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


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Birth of Physicist John Joly

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

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

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

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 Although this method is later considered inaccurate and is consequently superseded, it radically modifies the results of other methods in use at the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birth of Novelist Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes, Irish novelist and non-fiction writer best known for her work in women’s literature, is born on September 10, 1963, in Limerick, County Limerick. She is an Irish Book Awards winner. More than 22 million copies of her novels have been sold worldwide and her books have been translated into 32 languages. She is regarded as a pioneer of the “chick lit” genre. Her stories usually revolve around a strong female character who overcomes numerous obstacles to achieve lasting happiness.

Raised in Monkstown, Keyes graduates from University of Dublin with a law degree. After completing her studies, Keyes takes an administrative job before moving to London in 1986. During this period she develops alcoholism and clinical depression, culminating in a suicide attempt and subsequent rehabilitation in 1995 at the Rutland Centre in Dublin.

Keyes begins writing short stories while suffering from alcoholism. After her treatment at the Rutland Centre she returns to her job in London and submits her short stories to Poolbeg Press. The publisher encourages her to submit a full-length novel and Keyes begins work on her first book, Watermelon. The novel is published the same year.

Since 1995 she has published twelve novels and three works of nonfiction. After a long hiatus due to severe depression, a food title, Saved by Cake, is released in February 2012. Keyes currently lives in Dún Laoghaire with her husband Tony Baines, after returning to Ireland from London in 1997.

Keyes has written frankly about her clinical depression, which left her unable to sleep, read, write, or talk. She becomes known worldwide for Watermelon, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, and This Charming Man, with themes including domestic violence and alcoholism.

In 2014, after Keyes goes on Marian Finucane‘s RTÉ One show to talk about her new book, she tells her Twitter followers that Finucane has the “compassion and empathy of a cardboard box. Even my mammy called her a bad word.”


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Birth of Actor Niall MacGinnis

Niall MacGinnis, Irish actor who appears in 80 motion pictures, is born in Dublin on March 29, 1913.

MacGinnis is educated at Stonyhurst College in England, and studies medicine at the University of Dublin. He qualifies as a house surgeon. During World War II, MacGinnis serves as surgeon in the Royal Navy.

MacGinnis plays a German sailor in the British war film 49th Parallel (1941) with Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Eric Portman, and Raymond Massey. He portrays Captain MacMorris in Olivier’s version of Henry V (1944) and the title character in the film Martin Luther (1953). He plays the villainous Julian Karswell opposite American actor Dana Andrews in the British horror film Night of the Demon (1957), which is released in the United States as Curse of the Demon. He also plays Zeus opposite Honor Blackman‘s Hera in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), plays the arch-criminal A. J. Kent in an episode of Danger Man entitled “Battle of The Cameras” (1965), and has a supporting role in John Huston‘s film The Kremlin Letter (1969).

MacGinnis returns to medical practice during the 1970s. He dies of cancer at the age of 63 in Newport, Dyfed, Wales on January 6, 1977.


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Birth of Lawyer & Politician Philip Tisdall

philip-tisdallPhilip Tisdall, lawyer and politician who is a leading figure in the Irish Government for many years, is born on March 1, 1703, in County Louth.

Tisdall is the son of Richard Tisdall, who is MP for Dundalk in 1703–1713 and for Louth in 1717–1727, by his wife Marian Boyle, daughter of Richard Boyle, MP, a cousin of the Earl of Cork. His father is also Registrar of the Court of Chancery.

Tisdall is educated at Thomas Sheridan‘s school in Dublin, and at the University of Dublin, where he graduates Bachelor of Arts in 1722. He enters Middle Temple in 1723 and is called to the Irish Bar in 1733.

In 1736 he marries Mary Singleton, daughter of the Rev. Rowland Singleton and Elizabeth Graham, and niece and co-heiress of Henry Singleton, Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, a marriage which brings him both wealth and influence. He quickly becomes one of the leaders of the Bar, partly through his legal ability and partly through his marriage into the wealthy and influential Singleton family. He is made a Bencher of the King’s Inns in 1742.

He sits in the Irish House of Commons as MP for Dublin University from 1739 to 1776 and then for the city of Armagh from 1776 until his death. He is elected as member for Armagh in 1768, but chooses to continue sitting for the University.

In 1742 Tisdall is appointed Third Serjeant, then Solicitor-General in 1751 and Attorney-General in 1760. He is also appointed judge of the Prerogative Court of Ireland, an office he holds from 1745 until his death. In 1763 he becomes Principal Secretary of State, and on February 28, 1764 he is appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland. For almost 20 years he is a crucial figure in the Irish Government, which relies on him on to manage the Irish House of Commons, a task which he performs with great skill and tact. Tisdall is almost all-powerful until 1767, when George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend, arrives as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Townshend has a mandate to restore the direct power of the Crown over Irish affairs and to bypass the Irish managers like Tisdall. To his credit, Townshend recognises that Tisdall’s support is still an asset to the Government, and makes great efforts to conciliate him. Townshend lobbies hard for Tisdall to be appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland, but comes up against the inflexible British reluctance, then and for many years after, to appoint an Irishman to this crucial office. He retains the confidence of successive Lords Lieutenants. In 1777, despite his age and failing health, he is asked to resume his role as Government leader in the House of Commons. He agrees, but dies at Spa, Belgium on September 11 of the same year.

Tisdall is strikingly dark in complexion, hence his nicknames “Black Phil” and “Philip the Moor,” and is described as “grave in manner and sardonic in temper.” Despite his somewhat forbidding appearance, he is a hospitable character, who is noted for entertaining lavishly, even when he is well into his seventies, both at his town house in South Leinster Street, and his country house at Stillorgan. John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, who succeeds him as Attorney General, writes that Tisdall would have lived longer if he had adopted a more sedate lifestyle in his later years.


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Death of Irish Painter Sir John Lavery

john-laverySir John Lavery, Irish painter best known for his portraits and wartime depictions, dies of natural causes at the age of 84 in Kilmoganny, County Kilkenny, on January 10, 1941.

Born in Belfast on March 10, 1856, Lavery attends Haldane Academy in Glasgow in the 1870s and the Académie Julian in Paris in the early 1880s. He returns to Glasgow and is associated with the Glasgow School. In 1888 he is commissioned to paint the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry. This launches his career as a society painter and he moves to London soon thereafter. In London he becomes friends with James McNeill Whistler and is clearly influenced by him.

Like William Orpen, Lavery is appointed an official artist in World War I. Ill-health, however, prevents him from travelling to the Western Front. A serious car crash during a Zeppelin bombing raid also keeps him from fulfilling this role as war artist. He remains in Britain and mostly paints boats, aeroplanes, and airships. During the war years he is a close friend of H.H. Asquith‘s family and spends time with them at their Sutton Courtenay Thames-side residence, painting their portraits and idyllic pictures like Summer on the River (Hugh Lane Gallery).

After the war Lavery is knighted and in 1921 he is elected to the Royal Academy of Arts.

michael-collins-love-of-irelandDuring this time, he and his wife, Hazel, are tangentially involved in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. They give the use of their London home to the Irish negotiators during the negotiations leading to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. After Michael Collins is assassinated, Lavery paints Michael Collins, Love of Ireland, now in the Hugh Lane Gallery. In 1929, Lavery makes substantial donations of his work to both the Ulster Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery and in the 1930s he returns to Ireland. He receives honorary degrees from the University of Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast. He is also made a free man of both Dublin and Belfast. A long-standing member of Glasgow Art Club, Lavery exhibits at the club’s annual exhibitions, including its exhibition in 1939 in which his The Lake at Ranelagh is included.

Sir John Lavery dies in Rossenarra House, Kilmoganny, County Kilkenny on January 10, 1941, and is interred in Putney Vale Cemetery.


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Birth of Walter Hussey Burgh, Irish Statesman

walter-hussey-burghWalter Hussey Burgh, Irish statesman, barrister, and judge, is born in Kildare on August 23, 1742. Burgh sits in the Irish House of Commons and is considered to be one of its outstanding orators. He serves briefly as Chief Baron of the Exchequer at the end of his life.

Burgh is the son of Ignatius Hussey of Donore House, near Naas, and his wife Elizabeth Burgh. Elizabeth is the daughter of the leading statesman and architect Colonel Thomas de Burgh, who designs some of the most notable Irish buildings of his era, including Trinity College Library. Walter adopts the surname Burgh as a condition for inheriting the Burgh estate at Drumkeen, County Limerick, from his uncle Richard Burgh.

Burgh is educated at Mr. Young’s school at Abbey Street in Dublin, and then at the University of Dublin, where he graduates Bachelor of Arts in 1762. He is an accomplished classical scholar and has some reputation a poet. After studying at the Temple, he is called to the Bar in 1769 and within a few years becomes one of its leaders. He enters the Irish House of Commons in the same year, sitting first for Athy, later for the University of Dublin.

In Parliament he is a close associate of Henry Grattan and a supporter of his “free trade” programme. He becomes legendary for his oratory in support of the Irish Patriot Party. At the same time he prides himself on his independence of mind, preferring not to pledge support for any particular policy until he has examined its merits. He acquires as his patron Philip Tisdall, the immensely influential Attorney-General for Ireland, who calls him “the most promising of the rising young men.” At Tisdall’s request Burgh is appointed Prime Serjeant in 1776. He resigns the office in 1779, in protest at the continuing restrictions on free trade, after making the celebrated “England has sown her laws as dragon’s teeth” speech. After the removal of the restrictions, he agrees to accept office again and is re-appointed Prime Serjeant in 1782. A month later he is appointed Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, but he dies the following year at the assizes in Armagh, reportedly from gaol fever.


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Birth of Mary Robinson, 1st Female President of Ireland

mary-robinsonMary Therese Winifred Robinson, seventh and first female President of Ireland (1990-1997), is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. Robinson also serves as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 until 2002.

Robinson first rises to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner, and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989). Running as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers’ Party, and independent senators, Robinson defeats Fianna Fáil‘s Brian Lenihan and Fine Gael‘s Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming the first elected president in the office’s history not to have had the support of Fianna Fáil.

Robinson is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland, and for the Irish presidency, revitalising and liberalising a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigns the presidency two months before the end of her term in office in order to take up her post in the United Nations. During her UN tenure, she visits Tibet in 1998, the first High Commissioner to do so. She criticises Ireland’s immigrant policy and criticises the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extends her intended single four-year term by a year to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.

After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson forms Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which comes to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities are fostering equitable trade and decent work, promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and working to strengthen women’s leadership and encourage corporate social responsibility. The organisation also supports capacity building and good governance in developing countries. Robinson returns to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and sets up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, which aims to be “a centre for thought leadership, education, and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered, and the marginalised across the world.”

Robinson is Chair of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has also been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches international human rights. Robinson also visits other colleges and universities where she lectures on human rights. Robinson sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organisation which supports good governance and great leadership in Africa, and is a member of the Foundation’s Ibrahim Prize Committee. Robinson is an Extraordinary Professor in the Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria. Robinson serves as Oxfam’s honorary president from 2002 until she steps down in 2012 and is the honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation EIUC since 2005. She is Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and is also a founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders (2003-2009). Robinson was a member of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.

In 2004, she receives Amnesty International‘s Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights.

In July 2009, Robinson is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States. In presenting the award to Robinson, U.S. President Barack Obama says, “Mary Robinson learned early on what it takes to make sure all voices are heard. As a crusader for women and those without a voice in Ireland, Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland, before being appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. When she traveled abroad as President, she would place a light in her window that would draw people of Irish descent to pass by below. Today, as an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.”