seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of Adam Loftus, First Provost of Trinity College, Dublin

adam-loftusAdam Loftus, Archbishop of Armagh, and later Dublin, and Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1581, dies in Dublin on April 5, 1605. He is also the first Provost of Trinity College, Dublin.

Loftus is born in 1533, the second son of a monastic bailiff, Edward Loftus, in the heart of the English Yorkshire Dales. He embraces the Protestant faith early in his development. He is an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he reportedly attracts the notice of the young Queen Elizabeth, as much by his physique as through the power of his intellect. Although this encounter may never have happened, Loftus certainly meets with the Queen more than once, and she becomes his patron for the rest of her reign. At Cambridge Loftus takes holy orders as a Catholic priest and is appointed rector of Outwell St. Clement in Norfolk. He comes to the attention of the Catholic Queen Mary, who names him vicar of Gedney, Lincolnshire. On Elizabeth’s accession in 1558 he declares himself Anglican.

Loftus makes the acquaintance of the Queen’s favourite Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex and serves as his chaplain in Ireland in 1560. In 1561 he becomes chaplain to Alexander Craike, Bishop of Kildare and Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Later that year he is appointed rector of Painstown in Meath, and evidently earns a reputation as a learned and discreet advisor to the English authorities in Dublin. In 1563, he is consecrated Archbishop of Armagh at the unprecedented age of 28 by Hugh Curwen, Archbishop of Dublin.

Following a clash with Shane O’Neill, the real power in Ulster during these years, he comes to Dublin in 1564. To supplement the meager income of his troubled archbishopric he is temporarily appointed to the Deanery of St. Patrick’s Cathedral by the queen in the following year. He is also appointed president of the new commission for ecclesiastical causes. This leads to a serious quarrel with the highly respected Bishop of Meath, Hugh Brady.

In 1567 Loftus, having lobbied successfully for the removal of Hugh Curwen, who becomes Bishop of Oxford, and having defeated the rival claims of the Bishop of Meath, is appointed Archbishop of Dublin, where the queen expects him to carry out reforms in the Church. On several occasions he temporarily carries out the functions of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and in August 1581 he is appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland after an involved dispute with Nicholas White, Master of the Rolls in Ireland. He is constantly occupied in attempts to improve his financial position by obtaining additional preferment, and is subject to repeated accusations of corruption in public office.

In 1582 Loftus acquires land and builds a castle at Rathfarnham, which he inhabits from 1585. In 1569–1570 the divisions in Irish politics take on a religious tinge with the First Desmond Rebellion in Munster and Pope Pius V‘s 1570 papal bull Regnans in Excelsis. The bull questions Elizabeth’s authority and thereafter Roman Catholics are suspected of disloyalty by the official class unless they are discreet.

Loftus takes a leading part in the execution of Dermot O’Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel. When O’Hurley refuses to give information, Francis Walsingham suggests he should be tortured. Although the Irish judges repeatedly decide that there is no case against O’Hurley, on June 19, 1584 Loftus and Sir Henry Wallop write to Walsingham “We gave warrant to the knight-marshal to do execution upon him, which accordingly was performed, and thereby the realm rid of a most pestilent member.”

Between 1584 and 1591 Loftus has a series of clashes with Sir John Perrot on the location of an Irish University. Perrot wants to use St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin as the site of the new University, which Loftus seeks to preserve as the principal place of Protestant worship in Dublin, as well as a valuable source of income for himself. The Archbishop wins the argument with the help of his patron, Queen Elizabeth I, and Trinity College, Dublin is founded at its current location, named after his old college at Cambridge, leaving the Cathedral unaffected. Loftus is named as its first Provost in 1593.

The issue of religious and political rivalry continue during the two Desmond Rebellions (1569–83) and the Nine Years’ War (1594–1603), both of which overlap with the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), during which some rebellious Irish nobles are helped by the Papacy and by Elizabeth’s arch-enemy Philip II of Spain. Due to the unsettled state of the country Protestantism makes little progress, unlike in Celtic Scotland and Wales at that time. It comes to be associated with military conquest and is therefore hated by many. The political-religious overlap is personified by Loftus, who serves as Archbishop and as Lord Chancellor of Ireland. An unlikely alliance forms between Gaelic Irish families and the Norman “Old English“, who had been enemies for centuries but who now mostly remain Roman Catholic.

Adam Loftus dies in Dublin on April 5, 1605 and is interred in the building he had helped to preserve for future generations, while many of his portraits hang today within the walls of the University which he helped found. Having buried his wife Jane (Purdon) and two sons (of their 20 children) in the family vault at St. Patrick’s, Loftus dies at his Episcopal Palace in Kevin Street “worn out with age” and joins his family in the same vault. His zeal and efficiency are commended by James I upon the king’s accession.


Leave a comment

Birth of Richard “Humanity Dick” Martin

richard-martinColonel Richard Martin, Irish politician and campaigner against cruelty to animals, is born in Ballynahinch, County Galway on January 15, 1754. He is known as “Humanity Dick,” a nickname bestowed on him by King George IV. He succeeds in getting the pioneering Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, nicknamed ‘Martin’s Act,’ passed into British law.

Martin is brought up at Dangan House, situated on the River Corrib, four miles upriver from the town of Galway. The Martins are one of the Tribes of Galway. They own one of the biggest estates in all of Great Britain and Ireland as well as much of the land in Connemara. He studies at Harrow School in London and then gains admission to Trinity College, Cambridge on March 4, 1773. He does not graduate with a degree but studies for admission to the bar and is admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on February 1, 1776. He serves as a lawyer in Ireland and becomes High Sheriff of Galway Town in 1782.

Martin is elected to represent County Galway in Parliament in 1800. He is very popular with people in Galway and is well known as a duelist and as a witty speaker in the houses of Parliament. He campaigns for Catholic emancipation but is best remembered for his work to outlaw cruelty to animals. He earns the nickname “Humanity Dick” because of his compassion for the plight of animals at that time.

Through Martin’s work the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act is enacted in 1822. This is the first piece of legislation which aims to protect animals from cruelty. Most people do not recognise animal rights in those days and people often make fun of him. Cartoons of him with donkey ears appears in the newspapers of the day.

After having the Bill passed by Parliament, Martin actively seeks out cases where cruelty has been inflicted on animals on the streets of London. He is responsible for bringing many people to court for cruelty against horses. He often pays half the fine of the accused in cases where the accused cannot afford it and seems genuinely sorry for his actions.

Due to Martin’s profile as a politician and as the drafter of the anti-cruelty legislation, a public perception develops that he is the initiator and creator of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). At the Society’s first anniversary meeting he sets the public record straight and gives credit to Rev. Arthur Broome, although he maintains an interest in the Society.

After the election of 1826, Martin, now a heavy gambler, loses his parliamentary seat because of a petition which accuses him of illegal intimidation during the election. He flees into hasty exile to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, because he can no longer enjoy a parliamentary immunity to arrest for debt. He dies there peacefully in the presence of his second wife and their three daughters on January 6, 1834. A year after Martin’s death, the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act is extended to cover cruelty to all domestic animals.

Martin’s work continues today. The RSPCA now has members all over the world. In Ireland it is known as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA). Many other groups have been set up which protect animals from cruelty.


Leave a comment

Birth of William McCrea, Astronomer & Mathematician

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100Sir William Hunter McCrea, English astronomer and mathematician, is born in Dublin on December 13, 1904.

McCrea’s family moves to Kent in 1906 and then to Derbyshire where he attends Chesterfield Grammar School. His father is a school master at Netherthorpe Grammar School in Staveley. He goes to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1923 where he studies mathematics, later gaining a PhD in 1929 under Ralph H. Fowler.

In 1928, McCrea studies Albrecht Unsöld‘s hypothesis and discovers that three quarters of the sun is made of hydrogen and about one quarter is helium with 1% being other elements. Previous to this many people thought the sun consisted mostly of iron. After this, people realise most stars consist of hydrogen.

From 1930 McCrea lectures in mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. In 1931, during his time in Edinburgh, he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers are Sir Edmund Taylor Whittaker, Sir Charles Galton Darwin, Edward Copson and Charles Glover Barkla. He wins the Society’s Keith Medal, jointly with Edward Copson, for the period 1939-1941.

In 1932 McCrea moves to Imperial College London as a Reader and marries Marian Core the following year. In 1936 he becomes Professor of Mathematics and head of the mathematics department at the Queen’s University Belfast.

During World War II McCrea is co-opted onto the Admiralty Operational Research Group. After the war, he joins the mathematics department at Royal Holloway College in 1944. He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1952.

McCrea is president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1961 to 1963 and president of Section A of the British Association for the Advancement of Science from 1965–1966.

In 1964 McCrea proposes mass transfer mechanism as an explanation of blue straggler stars. In 1965, he creates the astronomy centre of the physics department at the University of Sussex.

McCrea wins the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1976 and is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985.

William McCrea dies on April 25, 1999 at Lewes in Sussex. The McCrea Building on the Royal Holloway College campus is named after him.


Leave a comment

Birth of Erskine H. Childers, 4th President of Ireland

erskine-hamilton-childers-1Erskine Hamilton Childers, Irish politician and a member of the Fianna Fáil party who serves as the fourth President of Ireland (1973–74), is born on December 11, 1905 in the Embankment Gardens, Westminster, London, to a Protestant family, originally from Glendalough, County Wicklow.

Childers is educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and the University of Cambridge, hence his striking British upper class accent. On November 24, 1922, when he is sixteen, his father, Robert Erskine Childers, is executed by the new Irish Free State on politically-inspired charges of gun-possession. The pistol he had been found with had been given to him by Michael Collins. Before his execution, in a spirit of reconciliation, the elder Childers obtains a promise from his son to seek out and shake the hand of every man who had signed his death warrant.

Following his father’s funeral, he returns to Gresham’s, then two years later he goes on to Trinity College, Cambridge. He returns to Ireland in 1932 and becomes advertising manager of The Irish Press, the newly founded newspaper owned by the family of Éamon de Valera.

Childers’s political debut is as a successful Fianna Fáil candidate for a seat in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, in 1938. He becomes a Parliamentary secretary in 1944 and is later Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1951–54), Minister for Lands (1957–59), and Minister for Transport and Power (1959–69). He also serves as Tánaiste and Minister for Health (1969–73). He supports Taoiseach Jack Lynch’s condemnation of the violence in Northern Ireland and Lynch’s advocacy of a European role for the Irish republic within the European Economic Community (now European Community, embedded in the European Union).

Childers is nominated as the presidential candidate of Fianna Fáil at the behest of de Valera, who pressures Jack Lynch in the selection of the presidential candidate. He is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proved enormous, and in a political upset at the 1973 Irish presidential election, he is elected the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973, defeating Tom O’Higgins by 635,867 (52%) votes to 578,771 (48%). He becomes the second Protestant to hold the office, the first being Douglas Hyde (1938–1945).

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing.

On November 17, 1974, during a conference to the psychiatrists of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, Childers suffers a congestional heart failure causing him to lie sideways and turn blue before suddenly collapsing. He is pronounced dead the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by his presidential predecessor Éamon de Valera and world leaders including Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and British Opposition Leader Edward Heath, and Presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary Church, in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


Leave a comment

Birth of Physicist Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton

ernest-waltonErnest Thomas Sinton Walton, Irish physicist, is born in Abbeyside, Dungarvan, County Waterford on October 6, 1903. He is the corecipient, with Sir John Douglas Cockcroft of England, of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of the first nuclear particle accelerator, known as the Cockcroft-Walton generator.

Walton is the son of a Methodist minister, Rev John Walton (1874–1936), and Anna Sinton (1874–1906). In those days a general clergyman’s family moves once every three years, and this practice carries him and his family, while he is a small child, to Rathkeale, County Limerick, where his mother dies, and to County Monaghan. He attends day schools in counties Down and Tyrone, and at Wesley College in Dublin before becoming a boarder at Methodist College Belfast in 1915, where he excels in science and mathematics. He obtains degrees in mathematics and experimental science from Trinity College Dublin in 1926.

Walton goes to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1927 where he works with Cockcroft in the Cavendish Laboratory under Ernest Rutherford until 1934. In 1928 he attempts two methods of high-energy particle acceleration. Both fail, mainly because the available power sources could not generate the necessary energies, but his methods are later developed and used in the betatron and the linear particle accelerator. In 1929 Cockcroft and Walton devise an accelerator that generates large numbers of particles at lower energies. With this device in 1932 they disintegrate lithium nuclei with protons, the first artificial nuclear reaction not utilizing radioactive substances and so becomes the first person in history to split the atom.

After gaining his Ph.D. at Cambridge, Walton returns to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1934, where he remains as a fellow for the next 40 years and a fellow emeritus thereafter. He is Erasmus Smith Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy from 1946 to 1974 and chairman of the School of Cosmic Physics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies after 1952.

Although he retires from Trinity College Dublin in 1974, he retains his association with the Physics Department at Trinity up to his final illness. His is a familiar face in the tea-room. Shortly before his death he marks his lifelong devotion to Trinity by presenting his Nobel medal and citation to the college. Ernest Walton dies at the age of 91 in Belfast on June 25, 1995. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Ernest T.S. Walton, 1951, by Nobel foundation)


Leave a comment

Birth of Charles Villiers Stanford, Composer & Conductor

charles-villiers-stanfordSir Charles Villiers Stanford, composer, music teacher, and conductor, is born in Dublin on September 30, 1852.

Stanford is born into a well-off and highly musical family, the only son of John James Stanford, a prominent Dublin lawyer, Examiner to the Court of Chancery in Ireland and Clerk of the Crown for County Meath, and his second wife, Mary, née Henn. He is educated at the University of Cambridge before studying music in Leipzig and Berlin. He is instrumental in raising the status of the Cambridge University Musical Society, attracting international stars to perform with it.

While still an undergraduate, Stanford is appointed organist of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1882, at the age of 29, he is one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music, where he teaches composition for the rest of his life. From 1887 he is also Professor of Music at Cambridge. As a teacher, he is skeptical about modernism, and bases his instruction chiefly on classical principles as exemplified in the music of Johannes Brahms. Among his pupils are rising composers whose fame go on to surpass his own, such as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. As a conductor, he holds posts with the Bach Choir and the Leeds Triennial Music Festival.

Stanford composes a substantial number of concert works, including seven symphonies, but his best-remembered pieces are his choral works for church performance, chiefly composed in the Anglican tradition. He is a dedicated composer of opera, but none of his nine completed operas has endured in the general repertory. Some critics regard him, together with Hubert Parry and Alexander Mackenzie, as responsible for a renaissance in music from the British Isles. However, after his conspicuous success as a composer in the last two decades of the 19th century, his music is eclipsed in the 20th century by that of Edward Elgar as well as former pupils.

In September 1922, Stanford completes the sixth Irish Rhapsody, his final work. Two weeks later he celebrates his 70th birthday and thereafter his health declines. On March 17, 1924 he suffers a stroke and dies on March 29 at his home in London, survived by his wife and children. He is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on April 2 and his ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey the following day.

Stanford’s last opera, The Travelling Companion, composed during World War I, is premiered by amateur performers at the David Lewis Theatre, Liverpool in 1925 with a reduced orchestra. The work is given complete at Bristol in 1928 and at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, in 1935.

Stanford receives many honours, including honorary doctorates from University of Oxford (1883), University of Cambridge (1888), Durham University (1894), University of Leeds (1904), and Trinity College, Dublin (1921). He is knighted in 1902 and in 1904 is elected a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin.


Leave a comment

Death of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

william-smith-obrienWilliam Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

Born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to the Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies at Bangor, in Wales on June 16, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.


Leave a comment

Death of Erskine Hamilton Childers, 4th President of Ireland

Erskine Hamilton Childers, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as the 4th President of Ireland, dies on November 17, 1974. He also serves as Tánaiste and Minister for Health from 1969 to 1973, Minister for Transport and Power from 1959 to 1969, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1951 to 1954 and 1966 to 1969. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1938 to 1973.

Childers is born on December 11, 1905, in the Embankment Gardens, London, to a Protestant family originally from Glendalough, County Wicklow. He is educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and the University of Cambridge. In 1922, when Childers is sixteen, his father, Robert Erskine Childers, is executed by the new Irish Free State on politically inspired charges of gun-possession. After attending his father’s funeral, Childers returns to Gresham’s, then two years later he goes on to Trinity College, Cambridge.

After finishing his education, Childers works for a period in a tourism board in Paris. In 1931, Éamon de Valera invites him to work for his recently founded newspaper, The Irish Press, where Childers becomes advertising manager. He becomes a naturalised Irish citizen in 1938. That same year, he is first elected as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Athlone–Longford. He remains in the Dáil Éireann until 1973, when he resigns to become President.

Childers joins the cabinet in 1951 as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in the de Valera government. He then serves as Minister for Lands in de Valera’s 1957–59 cabinet, as Minister for Transport and Power under Seán Lemass, and, successively, as Transport Minister, Posts and Telegraphs Minister, and Health Minister under Jack Lynch. He becomes Tánaiste in 1969.

Fine Gael TD Tom O’Higgins, who had almost won the 1966 presidential election, is widely expected to win the 1973 election when he is again the Fine Gael nominee. Childers is nominated by Fianna Fáil at the behest of de Valera, who pressures Jack Lynch in the selection of the presidential candidate. He is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous, and in a political upset, Childers is elected the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973, defeating O’Higgins by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers had campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Garret FitzGerald.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers’ daughter Nessa believes that he plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict, reporting that former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O’Neill meets secretly with her father at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desired, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin is attended by world leaders including the Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


Leave a comment

Birth of Robert Erskine Childers, Writer & Fenian

Robert Erskine Childers, British writer universally known as Erskine Childers and whose mother is from County Clare, is born on June 25, 1870 in Mayfair, London, England. His works include the influential novel The Riddle of the Sands. He is the second son of Robert Caesar Childers, a translator and oriental scholar from an ecclesiastical family, and Anna Mary Henrietta, née Barton, from an Anglo-Irish landowning family of Glendalough House, Annamoe, County Wicklow. He is also the cousin of Hugh Childers and Robert Barton, and the father of the fourth President of Ireland, Erskine Hamilton Childers.

Childers is raised at the home of family members at Glendalough, County Wicklow. At the recommendation of his grandfather, Canon Charles Childers, he is sent to Haileybury College. There he wins an exhibition to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studies the classical tripos and then law. He distinguishes himself as the editor of Cambridge Review, the university magazine.

Childers’s first published work is some light detective stories he contributes to the Cambridge Review while he is editor. His first book is In the Ranks of the C. I. V., an account of his experiences in the Boer War, but he writes it without any thought of publication.

After serving in the British army during the Boer War he becomes an Irish nationalist. In 1914, Childers smuggles a cargo of 900 Mauser Model 1871 rifles and 29,000 black powder cartridges to the Irish Volunteers movement at the fishing village of Howth, County Dublin on his yacht, Asgard.

Though he serves as the principal secretary to Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith at the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations, Childers opposes the treaty, supporting the anti-treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. Childers is captured with a pistol by Free Staters in November 1922 shortly after the Free State has passed legislation making such possession a capital offence. Ironically, the revolver Childers possesses is a gift from former comrade Michael Collins, who led the Free State until his death in an ambush three months earlier.

Childers is put on trial by a military court on the charge of possessing a small Spanish-made Gaztanaga Destroyer .32 calibre semi-automatic pistol on his person in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution. Childers is convicted by the military court and sentenced to death on November 20, 1922.

While his appeal against the sentence is still pending, Childers is executed on November 24, 1922 by firing squad at the Beggar’s Bush Barracks in Dublin. Before his execution he shakes hands with each member of the firing squad. He also obtains a promise from his then 16-year-old son, the future President Erskine Hamilton Childers, to seek out and shake the hand of every man who has signed his death sentence. His final words, spoken to the firing squad, are, “Take a step or two forward, lads, it will be easier that way.”

Robert Erskine Childers is buried at Beggar’s Bush Barracks until 1923, when his body is exhumed and reburied in the republican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


Leave a comment

Ernest Walton Awarded Nobel Prize for Physics

ernest-waltonErnest Thomas Sinton Walton, Irish physicist, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on November 15, 1951, for his work with John Cockcroft with “atom-smashing” experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so becomes the first person in history to artificially split the atom.

Walton is born on October 6, 1903, in Abbeyside, Dungarvan, County Waterford to a Methodist minister father, Rev John Walton and Anna Sinton. In those days a general clergyman’s family moves once every three years, and this practice carries Ernest and his family to Rathkeale, County Limerick, and to County Monaghan. He attends day schools in counties Down and Tyrone, and at Wesley College Dublin before becoming a boarder at Methodist College Belfast in 1915, where he excels in science and mathematics.

In 1922, Walton wins scholarships to Trinity College, Dublin for the study of mathematics and science. He is awarded bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Trinity in 1926 and 1927, respectively. Walton receives seven prizes for excellence in physics and mathematics, including the Foundation Scholarship in 1924. Following graduation he is awarded an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and is accepted as a research student at Trinity College, Cambridge, under the supervision of Sir Ernest Rutherford, Director of Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory. At the time there are four Nobel Prize laureates on the staff at the Cavendish lab and a further five are to emerge, including Walton and John Cockcroft. Walton is awarded his PhD in 1931 and remains at Cambridge as a researcher until 1934.

During the early 1930s, Walton and John Cockcroft collaborate to build an apparatus that splits the nuclei of lithium atoms by bombarding them with a stream of protons accelerated inside a high-voltage tube. The splitting of the lithium nuclei produces helium nuclei. This is experimental verification of theories about atomic structure that have been proposed earlier by Rutherford, George Gamow, and others. The successful apparatus, a type of particle accelerator now called the Cockcroft-Walton generator, helps to usher in an era of particle-accelerator-based experimental nuclear physics. It is this research at Cambridge in the early 1930s that wins Walton and Cockcroft the Nobel Prize in physics in 1951.

Walton is associated with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies for over 40 years, serving long periods on the board of the School of Cosmic Physics and on the Council of the Institute. Following the 1952 death of John J. Nolan, the inaugural chairman of the School of Cosmic Physics, Walton assumes the role, and serves in that position until 1960, when he is succeeded by John H. Poole.

Although he retires from Trinity College Dublin in 1974, he retains his association with the Physics Department at Trinity up to his final illness. His is a familiar face in the tea-room. Shortly before his death he marks his lifelong devotion to Trinity by presenting his Nobel medal and citation to the college. Ernest Walton dies in Belfast on June 25, 1995, aged 91. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown.