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


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The Completion of the “Annals of the Four Masters”

annals-of-the-four-mastersThe Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland or the Annals of the Four Masters, chronicles of medieval Irish history, are completed on August 10, 1636. The entries span from the Deluge, dated as 2,242 years after creation to 1616 AD.

The annals are mainly a compilation of earlier annals, although there is some original work, and are one of the principal Irish language sources for Irish history up to 1616. They are compiled between 1632 and 1636 at a Franciscan friary near the Drowes River in County Leitrim, on the border with County Donegal and County Sligo. The patron of the project is Fearghal Ó Gadhra, MP, a Gaelic lord in Coolavin, County Sligo. While many of the early chapters are essentially lists of names and dates, the later chapters, dealing with events of which the authors have first-hand accounts, are much more detailed.

The chief compiler of the annals is Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh from Ballyshannon, who is assisted by, among others, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maol Chonaire and Peregrine Ó Duibhgeannain. Although only one of the authors, Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, is a Franciscan friar, they become known as “The Four Friars” or in the original Irish, Na Ceithre Máistrí. The Anglicized version of this is “The Four Masters,” the name that has become associated with the annals themselves.

Due to the criticisms by Irish historian Tuileagna Ó Maol Chonaire, the text is not published during the lifetime of any of the participants. The first substantial English translation (starting at 1171 AD) is published by Owen Connellan in 1846. The Connellan translation includes the annals from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries. The only version to have a four-colour frontispiece, it includes a large folding map showing the location of families in Ireland. This edition, neglected for over 150 years, is republished in the early twenty-first century. The original Connellan translation is followed several years later by a full translation by the historian John O’Donovan. The translation is funded by a government grant of £1,000 obtained by the notable mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton while he is president of the Royal Irish Academy.

The reliability and usefulness of the Annals as a historical source has sometimes been questioned on the grounds that they are limited to accounts of the births, deaths and activities of the Gaelic nobility of Ireland and often ignore wider social trends or events. On the other hand, the Annals, as one of the few prose sources in Irish from this period, also provide a valuable insight into events such as the Desmond Rebellions and the Nine Years’ War from a Gaelic Irish perspective.

The early part of this work is based upon the Lebor Gabála Érenn. Today, most scholars regard the Lebor Gabála Érenn as primarily myth rather than history. It appears to be mostly based on medieval Christian pseudo-histories, but it also incorporates some of Ireland’s native pagan mythology. Scholars believe the goal of its writers was to provide an epic history for Ireland that could compare to that of the Israelites or the Romans, and which reconciled native myth with the Christian view of history.

The several manuscript copies are held at Trinity College, Dublin, the Royal Irish Academy, University College Dublin and the National Library of Ireland.

(Pictured: Illustration of “the four masters” by B. H. Holbrooke, 1846)

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Birth of Mathematician William Rowan Hamilton

william-rowan-hamiltonSir William Rowan Hamilton, Irish mathematician who makes important contributions to classical mechanics, optics, and algebra, is born in Dublin on August 4, 1805.

Hamilton is the fourth of nine children born to Sarah Hutton (1780–1817) and Archibald Hamilton (1778–1819). He is part of a small but well-regarded school of mathematicians associated with Trinity College, Dublin, which he enters at age eighteen. He is said to have shown immense talent at a very early age. Astronomer Bishop Dr. John Brinkley remarks of the 18-year-old Hamilton, “This young man, I do not say will be, but is, the first mathematician of his age.”

Trinity College awards him two Optimes, or off-the-chart grades. He studies both classics and mathematics, and is appointed Professor of Astronomy just prior to his graduation. He then takes up residence at Dunsink Observatory where he spends the rest of his life.

Although Hamilton regards himself as a pure mathematician rather than a physicist, his work is of major importance to physics, particularly his reformulation of Newtonian mechanics, now called Hamiltonian mechanics. This work has proven central to the modern study of classical field theories such as electromagnetism, and to the development of quantum mechanics. In pure mathematics, he is best known as the inventor of quaternions.

Hamilton’s scientific career includes the study of geometrical optics, classical mechanics, adaptation of dynamic methods in optical systems, applying quaternion and vector methods to problems in mechanics and in geometry, development of theories of conjugate algebraic couple functions, solvability of polynomial equations and general quintic polynomial solvable by radicals, the analysis on Fluctuating Functions, linear operators on quaternions and proving a result for linear operators on the space of quaternions, which is a special case of the general theorem which today is known as the Cayley–Hamilton theorem. He also invents Icosian calculus, which he uses to investigate closed edge paths on a dodecahedron that visit each vertex exactly once.

Hamilton retains his faculties unimpaired to the very last, and steadily continues the task of finishing the Elements of Quaternions which occupies the last six years of his life. He dies on September 2, 1865, following a severe attack of gout precipitated by excessive drinking and overeating. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.


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Birth of Anglican Bishop Charles Graves

charles-gravesCharles Graves FRS, 19th-century Anglican Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe, is born at 12 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, on December 6, 1812. He serves as President of the Royal Irish Academy, Dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle and is a noted mathematician.

Graves is born to John Crosbie Graves (1776–1835), Chief Police Magistrate for Dublin, and Helena Perceval, the daughter and co-heiress of the Rev. Charles Perceval (1751–1795) of Bruhenny, County Cork. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he wins a scholarship in Classics, and in 1834 graduates BA as Senior Moderator in mathematics, getting his MA in 1838. He plays cricket for Trinity, and later in his life does much boating and fly-fishing. It is intended that he join the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot under his uncle, Major-General James William Graves (1774–1845), and in preparation he becomes an expert swordsman and rider.

After leaving Trinity College, Graves follows in the steps of his grandfather, Thomas Graves, who was appointed Dean of Ardfert in 1785 and Dean of Connor in 1802, and his great uncle, Richard Graves. He is appointed a fellow of Trinity College from 1836 to 1843 before taking the professorship of mathematics, a position he holds until 1862.

Graves is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1837 and subsequently holds various officerships, including President from 1861 to 1866. In 1860 he is appointed Dean of the Chapel Royal and, from 1864 to 1866, he is the Dean of Clonfert before being consecrated as Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe, a position he holds for 33 years until his death on July 17, 1899. He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1880 and receives the honorary degree of DCL from Oxford University in 1881.

In 1841 Graves publishes an original mathematical work and he embodies further discoveries in his lectures and in papers read before and published by the Royal Irish Academy. He is a colleague of Sir William Rowan Hamilton and, upon the latter’s death, Graves gives a presidential panegyric containing a valuable account both of Hamilton’s scientific labours and of his literary attainments.

Graves is very interested in Irish antiquarian subjects. He discovers the key to the ancient Irish Ogham script which appears as inscriptions on cromlechs and other stone monuments. He also prompts the government to publish the old Irish Brehon Laws, Early Irish law. His suggestion is adopted and he is appointed a member of the Commission to do this.

Graves’ official residence is The Palace at Limerick, but from the 1850s he takes the lease of Parknasilla House, County Kerry, as a summer residence. In 1892 he buys out the lease of the house and a further 114 acres of land that includes a few islands. In 1894 he sells it to Great Southern Hotels, who still own it to this day.


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Establishment of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) is established in Dublin on June 19, 1940 by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera under the Institute for Advanced Studies Act, 1940. The Institute consists of three schools: the School of Theoretical Physics, the School of Cosmic Physics and the School of Celtic studies. The Institute under the act is empowered to “train students in methods of advanced research” but does not itself award degrees. Graduate students working under the supervision of Institute researchers can, with the agreement of the governing board of the appropriate school, be registered for a higher degree in any university worldwide.

Shortly after becoming Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera investigates the possibility of setting up an institute of higher learning. Being of mathematical background, de Valera is aware of the decline of the Dunsink Observatory, where Sir William Rowan Hamilton, regarded as Ireland’s most influential mathematician, has held the position of Royal Astronomer of Ireland. Following meetings with prominent academics in the fields of mathematics and astronomy, he comes to the conclusion that astronomy at Dunsink should be revived and an institute for higher learning should be established.

The Institute is initially located at 64 and 65 Merrion Square and consists of the School of Theoretical Physics and the School of Celtic Studies, to which the School of Cosmic Physics is added in 1947. It is modeled on the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, which was founded in 1930. Most importantly, Erwin Schrödinger is interested in coming to Ireland, and this represents an opportunity not to be missed. The School of Celtic Studies owes its founding to the importance de Valera accords to the Irish language. He considers it a vital element in the makeup of the nation, and therefore important that the nation should have a place of higher learning devoted to this subject.

The founding of the Institute is somewhat controversial, since at the time only a minority are successfully completing elementary education, and university education is for the privileged. By this reasoning, the creation of a high-level research institute is a waste of scarce resources. However, Éamon de Valera is aware of the great symbolic importance such a body would have on the international stage for Ireland. This thinking influences much of de Valera’s premiership.

Work by the Geophysics section of the School of Cosmic Physics on the formation of the North Atlantic demonstrates that the Irish continental shelf extends much further than previously thought, thereby more than doubling the area of the seabed over which Ireland can claim economic exploitation rights under the international law of the sea. Fundamental work in statistical mechanics by the School of Theoretical Physics finds application in computer switching technology and leads to the establishment of an Irish campus company to exploit this intellectual property. The Institute has also in recent years been one of the main agents helping to set up a modern e-Infrastructure in support of all Irish research.

In 1968 the Royal Society recognises de Valera’s contribution to science in establishing the Institute by electing him to honorary fellowship.

Currently the Institute has its schools located at three premises on the Southside of Dublin at 10 Burlington Road, 31 Fitzwilliam Place and 5 Merrion Square. It also maintains a presence at Dunsink Observatory in north County Dublin.

(Pictured: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies School of Theoretical Physics, 10 Burlington Road, Dublin)


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Birth of Arthur William Conway, UCD President

arthur-william-conwayArthur William Conway FRS, President of University College Dublin between 1940 and 1947, is born in Wexford on October 2, 1875.

Conway receives his early education at St. Peter’s College, Wexford and proceeds to enter old University College, Dublin in 1892. He receives his BA degree from the Royal University of Ireland in 1896 with honours in Latin, English, Mathematics, and Natural Philosophy. In 1897, he receives his MA degree with highest honours in mathematics and proceeds to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, becoming University Scholar there in 1901. Also in 1901, he is appointed to the professorship of Mathematical Physics in the old University College and holds the Chair until the creation of the new college in 1909. He also teaches for a short time at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Conway marries Agnes Christina Bingham on August 19, 1903. They have three daughters and one son.

One of Conway’s students is Éamon de Valera, whom he introduces to quaternions which originate in Ireland. De Valera warms to the subject and engages in research of this novelty of abstract algebra. Later, when de Valera becomes Taoiseach, he calls upon Conway while forming the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Conway is remembered for his application of biquaternion algebra to the special theory of relativity. He publishes an article in 1911, and in 1912 asserts priority over Ludwik Silberstein, who also applies biquaternions to relativity. This claim is backed up by George Temple in his book 100 Years of Mathematics. In 1947 Conway puts quaternions to use with rotations in hyperbolic space. The next year he publishes quantum mechanics applications which are referred to in a PhD thesis by Joachim Lambek in 1950.

In 1918, Conway is the Irish Parliamentary Party candidate in South Londonderry and in the National University of Ireland, coming in second in both.

Conway continues his scholarship in the field of mathematics and theoretical physics, and makes a special study of William Rowan Hamilton. With John Lighton Synge, he edits the first volume of Hamilton’s mathematical papers and, with A. J. McConnell, he edits the second volume of Hamilton’s mathematical papers. Conway is also active in college life, being appointed Registrar, a position he occupies until his election as president in 1940. He retires in 1947 from the presidency of UCD. In 1953, some of his writings are edited by J. McConnell for publication by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

He is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy from 1937 to 1940.