in July 1844.

In 1848 Mitchell is elected member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and receives the Telford Medal the following year for a paper on his invention.

In May 1851 Mitchell moves to Cobh to lay the foundation for the Spit Bank Lighthouse. The success of these undertakings leads to the use of his invention on the breakwater at Portland, the viaduct and bridges on the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway and a broad system of Indian telegraphs.

Mitchell becomes friendly with astronomer John Thomas Romney Robinson and mathematician George Boole.

Alexander Mitchell dies at Glen Devis near Belfast on June 25, 1868 and is buried in the old Clifton graveyard in Belfast. His wife and daughter predecease him.


Leave a comment

Death of Robert Mallet, the Father of Seismology

robert-malletRobert Mallet, geophysicist, civil engineer, and inventor who distinguishes himself in research on earthquakes and is sometimes called the Father of Seismology, dies on November 5, 1881.

Mallet is born in Dublin on June 3, 1810, the son of factory owner John Mallet. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, entering it at the age of 16 and graduating in science and mathematics in 1830 at the age of 20.

Following his graduation, he joins his father’s iron foundry business and helps build the firm into one of the most important engineering works in Ireland, supplying ironwork for railway companies, the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, and a swing bridge over the River Shannon at Athlone. He also helps manufacture the characteristic iron railings that surround Trinity College and which bear his family name at the base.

Mallet is elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832 at the early age of 22. He also enrolls in the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1835 which helps finance much of his research in seismology.

In 1838 he becomes a life member of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland, and serves as its President from 1846–1848. From 1848–1849 he constructs the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, southwest of Cape Clear.

On February 9, 1846 he presents to the Royal Irish Academy his paper On the Dynamics of Earthquakes, which is considered to be one of the foundations of modern seismology. He is also credited with coining the word “seismology” and other related words which he uses in his research. He also coins the term epicentre.

From 1852 to 1858, he is engaged in the preparation of his work, The Earthquake Catalogue of the British Association (1858), and carries out blasting experiments to determine the speed of seismic propagation in sand and solid rock.

On December 16, 1857, the area around Padula, Italy is devastated by the Great Neapolitan earthquake which causes 11,000 deaths. At the time it is the third largest known earthquake in the world and has been estimated to have been of magnitude 6.9 on the Richter Scale. Mallet, with letters of support from Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin, petitions the Royal Society of London and receives a grant of £150 to go to Padula and record at first hand the devastation. The resulting report is presented to the Royal Society as the Report on the Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857. It is a major scientific work and makes great use of the then new research tool of photography to record the devastation caused by the earthquake. In 1862, he publishes the Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857: The First Principles of Observational Seismology in two volumes. He brings forward evidence to show that the depth below the Earth’s surface, from where the impulse of the Neapolitan earthquake originated, is about 8–9 geographical miles.

One of Mallet’s papers is Volcanic Energy: an Attempt to develop its True Origin and Cosmical Relations, in which he seeks to show that volcanic heat may be attributed to the effects of crushing, contortion, and other disturbances in the crust of the earth. The disturbances leading to the formation of lines of fracture, more or less vertical, down which water would find its way, and if the temperature generated be sufficient volcanic eruptions of steam or lava would follow.

Mallet is elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1854, and in 1861 moves to London, where he becomes a consulting engineer and edits The Practical Mechanic’s Journal. He is awarded the Telford Medal by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1859, followed by the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his research into the theory of earthquakes in 1862, and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1877, the Geological Society’s highest award.

Blind for the last seven years of his life, Robert Mallet dies at Stockwell, London, on November 5, 1881 and is buried at West Norwood Cemetery.