seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Lawrence Parsons, 4th Earl of Rosse

Lawrence Parsons, 4th Earl of Rosse, KP, FRS, a member of the Irish peerage and an amateur astronomer, dies on August 29, 1908. His name is often given as Laurence Parsons.

Parsons is born at Birr Castle, Parsonstown, King’s County (now County Offaly), the son and heir of the astronomer William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, who built the “Leviathan of Parsonstownreflecting telescope, largest of its day, and his wife, the Countess of Rosse (née Mary Field), an amateur astronomer and pioneering photographer. He succeeds his father in 1867 and is educated first at home by tutors, like John Purser, and after at Trinity College, Dublin and the University of Oxford. He is the brother of Charles Algernon Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine.

Parsons serves as the eighteenth Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin between 1885 and 1908. His father serves as the sixteenth Chancellor. He is Lord Lieutenant of King’s County and Custos Rotulorum of King’s County from 1892 until his death. He is also a Justice of the Peace for the county and is appointed High Sheriff of King’s County for 1867–68. He is knighted KP in 1890.

Parsons also performs some preliminary work in association with the practices of the electrodeposition of copper sulfate upon silver films circa 1865 while in search of the design for a truly flat mirror to use in a telescope. However, he finds it impossible to properly electroplate copper upon these silver films, as the copper contracts and detaches from the underlying glass substrate. His note has been cited as one of the earliest confirmations in literature that thin films on glass substrates experience residual stresses. He revives discussion in his work Nature’s August 1908 edition after witnessing similar techniques used to present newly-devised searchlights before the Royal Society.

Although overshadowed by his father (when astronomers speak of “Lord Rosse”, it is almost always the father that they refer to), Parsons nonetheless pursues some astronomical observations of his own, particularly of the Moon. Most notably, he discovers NGC 2, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Pegasus.

Parsons is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in December 1867 and delivers the Bakerian lecture there in 1873. He is vice-president of the society in 1881 and 1887. From 1896 he is President of the Royal Irish Academy. In May 1902 he is at Caernarfon to receive the honorary degree LL.D. (Legum Doctor) from the University of Wales during the ceremony to install the Prince of Wales (later King George V) as Chancellor of that university.


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Birth of Robert Lloyd Praeger, Writer & Librarian

Robert Lloyd Praeger, Irish naturalist, writer and librarian, is born on August 25, 1865 in Holywood, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

From a Unitarian background, Praeger is raised in Holywood and attends the school of the Reverend McAlister and then the nearby Sullivan Upper School.

Praeger works in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin from 1893 to 1923. He co-founds and edits The Irish Naturalist, and writes papers on the flora and other aspects of the natural history of Ireland. He organises the Lambay Survey in 1905-06 and, from 1909 to 1915, the wider Clare Island Survey. He is an engineer by qualification, a librarian by profession and a naturalist by inclination.

Praeger is awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1921. He becomes the first President of both An Taisce and the Irish Mountaineering Club in 1948, and serves as President of the Royal Irish Academy for 1931–34.

Praeger is instrumental in developing advanced methodologies in Irish botany by inviting Knud Jessen, the acclaimed Danish expert in Glacial and Post-Glacial flora, to undertake research and teaching in Ireland. This leads to the establishment of ‘paleoecology‘ as a distinct field of study in Ireland.

A vice-county system is adopted by Praeger dividing Ireland into forty vice-counties based on the counties. However, the boundaries between them does not always correspond to the administrative boundaries and there are doubts as to the correct interpretation of them.

Praeger dies on May 5, 1953 and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery, Dublin, together with his wife Hedwig. His younger sister Rosamond Praeger is a sculptor and botanical artist.

(Pictured: Portrait of Robert Lloyd Praeger by Sarah Cecilia Harrison, National Museums Northern Ireland)


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Birth of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Politician, Writer & Inventor

Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Anglo-Irish politician, writer and inventor, is born on May 31, 1744 in Pierrepont Street, Bath, Somerset, England.

Edgeworth is the son of Richard Edgeworth senior, and great-grandson of Sir Salathiel Lovell through his mother, Jane Lovell, granddaughter of Sir Salathiel. The Edgeworth family comes to Ireland in the 1580s. He is descended from Francis Edgeworth, appointed joint Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper in 1606, who inherits a fortune from his brother Edward Edgeworth, Bishop of Down and Connor.

A Trinity College, Dublin and Corpus Christi College, Oxford alumnus, Edgeworth is credited for creating, among other inventions, a machine to measure the size of a plot of land. He also makes strides in developing educational methods. He anticipates the caterpillar track with an invention that he plays around with for forty years but never successfully develops. He describes it as a “cart that carries its own road.”

Edgeworth is married four times, including both Honora Sneyd and Frances Beaufort, older sister of Francis Beaufort of the Royal Navy. He is the father of 22 children by his four wives. Beaufort and he install a semaphore line for Ireland. He is a member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham. The Lunar Society evolves through various degrees of organization over a period of years, but is only ever an informal group. No constitution, minutes, publications or membership lists survive from any period, and evidence of its existence and activities is found only in the correspondence and notes of those associated with it. Dates given for the society range from sometime before 1760 to it still operating as late as 1813. Fourteen individuals have been identified as having verifiably attended Lunar Society meetings regularly over a long period during its most productive time: these are Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Samuel Galton, Jr., James Keir, Joseph Priestley, William Small, Jonathan Stokes, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, John Whitehurst and William Withering.

Edgeworth and his family live in Ireland at his estate at Edgeworthstown, County Longford, where he reclaims bogs and improves roads. He sits in Grattan’s Parliament for St. Johnstown (County Longford) from 1798 until the Act of Union 1801, and advocates Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform. He is a founder-member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Edgeworth dies in Edgeworthstown on June 13, 1817.

(Pictured: “Portrait of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817)” oil on canvas by Hugh Douglas Hamilton)


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Birth of Charles Owen O’Conor, Irish Politician

Charles Owen O’Conor, Irish politician, is born on May 7, 1838 in Dublin.

O’Conor is eldest son in the Roman Catholic family of Denis O’Conor of Bellanagare and Clonallis, County Roscommon, and Mary, daughter of Major Blake of Towerhill, County Mayo. A younger brother, Denis Maurice O’Conor (1840-1883), is a Liberal Party MP in the Home Rule interest for Sligo County (1868-83).

After his education at Downside School in England, O’Conor enters London University in 1855, but does not graduate. He enters public life at an early age, being elected MP for Roscommon as a Liberal Party candidate at a by-election in 1860. In 1874 he is returned as a home ruler but, refusing to take the party pledge exacted by Charles Stewart Parnell, is ousted by Irish nationalist journalist James O’Kelly in 1880. In 1883, he is defeated by William Redmond in a contest for MP representing Wexford Borough.

An active member of parliament, O’Conor is an effective though not an eloquent speaker and a leading exponent of Roman Catholic opinion. He frequently speaks on Irish education and land tenure. He criticises unfavourably the Queen’s Colleges established in 1845 and the model schools, and advocates separate education for Roman Catholics. In 1867 he introduces a measure to extend the Industrial Schools Act to Ireland, which becomes law the following year.

O’Conor opposes William Ewart Gladstone‘s Irish University Bill of 1873, and in May 1879 brings forward a measure, which has the support of almost every section of Irish political opinion, for the creation of a new examining university, St. Patrick’s, with power to make grants based on the results of examination to students of denominational colleges affiliated to it. This is withdrawn on July 23 on the announcement of the University Education (Ireland) Act 1879 creating the Royal University of Ireland.

O’Conor steadily lurges a reform of the Irish land laws. On social and industrial questions he also speaks with authority. From 1872 onwards he professes his adherence to home rule and supports Isaac Butt in his motion for inquiry into the parliamentary relations of Great Britain and Ireland in 1874. He also acts with the Irish leader in his endeavours to mitigate the severity of coercive legislation, though declaring himself not in all circumstances opposed to exceptional laws.

Following his parliamentary career in 1880, O’Conor is a member of the Registration of Deeds Commission of 1880, and takes an active part in the Bessborough land commission of the same year. He is a member of both the parliamentary committee of 1885 and the royal commission of 1894 on the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland, and becomes chairman of the commission on the death of Hugh Culling Eardley Childers in 1896. He is also active in local government, presiding over parliamentary committees on Irish grand jury laws and land valuation in 1868 and 1869, and being elected to the first county council of Roscommon in 1898. He is Lord-Lieutenant of the county from 1888 until his death.

O’Conor is much interested in antiquarian studies. He serves for many years as president of the Antiquarian Society of Ireland, as well as of the Royal Irish Academy. He is president of the Irish Language Society, and procures the insertion of Irish language into the curriculum of the intermediate education board.

O’Conor dies at Clonalis House, Castlerea, County Roscommon, on June 30, 1906, and is buried in the new cemetery, Castlerea.


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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 Irish Painter Sir Frederic William Burton RHA

Irish painter Sir Frederic William Burton RHA is born in County Wicklow on April 8, 1816. The third son of Samuel Frederick Burton and his wife Hanna Mallett, he is taken by his parents to live in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland at the age of six. The old Burton seat is Clifden House, Corofin, County Clare, which is built around the middle of the eighteenth century. The artist’s grandparents were Major Edward William Burton, Clifden, who was High Sheriff of Clare in 1799, and his wife, Jane Blood of nearby Roxton, County Clare. In his youth he has strong sympathy with the Young Ireland movement.

Educated in Dublin, Burton is elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy at the age of twenty-one and an academician two years later. In 1842 he begins to exhibit at the Royal Academy. A visit to Germany and Bavaria in 1842 is the first of a long series of trips to various parts of Europe, which give him a profound knowledge of the works of the Old Masters. From 1851 he spends seven years working as a painter in the service of Maximilian II of Bavaria.

Burton works with George Petrie on archaeological sketches and is on the council of the Royal Irish Academy and the Archaeological Society of Ireland. He is elected an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1855, and a full member in the following year. He resigns in 1870, and is reelected as an honorary member in 1886.

In 1874 Burton is appointed the third director of the National Gallery, London, in succession to Sir William Boxall RA. In June 1874, he obtains a special grant to acquire the art collection of Alexander Barker, which includes Piero della Francesca‘s Nativity and Sandro Botticelli‘s Venus and Mars. In 1876 a bequest of 94 paintings, mainly by Dutch artists but also including works by Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Dieric Bouts and Canaletto, is made by the British haberdasher Wynne Ellis. Also in this year an extension to the Gallery by Edward Middleton Barry is completed.

During the twenty years that Burton holds this post he is responsible for many important purchases, among them Leonardo da Vinci‘s Virgin of the Rocks, Raphael‘s Ansidei Madonna, Anthony van Dyck‘s Equestrian portrait of Charles I, Hans Holbein the Younger‘s Ambassadors, and the Admiral Pulido Pareja, by Diego Velázquez (this subsequently attributed to Velázquez’s assistant Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo). He also adds to the noted series of Early Italian pictures in the gallery. The number of acquisitions made to the collection during his period of office exceeds 500.

Burton’s best-known watercolours, The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child (1841) and The Meeting on Turret Stairs (1864) are in the National Gallery of Ireland. The Meeting on Turret Stairs is voted by the Irish public as Ireland’s favourite painting in 2012 from among ten works shortlisted by critics. A knighthood is conferred on him in 1884, and the degree of LL.D. of Dublin in 1889.

Burton dies in Kensington, West End of London on March 16, 1900 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

(Pictured: “Sir Frederic William Burton,” painting by Henry Tanworth Wells (died 1903), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1913)


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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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Funeral of Economist Dr. T. K. Whitaker

The funeral of Dr. T. K. Whitaker, former civil servant and economist, takes place in Dublin on January 13, 2017. Regarded as the architect of the modern Irish economy, he dies at age 100 on January 9. President Michael D. Higgins, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Chief Justice Susan Denham, and Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin are among those attending the requiem mass for Dr. Whitaker at Donnybrook Church.

Whitaker is born in Rostrevor, County Down, to Roman Catholic parents on December 8, 1916, and reared in Drogheda, County Louth, in modest circumstances. His mother, Jane O’Connor, comes from Ballyguirey East, Labasheeda, County Clare. His father, Edward Whitaker, hails from County Westmeath and is assistant manager of a linen mill. He receives his primary and secondary education at the local CBS in Drogheda. He studies mathematics at University College Dublin.

In 1956, Whitaker is appointed Secretary of the Department of Finance. His appointment takes place at a time when Ireland’s economy is in deep depression. Economic growth is non-existent, inflation apparently insoluble, unemployment rife, living standards low and emigration at a figure not far below the birth rate. He believes that free trade, with increased competition and the end of protectionism, will become inevitable and that jobs will have to be created by a shift from agriculture to industry and services. He forms a team of officials within the department which produces a detailed study of the economy, culminating in a plan recommending policies for improvement. The plan is accepted by the government and is transformed into a white paper which becomes known as the First Programme for Economic Expansion. Quite unusually this is published with his name attached in November 1958. The programme which becomes known as the “Grey Book” brings the stimulus of foreign investment into the Irish economy. Before devoting himself to poetry, Thomas Kinsella is Whitaker’s private secretary.

In 1977, Taoiseach Jack Lynch nominates Whitaker as a member of the 14th Seanad Éireann. He serves as a Senator from 1977–81, where he sits as an independent Senator.

In 1981, Whitaker is nominated to the 15th Seanad Éireann by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, where he serves until 1982. FitzGerald also appoints him to chair a Committee of Inquiry into the Irish penal system, and he chairs a Parole Board or Sentence Review Group for several years.

Whitaker also serves as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1976 to 1996. He is also President of the Royal Irish Academy and as such, a member of the Board of Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland, from 1985 to 1987. He has a very strong love for the Irish language throughout his career and the collection of Irish poetry, An Duanaire: Poems of the Dispossessed 1600–1900, edited by Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella, is dedicated to Whitaker. From 1995–96 he chairs the Constitution Review Group, an independent expert group established by the government, which publishes its report in July 1996.

Whitaker receives many national and international honours and tributes for his achievements during his lifetime, most notably the conferral of “Irishman of the 20th Century” in 2001 and Greatest Living Irish Person in 2002. In November 2014, the Institute of Banking confers an Honorary Fellowship on Whitaker and creates an annual T.K. Whitaker Scholarship in his name. In April 2015, he is presented with a lifetime achievement award by University College Dublin’s Economics Society for his outstanding contribution to Ireland’s economic policy.

In November 2016, to mark his centenary year, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council acknowledges Whitaker’s “outstanding and progressive contribution to Irish public service and to society.” The Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, Cormac Devlin, presents a special award to Whitaker which is accepted by Ken Whitaker on behalf of his father.


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Founding of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language

The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (Irish: Cumann Buan-Choimeádta na Gaeilge), a cultural organisation which is part of the Gaelic revival of the period, is formed in Dublin on December 29, 1876.

Present at the initial meeting are Charles Dawson, High Sheriff of Limerick City, Timothy Daniel Sullivan, editor of The Nation, and Bryan O’Looney. Writing in 1937, Douglas Hyde also remembers himself, George Sigerson, Thomas O’Neill Russell, J. J. McSweeney of the Royal Irish Academy, and future MP James O’Connor as being present. Its patron is John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, its first president is Lord Francis Conyngham and its first vice-presidents include Isaac Butt and Charles Owen O’Conor.

Unlike similar organisations of the time, which are antiquarian in nature, the SPIL aims at protecting the status of the Irish language, which is threatened with extinction at the time. Its mission statement says that it is “possible and desirable to preserve the Irish Language in those parts of the Country where it is spoken, with a view to its further extension and cultivation.” Hyde writes that the formation of the society can truly be said to be the first attempt made to recruit the common people to the cause of the Irish language. The society succeeds in having Irish included on the curriculum of primary and secondary schools and third-level colleges in 1878.

The membership of the SPIL includes Protestant Ascendancy figures such as John Vesey, 4th Viscount de Vesci, and Colonel W. E. A. Macdonnell. Horace Plunkett represents the Society at the 1901 Pan-Celtic Congress in Dublin. It takes a conciliatory approach to the British government and civil service in pursuing its aims, in contrast to the later Gaelic League, which is anti-British in character.


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Mary Robinson Inaugurated 7th President of Ireland

Mary Robinson, Irish lawyer, independent politician, and diplomat born Mary Teresa Winifred Bourke, is inaugurated as the seventh President of Ireland on December 3, 1990, becoming the first woman to hold the office. She later serves as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) from September 1997 – September 2002.

Robinson is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. She is educated at Trinity College and the King’s Inns in Dublin and at Harvard Law School in the United States. She serves at Trinity College (University of Dublin) as Reid Professor of penal legislation, constitutional and criminal law, and the law of evidence (1969–1975) and lecturer in European Community law (1975–1990). In 1988 she and her husband establish the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College.

A distinguished constitutional lawyer and a renowned supporter of human rights, Robinson is elected to the Royal Irish Academy and is a member of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva (1987–1990). She sits in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas, for the University of Dublin constituency (1969–1989) and serves as whip for the Labour Party until resigning from the party over the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which she feels ignores unionist objections. She is also a member of the Dublin City Council (1979–1983) and runs unsuccessfully in 1977 and 1981 for Dublin parliamentary constituencies.

Nominated by the Labour Party and supported by the Green Party and the Workers’ Party, Robinson becomes Ireland’s first woman president in 1990 by mobilizing a liberal constituency and merging it with a more conservative constituency opposed to the Fianna Fáil party. As president, she adopts a much more prominent role than her predecessors and she does much to communicate a more modern image of Ireland. Strongly committed to human rights, she is the first head of state to visit Somalia after it suffers from civil war and famine in 1992 and the first to visit Rwanda after the genocide in that country in 1994.

Shortly before her term as president expires, Robinson accepts the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). As high commissioner, she changes the priorities of her office to emphasize the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels. She was the first UNHCHR to visit China, and she also helps to improve the monitoring of human rights in Kosovo. In 2001 she serves as secretary-general of the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. In 1998 she is elected chancellor of Trinity College, a post she holds until 2019.

After stepping down as UNHCHR, Robinson founds the nongovernmental organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative (2002–2010). Its central concerns include equitable international trade, access to health care, migration, women’s leadership and corporate responsibility. She is also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, serves as honorary president of Oxfam International, a private organization that provides relief and development aid to impoverished or disaster-stricken communities worldwide, and is a member of the Club of Madrid, which promotes democracy. She also holds various posts at the United Nations and, in 2010, she establishes the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which operates until 2019.

Robinson is the recipient of numerous honours. In 2004 Amnesty International awards her its Ambassador of Conscience Award for her human rights work. In 2009 she receives the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Her memoir, Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice (cowritten with Tessa Robinson), is published in 2012.

(Pictured: Mary Robinson during her inauguration as president in 1990, photograph by Matt Kavanagh)