seamus dubhghaill

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

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Birth of Physicist Daniel Joseph Bradley

Daniel Joseph Bradley, physicist and Emeritus Professor of Optical Electronics at Trinity College, Dublin, is born on January 18, 1928 in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

Bradley is one of four surviving children of John and Margaret Bradley, Lecky Road, Derry. He leaves school to work as a telegraph boy but returns to education at St. Columb’s College. Following training as a teacher at St. Mary’s Training College, Belfast, he qualifies in 1947. While teaching in a primary school in Derry he studies for a degree in mathematics as an external student of the University of London, and is awarded a degree in 1953.

Moving to London where he teaches mathematics in a grammar school, Bradley decides to register for an evening course at Birkbeck College. His first choice is mathematics but as he already has a degree in the subject the admissions staff suggests that he study physics. In 1957, after four years of part-time study, he is awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in physics by Birkbeck, achieving the highest marks in his final exams in the University of London overall. He next joins Royal Holloway College as an assistant lecturer and simultaneously enrolls as a PhD student, working on Fabry–Pérot interferometer etalon-based high-resolution spectroscopy supervised by Samuel Tolansky. He receives a PhD in 1961.

Bradley is a pioneer of laser physics, and his work on the development of ultra-fast pulsed lasers adds a new and vitally important element to the capabilities of this new type of light source. In particular, working on dye lasers, he produces pulses of light as short as one picosecond (one picosecond is to a second as a second is to 31,800 years). His work paves the way for the completely new field of non-linear optical interactions. In addition, he inspires a new generation of laser scientists in Ireland and the UK, many of whom are international leaders in their fields.

Appointed to a lectureship in the physics department at Imperial College London, Bradley sets up a research programme in UV solar spectroscopy using rocket technology to reach high altitudes.

In 1963 Bradley begins work in laser physics but returns to Royal Holloway College as a reader one year later. In 1966 he is appointed professor and head of department at Queen’s University, Belfast. There he quickly establishes a space research group of international standing to do high-resolution solar spectroscopy. He attracts significant funding from a variety of agencies, allowing him to build his department into one of the world’s leading laser research centres, involving a total of 65 scientists. However, he leaves Belfast because of fears for his family’s safety as political violence escalates in the early 1970s amidst The Troubles.

Bradley returns to Imperial College London in 1973 to a chair in laser physics and heads a group in optical physics, laser physics and space optics. He is head of the Physics department from 1976 to 1980 but is frustrated by cutbacks and a rule governing the ratio of senior to junior positions, one consequence of which is that he is unable to maintain a long-established chair in optical design. He is also critical of the college administration’s handling of some departmental grant applications. He resigns in 1980 and moves to Dublin.

Among Bradley’s many lasting contributions to laser research in the UK is the setting up of one of the world’s leading research facilities for laser research, the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL).

Arriving at Trinity College, Dublin, Bradley decides the time is ripe to move on from laser research and development into laser applications. In 1982, with Dr. John Kelly, a chemist, and Dr. David McConnell, a geneticist, he forms a team which wins funding for a project using laser techniques to explore the structure of organic molecules like DNA and proteins. Unfortunately, however, his work at Trinity is cut short by ill health and he retires in 1984. His research on semiconductor lasers is carried on and this work on developing widely tuneable lasers for optical communications systems continues.

A member of the Royal Irish Academy, Bradley is Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin, and holds fellowships of the Royal Society, The Optical Society of America and Institute of Physics. Through time the ravages of his illness restricts his travelling and eventually he is cared for in a residential home in Dublin, where he passes away on February 7, 2010.

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Birth of William McCrea, Astronomer & Mathematician

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100Sir William Hunter McCrea, English astronomer and mathematician, is born in Dublin on December 13, 1904.

McCrea’s family moves to Kent in 1906 and then to Derbyshire where he attends Chesterfield Grammar School. His father is a school master at Netherthorpe Grammar School in Staveley. He goes to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1923 where he studies mathematics, later gaining a PhD in 1929 under Ralph H. Fowler.

In 1928, McCrea studies Albrecht Unsöld‘s hypothesis and discovers that three quarters of the sun is made of hydrogen and about one quarter is helium with 1% being other elements. Previous to this many people thought the sun consisted mostly of iron. After this, people realise most stars consist of hydrogen.

From 1930 McCrea lectures in mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. In 1931, during his time in Edinburgh, he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers are Sir Edmund Taylor Whittaker, Sir Charles Galton Darwin, Edward Copson and Charles Glover Barkla. He wins the Society’s Keith Medal, jointly with Edward Copson, for the period 1939-1941.

In 1932 McCrea moves to Imperial College London as a Reader and marries Marian Core the following year. In 1936 he becomes Professor of Mathematics and head of the mathematics department at the Queen’s University Belfast.

During World War II McCrea is co-opted onto the Admiralty Operational Research Group. After the war, he joins the mathematics department at Royal Holloway College in 1944. He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1952.

McCrea is president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1961 to 1963 and president of Section A of the British Association for the Advancement of Science from 1965–1966.

In 1964 McCrea proposes mass transfer mechanism as an explanation of blue straggler stars. In 1965, he creates the astronomy centre of the physics department at the University of Sussex.

McCrea wins the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1976 and is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985.

William McCrea dies on April 25, 1999 at Lewes in Sussex. The McCrea Building on the Royal Holloway College campus is named after him.

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Enactment of the Intermediate Education Act

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0The Intermediate Education Act, enacted on August 16, 1878, grants female students the right to participate in public competitive examinations, take university degrees and to enter into careers and professions.

From the early 1870s there had been a growing demand in Ireland for a competitive examinations system which would allow Catholics in particular to enter for the newly created jobs in the Civil Service and for careers in the professions. In response to this pressure, the Irish Intermediate Education Bill is introduced to parliament in 1878. It provides an Examining Board with an annual sum of £32,500 per annum which would cover money prizes for pupils and results fees for schools. Students with the highest marks can gain valuable exhibitions worth up to £50. However, these provisions only apply to boys.

The Bill is in its final stages in parliament, when Isabella Tod of the North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society, arrives with a small delegation of women backed by a handful of Irish MPs, to demand that girls should also be included in the provisions of the Bill. Fortunately, attitudes among a majority of English MPs are favourable to the inclusion of girls in the Bill. The most influential of these MPs is William Ewart Gladstone, the leader of the Liberal Party, who believes the proposal to admit women to the benefits of the Bill is reasonable and fair. Although not in favour of giving women the vote, he is prepared to admit that “we have on the whole done rather less than justice to women as compared to men” when it comes to education.

Charles Henry Meldon, MP for Kildare, strongly objects to what he calls “the victory” which the inclusion of girls would give to the advocates of women’s rights, “whose object was not that there should be a limited measure dealing specially with the education of women, but that the same education should be given to girls as given to men.”

Richard O’Shaughnessy, the only Home Rule MP on Isabella Tod’s delegation, assures Meldon that the question at stake is not one of women’s rights but simply of their education and that the object of the amendment “was nothing more nor less than to educate the women of Ireland that they may be better able to discharge their duties as daughters, wives and mothers.”

So, despite the strong objections of most Irish Home Rule MPs, girls are included in the Intermediate Examination Act. Isabella Tod at a meeting in Dublin to promote the extension of the franchise to women thanks O’Shaughnessy and James Stansfield for their support but declares, “We could not help feeling how easy our task would have been if each of these members had owed some votes to women and felt a distinct responsibility to them.”

There is unease felt about public competitive examinations for girls in Ireland. Some believe that the competitive idea should be carefully excluded from the examinations for women. The ladies present at the suffrage meeting are also urged to press the government to avoid publishing the names of girls in order of merit.

This attitude helps explain why it is felt that girls are not ready to compete on an equal basis with boys. In December 1878, the Intermediate Board decides that girls will compete among themselves for the money prizes. A money prize is offered for every ten pupils who pass. These prizes are, therefore, allocated proportionately according to the numbers of boys and of girls who enter for the examinations. During the first twenty years of the Intermediate examinations, three quarters of the entrants are boys and only one quarter are girls. Girls’ schools, especially convent schools, are particularly handicapped because they have few teachers who know Latin or Greek and extra marks are allotted for other traditional boys’ subjects such as mathematics.

The Intermediate examinations have three levels: Junior, Middle and Senior Grades with strict age limits of under 16, 17 and 18 years of age respectively. This represents a problem for girls’ schools since many girls come late to second level schools, being often 14 or 15 years of age.

The fact that public opinion in Ireland is at first generally against such examinations for girls and that many girls have neither the opportunity nor the means to take immediate advantage of the Act, does not alter its crucial importance as a catalyst for changing the role of women in Irish society.

(Pictured: Isabella Tod, Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland, content from Discovering Women in Irish History,

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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.

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Birth of Fanny Parnell, Poet & Nationalist

Fanny Parnell, Irish poet and Nationalist, is born Frances Isabelle Parnell in Avondale, County Wicklow on September 4, 1848. She is the sister of Charles Stewart Parnell, an important figure in nineteenth century Ireland.

Parnell is the eighth child out of eleven and fourth daughter born to John Henry Parnell, a landowner and the grandson of the last Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland, and Delia Tudor Stewart Parnell, an Irish American and the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart (1778–1869) of the United States Navy. Her mother hates British rule in Ireland, a view presented through her children’s works. She is an intelligent girl and before she is through her teen years she has studied mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy, and she can speak and write fluently in almost all the major European languages. She also has talents in music and painting and drawing in oil and water colours. Her parents separate when she is young. Soon afterwards, in July 1859, her father dies at the age of forty eight and she and her mother move to Dalkey. A year later they move to Dublin, and in 1865 they move to Paris where Fanny studies art and writes poetry. In 1874 they move to Bordentown, New Jersey in the United States.

Parnell is known as the Patriot Poet. She shows interest in Irish politics and much of her poetry is about Irish nationalism. While she is living in Dublin in 1864, she begins publishing her poetry under the pseudonym “Aleria” in The Irish People, the newspaper of the Fenian Brotherhood. Most of her later work is published in The Pilot in Boston, the best known Irish newspaper in America during the nineteenth century. Two of her most widely published works are The Hovels of Ireland, a pamphlet, and Land League Songs, a collection of poems. Her best known poem is “Hold the Harvest,” which Michael Davitt refers to as the “Marseillaise of the Irish peasant.”

Parnell’s brother, Charles, becomes active in the Irish National Land League, an organisation that fights for poor tenant farmers, in 1879 and she strongly supports him. She and her younger sister, Anna Parnell (1852–1911), co-found the Ladies’ Land League in 1880 to raise money in America for the Land League. In 1881 the Ladies’ Land League continues the work of the men in the Land League while they are being imprisoned by the British government. In Ireland Anna becomes the president of the Ladies’ Land League, and the women hold many protests and quickly become more radical than the men, to the resentment of the male leaders. Fanny stays in America and works to raise money for the organisation. Most of the Land League’s financial support comes from America because of the campaigning done by Fanny Parnell.

Fanny Parnell dies on July 20, 1882, at the young age of 33, of a heart attack at the family mansion in Bordentown, New Jersey. She is buried at the Tudor family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Establishment of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) is established in Dublin on June 19, 1940 by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera under the Institute for Advanced Studies Act, 1940. The Institute consists of three schools: the School of Theoretical Physics, the School of Cosmic Physics and the School of Celtic studies. The Institute under the act is empowered to “train students in methods of advanced research” but does not itself award degrees. Graduate students working under the supervision of Institute researchers can, with the agreement of the governing board of the appropriate school, be registered for a higher degree in any university worldwide.

Shortly after becoming Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera investigates the possibility of setting up an institute of higher learning. Being of mathematical background, de Valera is aware of the decline of the Dunsink Observatory, where Sir William Rowan Hamilton, regarded as Ireland’s most influential mathematician, has held the position of Royal Astronomer of Ireland. Following meetings with prominent academics in the fields of mathematics and astronomy, he comes to the conclusion that astronomy at Dunsink should be revived and an institute for higher learning should be established.

The Institute is initially located at 64 and 65 Merrion Square and consists of the School of Theoretical Physics and the School of Celtic Studies, to which the School of Cosmic Physics is added in 1947. It is modeled on the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, which was founded in 1930. Most importantly, Erwin Schrödinger is interested in coming to Ireland, and this represents an opportunity not to be missed. The School of Celtic Studies owes its founding to the importance de Valera accords to the Irish language. He considers it a vital element in the makeup of the nation, and therefore important that the nation should have a place of higher learning devoted to this subject.

The founding of the Institute is somewhat controversial, since at the time only a minority are successfully completing elementary education, and university education is for the privileged. By this reasoning, the creation of a high-level research institute is a waste of scarce resources. However, Éamon de Valera is aware of the great symbolic importance such a body would have on the international stage for Ireland. This thinking influences much of de Valera’s premiership.

Work by the Geophysics section of the School of Cosmic Physics on the formation of the North Atlantic demonstrates that the Irish continental shelf extends much further than previously thought, thereby more than doubling the area of the seabed over which Ireland can claim economic exploitation rights under the international law of the sea. Fundamental work in statistical mechanics by the School of Theoretical Physics finds application in computer switching technology and leads to the establishment of an Irish campus company to exploit this intellectual property. The Institute has also in recent years been one of the main agents helping to set up a modern e-Infrastructure in support of all Irish research.

In 1968 the Royal Society recognises de Valera’s contribution to science in establishing the Institute by electing him to honorary fellowship.

Currently the Institute has its schools located at three premises on the Southside of Dublin at 10 Burlington Road, 31 Fitzwilliam Place and 5 Merrion Square. It also maintains a presence at Dunsink Observatory in north County Dublin.

(Pictured: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies School of Theoretical Physics, 10 Burlington Road, Dublin)

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Birth of Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander, Cryptanalyst & Chess Player

Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander, Irish-born British cryptanalyst, chess player, and chess writer, is born in Cork, County Cork, on April 19, 1909. He works on the German Enigma machine at Bletchley Park during World War II, and is later the head of the cryptanalysis division at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) for over 20 years. In chess, he twice wins the British Chess Championship and earns the title of International Master. He is usually referred to as C.H.O’D. Alexander in print and Hugh in person.

Alexander is born into an Anglo-Irish family, the eldest child of Conel William Long Alexander, an engineering professor at University College Cork (UCC), and Hilda Barbara Bennett. His father dies during the Irish War of Independence in 1920, and the family moves to Birmingham in England where he attends King Edward’s School. He wins a scholarship to study mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge, in 1928, graduating with a first in 1931. He represents the University of Cambridge in the Varsity chess matches of 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1932.

From 1932, Alexander teaches mathematics in Winchester and marries Enid Constance Crichton Neate on December 22, 1934. In 1938 he leaves teaching and becomes head of research at the John Lewis Partnership.

In February 1940 Alexander arrives at Bletchley Park, the British codebreaking centre during the World War II. He joins Hut 6, the section tasked with breaking German Army and Air Force Enigma messages. In 1941, he transfers to Hut 8, the corresponding hut working on Naval Enigma. He becomes deputy head of Hut 8 under Alan Turing and formally becomes the head of Hut 8 in November 1942. In October 1944, Alexander is transferred to work on the Japanese JN-25 code.

In mid-1946, Alexander joins GCHQ, which is the post-war successor organisation to the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park. By 1949, he has been promoted to the head of “Section H” (cryptanalysis), a post he retains until his retirement in 1971.

Alexander is twice a winner of the British Chess Championship, in 1938 and 1956. He represents England in the Chess Olympiad six times, in 1933, 1935, 1937, 1939, 1954 and 1958. At the 1939 Olympiad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alexander has to leave part-way through the event, along with the rest of the English team, due to the declaration of World War II, as he is required at home for codebreaking duties. He is also the non-playing captain of England from 1964 to 1970. He is awarded the International Master title in 1950 and the International Master for Correspondence Chess title in 1970. He wins the Hastings International Chess Congress 1946/47 with the score 7½/9, a point ahead of Savielly Tartakower. His best tournament result may have been first equal Hastings 1953/54, where he goes undefeated and beats Soviet grandmasters David Bronstein and Alexander Tolush in individual games. He is also the chess columnist of The Sunday Times in the 1960s and 1970s.

Many knowledgeable chess people believe that Alexander had Grandmaster potential, had he been able to develop his chess abilities further. Many top players peak in their late twenties and early thirties, but for Alexander this stretch coincided with World War II, when high-level competitive opportunities were unavailable. After this, his professional responsibilities as a senior cryptanalyst limited his top-class appearances. He defeats Mikhail Botvinnik in one game of a team radio match against the Soviet Union in 1946, at a time when Botvinnik is probably the world’s top player. Alexander makes important theoretical contributions to the Dutch Defence and Petrov’s Defence.

Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander dies on February 15, 1974, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England.

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Birth of Arthur William Conway, UCD President

arthur-william-conwayArthur William Conway FRS, President of University College Dublin between 1940 and 1947, is born in Wexford on October 2, 1875.

Conway receives his early education at St. Peter’s College, Wexford and proceeds to enter old University College, Dublin in 1892. He receives his BA degree from the Royal University of Ireland in 1896 with honours in Latin, English, Mathematics, and Natural Philosophy. In 1897, he receives his MA degree with highest honours in mathematics and proceeds to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, becoming University Scholar there in 1901. Also in 1901, he is appointed to the professorship of Mathematical Physics in the old University College and holds the Chair until the creation of the new college in 1909. He also teaches for a short time at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Conway marries Agnes Christina Bingham on August 19, 1903. They have three daughters and one son.

One of Conway’s students is Éamon de Valera, whom he introduces to quaternions which originate in Ireland. De Valera warms to the subject and engages in research of this novelty of abstract algebra. Later, when de Valera becomes Taoiseach, he calls upon Conway while forming the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Conway is remembered for his application of biquaternion algebra to the special theory of relativity. He publishes an article in 1911, and in 1912 asserts priority over Ludwik Silberstein, who also applies biquaternions to relativity. This claim is backed up by George Temple in his book 100 Years of Mathematics. In 1947 Conway puts quaternions to use with rotations in hyperbolic space. The next year he publishes quantum mechanics applications which are referred to in a PhD thesis by Joachim Lambek in 1950.

In 1918, Conway is the Irish Parliamentary Party candidate in South Londonderry and in the National University of Ireland, coming in second in both.

Conway continues his scholarship in the field of mathematics and theoretical physics, and makes a special study of William Rowan Hamilton. With John Lighton Synge, he edits the first volume of Hamilton’s mathematical papers and, with A. J. McConnell, he edits the second volume of Hamilton’s mathematical papers. Conway is also active in college life, being appointed Registrar, a position he occupies until his election as president in 1940. He retires in 1947 from the presidency of UCD. In 1953, some of his writings are edited by J. McConnell for publication by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

He is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy from 1937 to 1940.