seamus dubhghaill

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


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Peter O’Connor Sets World Long Jump Record

peter-oconnorPeter O’Connor, Irish track and field athlete, sets a long-standing world long jump record of 24′ 11-3/4″ in Dublin on August 5, 1901. He also wins two Olympic medals in the 1906 Intercalated Games.

Born in Millom, Cumberland, England on October 24, 1872, O’Connor grows up in Wicklow, County Wicklow. He joins the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1896. In 1899 he wins All-Ireland medals in long jump, high jump and hop, step and jump (triple jump). Over the next ten years he consistently beats British athletes in international competitions. The Amateur Athletic Association of England invites him to represent Britain in the 1900 Summer Olympics but he refused as he only wishes to represent Ireland.

As of June 1900, the world record for the long jump is held by Myer Prinstein of Syracuse University, at 24′ 7-1/4″. In 1900 and 1901, competing with the Irish Amateur Athletic Association (IAAA), a rival association to the GAA, O’Connor sets several unofficial world records in the long jump. He sets an officially recognised world record of 24′ 9″ at the Royal Dublin Society’s grounds in Dublin on May 27, 1901. On August 5, 1901 he jumps 24′ 11-3/4″ in Dublin. This is the first IAAF-recognised long jump world record. It causes a sensation at the time, being only a fraction short of the 25-foot barrier, and remains unbeaten for 20 years, a longevity surpassed only by Jesse Owens‘s 25-year record and Bob Beamon‘s 23-year record. It remains an Irish record for a remarkable 89 years.

In 1906 O’Connor and two other athletes, Con Leahy and John Daly, are entered for the Intercalated Games in Athens by the IAAA and GAA, representing Ireland. However, the rules of the games are changed so that only athletes nominated by National Olympic Committees are eligible. Ireland does not have an Olympic Committee, and the British Olympic Council claims the three. On registering for the Games, O’Connor and his fellow athletes find that they are listed as Great Britain, not Irish, team members.

In the long jump competition, O’Connor finally meets Myer Prinstein of the Irish American Athletic Club who is competing for the U.S. team and whose world record O’Connor had broken five years previously. The only judge for the competition is Matthew Halpin, who is manager of the American team. O’Connor protests, fearing bias, but is overruled. He continues to protest Halpin’s decisions through the remainder of the competition. When the distances are announced at the end of the competition, Prinstein is declared the winner, with O’Connor in Silver Medal position.

At the flag-raising ceremony, in protest of the flying of the Union Flag for his second place, O’Connor scales a flagpole in the middle of the field and waves the Irish flag, while the pole is guarded by Con Leahy.

In the hop, step and jump competition two days later, O’Connor beats his fellow countryman, Con Leahy, to win the Gold Medal. At 34 he is the oldest ever Gold Medal winner in this event. Prinstein, the champion in 1900 and 1904, did not medal.

O’Connor wins no more titles after 1906. He remains involved in athletics all his life. He is a founder member and first Vice-President of Waterford Athletic Club, and attends later Olympics both as judge and spectator. He practises as a solicitor in Waterford and is married with nine children. He dies in Waterford on November 9, 1957.

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Death of Brian Merriman, Poet & Teacher

brian-merrimanBrian Merriman, Irish language poet and teacher, dies in County Limerick on July 27, 1805. His single surviving work of substance, the 1000-line long Cúirt An Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court) is widely regarded as the greatest comic poem in the history of Irish literature.

Merriman ius born at Ennistymon, County Clare, the son of a journeyman stonemason, about 1747. He spends his childhood in the district of Lough Graney, near Killanena, Feakle. Some years later he is known to own a 20-acre farm near Lough Graney.

Merriman teaches at various schools in the area for about twenty years, first at Kilclaran and later in a school near his farm. The teaching profession in those days attracts those with a taste for literature. Many of the Irish poets of the 18th and 19th centuries are school teachers. It allows them to exist while they write. Later on he becomes resident tutor to the families of the local gentry.

This may be where Merriman gets the subject matter for his poem Cúirt an Mhéan Óiche. It is likely that he has access to books of European literature which give him ideas for the theme. His famous poem, written in his native Irish language, has well over a thousand lines. It has been translated into English as The Midnight Court by many translators. The principal themes are the plight of young women who lack husbands, clerical celibacy, free love, and the misery of a young woman married to a withered old man. It is written in the form of a vision or aisling. Merriman falls asleep on the shores of Lough Graney near Feakle in East Clare and finds himself present at a fairy court where the women of Ireland are discussing their great problems. It is believed that he writes the poem as a result of certain frustrations he has or of some complex he suffers from. His vigour, fluency and earthy humour make his poem widely popular and while he is still alive numerous manuscript copies are circulated.

Merriman marries around 1787 and has two daughters. In 1797, the Royal Dublin Society awards him two prizes for his flax crop. Around 1800 he moves to County Limerick, where he runs a school until his death on July 27, 1805. He is buried in Feakle. His grave has not been located but a plaque honouring his memory has been erected in Feakle churchyard.

In commemoration of Merriman’s poetic works an Annual Merriman Summer School is held each year in County Clare.


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Birth of Sculptor John Henry Foley

john-henry-foleyJohn Henry Foley, sculptor often referred to as JH Foley, is born on May 24, 1818 at 6 Montgomery Street, Dublin, in what is then the city’s artists’ quarter. The street has since been renamed Foley Street in his honour. He is best known for his statues of Daniel O’Connell in Dublin and of Prince Albert for the Albert Memorial in London.

Foley’s father is a glassblower and his step-grandfather, Benjamin Schrowder, is a sculptor. At the age of thirteen he begins to study drawing and modelling at the Royal Dublin Society, where he takes several first-class prizes. In 1835 he is admitted as a student in the schools of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He exhibits there for the first time in 1839, and comes to fame in 1844 with his Youth at a Stream. Thereafter commissions provide a steady career for the rest of his life. In 1849 he is made an associate, and in 1858 a full member of the Royal Academy of Arts.

In 1851, inspired by the recently closed Great Exhibition, the Corporation of London votes a sum of £10,000 to be spent on sculpture to decorate the Egyptian Hall in the Mansion House. Foley is commissioned to make sculptures of Caractacus and Egeria.

In 1864 he is chosen to sculpt one of the four large stone groups, each representing a continent, at the corners of George Gilbert Scott‘s Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. His design for Asia is approved in December of that year. In 1868, he is also asked to make the bronze statue of Prince Albert himself, to be placed at the centre of the memorial, following the death of Carlo Marochetti, who had originally received the commission, but had struggled to produce an acceptable version.

Foley exhibits at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1839 and 1861. Further works are shown posthumously in 1875. His address is given in the catalogues as 57 George St., Euston Square, London until 1845, and 19 Osnaburgh Street from 1847.

John Henry Foley dies at Hampstead, north London on August 27, 1874, and is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral on September 4. He leaves his models to the Royal Dublin Society, where he had his early artistic education, and a large part of his property to the Artists’ Benevolent Fund. He does not see the Albert Memorial completed before his death. A statue of Foley himself, on the front of the Victoria and Albert Museum, depicts him as a rather gaunt figure with a moustache, wearing a floppy cap.

Following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, a number of Foley’s works are removed or destroyed without notice, because the persons portrayed are considered hostile to the process of Irish independence. They include those of Lord Carlisle, Lord Dunkellin (in Galway) and Field Marshal Gough in Phoenix Park. The statue of Lord Dunkellin is decapitated and dumped in the river as one of the first acts of the short-lived “Galway Soviet” of 1922.


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Death of George Petrie, Painter & Musician

george-petrieGeorge Petrie, Irish painter, musician, antiquary and archaeologist of the Victorian era dies on January 17, 1866.

Petrie is born and grows up in Dublin, living at 21 Great Charles Street, just off Mountjoy Square. He is the son of the portrait and miniature painter James Petrie, a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, who had settled in Dublin. He is interested in art from an early age. He is sent to the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools, being educated as an artist, where he wins the silver medal in 1805 at the age of fourteen.

After an abortive trip to England in the company of Francis Danby and James Arthur O’Connor, both of whom are close friends of his, he returns to Ireland where he works mostly producing sketches for engravings for travel books including among others, George Newenham Wright‘s guides to Killarney, Wicklow and Dublin, Thomas Cromwell‘s Excursions through Ireland, and James Norris Brewer‘s Beauties of Ireland.

In the late 1820s and 1830s, Petrie significantly revitalises the Royal Irish Academy‘s antiquities committee. He is responsible for their acquisition of many important Irish manuscripts, including an autograph copy of the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as examples of insular metalwork, including the Cross of Cong. His writings on early Irish archaeology and architecture are of great significance, especially his essay on the Round Towers of Ireland, which appear in his 1845 book titled The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland. He is often called “the father of Irish archaeology.” His survey of the tombs at Carrowmore still informs study of the site today.

From 1833 to 1843 Petrie is employed by Thomas Frederick Colby and Thomas Larcom as head of the Topographical Department of the Irish Ordnance Survey. Amongst his staff are John O’Donovan, one of Ireland’s greatest ever scholars, and Eugene O’Curry. A prizewinning essay submitted to the Royal Irish Academy in 1834 on Irish military architecture is never published, but his seminal essay On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill is published by the Academy in 1839. During this period Petrie is himself the editor of two popular antiquarian magazines, the Dublin Penny Journal and, later, the Irish Penny Journal.

Another major contribution of Petrie’s to Irish culture is the collection of Irish traditional airs and melodies which he records. William Stokes’s contemporary biography includes detailed accounts of Petrie’s working methods in his collecting of traditional music: “The song having been given, O’Curry wrote the Irish words, when Petrie’s work began. The singer recommenced, stopping at a signal from him at every two or three bars of the melody to permit the writing of the notes, and often repeating the passage until it was correctly taken down …”

As an artist, Petrie’s favourite medium is watercolour which, due to the prejudices of the age, is considered inferior to oil painting. Nonetheless, he can be considered as one of the finest Irish Romantic painters of his era. Some of his best work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, such as his watercolour painting Gougane Barra Lake with the Hermitage of St. Finbarr, County Cork (1831).

Petrie is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s prestigious Cunningham Medal three times: firstly in 1831 for his essay on the round towers, secondly in 1834 for the now lost essay on Irish military architecture, and thirdly in 1839 for his essay on the antiquities of Tara Hill.

The closing years of Petrie’s life are devoted to the publication of a portion of his collection of Irish music. He dies at the age of 77 at Rathmines, Dublin, on January 17, 1866. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.


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Birth of Landscape Painter Francis Danby

Francis Danby, Irish painter of the Romantic era, is born near Killinick, County Wexford, on November 16, 1793. His imaginative, dramatic landscapes are comparable to those of John Martin. Danby initially develops his imaginative style while he is the central figure in a group of artists who have come to be known as the Bristol School. His period of greatest success is in London in the 1820s.

The death of Danby’s father in 1807 causes the family to move to Dublin. He begins to practice drawing at the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools and, under an erratic young artist named James Arthur O’Connor, he begins painting landscapes. Danby also makes acquaintance with George Petrie.

In 1813 Danby leaves for London together with O’Connor and Petrie. This expedition, undertaken with very inadequate funds, quickly comes to an end, and they have to get home again by walking. At Bristol they make a pause and Danby, finding he can get trifling sums for watercolor drawings, remains there working diligently and sending pictures of importance to the London exhibitions. There his large oil paintings quickly attract attention.

Around 1819, Danby becomes a member of the informal group of artists which become known as the Bristol School, taking part in their evening sketching meetings and sketching excursions visiting local scenery. He remains connected with members of the Bristol School for about a decade, even after leaving Bristol in 1824.

The group initially forms around Edward Bird, and Danby eventually succeeds Bird as its central figure. The Bristol artists, particularly the amateur Francis Gold, are also important in influencing Danby towards a more imaginative and poetical style. George Cumberland, another of the amateurs, has influential London connections. In 1820 when Danby exhibits The Upas Tree of Java at the British Institution, Cumberland uses his influence to promote its favourable reception. Danby’s atmospheric work An Enchanted Island, successfully exhibited in 1825 at the British Institution and then back in Bristol at the Bristol Institution, is in turn particularly influential on other Bristol School artists.

The Upas Tree of Java (1820) and The Delivery of Israel (1825) bring him his election as an Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Arts. He leaves Bristol for London, and in 1828 exhibits his Opening of the Sixth Seal at the British Institution, receiving from that body a prize of 200 guineas.

In 1829 Danby’s wife deserts him, running off with the painter Paul Falconer Poole. Danby leaves London, declaring that he will never live there again. For a decade he lives on the Lake Geneva in Switzerland, becoming a Bohemian with boat-building fancies, painting only occassionaly. He later moves to Paris for a short period of time. He returns to England in 1840.

Francis Danby lives his final years at Exmouth in Devon, where he dies on February 9, 1861. Along with John Martin and J. M. W. Turner, Danby is considered among the leading British artists of the Romantic period.


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Birth of Physicist John Joly

John Joly, Irish physicist famous for his development of radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer, is born in Bracknagh, County Offaly, on November 1, 1857. He is also known for developing techniques to accurately estimate the age of a geological period, based on radioactive elements present in minerals.

Joly is a second cousin of Charles Jasper Joly, the astronomer. He enters Trinity College, Dublin in 1876, graduating in Engineering in 1882 in first place with various special certificates in branches of engineering, at the same time obtaining a First-Class Honours in modern literature. He works as a demonstrator in Trinity’s Engineering and Physics departments before succeeding William Johnson Sollas in the Chair of Geology and Mineralogy in 1897, a position which he holds until his death in 1933.

Joly joins the Royal Dublin Society in 1881 while still a student, and is a frequent contributor of papers. During his career he writes over 270 books and scientific papers.

On May 17, 1899 Joly reads his paper “An Estimate of the Geological Age of the Earth” to the Royal Dublin Society. In it, he proposes to calculate the age of the earth from the accumulation of sodium in the waters of the oceans. He calculates the rate at which the oceans should have accumulated sodium from erosion processes, and determines that the oceans are about 80 to 100 million years old. The paper is quickly published, appearing four months later in the Society’s Scientific Transactions. Although this method is later considered inaccurate and is consequently superseded, it radically modifies the results of other methods in use at the time.

In 1903 he publishes an article in Nature in which he discusses the possibility of using radium to date the Earth and goes on to study the radioactive content of the Earth’s crust to formulate a theory of thermal cycles, and examines the radioactive constituents of certain rocks as a means of calculating their age. Working in collaboration with Sir Ernest Rutherford, he uses radioactive decay in minerals to estimate, in 1913, that the beginning of the Devonian period could not be less than 400 million years ago, an estimate which is in line with modern calculations.

Joly serves as President of Section C (Geology) when the British Association for the Advancement of Science meets in Dublin in 1908, during which he presents his paper “Uranium and Geology” in an address to the society. This work describes radioactive materials in rocks and their part in the generation of the Earth’s internal heat.

Along with his friend Henry Horatio Dixon, Joly also puts forward the cohesion-tension theory which is now thought to be the main mechanism for the upward movement of water in plants.

In 1914 Joly develops a method of extracting radium and applies it in the treatment of cancer. As a Governor of Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin, in collaboration with Walter Stevenson, he devises radiation therapy methods and promotes the establishment by the Royal Dublin Society of the Irish Radium Institute where they pioneer the “Dublin method” of using a hollow needle for deep radiation therapy, a technique that later enters worldwide use. The Radium Institute also supplies capillary tubes containing radon to hospitals for some years for use in the treatment of tumours.

Joly is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1892, is awarded the Boyle Medal of the Royal Dublin Society in 1911, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1910, and the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1923. He is also conferred honorary degrees by the National University of Ireland, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Michigan. After his death in 1933, his friends subscribe the sum of £1,700 to set up a memorial fund which is still used to promote the annual Joly Memorial Lectures at the University of Dublin, which were inaugurated by Sir Ernest Rutherford in 1935. He is also remembered by the Joly Geological Society, a student geological association established in 1960.

In 1973 a crater on Mars is named in Joly’s honour.


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Birth of Richard John Griffith, Author of Griffith’s Valuation

richard-john-griffithRichard John Griffith, Irish geologist, mining engineer, and chairman of the Board of Works of Ireland, is born in Hume Street, Dublin, on September 20, 1784. He completed the first complete geological map of Ireland and is author of the valuation of Ireland, known ever since as Griffith’s Valuation.

Griffith goes to school in Portarlington and later, while attending school in Rathangan, his school is attacked by the rebels during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He also studies in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 1799 he obtains a commission in the Royal Irish Artillery, but a year later, when the corps is incorporated with that of England, he retires, and devotes his attention to civil engineering and mining. He studies chemistry, mineralogy, and mining for two years in London under William Nicholson and afterwards examines the mining districts in various parts of England, Wales, and Scotland.

While in Cornwall he discovers ores of nickel and cobalt in material that has been rejected as worthless. He completes his studies under Robert Jameson and others at Edinburgh, is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1807, a member of the newly established Geological Society of London in 1808, and in the same year he returns to Ireland.

In 1809, he is appointed by the commissioners to inquire into the nature and extent of the bogs in Ireland and the means of improving them. In 1812 he is elected Professor of Geology and Mining Engineer to the Royal Dublin Society. Shortly afterwards he expresses his intention of preparing a geological map of Ireland. During subsequent years he makes many surveys and issues many reports on mineral districts in Ireland. These form the foundation of his first geological map of the country in 1815. He also succeeds Dr. Richard Kirwan as government inspector of mines in Ireland. In 1822 Griffith becomes engineer of public works in Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, and is occupied until 1830 in repairing old roads and in laying out many miles of new roads in some of the most inaccessible parts of the country.

Meanwhile, in 1825, he is appointed by the government to carry out a boundary survey of Ireland. He is to mark the boundaries of every county, barony, civil parish, and townland in preparation for the first Ordnance Survey. He is also called upon to assist in the preparation of a parliamentary Bill to provide for the general valuation of Ireland, which passes in 1826. Griffith is appointed Commissioner of Valuation in 1827, but does not start work until 1830 when the new 6″ maps become available from the Ordnance survey and which he is required to use as provided for by statute. He continues to work on this until 1868. On Griffith’s valuation the various local and public assessments are made.

His extensive investigations furnish him with ample material for improving his geological map and the second edition is published in 1835. A third edition on a larger scale (1 in. to 4 m.) is issued under the Board of Ordnance in 1839 and it is further revised in 1855. For this great work and his other services to science Griffith is awarded the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society in 1854. In 1850 he is made chairman of the Irish Board of Works and in 1858 he is created a baronet.

Griffith dies at the age of 95 at his residence in Dublin on September 22, 1878. At the time of his death, he is the oldest surviving fellow of the Geological Society of London and is the last survivor of the long-since disbanded Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery. He is buried alongside his wife, Maria Jane, in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.