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 John Kells Ingram, Economist & Poet

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90John Kells Ingram, economist and poet who starts his career as a mathematician, is born into an Ulster Scots family on July 7, 1823 at the Rectory of Templecarne (Aghnahoo), just south of Pettigo, County Donegal. He has been co-credited, along with John William Stubbs, with introducing the geometric concept of inversive geometry.

Ingram enters Trinity College, Dublin on October 13, 1837. He is elected a Scholar of Trinity College in 1840, graduates with a BA in mathematics in 1842, and is awarded an MA in 1850. In 1852 he becomes a professor of oratory at Trinity and writes extensively on Shakespeare. He shows considerable promise in both mathematics and classics and achieves early popularity as a poet. He has a distinguished career at Trinity, spanning over fifty-five years, as a student, fellow and professor, successively of Oratory, English Literature, Jurisprudence and Greek, subsequently becoming the College Librarian and ultimately its Vice Provost.

One evening in March 1843 Ingram writes a poem for which he is best remembered, a political ballad called “The Memory of the Dead” in honour of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 led by the Society of United Irishmen. The poem is published anonymously on April 1, 1843 in Thomas Davis‘s The Nation newspaper although its authorship is an open secret in Dublin. It is set to music for voice and piano in 1845 by John Edward Pigot and becomes a popular Irish nationalist anthem. It is one of the best-known of Irish Republican songs and is often played by the piper at Republican funerals.

In 1847 Ingram helps to found the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland. His early economic writings deal mainly with the Poor Law, which in theory is supposed to provide relief for the poor but in reality does little to alleviate the distress in Ireland. Strongly influenced by the French sociologist Auguste Comte, he rejects the more isolated approach of classical economics which builds on the assumption that people try to do the best they can. Instead he seeks to develop a unified theory of economics along the lines of Comtean positivist philosophy, which seeks ways for economic policies to contribute to the good of society. His writings on this topic include the essay “Present Position and Prospects of Political Economy” (1878) and A History of Political Economy (1888).

John Kells Ingram dies on May 1, 1907 in his home at 38 Upper Mount Street, Dublin, where he had lived since 1884. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.