seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Thomas Romney Robinson, Astronomer & Physicist

Reverend John Thomas Romney Robinson, 19th-century astronomer and physicist usually referred to as Thomas Romney Robinson, was born at St. Anne’s in Dublin on April 23, 1792. He is the longtime director of the Armagh Observatory, one of the chief astronomical observatories in the United Kingdom at the time. He is remembered as the inventor in 1846 of the Robinson 4-cup anemometer, a device for measuring the speed of the wind.

Robinson is the son of the English portrait painter Thomas Robinson (d.1810) and his wife, Ruth Buck (d.1826). He is educated at Belfast Academy then studies Divinity at Trinity College Dublin, where he is elected a Scholar in 1808, graduating BA in 1810 and obtaining a fellowship in 1814, at the age of 22. He is for some years a deputy professor of natural philosophy (physics) at Trinity.

In 1823, at the age of 30, Robinson gains the appointment of astronomer at the Armagh Observatory. From this point on he always resides at the Armagh Observatory, engaged in researches connected with astronomy and physics, until his death in 1882. Having also been ordained as an Anglican priest while at Trinity, he obtains the church livings of the Anglican Church at Enniskillen and at Carrickmacross in 1824.

During the 1840s and 1850s Robinson is a frequent visitor to the world’s most powerful telescope of that era, the so-called Leviathan of Parsonstown telescope, which had been built by Robinson’s friend and colleague William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse. He is active with Parsons in interpreting the higher-resolution views of the night sky produced by Parsons’ telescope, particularly with regard to the galaxies and nebulae and he publishes leading-edge research reports on the question.

Back at his own observatory in Armagh, Robinson compiles a large catalogue of stars and writes many related reports. In 1862 he is awarded a Royal Medal “for the Armagh catalogue of 5345 stars, deduced from observations made at the Armagh Observatory, from the years 1820 up to 1854; for his papers on the construction of astronomical instruments in the memoirs of the Astronomical Society, and his paper on electromagnets in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy.”

Robinson is president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1851 to 1856, and is a long-time active organiser in the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a friend of Charles Babbage, who says was “indebted” for having reminded him about the first time he came up with the idea of the calculating machine.

Robinson marries twice, first to Eliza Isabelle Rambaut (d.1839) and secondly to Lucy Jane Edgeworth (1806–1897), the lifelong disabled daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth. His daughter marries the physicist George Gabriel Stokes. Stokes frequently visits Robinson in Armagh in Robinson’s later years.

Robinson dies in Armagh, County Armagh at the age of 89 on February 28, 1882.

The crater Robinson on the Moon is named in his honour.


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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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Shaw’s “Too True to Be Good” Premieres in New York City

george-bernard-shaw-2Too True to Be Good (1932), a comedy written by playwright George Bernard Shaw premieres at the Guild Theatre in New York City on April 4, 1932. Subtitled “A Collection of Stage Sermons by a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature,” it moves from surreal allegory to the “stage sermons” in which characters discuss political, scientific and other developments of the day. The second act of the play contains a character, Private Napoleon Meek, based on Shaw’s friend T. E. Lawrence.

The play explicitly deals with the existential crisis that hit Europe after the end of World War I, especially the emergence of a “modernist” culture fueled by uncertainties created by Freudian psychology and Albert Einstein‘s new physics. The whole of the second and third acts of the play have often been interpreted as a dream of escape occurring in the mind of the feverish Patient (hence the talking Microbe‘s comment that the “real” action is over), and the Patient repeatedly says that what is happening is a dream.

The play is an early example of the formal experimentation with allegory and the absurd that become a feature of Shaw’s later work, having much in common with the later play The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles, which is also set in an obscure island at the edge of the British Empire. Its absurdist elements later lead to its being viewed as a precursor to the work of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.

The idea that microbes, specifically bacteria, are somehow made sick by human illnesses is a belief that Shaw repeatedly promotes, claiming that disease produces mutations in bacteria, misleading doctors into the belief that “germs” cause disease. The play dramatises his theory that life-energy itself cures illness.

The play is first staged on Monday, February 29, 1932, at Boston‘s Colonial Theatre, by the Theatre Guild. After the April performance in New York it is followed in the same year by a production in Malvern, Worcestershire starring Beatrice Lillie, Claude Rains, and Leo G. Carroll.

The play receives a Broadway revival in 1963, directed by Albert Marre and starring Robert Preston, Lillian Gish, David Wayne, Cedric Hardwicke, Cyril Ritchard, Glynis Johns, and Eileen Heckart. This production features incidental music by Mitch Leigh, who later works with Marre on Man of La Mancha. It has also been presented at the Shaw Festival four times: in 1974, 1982, 1994, and 2006.


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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 Poet Thomas Kinsella

thomas-kinsellaThomas Kinsella, poet whose sensitive lyrics deal with primal aspects of the human experience, often in a specifically Irish context, is born in Inchicore, Dublin on May 4, 1928.

Kinsella spends most of his childhood in the Kilmainham/Inchicore area of Dublin. He is educated at the Model School, Inchicore, where classes are taught in Irish Gaelic, and at the O’Connell School in North Richmond Street, Dublin. He acquires a series of grants and scholarships that allow him to attend University College Dublin, where he studies physics and chemistry before receiving a degree in public administration.

Kinsella begins serving in the Irish civil service in 1946, and in the early 1950s he meets Liam Miller, the founder of Dolman Press, which publishes much of Kinsella’s poetry beginning in 1952. Among these publications are Poems (1956), his first volume of collected work, Another September (1958), which contains poems that explore the imposition of existential order through various forms, be they natural or products of the poet’s imagination and Downstream (1962), a collection focusing on war and political and social disruption in modern Ireland.

In 1965 Kinsella leaves the Irish civil service and takes a position as a writer in residence at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (1965–70). During this time he publishes Nightwalker, and Other Poems (1967), a sombre collection ruminating on Ireland’s past and turbulent present. His translation of the ancient Gaelic saga The Cattle Raid of Cooley (Táin bó Cuailnge) is published in 1969, and the following year he begins teaching at Temple University in Philadelphia. New Poems 1956–73 (1973) and One, and Other Poems (1979) skillfully extend the themes of love, death, and rejuvenation.

Kinsella founds his own publishing company, the Peppercanister Press, in Dublin in 1972, which allows him to publish pamphlets and individual poems in limited editions without relying on submissions to journals or magazines. His first poem to be published through his press is Butcher’s Dozen (1972), about Bloody Sunday, in which 13 demonstrators are killed by British troops in Derry, Northern Ireland, and the ensuing tribunal. Blood & Family (1988) combines four short collections of prose and verse originally published individually through Peppercanister, and Godhead (1999) explores the Trinity in the light of contemporary society. Later works published through Peppercanister include Marginal Economy (2006), Man of War (2007), and Belief and Unbelief (2007). Numerous collections of his poems have been released, including Collected Poems, 1956–2001 (2001) and Selected Poems (2007).

In December 2018, Kinsella is awarded Doctor in Littoris, Honoris Causa, by Trinity College Dublin.


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Patrick Francis Healy Becomes President of Georgetown University

Patrick Francis Healy, Jesuit priest and educator, becomes the 29th President of Georgetown University on July 31, 1874. He is known for expanding the school following the American Civil War. Healy Hall is constructed during his tenure and is named after him. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark in the late 20th century.

Healy is born into slavery in 1834 in Macon, Georgia, the third son of Irish American plantation owner Michael Healy and his African American slave Mary Eliza, who is the multiracial daughter of a black slave and white slaveowner. The law establishes during colonial slavery in the United States that children are to take the legal status of the mother. By the principle of partus sequitur ventrum, Patrick and his siblings are legally considered slaves in Georgia, although their father is free and they are three-quarters or more European in ancestry.

Discriminatory laws in Georgia prohibit the education of slaves and require legislative approval for each act of manumission, making these essentially impossible to gain. Michael Healy arranges for all his children to leave Georgia and move to the North to obtain their educations and have opportunities in their lives. They are raised as Irish Catholics. Patrick’s brothers and sisters are nearly all educated in Catholic schools and colleges. Many achieve notable firsts for Americans of mixed-race ancestry during the second half of the 19th century, and the Healy family of Georgia is remarkably successful.

Healy sends his older sons first to a Quaker school in Flushing, New York. Despite the Quakers’ emphasis on equality, Patrick encounters some discrimination during his grade school years, chiefly because his father is a slaveholder, which by the late antebellum years the Quakers consider unforgivable. Patrick also meets resistance in the school as an Irish Catholic. When Michael Healy hears of a new Jesuit college, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, he sends his four oldest sons, including Patrick, to study there in 1844. They are joined at Holy Cross by their younger brother Michael in 1849.

Following Patrick’s graduation in 1850, he enters the Jesuit order, the first African American to do so, and continues his studies. The order sends him to Europe to study in 1858. His mixed-race ancestry has become an issue in the United States, where tensions are rising over slavery. He attends the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, earning his doctorate, becoming the first American of openly acknowledged part-African descent to do so. During this period he is also ordained to the priesthood on September 3, 1864.

In 1866 Healy returns to the United States and teaches philosophy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. On July 31, 1874, he is selected as the school’s twenty-ninth president. He is the first college president in the United States of African-American ancestry. At the time, he identifies as Irish Catholic and is accepted as such.

Patrick Healy’s influence on Georgetown is so far-reaching that he is often referred to as the school’s “second founder,” following Archbishop John Carroll. Healy helps transform the small nineteenth-century college into a major university for the twentieth century, likely influenced by his European education.

He modernizes the curriculum by requiring courses in the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics. He expands and upgrades the schools of law and medicine. The most visible result of Healy’s presidency is the construction of the university’s flagship building designed by Paul J. Pelz, begun in 1877 and first used in 1881. The building is named in his honor as Healy Hall.

Healy leaves the College in 1882 and travels extensively through the United States and Europe, often in the company of his brother James, a bishop in Maine. In 1908 he returns to the campus infirmary, where he dies on January 10, 1910. He is buried on the grounds of the university in the Jesuit cemetery.


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Birth of Physicist & Engineer William Thomson

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, Scots-Irish mathematical physicist and engineer, is born in Belfast on June 26, 1824.

At the University of Glasgow he does important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and does much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form. He works closely with mathematics professor Hugh Blackburn in his work. He also has a career as an electrical telegraph engineer and inventor, which propels him into the public eye and ensures his wealth, fame and honour. For his work on the transatlantic telegraph project he is knighted in 1866 by Queen Victoria, becoming Sir William Thomson. He has extensive maritime interests and is most noted for his work on the mariner’s compass, which had previously been limited in reliability.

Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honour. While the existence of a lower limit to temperature (absolute zero) is known prior to his work, Thomson is widely known for determining its correct value as approximately −273.15 degree Celsius or −459.67 degree Fahrenheit.

Thomson is ennobled in 1892 in recognition of his achievements in thermodynamics, and of his opposition to Irish Home Rule, becoming Baron Kelvin, of Largs in the County of Ayr. He is the first British scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords. The title refers to the River Kelvin, which flows close by his laboratory at the University of Glasgow. His home is the imposing red sandstone mansion Netherhall, in Largs. Despite offers of elevated posts from several world-renowned universities, Thomson refuses to leave Glasgow, remaining Professor of Natural Philosophy for over 50 years, until his eventual retirement from that post. The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow has a permanent exhibition on the work of Thomson including many of his original papers, instruments and other artifacts such as his smoking pipe.

Always active in industrial research and development, he is recruited around 1899 by George Eastman to serve as vice-chairman of the board of the British company Kodak Limited, affiliated with Eastman Kodak.

In November 1907 he catches a chill and his condition deteriorates until he dies at his Scottish residence, Netherhall, in Largs on December 17.

Lord Kelvin is an elder of St. Columba’s Parish Church (Church of Scotland) in Largs for many years. It is to that church that his remains are taken after his death. Following the funeral service, his body is taken to Bute Hall in his beloved University of Glasgow for a service of remembrance before being taken to London for interment at Westminster Abbey, near the final resting place of Sir Isaac Newton.


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Birth of Actor Liam Neeson

Actor Liam John Neeson is born on June 7, 1952 in Ballymena, County Antrim. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Neeson is named Liam after the local priest. He says growing up as a Catholic in a predominately Protestant town made him cautious. At age nine, he begins boxing lessons at the All Saints Youth Club and later becomes Ulster’s amateur senior boxing champion.

Neeson first steps on stage at age eleven after his English teacher offers him the lead role in a school play, which he accepts because the girl he is attracted to is starring in it. He continues to act in school productions over the following years.

Neeson’s interest in acting and decision to become an actor is also influenced by minister Ian Paisley, into whose Free Presbyterian church Neeson would sneak. Neeson says of Paisley, “He had a magnificent presence and it was incredible to watch him just Bible-thumping away… it was acting, but it was also great acting and stirring too.”

In 1971, Neeson is enrolled as a physics and computer science student at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, before leaving to work for the Guinness Brewery. At Queen’s, he discovers a talent for football and is spotted by Seán Thomas at Bohemian F.C. There is a club trial in Dublin and Neeson plays one game as a substitute against Shamrock Rovers F.C., but is not offered a contract.

In 1976, Neeson joins the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast for two years. He then acts in the Arthurian film, Excalibur (1981), alongside Helen Mirren. Between 1982 and 1987, he stars in five films, most notably alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty (1984) and Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission (1986). He lands a leading role alongside Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin (1989).

Neeson rises to prominence when he stars in the title role in Steven Spielberg‘s 1993 Oscar winner Schindler’s List. He has since starred in other successful films, including the title role in the historical biopic Michael Collins (1996), the film adaptation of Victor Hugo‘s 1862 novel Les Misérables (1998), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace as Qui-Gon Jinn (1999), the biographical drama Kinsey (2004), the superhero film Batman Begins as Ra’s al Ghul (2005), the action thriller series Taken (2008–2014), the fantasy adventure film Clash of the Titans (2010) as Zeus, the fantasy films in The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005–2010) as Aslan, and the thriller-survival film The Grey (2011). In 2016 he narrates the RTÉ One three-part documentary on the Easter Rising, 1916.

Neeson has been nominated for a number of awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. Empire magazine ranks Neeson among both the “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History” and “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time.”