Dunsink Observatory was one of those places in Dublin that I knew about, but had never visited. So it was a real treat to be shown around the historic building by Prof. Luke Drury (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) whose wealth of knowledge and anecdotes made for a most enjoyable and informative experience.
Dunsink Observatory – 1785
Clocks that kept ‘Dunsink’ time
The Observatory was built in 1785, and it was financed by funds from the will of Provost Francis Andrews of Trinity College, who wanted the college to have, for the first time, the facility to study astronomical science. Richard Myers designed it, and the original plans that called for two Palladian-style wings, were never completed due to financial restraints. As such, the building you see today is notable for its lack of ornamentation and is appealing, nevertheless, to a modern architectural aesthetic.
Although no major discoveries were made at the Observatory, it was made famous by Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865) who was appointed Professor of Astronomy and Director of Dunsink in 1827, while he still an undergraduate. He was Ireland’s greatest mathematician and his work on the foundations of mechanics underpins large areas of modern physics. His most famous discovery happened on 16th October 1843 at Broom Bridge, when he suddenly realised the solution to a problem that he had been working on, and scratched it into the stone on the bridge with his pocketknife. His discovery of quaternions, is a classic moment of revelation, and one of its main applications is in spacecraft attitude control systems.
The South Dome was erected in 1865 and the Grubb telescope is impressive, even after 150 years. Grubb was a firm based in Rathmines and it exported telescopes all over the world until the early 20th century.
Dunsink provided the correct time for Dublin and you can see the original clocks and other equipment inside the main building. And, not surprisingly, ‘Dunsink time’ is mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
The State bought the Observatory in 1947 and it is now part of the School of Cosmic Physics in DIAS. Today the Observatory is used for conferences, meetings and during the winter (Oct-Mar) for Open Nights when visitors can view celestial bodies (weather permitting!) though the Grubb telescope. Special family events are often held where parents and children can meet an astronomer and explore the night sky. Carl Sagan, the renowned cosmologist, was famous for his quotes and the following should be borne in mind, especially if you get to look through the Grubb telescope sometime: ‘The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.’ I think that says it all!
Grubb Telescope in South Dome
Filed under Dublin, Science
Two very good reviews of Marked Off – thank you very much! (Click image to enlarge)
Irish Examiner – 21 March 2015
Book Review in Dublin Gazette
Well it’s been a few weeks since the book launch (Hanna’s Bookshop) and it is really nice to have some good reviews. The first is from No More Workhorse, an online website dealing with the arts: Music, Theatre, Film and Books, and the second is from College Tribune (UCD College News).
Samuel Beckett in Trinity College
For someone born on Friday 13th especially as it was also Good Friday (in 1906), something special could be expected. So it’s no surprise that Beckett, who was born in Foxrock, Co Dublin, went on to become one of the most important writers of the 20th century and an inspiration to dramatists like Vaclav Havel, Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter. His influence on the Beat Generation and their ‘experimental writing’ was vital for Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and many others.
Beckett was educated originally in Dublin before attending Portora Royal School in Enniskillen (Oscar Wilde had once been a pupil) and then entering Dublin University (Trinity College). He was a bright a student and an excellent athlete, excelling at cricket. He played two first-class matches against Northamptonshire and, as such, has the unique distinction of being the only Nobel laureate (1969) to be mentioned in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac – cricket’s ‘bible’.
College Park – Beckett played cricket
He went to Paris in 1927 to teach English and was soon introduced to James Joyce. Over the next two years, and with Joyce’s failing eyesight, he did much research on what would become Joyce’s last work Finnegans Wake. He was greatly impressed with the older man, and his first published work was a critical essay in support of Joyce.
After a short return to Dublin he went back to Paris when WWII began. He helped the French Resistance and in 1942 was lucky to escape capture by the Gestapo. His commitment was recognised after the war, when he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government.
This was Beckett’s most productive period, highlighted by the completion in January 1949 of his play Waiting for Godot. This play is considered by many as one of the greatest works of the century and, like all masterpieces, has any number of interpretations. The critic Vivian Mercier commented that ‘Beckett has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.’ Or more succinctly – less is less!
Gate Theatre – long relationship with Beckett