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 Nathaniel Hone the Elder

nathaniel-hone-the-elderNathaniel Hone the Elder, Irish-born portrait and miniature painter, and one of the founder members of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768, is born in Dublin on April 24, 1718.

The son of a Dublin-based Dutch merchant, Hone moves to England as a young man and, after marrying Molly Earle, daughter of the John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll, in 1742, eventually settles in London, by which time he has acquired a reputation as a portrait-painter. While his paintings are popular, his reputation is particularly enhanced by his skill at producing miniatures and enamels. He interrupts his time in London by spending two years (1750–52) studying in Italy.

As a portrait painter, several of Hone’s works are now held at the National Portrait Gallery in London. His sitters include magistrate Sir John Fielding and Methodist preacher John Wesley, and General Richard Wilford and Sir Levett Hanson in a double portrait. He often uses his son John Camillus Hone (1745-1836) in some of his works, including his unique portrait of “The Spartan Boy,” painted in 1774.

Hone courts controversy in 1775 when his satirical picture The Conjurer (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) is seen to attack the fashion for Italian Renaissance art and to ridicule Sir Joshua Reynolds, leading the Royal Academy to reject the painting. It also originally includes a nude caricature of fellow Academician Angelica Kauffman in the top left corner, which is painted out by Hone after Kauffman complains to the academy. The combination of a little girl and an old man has also been seen as symbolic of Kauffman and Reynolds’s closeness, age difference, and rumoured affair. To show that his reputation is undamaged, Hone organises a one-man retrospective in London, the first such solo exhibition of an artist’s work.

The Hone family is related to the old Dutch landed family the van Vianens, who hold the hereditary title of Vrijheer. His great-grand-nephew shares the same name and is also a notable Irish painter, known as Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831–1917). He is also a relation to painter Evie Hone.

Nathaniel Hone the Elder dies on August 14, 1784.

(Pictured: Self-portrait by Nathaniel Hone, circa 1760)


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Birth of Philip Embury, Methodist Preacher

Philip EmburyPhilip Embury, Methodist preacher and a leader of one of the earliest Methodist congregations in the United States, is born in Ballingrane, County Limerick on September 21, 1729.

Embury’s parents are members of the colony of Germans that emigrate from the Palatinate to Ireland early in the eighteenth century, and in which Methodism co-founder John Wesley labors with great success. The colony forms from refugees from the War of the Spanish Succession. Embury is educated at a school near Ballingrane and learns the carpentry trade. He is converted on Christmas day 1752, becomes a local preacher at Court-Matrix in 1758 and marries Margaret Switzer that fall.

In 1760, due to rising rents and scarce land, he goes to New York City and works as a school teacher. In common with his fellow emigrants, he begins to lose interest in religious matters and does not preach in New York until 1766 when, moved by the reproaches of his cousin Barbara Heck, sometimes called the “mother of American Methodism,” he begins to hold services first in his own house on Barrack Street, now Park Place, and then in a rigging loft on what is now William Street. The congregation thus forms what is probably the first Methodist congregation in the United States, though it is a disputed question whether precedence should not be given to Robert Strawbridge, who begins laboring in Maryland about this time. Before this, he and Barbara Heck worship along with other Irish Palatines at Trinity Church in Manhattan, where three of his children are baptized.

The first Methodist church is built under Embury’s charge in 1768, in association with Thomas Webb and others, on the site of the present John Street United Methodist Church. He himself works on the building as a carpenter and afterward preaches there gratuitously. In 1769, preachers sent out by John Wesley arrive in New York City, and Embury goes to work in the vicinity of Albany at Camden Valley, New York, where he continues to work at his trade during the week and preaches every Sunday. He and several others receive a grant of 8,000 acres to develop for the manufacture of linen. He organizes among Irish emigrants at Ashgrove, near Camden Valley, the first Methodist society within the bounds of what becomes the flourishing and influential Troy Conference.

Philip Embury dies suddenly in Camden, New York in August 1775, in consequence of an accident in mowing. He is buried on a neighboring farm but in 1832 his remains are removed to Ashgrove churchyard and in 1866 to Woodland cemetery, Cambridge, New York, where a monument to him is unveiled in 1873, with an address by Bishop Matthew Simpson.

(Pictured: Portrait of Philip Embury by John Barnes, Salem, 1773)