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


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Birth of John Kyan, Inventor in Wood Preservation

kyans-patentJohn Howard Kyan, inventor of the ‘kyanising’ process for preserving wood, is born on November 27, 1774 in Dublin. His father, also John Howard Kyan, is the owner of valuable copper mines in County Wicklow. He is educated to take part in the management of the mines, but soon after he enters the company its fortunes decline, and in 1804 his father dies almost penniless.

For a time Kyan is employed at some vinegar works at Newcastle upon Tyne, but subsequently removes to London. The decay of the timber supports in his father’s copper mines had already directed his attention to the question of preserving wood, and as early as 1812 he begins experiments with a view to discovering a method of preventing the decay. Eventually he finds that bichloride of mercury or corrosive sublimate, as it is commonly called, gives the best results and, without revealing the nature of the process, he submits a block of oak impregnated with the substance to the Admiralty in 1828. It is placed in the ‘fungus pit’ at Woolwich, where it remains for three years exposed to all the conditions favourable to decay. When taken out in 1831, it is found to be perfectly sound, and after further trials it still remains unaffected.

Kyan patents his discovery in 1832 (Nos. 8263 and 6309), extending the application of the invention to the preservation of paper, canvas, cloth, cordage, etc. A further patent is granted in 1836 (No. 7001).

The process attracts great attention. Michael Faraday chooses it as the subject of his inaugural lecture at the Royal Institution on February 22, 1833, on his appointment as Fullerian professor of chemistry. Dr. George Birkbeck gives a lecture upon it at the Royal Society of Arts on December 9, 1834, and in 1835 the Admiralty publishes the report of a committee appointed by the board to inquire into the value of the new method.

In 1836, Kyan sells his rights to the Anti-Dry Rot Company, an Act of Parliament being passed which authorises the raising of a capital of £250,000. Tanks are constructed at Grosvenor Basin, Pimlico, at the Grand Surrey Canal Dock, Rotherhide, and at the City Road Basin.

Among the early applications of the process is the kyanising of the palings around the Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, which is carried out in 1835 as an advertisement with small brass plates being attached to the palings at intervals stating that the wood has been submitted to the new process. The plates soon disappear, but the original palings still remain in good condition.

The timber used in building the Oxford and Cambridge Club, British Museum, Royal College of Surgeons, Westminster Bridewell, the new roof of the Temple Church, and the Ramsgate harbour works is also prepared by Kyan’s process. When wooden railway ties become general, a very profitable business for Kyan’s company is anticipated, and for a time these hopes are realised.

It becomes evident that iron fastenings cannot be used in wood treated with corrosive sublimate, on account of the corrosive action, and it is said that the wood becomes brittle. The salt is somewhat expensive and Sir William Burnett‘s method of preserving timber by zinc chloride, and afterwards the application of creosote for that purpose, proves severe competitors. Doubts begin to be expressed as to the real efficiency of kyanising, and the process gradually ceases to be employed.

John Kyan dies on January 5, 1850 in New York City, where he is engaged on a plan for filtering the water supplied to that city by the Croton Aqueduct.


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Formation of the Irish Citizen Army

The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) is formed on November 23, 1913, at the height of the Dublin Lockout. Its purpose is to enable the locked-out men to defend themselves in clashes with the Dublin Metropolitan Police and to counteract the demoralizing effects of unemployment by providing discipline, cohesion and purpose. The idea of forming a force apparently is first formally proposed in 1913 by Captain James Robert “Jack” White, an ex-army officer from County Antrim, who had been educated at Winchester College and Royal Military College, Sandhurst. During a speech in August, James Larkin had already suggested that the workers form a force. He publicly repeats this instruction on November 13. James Connolly likewise urges the men to train “as they are doing in Ulster.” Two weeks later drilling begins. According to the ICA constitution, its members are to “work for an Irish republic and for the emancipation of labour.” Larkin is anxious that those who enlist should not only espouse these principles but also be members of unions recognised by the Irish Trades Union Congress.

Despite competition from the Irish Volunteers, which launches on November 25, 1913, ICA membership quickly surpasses 1,000. However, after the dispute is over in January 1914 and the men return to work, the “army” all but disappears. But it is Connolly above all who, after his appointment as its commandant and as leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, rescues it from terminal decline and welds it into a potent force and potential weapon for his own use. He determines its structure, vets its officers and imposes a rigid discipline. He also demands an ideological commitment to revolution and the goal of an independent Irish socialist republic. The force’s guiding principle is that “the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested by right in the people of Ireland.” Its membership remains small but it is otherwise superior to the much larger Irish Volunteers in its unity of purpose, lack of factional and ideological division and in the quality of its training.

After the outbreak of World War I, Connolly has become increasingly committed to fomenting an insurrection in Ireland. This is reflected in his military preparations with the ICA. He uses its headquarters, Liberty Hall, as his base. Fearing he might act on his own, and recognising the merits of collaboration, the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council informs him of their own clandestine plans for a rising and an agreement is reached.

During Easter week of 1916, 219 ICA men fight alongside over 1,300 from the Irish Volunteers. As the appointed leader of both forces in Dublin, Connolly skillfully ensures that the ideological and social divisions and personality clashes, which have hitherto blighted their relationship, are largely overcome. ICA forces are mainly concentrated at the General Post Office (GPO), the College of Surgeons and Dublin’s City Hall. They win volunteer admiration for their professionalism, dedication, and ruthlessness. Two of their leaders are subsequently executed – Connolly and Michael Mallin, the ICA Chief of Staff. Constance Markievicz, Mallin`s second-in command, is reprieved. Others are imprisoned or interned. The ICA is not revived after the insurrection. The new leadership of the ITGWU focuses instead on building up the union, safeguarding members’ wages and improving working conditions.


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Executions of Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, & Con Colbert

colbert-ceannt-mallin-heustonIrish patriots Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, and Cornelius “Con” Colbert are executed by firing squad in the Stonebreakers Yard at Kilmainham Gaol on May 8, 1916, as the executions following the 1916 Easter Rising continue.

Éamonn Ceannt, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, is born in Ballymoe, Glenamaddy in County Galway in 1881. Prior to the Rising, Ceannt is an employee of the Dublin Corporation. He is a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers, partaking in the successful Howth gun-running operation of 1914. His involvement in republican activities is complemented by his interest in Irish culture, specifically Irish language and history, although he is also an accomplished uilleann piper. Ceannt is appointed Director of Communications of the Provisional Government and is Commandant of the Fourth Battalion of the Irish Volunteers, who are stationed at the South Dublin Union, now the site of St. James’ Hospital. Ceannt has about 100 men with him, including his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W.T. Cosgrave who goes on later to become Taoiseach. Ceannt and his men at the South Dublin Union take part in some of the fiercest fighting in the rebellion and hold out against far superior numbers of British troops.

Michael Mallin, a silk weaver by trade, is born in Dublin on December 1, 1874. Mallin is the Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), second in command only to James Connolly. He trains and drills the ICA, and is the Commandant of the St. Stephen’s Green Royal College of Surgeons garrison during the Rising. Countess Markievicz is his second in command. This location sees less action than some of the other sites chosen by the rebels because the British concentrate their efforts on the most strategically important targets such as the General Post Office (GPO) and Four Courts. Mallin surrenders on April 30.

Seán Heuston, born in Dublin on February 21, 1891, is responsible for the organisation of Fianna Éireann in Limerick. Along with Con Colbert, Heuston is involved in the education of the schoolboys at Scoil Éanna, organising drill and musketry exercises. Heuston is the Officer Commanding of the Volunteers in the Mendicity Institution on the south side of Dublin. With 26 Volunteers under his command, they hold their position for two days. With his position becoming untenable against considerable numbers, and the building almost completely surrounded, Heuston sends a dispatch to Connolly informing him of their position. It is soon after sending this dispatch that Heuston decides to surrender. Heuston Railway Station in Dublin is named after him.

Con Colbert is born on October 19, 1888, at Monalena in Limerick, and is one of the younger generation of Irish republicans who take part in the Easter Rising. Prior to the Easter Rising he is an active member of the republican movement. He is one of the founding members of Fianna Éireann. A dedicated pioneer, Colbert is known not to drink or smoke. During the Rising, Colbert is the commander of a group of Volunteers stationed at Watkin’s Brewery on Ardee Street, and later at Jameson’s Distillery on Marrowbone Lane. They hold their position until receiving the order to surrender from Patrick Pearse.