seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of John B. Keane, Irish Playwright & Novelist

john-b-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, Irish playwright, novelist and essayist, is born in Listowel, County Kerry on July 21, 1928.

Keane is the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah Purtill. He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the United Kingdom between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender and lives in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that he is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the UK, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955 where he writes plays for the local theatre company and sponsors, from 1971, the annual Listowel Writers’ Week. He marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna.

His first play, Sive (1959), is initially rejected by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin but goes on to win the amateur All-Ireland Drama Festival. Later plays include The Field (1965), which is released in a bowdlerized film version in 1990, and Big Maggie (1969), which is produced on Broadway in 1982. In 1998 Keane is honoured with a medal from the Abbey for his contribution to Irish theatre.

Keane is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish club of PEN International and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

John Keane dies of prostate cancer on May 30, 2002 in Listowel at the age of 73.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.

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The Dublin Society Renamed Royal Dublin Society

royal-dublin-societyThe Dublin Society for Improving Husbandry, Manufactures and Other Useful Arts, which is originally founded on June 25, 1731, becomes the Royal Dublin Society on June 19, 1820.

The society is founded by members of the Dublin Philosophical Society, chiefly Thomas Prior. On July 1, 1731, at the second meeting of the Society, the designation “and Sciences” is added to the end of its name. The Society’s broad agenda is to stimulate economic activity and aid the creation of employment in Ireland. For the first few years of its existence, the Dublin Society concentrates on tillage technology, land reclamation, forestry, the production of dyestuffs, flax cultivation and other agricultural areas.

In 1738, following the publication of his pamphlet entitled Reflections and Resolutions Proper for the Gentlemen of Ireland, Samuel Madden initiates a grant or “premium” scheme to create incentives for improvements in Irish agricultural and arts. He proposes that a fund of £500 be raised for this purpose and he personally contributes £130. By 1740 the premium scheme has raised £900, and is adjudicated upon the following January and awarded to enterprises in earthenware, cotton, leatherwork, flax, surveying, as well as a number of painters and sculptors.

In 1761 the Irish Parliament votes for £12,000 to be given to the Dublin Society for the promotion of agriculture, forestry, arts and manufactures. This funding is used to increase the amount of premiums distributed by the Dublin Society. Further funds are given by Parliament to the Dublin Society on a sporadic basis until 1784 when an annual parliamentary vote of £5,000 is put in place and remains so until the dissolution of Grattan’s Parliament in 1800.

The “Royal” prefix is adopted in 1820 when George IV becomes Society patron.

The society purchases Leinster House, home of the Duke of Leinster, in 1815 and founds a natural history museum there. The society acquires its current premises at Ballsbridge in 1879, and has since increased from the original fifteen to forty acres. The premises consist of a number of exhibition halls, a stadium, meeting rooms, bars, restaurants, and RDS Simmonscourt Pavilion, a multi-purpose venue.

The Boyle Medal, named after Robert Boyle (1627–1691), is inaugurated in 1899 and is awarded jointly by the RDS and The Irish Times for scientific research of exceptional merit in Ireland. As of 2014 the medal has been awarded to 39 scientists.


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Death of Playwright John Brendan Keane

john-brendan-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, playwright, novelist and essayist, dies in Listowel, County Kerry on May 30, 2002.

Keane is born on Church Street in Listowel on July 21, 1928, the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah (née Purtill). He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the UK between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender, living in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that Keane is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the United Kingdom, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955.

Keane marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna. He is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish PEN and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

Keane cites many literary influences including Bryan MacMahon and George Fitzmaurice, fellow Kerry writers and playwrights. His personal influences are numerous but, most notably he thanks his father and his wife, Mary. He is grateful for his father’s help with early editing, allowing him access to his personal library, and encouraging him to continue his work until he is successful. He is also influenced by the local population and the patrons of his pub from which he bases some of his characters.

Keane dies on May 30, 2002 of complications from prostate cancer, which he had been battling for eight years. His death comes on the eve of the annual Listowel Writers’ Festival, a week-long event at which he had long been a dominating and avuncular presence.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.


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Birth of Henry Dixon, Biologist & Professor

Generated by IIPImageHenry Horatio Dixon, plant biologist and professor at Trinity College, Dublin, is born in Dublin on May 19, 1869. Along with John Joly, he puts forward the cohesion-tension theory of water and mineral movement in plants.

Dixon is the youngest of the seven sons of George Dixon, a soap manufacturer, and Rebecca (née Yeates) Dixon. He is educated at Rathmines School and Trinity College, Dublin. In 1894, after studying in Bonn, Germany, he is appointed assistant and later full Professor of Botany at Trinity. In 1906 he becomes Director of the Botanic gardens and in 1910 of the Herbarium also. He has a close working relationship with physicist John Joly and together they develop the cohesion theory of the ascent of sap.

Dixon’s early research includes work on the cytology of chromosomes and first mitosis in certain plants. Familiarity with work on transpiration and on the tensile strength of columns of sulfuric acid and water leads Dixon and Joly to experiment on transpiration. “On the Ascent of Sap” (1894) presents the hypothesis that the sap or water in the vessels of a woody plant ascends by virtue of its power of resisting tensile stress and its capacity to remain cohesive under the stress of great differences of pressure. Dixon and Joly further demonstrate that water is transported through passive vessels and not living cells.

Dixon writes Transpiration and the Ascent of Sap in Plants (1914), which brings various theories and experimental works together in a coherent argument. He also writes a textbook, Practical Plant Biology (1922).

In 1907 Dixon marries Dorothea Mary, daughter of Sir John H. Franks, with whom he raises three sons. He is the father of biochemist Hal Dixon and grandfather of Adrian Dixon and Joly Dixon.

In 1908 Dixon is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1916 he is awarded the Boyle Medal of the Royal Dublin Society. He delivers the society’s Croonian Lecture in 1937.

Henry Dixon dies in Dublin on December 20, 1953.

(Pictured: Henry Horatio Dixon, bromide print by Walter Stoneman, 1922, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Birth of William Dargan, 19th Century Engineer

william-darganWilliam Dargan, arguably the most important Irish engineer of the 19th century and certainly the most important figure in railway construction, is born at Killeshin near Carlow in County Laois (then called Queen’s County) on February 28, 1799. He designs and builds Ireland’s first railway line from Dublin to Dún Laoghaire in 1833. In total he constructs over 1,300 km (800 miles) of railway to important urban centres of Ireland. He is a member of the Royal Dublin Society and also helps establish the National Gallery of Ireland. He is also responsible for the Great Dublin Exhibition held on the lawn of Leinster House in 1853. His achievements are honoured in 1995, when the Dargan Railway Bridge in Belfast is opened, and again in 2004 when the William Dargan Bridge in Dublin, a new cable stayed bridge for Dublin’s Light Railway Luas, are both named after him.

Dargan is the eldest in a large family of tenant farmers on the Earl of Portarlington‘s estate. He attends a local hedge school in Graiguecullen near Carlow, where he excels in mathematics and accounting. He subsequently works on his father’s 101-acre farm before securing a position in a surveyor’s office in Carlow. With the assistance of prominent local people, particularly John Alexander, a prominent Carlow miller, and Henry Parnell MP for County Laois, he begins working with the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford on the Holyhead side of the London-Holyhead road. He works there between 1819 and 1824.

In 1824 Telford asks Dargan to begin work on Howth Road, from Raheny to Sutton in Dublin. He earns the relatively large sum of £300 for his work on this road and this provides the capital for future public works investments. Henry Parnell describes the road as “a model for other roads in the vicinity of Dublin.” Around the same time Dargan contributes roads in Dublin, Carlow and Louth as a surveyor. He also serves as assistant manager for about three years on the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal and the Middlewich Branch, which are two canals in the English midlands.

On October 13, 1828, Dargan marries Jane Arkinstall in the Anglican Church of St. Michael & All Angels, Adbaston, Staffordshire. He and Jane do not produce any offspring.

When Dargan comes back to Ireland, he is occupied by minor construction projects, including rebuilding the main street of Banbridge and the 13 kilometers long Kilbeggan branch of the Grand Canal. After Irish parliament decides to launch a plan for the very first railway, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway in 1825, he becomes increasingly invested in the project. To fight against the skepticism of any railway program in Ireland, he spends a considerable amount of unpaid time promoting this first railway of Ireland, working along with engineer Charles Vignoles to plan the route. After a persistent effort, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway is opened on December 17, 1834, with eight trains running in each direction.

Dargan next constructs the water communication between Lough Erne and Belfast, afterwards known as the Ulster Canal, a signal triumph of engineering and constructive ability.

Other great works follow – the Dublin and Drogheda Railway, the Great Southern and Western Railway and the Midland Great Western Railway. By 1853 Dargan has constructed over six hundred miles of railway, and he has contracts for two hundred more. He pays the highest wages with the greatest punctuality and his credit is unbounded. At one point he is the largest railway projector in Ireland and one of its greatest capitalists.

Dargan has a strong sense of patriotism to Ireland. He is offered a knighthood by the British Viceroy in Ireland, but declines. Following this, Britain’s Queen Victoria visits Dargan at his residence, Dargan Villa, Mount Annville on August 29, 1853. She offers him a baronetcy, but he declines this also. Wishing to encourage the growth of flax, he then takes a tract of land which he devotes to its culture, but owing to some mismanagement the enterprise entails a heavy loss. He also becomes a manufacturer, and sets some mills working in Chapelizod, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, but that business does not prosper.

In his later years Dargan devotes himself chiefly to the working and extension of the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, of which he is chairman. In 1866 he is seriously injured by a fall from his horse. He dies at 2 Fitzwilliam Square East, Dublin, on February 7, 1867, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His widow, Jane, is granted a civil list pension of £100 on June 18, 1870.


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Death of Robert John Kane, Chemist & Educator

robert-john-kaneSir Robert John Kane, chemist and educator, dies at the age of 80 in Dublin on February 16, 1890. In a distinguished career, he founds the Dublin Journal of Medical  & Chemical Science, is Vice-Chancellor of Royal University of Ireland and is director of the Museum of Irish Industry.

Kane is born at 48 Henry Street, Dublin on September 24, 1809 to John and Eleanor Kean (née Troy). His father is involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and flees for a time to France where he studies chemistry. Back in Dublin, Kean (now Kane) founds the Kane Company and manufactures sulfuric acid.

Kane studies chemistry at his father’s factory and attends lectures at the Royal Dublin Society as a teenager. He publishes his first paper in 1828, Observations on the existence of chlorine in the native peroxide of manganese, in the London Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature and Art. The following year, his description of the natural arsenide of manganese results in the compound being named Kaneite in his honour. He studies medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1834 while working in the Meath Hospital. He is appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Apothecaries’ Hall, Dublin in 1831, which earns him the moniker of the “boy professor.” In the following year he participates in the founding of the Dublin Journal of Medical & Chemical Science.

On the strength of his book Elements of Practical Pharmacy, Kane is elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832. He studies acids, shows that hydrogen is electropositive, and proposes the existence of the ethyl radical. In 1836 he travels to Giessen in Germany to study organic chemistry with Justus von Liebig. In 1843 he is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s Cunningham Medal for his work on the nature and constitution of compounds of ammonia.

Kane publishes a three-volume Elements of Chemistry in 1841–1844, and a detailed report on the Industrial Resources of Ireland. This includes the first assessment of the water power potential of the River Shannon, which is not realised until the 1920s at Ardnacrusha.

Kane becomes a political adviser on scientific and industrial matters. He serves on several commissions to enquire into the Great Irish Famine, along with Professors Lindley and Taylor, all more or less ineffective. His political and administrative work means that his contribution to chemistry ceases after about 1844.

Kane’s work on Irish industry leads to his being appointed director of the Museum of Irish Industry in Dublin in 1845. The Museum is a successor to the Museum of Economic Geology, and is housed at 51 St. Stephen’s Green.

Also in 1845 Kane becomes the first President of Queen’s College, Cork (now University College Cork). He does not spend a lot of time in Cork as he has work in Dublin, and his wife lives there. The science building on the campus is named in his honour. He is knighted in 1846.

In 1873 Kane takes up the post of National Commissioner for Education. He is elected president of the Royal Irish Academy in 1877, holding the role until 1882. In 1880 he is appointed the first chancellor of the newly created Royal University of Ireland. After a motion to admit women to the University, put forward by Prof. Samuel Haughton at Academic Council in Trinity College Dublin, March 10, 1880, Kane is appointed to a committee of ten men to look into the matter. He is opposed to the admission of women, and nothing is reported from the committee in the Council minutes for the next ten years.


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Birth of Matilda Cullen Knowles, Pioneer in Irish Lichenology

matilda-cullen-knowlesMatilda Cullen Knowles, considered the founder of modern studies of Irish lichens following her work in the early twentieth century on the multi-disciplinary Clare Island Survey, is born on January 31, 1864 in Cullybackey near Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Her work is said to have “formed an important baseline contribution to the cryptogamic botany of Ireland and western oceanic Europe.”

Knowles’ early interest in botany is encouraged by her father, William James Knowles, himself an amateur scientist who takes Matilda and her sister to meetings of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club. This is where she first meets Robert Lloyd Praeger who continues to be a lifelong influence. In 1895 she is introduced to the Derry botanist Mary Leebody and together they work on a supplement to Samuel Alexander Stewart‘s and Thomas Hughes Corey‘s 1888 book the Flora of the North-east of Ireland.

Knowles then volunteers to help with the crowdsourcing of material about the plants of County Tyrone. While completing this work Knowles publishes her own first paper about Tyrone’s flowering plants in 1897. She eventually sends in over 500 examples that are considered for inclusion in the Irish Topographical Botany, which Praeger publishes in 1901.

In 1902, after attending the Royal College of Science for Ireland for a year, Knowles is appointed a temporary assistant in the then Botanical Section of the National Science and Art Museum. She works closely with Professor Thomas Johnson to continue the development of the Herbarium collection. She also co-authors with him the Hand List of Irish Flowering Plants and Ferns (1910).

One of Knowles’ first works is The Maritime and Marine Lichens of Howth, which the Royal Dublin Society publishes in 1913. Knowles had gathered the knowledge and experience to do this while diligently assisting with a survey of Clare Island as suggested by Praeger. This novel survey involves not only Irish but also several European scientists including prominent UK lichenologist, Annie Lorrain Smith. This is claimed as the most extensive piece of field work at the time. As a result, Knowles is able to create a foundation for her later specialism in lichens.

Knowles publishes more than thirty scientific papers on a wide range of botanical subjects between 1897 and 1933. It is while studying the lichens of Howth that she discovers how lichens by the shore grow in distinct tidal zones that can be distinguished by their colour: black, orange and grey.

Her major work is The Lichens of Ireland which adds over 100 species of lichen to the Irish List and records the distribution of the eight hundred species identified in Ireland. She achieves this task with the collaboration of thirty other natural scientists. It is published in 1929 and includes twenty lichens that had previously not been identified as Irish.

Professor Thomas Johnson retires in 1923, allowing Knowles to take over curatorship, working with Margaret Buchanan. As she becomes older Knowles’ hearing begins to fail such that she has to rely on an ear trumpet. Despite her deafness she still attends meetings. She cares for and adds to the National Museum Herbarium collection although never gets the credit she deserves. In 1933 she plans to retire but pneumonia ends her life before she ends her career. Knowles dies in Dublin on April 27, 1933.

Knowles is honoured with a commemorative plaque by the Irish National Committee for Science and Engineering in October 2014 to mark the 150th anniversary of her birth.