Monthly Archives: December 2015

Time for Turner – The Vaughan Bequest

JMW Turner

JMW Turner

January is often viewed as a comedown after the excitement of Christmas has finally died away, but not for those who are fans of the watercolours of JMW Turner. The annual display of his work lasts for the month of January, and it is one of the National Gallery of Ireland’s (NGI) most popular attractions.

In 1900 the National Gallery were bequeathed 31 watercolours by Henry Vaughan, and a stipulation that they should only be displayed in January when the light was weak. This was to protect the delicate drawings, and although modern measures can adequately do the job the National Gallery adheres to Vaughan’s request. This adds to the display and allows the viewer to see Turner’s magical work as Vaughan or the artist would have enjoyed them.

Henry Vaughan

Henry Vaughan

Henry Vaughan was born in Southwark, south London, in April 1809 and his father, George, owned a very successful hat making business. And in 1829 when his father died Henry inherited the business and was an extremely wealthy young man. He had been privately educated, and his wealth allowed him to travel widely in Europe and begin his collection. This included many works and sketches by Michelangelo and Rembrandt and paintings by Reynolds, Flaxman and Constable. In fact, he presented Constable’s famous work the Hay Wain to the National Gallery (London) in 1886.

By that time he had become a friend of Turner’s and bought a considerable number of his works that would constitute a large part of the Vaughan Bequest. The works that the NGI acquired have since been added to and now there are 36 watercolours to enjoy. They show Turner’s mastery of light, and his skill in catching the fleeting moment that so impressed generations of aspiring artists. And, two hundred later they still have the power to move the viewer. It’ll be a great way to start the New Year – check it out.

National Gallery of Ireland

National Gallery of Ireland




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Alice in Trinity College

Berkekey Library

Berkeley Library

Christmas is always a time when fairy tales are in the air and none more so than Alice in Wonderland which was published 150 years ago, on 26th November 1865. And to celebrate this landmark in publishing Trinity College has a special display of related books and illustrations from its collection. It will be on show until early January and is in the foyer of the Berkeley Library.

The book’s full title is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and was written by Lewis Carroll. His proper name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) who was a mathematician (lecturing in Christ Church, Oxford), logician and a pioneer of the new art form of photography. Among his most famous portraits were those of Michael Faraday, Lord Salisbury and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

He Latinised his names Charles Lutwidge to Carolus Ludovicus, reversed them and then changed them to ‘vulgar’ English getting Lewis Carroll. He was also an Anglican deacon and the great-grandson of Charles Dodgson who was the Bishop of Elphin in Roscommon in the 1770s.

The idea for his most famous book came during a boat trip along the Isis river from Folly Bridge, Oxford to Godstow on 4th July 1862. He made up the story as he went along to entertain the three young Liddell sisters: Lorina, Alice and Edith whose father was the Dean of Christ Church. The girls liked the story and Alice asked Carroll to write it down for her. In 1864 he gave Alice a handwritten copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground in which he added his own illustrations. Others read it and over the next year he tweaked the story, and with the help of top illustrator John Tenniel, it was published by Macmillan with the slight name change. And since then it has never been out of print; so new generations are still finding out about the colourful cast of characters: the Hatter, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit and the manic Queen of Hearts who loves to shout ‘Off with their heads’. Great stuff.

Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll


January 2016

For anyone interested in finding out more about Alice the British Museum, London, is running is running a course in March 2016.

Details :


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Dublin Writers’ Museum – It’s about words!

Dublin Writers' Museum

Dublin Writers’ Museum

For a city that has given the world so much fine literature the Dublin Writers’ Museum tells a story through its collection of letters, books and personal possessions of many great writers. It was setup in 1991 and with an interesting, chronological layout it is easy to follow the development of Irish writing from the late 17th to Samuel Beckett who died in 1989.

The building, at 18 Parnell Square, dates back to 1780 when Lord Farnham was its first occupant. It changed hands a few times until George Jameson (of the Jameson distilling family) bought the house in 1891. Over the years he made major refurbishments, including the creation of the wonderful Gallery of Writers on the first floor.

Dracula - First Edition

Dracula – First Edition

In the first room you can find out about the beginnings of Irish poetry and storytelling with the emergence of Swift, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan whose play The Rivals gave the world the word malapropism. There is a unique document with Jonathan Swift’s signature and a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And you can find out about Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu  and the songs of Thomas Moore.

The second room concentrates of the works from the Irish Literary Revival at the end of the 19th century. The opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904 was a pivotal moment with its productions of plays by playwrights WB Yeats, JM Synge and Sean O’Casey and there are many original programmes from the time. The signed copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is worth the visit for any Joycean fan. There is plenty of interesting stuff to enjoy on Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain, writers whose short stories elevated the art form. An original Cruiskeen Lawn column (from the Irish Times) by Brian O’Nolan (Myles na gCopaleen) was a delight.

Upstairs in the Gallery there are some fine portraits and glass cabinets with letters, papers and other personal items. The telephone that Samuel Beckett had in his Paris apartment that allowed him chose whether to speak to a caller or not is quirky. There is the piano that Joyce played regularly and the chair that GF Handel sat on when conducting Messiah at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street in 1642!

James Joyce's piano

James Joyce’s piano

The museum is a popular visitor attraction and it’s easy to see why. It’s a wordy place.


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Robert Mallet – Father of Seismology

Robert Mallet

Robert Mallet

Making a significant contribution to science and being recognised for it would be enough for most people, but not Robert Mallet who is also credited with creating new words that are in daily use.

Mallet was born on 3rd June 1810 in Ryder’s Row (off Capel Street), Dublin where his father, John, owned a foundry. After schooling in Great Dominick Street he entered Trinity College in 1826 where he studied Science and Engineering. He graduated in 1830 and went on a long tour of the Continent where he visited numerous foundries learning the latest techniques that he would use in Dublin. By the early 1830s, with the introduction of railways into Ireland, the foundry was busy and Mallet became a wealthy man. He had become a partner and the name J&R Mallet, Dublin appeared on their work all over the country. You can see them at the bottom of Trinity College railings on Nassau Street and on an iron, mooring bollard on the West Pier, Dun Laoghaire.

J & R Mallet, Dublin

J & R Mallet, Dublin

He was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832, and by the mid-1840s he was using his mechanical and engineering skills to investigate and interpret earthquakes. His work On the dynamics of Earthquakes was a breakthrough and was the beginning of the science of seismology. He, in fact, created the word in 1858 along with seismoscope and epicentre. He famously blew up Killiney Beach while testing his theories in late 1849! Assisted by his son, John, and some soldiers, explosions were set off and he recorded the time taken for the shock wave to travel through the ground.

Mooring bollard, West Pier

Mooring bollard, West Pier

In 1877 he was awarded the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society of London, its highest award, and he was also elected as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Sadly, his eyesight was affected by an unidentified disease in the early 1870s and he spent his last years virtually blind. He died on 6th November 1881 and is buried in West Norwood Cemetery.


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