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


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Birth of Cornelius Denvir, Mathematician & Lord Bishop of Down and Connor

Cornelius Denvir, Roman Catholic Prelate, mathematician, natural philosopher and Lord Bishop of Down and Connor, is born on August 13, 1791, at Ballyculter, County Down. He is noted for ministering in Belfast amidst growing sectarian tension, taking a moderate and non-confrontational stance, to the annoyance of his pro-Catholic followers. He is also a professor at Maynooth College as well as Down and Connor Diocesan College, and is active in the local scientific community.

Denvir is educated at Dr. Nelson’s Classical School in Downpatrick, being described by peers as an enthusiastic child with a love for sight-seeing. According to one biographer, young Denvir also shows interest in the catechism by attending local visits from the then Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr. Patrick MacMullan, who is resident in Downpatrick. In September 1808, he enrolls at Maynooth College, and is appointed chair of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics there in August 1813.

As chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at Maynooth College, Denvir is noted for changing the style of education at the college from pure logic-based reasoning in Mathematics to a more holistic, topical approach. He is also noted for emphasising experimentation and the importance of the scientific method in teaching natural philosophy, with several sources noting his well-stocked labs.

While at Maynooth College Denvir teaches both Nicholas Callan, the inventor and physicist, and Dominic Corrigan, the noted Irish physician. According to several accounts, both speak fondly of their old professor, to the point of Callan gifting Denvir one of his induction coils in thanks.

Denvir is ordained first as deacon in June 1813, then a priest in May 1814, performing his liturgical duties in conjunction with his academic ones. In 1826, he leaves Maynooth College to become the parish priest of Downpatrick. In 1833 he becomes a professor at the newly founded St. Malachy’s College, teaching classes in Latin, Greek and Mathematics. He continues his duties as parish priest and professor until 1835, when he is appointed Bishop of Down and Connor in succession to Dr. William Crolly.

As 22nd Lord Bishop of Down and Connor, Denvir emphasises the teaching of the Catechism to youth as well as emphasising the importance of scripture to the diocese. In 1841 he helps fund the start of construction of St. Malachy’s Church in Belfast, which is completed in 1845. In his later years, he falls under criticism by other Belfast Catholics, who claim he is neglectful of his duties, especially those relating to expanding and defending Catholicism in the face of growing Protestant influence. Some accounts attribute his shortcomings to poor health and temperament, while others suggest that he backs away from expansion to avoid conflict with Protestant groups.

Denvir suffers from personal finance problems during his time as Bishop. The construction of St. Malachy’s Church puts him into deep personal debt, which he is apparently arrested for some time after 1844. He is also criticised for selling seats in the newly constructed church to offset costs. He is also described as reluctant in asking for funds from parishioners, severely limiting his resources with which to care for the church.

Denvir is appointed Commissioner of National Education in 1853. He is noted for being supportive of non-denominational education and investigating reports of proselytism in public primary education. He later resigns this position in 1857 on request of the Holy See to focus on expanding the local Catholic school system.

In 1860, after years of illness compounded by age, Denvir is assigned Dr. Patrick Dorrian as a coadjutor bishop to assist in his episcopal duties. While ill health is said to be the predominant reason for the appointment of a coadjutor, contemporary newspaper accounts suggest there also might be an ideological reason for the appointment. In The Spectator it is noted in December 1859 “it may be, because he is too liberal for the Cullen epoch.”

In May 1865, Denvir resigns as Bishop and is succeeded by Dorrian. He dies one year later on July 10, 1866, in his residence on Donegall St., after suffering from fainting fits a few days prior. He is buried in Ballycruttle Church.


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Birth of Nicholas Joseph Callan, Priest & Scientist

Father Nicholas Joseph Callan, Irish priest and scientist, is born on December 22, 1799, in Darver, County Louth. He is Professor of Natural Philosophy in Maynooth College in Maynooth, County Kildare from 1834, and is best known for his work on the induction coil.

Callan attends school at an academy in Dundalk. His local parish priest, Father Andrew Levins, then takes him in hand as an altar boy and Mass server, and sees him start the priesthood at Navan seminary. He enters Maynooth College in 1816. In his third year at Maynooth, he studies natural and experimental philosophy under Dr. Cornelius Denvir. He introduces the experimental method into his teaching, and has an interest in electricity and magnetism.

Callan is ordained a priest in 1823 and goes to Rome to study at Sapienza University, obtaining a doctorate in divinity in 1826. While in Rome he becomes acquainted with the work of the pioneers in electricity such as Luigi Galvani (1737–1798), who is a pioneer in bioelectricity, and Alessandro Volta (1745–1827), who is known especially for the development of the electric battery. In 1826, he returns to Maynooth as the new Professor of Natural Philosophy (now called physics), where he also begins working with electricity in his basement laboratory at the college.

Influenced by William Sturgeon and Michael Faraday, Callan begins work on the idea of the induction coil in 1834. He invents the first induction coil in 1836. An induction coil produces an intermittent high voltage alternating current from a low voltage direct current supply. It has a primary coil consisting of a few turns of thick wire wound around an iron core and subjected to a low voltage (usually from a battery). Wound on top of this is a secondary coil made up of many turns of thin wire. An iron armature and make-and-break mechanism repeatedly interrupts the current to the primary coil, producing a high voltage, rapidly alternating current in the secondary circuit.

Callan invents the induction coil because he needs to generate a higher level of electricity than currently available. He takes a bar of soft iron, about 2 feet long, and wraps it around with two lengths of copper wire, each about 200 feet long. He connects the beginning of the first coil to the beginning of the second. Finally, he connects a battery, much smaller than the enormous contrivance just described, to the beginning and end of winding one. He finds that when the battery contact is broken, a shock can be felt between the first terminal of the first coil and the second terminal of the second coil.

Further experimentation shows how the coil device can bring the shock from a small battery up the strength level of a big battery. So Callan tries making a bigger coil. With a battery of only 14 seven-inch plates, the device produces power enough for an electric shock “so strong that a person who took it felt the effects of it for several days.” He thinks of his creation as a kind of electromagnet, but what he actually makes is a primitive induction transformer.

Callan’s induction coil also uses an interrupter that consists of a rocking wire that repeatedly dips into a small cup of mercury (similar to the interrupters used by Charles Grafton Page). Because of the action of the interrupter, which can make and break the current going into the coil, he calls his device the “repeater.” Actually, this device is the world’s first transformer. He induces a high voltage in the second wire, starting with a low voltage in the adjacent first wire. The faster he interrupts the current, the bigger the spark. In 1837 he produces his giant induction machine using a mechanism from a clock to interrupt the current 20 times a second. It generates 15-inch sparks, an estimated 60,000 volts and the largest artificial bolt of electricity then seen.

Callan experiments with designing batteries after he finds the models available to him at the time to be insufficient for research in electromagnetism. Some previous batteries had used rare metals such as platinum or unresponsive materials like carbon and zinc. He finds that he can use inexpensive cast iron instead of platinum or carbon. For his Maynooth battery he uses iron casting for the outer casing and places a zinc plate in a porous pot (a pot that had an inside and outside chamber for holding two different types of acid) in the centre. Using a single fluid cell he disposes of the porous pot and two different fluids. He is able to build a battery with just a single solution.

While experimenting with batteries, Callan also builds the world’s largest battery at that time. To construct this battery, he joins together 577 individual batteries (“cells“), which use over 30 gallons of acid. Since instruments for measuring current or voltages have not yet been invented, he measures the strength of a battery by measuring how much weight his electromagnet can lift when powered by the battery. Using his giant battery, his electromagnet lifts 2 tons. The Maynooth battery goes into commercial production in London. He also discovers an early form of galvanisation to protect iron from rusting when he is experimenting on battery design, and he patents the idea.

Callan dies at the age of 64 in Maynooth, County Kildare, on January 10, 1864. He is buried in the cemetery in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

The Callan Building on the north campus of NUI Maynooth, a university which is part of St. Patrick’s College until 1997, is named in his honour. In addition, Callan Hall in the south campus, is used through the 1990s for first year science lectures including experimental & mathematical physics, chemistry and biology. The Nicholas Callan Memorial Prize is an annual prize awarded to the best final year student in Experimental Physics.


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Death of Cardinal Michael Logue

Michael Logue, Irish prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, dies in Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on November 19, 1924. He serves as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1887 until his death. He is created a cardinal in 1893.

Logue is born in Kilmacrennan, County Donegal in the west of Ulster on October 1, 1840. He is the son of Michael Logue, a blacksmith, and Catherine Durning. From 1857 to 1866, he studies at Maynooth College, where his intelligence earns him the nickname the “Northern Star.” Before his ordination to the priesthood, he is assigned by the Irish bishops as the chair of both theology and belles-lettres at the Irish College in Paris in 1866. He is ordained priest in December of that year.

Logue remains on the faculty of the Irish College until 1874, when he returns to Donegal as administrator of a parish in Letterkenny. In 1876, he joins the staff of Maynooth College as professor of Dogmatic Theology and Irish language, as well as the post of dean.

On May 13, 1879, Logue is appointed Bishop of Raphoe by Pope Leo XIII. He receives his episcopal consecration on the following July 20 from Archbishop Daniel McGettigan, with Bishops James Donnelly and Francis Kelly serving as co-consecrators, at the pro-cathedral of Raphoe. He is involved in fundraising to help people during the 1879 Irish famine, which, due to major donations of food and government intervention never develops into a major famine. He takes advantage of the Intermediate Act of 1878 to enlarge the Catholic high school in Letterkenny. He is also heavily involved in the Irish temperance movement to discourage the consumption of alcohol.

On April 18, 1887 Logue is appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh and Titular Archbishop of Anazarbus. Upon the death of Archbishop MacGettigan, he succeeds him as Archbishop of Armagh, and thus Primate of All Ireland, on December 3 of that year. He is created Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Pace by Pope Leo XIII in the papal consistory of January 19, 1893.

Logue thus becomes the first archbishop of Armagh to be elevated to the College of Cardinals. He participates in the 1903, 1914, and 1922 conclaves that elect popes Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XI respectively. He takes over the completion of the Victorian gothic St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. The new cathedral, which towers over Armagh, is dedicated on July 24, 1904.

Logue publicly supports the principle of Irish Home Rule throughout his long reign in both Raphoe and Armagh, though he is often wary of the motives of individual politicians articulating that political position. He maintains a loyal attitude to the British Crown during World War I, and on June 19, 1917, when numbers of the younger clergy are beginning to take part in the Sinn Féin agitation, he issues an “instruction” calling attention to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church as to the obedience due to legitimate authority, warning the clergy against belonging to “dangerous associations,” and reminding priests that it is strictly forbidden by the statutes of the National Synod to speak of political or kindred affairs in the church.

In 1918, however, Logue places himself at the head of the opposition to the extension of the Military Service Act of 1916 to Ireland, in the midst of the Conscription Crisis of 1918. Bishops assess that priests are permitted to denounce conscription on the grounds that the question is not political but moral. He also involves himself in politics for the 1918 Irish general election, when he arranges an electoral pact between the Irish Parliamentary Party and Sinn Féin in three constituencies in Ulster, and chooses a Sinn Féin candidate in South Fermanagh – the imprisoned Republican, Seán O’Mahony.

Logue opposes the campaign of murder against the police and military begun in 1919, and in his Lenten pastoral of 1921 he vigorously denounces murder by whomsoever committed. This is accompanied by an almost equally vigorous attack on the methods and policy of the government. He endorses the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921.

In 1921, the death of Cardinal James Gibbons makes Logue archpriest (protoprete) of the College of Cardinals. He is more politically conservative than Archbishop of Dublin William Joseph Walsh, which creates tension between Armagh and Dublin. In earlier life he was a keen student of nature and an excellent yachtsman.

Cardinal Michael Logue dies in Ara Coeli, the residence of the archbishop, on November 19, 1924 and is buried in a cemetery in the grounds of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.


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Birth of David Moriarty, Bishop & Pulpit Orator

david-moriartyDavid Moriarty, Irish Roman Catholic bishop and pulpit orator, is born in Ardfert, County Kerry on August 18, 1814.

Moriarty is the son of David Moriarty and Bridget Stokes. He receives his early education in a classical school of his native Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe, and later is sent to Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France. From there he passes to Maynooth College and, after a distinguished course in theology, is elected to the Dunboyne establishment, where he spends two years.

While yet a young priest Moriarty is chosen by the episcopal management of the Irish College in Paris, as vice-president of that institution, a position he occupies for about four years. So satisfactory is his work that, on the death of Father John Hand, he is appointed President of All Hallows College in Dublin, and for years guides, fashions, and makes effective the discipline and teaching of that well known institution. It is during this time he gives evidence of the noble oratory, so chaste, elevated, various and convincing, that has come to be associated with his name.

In 1854 Moriarty is appointed coadjutor, with the right of succession, to the bishopric of Ardfert and Aghadoe, as titular bishop of the Diocese of Antigonea. Two years later he succeeds to his native see. His work as bishop is testified to by several churches and schools, a diocesan college St. Brendan’s College, Killarney in 1860 and many conventual establishments. He finds time to conduct retreats for priests and his addresses which have come down to us under the title “Allocutions to the Clergy” are characterized by profound thought, expressed in an elevated and oratorical style.

In his political views Moriarty runs counter to much of the popular feeling of the time, and is a notable opponent of the Fenian organization, which he denounces strongly, particularly following the uprising in 1867 in his diocese where in an infamous sermon he attacks the Fenian leadership brandishing them criminals, swindlers and God’s heaviest curse. He also declares that “when we look down into the fathomless depth of this infamy of the heads of the Fenian conspiracy, we must acknowledge that eternity is not long enough, nor hell hot enough to punish such miscreants.” Despite this, however, he claims to admire Daniel O’Connell.

While most republicans attempt to work around the hostility of the high clergy of the Roman Church and the fire and brimstone rhetoric of the likes of Moriarty, out of sensitivity to the religious tendencies of the Irish majority, one Fenian by the name of John O’Neill, dares to fire back. O’Neill retorts, “It is better to be in hell with Fionn than in heaven with pale and flimsy angels.”

Moriarty’s principal works are “Allocutions to the Clergy” and two volumes of sermons.

David Moriarty dies on October 1, 1877.


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Birth of Joseph Shanahan, Bishop for Southern Nigeria

joseph-shanahanJoseph Ignatius Shanahan B.Sc., C.S.Sp., priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans), is born on June 6, 1871 in Glankeen, Borrisoleigh, County Tipperary. He serves as a bishop in Nigeria, first as prefect apostolic of Lower Niger and then as vicar apostolic of Southern Nigeria.

Shanahan joins the Holy Ghost Order in France in 1886, where his uncle Pat Walsh (Brother Adelm) had also joined the Holy Ghost Fathers. In 1889, he is transferred to the French Juniorate of the Congregation in Cellule in the Auvergne. He makes his profession on Easter Sunday 1898 and his ordination takes place on April 22, 1900 in the Blackrock College chapel.

By mid-July 1902, Shanahan has received his appointment for Nigeria to help Fr. Léon Lejeune make bricks to build the first proper mission house in Onitsha.

Shanahan is instrumental in the setting up of the Saint Patrick’s Society for the Foreign Missions, sometimes known as the Kiltegan Fathers, when in 1920, following his ordination in Maynooth as Bishop for Southern Nigeria (then a British protectorate), he appeals to students in Maynooth College for missionaries to Nigeria and Africa.

In 1924 Bishop Shanahan founds a missionary society for women, the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, in Killeshandra, County Cavan.

Bishop Shanahan dies at Nairobi, Kenya, on Christmas Day 1943 aged 72 years, and is initially buried in the community cemetery in St. Mary’s School in Nairobi. However, in January 1956 his remains are brought back to Nigeria for the “second burial” in the Cathedral Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha.

Always revered as a saint by those in close contact with him, Shanahan’s cause for Beatification is introduced officially on November 15, 1997 in Onitsha cathedral.