Category Archives: London

The Lady in Blue – a very brief encounter!

Lady in Blue

Lady in Blue

A visit to my dentist does not always leave me with a happy memory, but thinking back to a cold and chilly January morning certainly brings a smile. Like all the best stories its beauty lay in its surprise and, unfortunately for me, its brevity. I was living in London at the time and was heading to my office having earlier been for my annual dental check-up. After a filling and polishing, and the inevitable admonishment from the dentist, I boarded the Tube and headed for central London.

As I had missed the main morning traffic I was able to get a seat and relaxed as we rolled towards town. I flicked my tongue across clean teeth, unfolded the newspaper and started the crossword. I quickly filled in a few clues and then paused and looked up. Across from me one passenger was reading the sports section of a tabloid paper while a girl sitting beside him was engrossed in a glossy magazine. The cover had an image of none other than the most photographed woman on the planet, Diana, Princess of Wales. She was on the cover of so many magazines and was the subject of countless articles about her style and love life, and to a lesser degree, her good works. She was beautiful, no doubt, and when the train jerked to a stop I returned to my crossword.

A cold, sharp breeze met me as I exited from Green Park station and turned onto Berkeley Street. I kept my head down, chin stuck firmly into my chest, and headed along the empty pavement to my office that was about a two-minute walk away. Papers and other bits and pieces flew aimlessly about the street as the chilly wind whistled around.

It was mid-morning and the pavement was almost completely empty. It was a slightly strange feeling and I looked about and saw only my reflection in shop windows as I walked. The wind continued to whip at my ears as I crossed the street and felt the numbness in my jaw slowly disappearing. Dentists, I thought, while down the street a large, black car slowed quietly before stopping at the kerb and a door opened.

Once more I buried my chin and cursed under my breath at the biting wind. It seemed as though it was going through me and I couldn’t wait to get into the warmth of my office, now only a few hundred yards away, and get a cup of coffee.

Looking up I saw the black car drive past me and its passenger was now standing on the pavement. She wore a coat that was the colour of the bluest of blue skies and it reached below her knees. It was very smart and I could not help smiling at the sheer exuberance of the woman’s style. She looked wonderful and her casual, elegant stride, as we approached, made her all the more interesting. I noticed her blonde hair was cut short but as she, too, had her face down against the wind I could not see her face. But as the distance between us closed I had the odd and pleasant feeling that I knew her, but couldn’t remember from where.

Lady Diana

Lady Diana

I was not able to take my eyes from her as I tried to remember who she might be. Was she an old girlfriend who I had not seen in years; or a former work colleague maybe? These thoughts ran around my head until we were about ten feet apart and her bag suddenly fell to the ground. Without hesitation I stopped, bent down and picked it up. The woman stopped, smiled and thanked me as I handed the bag to her. For the briefest moment the most photographed woman on the planet smiled at me, a smile so natural and warm that I was lost for words. The surprise of the situation was tingling and I heard myself utter, dry-throated, ‘Mam.’  Then, moments later, she gave me a friendly nod of thanks, turned and walked towards Piccadilly. And so, in the blink of a slightly watery eye the vision in blue, Diana, Princess of Wales, was lost in the breezy London morning.        

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Jack B Yeats – A Portrait of the Artist

Jack B Yeats

Jack B Yeats

Jack B Yeats, one of Ireland’s foremost painters, was born in London on the 29 August 1871, the youngest child of John Butler Yeats and his wife Susan (nee Pollexfen). His father, who had trained as a lawyer, was also a painter although not nearly as successful as his son would become.

Jack spent his early years moving between London, Dublin and his maternal grandparent’s home in Sligo before moving to London in 1887. He studied at the South Kensington School of Art and the Chiswick School of Art where he met Mary Cottenham White who he married in 1894. They moved to Devon in where he developed his artistic career as an illustrator for various journals, and after focusing on watercolours had his first exhibition in London in the 1897.

The couple left Devon for Ireland in 1910, first settling in Greystones, Wicklow, before moving to Dublin and finally into 18 Fitzwilliam Square where they spent the rest of their lives.

Olympic Silver Medal

Olympic Silver Medal

Back in Dublin Yeats began to work in oils and travelled widely capturing images of rural life, particularly in the West of Ireland and, of course, scenes in Dublin. One of his most famous and beloved paintings is The Liffey Swim (1924) which is now in the National Gallery. He entered this in the Paris Olympics and won the Silver Medal which is part of the Jack B Yeats archive that was donated to the gallery by his niece Anne Yeats, herself a painter and stage designer, in 1996. In 1999, his painting The Wild Ones was sold at Sotheby’s, London, for £1.2 million, the highest price ever paid for one of his works.

He continued to produce work for publication including illustrations for JM Synge’s The Aran Islands. And he wrote numerous plays, a collection of short stories for children and novels through the 1930s and 1940s. He died on 28 March 1957 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. He was 85.

The Liffey Swim

The Liffey Swim

 

 

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Thomas Moore – Melody Man

Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

Known as Ireland’s National Bard, Thomas Moore was born on 28 May 1779 at 12 Aungier Street, Dublin, above his father’s grocery shop. He had two younger sisters, and was interested in acting and music from an early age. He went to Whyte’s Academy on Grafton Street (now Bewley’s Café) before studying law at Trinity College. This was at the time of the 1798 Rebellion and he knew students who had been killed in the fighting. One of his most famous poem/songs The Minstrel Boy is considered to have been written in remembrance of these young men. Other compositions like The Last Rose of Summer and The Meeting of the Waters are perennial favourites.

Sweet vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest
In thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best,
Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease,
And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace.  

The following year he moved to London to continue his legal studies and began to make a name for himself as a poet, translator and singer. So much so that he met the Prince of Wales on several occasions and enjoyed the patronage of Lord Moira, a rich and famous military man and politician.

Thomas Moore - College Green

Thomas Moore – College Green

In 1803 he travelled to Bermuda to act as the Registrar to the Admiralty but left for America after only three months. There he met President Jefferson and was particularly well received in Philadelphia. In Canada he was rowed down the St Lawrence River and he was inspired to pen the Canadian Boat song in 1804.

Back in London and after a series of scathing criticisms by Francis Jeffrey, Moore challenged him to a duel. They met in Chalk Farm, in north London, but the authorities arrived and prevented it going ahead. The suggestion that his rival’s gun was empty led to more stinging abuse that plagued him for years.

From 1808-1834 he published many A Selection of Irish Melodies but a single collection was not compiled until after his death. He was a prodigious writer (the greatest collection of his work is held in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin) and performer until late in life when he suffered a stroke. He died on the 26th February 1852 at his home in Bromham, Wiltshire and is buried in a vault in nearby St Nicholas’s churchyard.

Moore's harp - Royal Irish Academy

Moore’s harp – Royal Irish Academy

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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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William Rowan Hamilton – Genius

WRH in the Royal Irish Academy

WRH in the Royal Irish Academy

The word genius is defined as ‘a person who displays exceptional intellectual ability, creativity or originality associated with the achievement of new advances in a domain of knowledge’ and it most definitely applies to William Rowan Hamilton.

Hamilton was born on the 4th August 1805, the fourth of nine children, to Archibald Hamilton, a solicitor, and his wife Sarah and lived at 38 Dominick Street, Dublin. When he was three years old he was sent to live with his uncle James Hamilton, a teacher and linguist, who ran a school in Trim, County Meath, and showed an exceptional talent for languages from an early age. By the age of thirteen he had acquired the same number of languages, including ancient Latin and Greek, most modern European languages and Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit. Late in life he often relaxed by reading books in Persian or Arabic!

South Telescope

South Telescope

When he was eight he lost a mental arithmetic contest against the American prodigy Zerah Colburn who was touring Europe and astounding audiences with his ability. After his loss Hamilton devoted his time to mathematics and less to the study of languages. The year before he entered university he spotted an error in Laplace’s Mechanique Celeste, and this brought him to the attention of John Brinkley, the Royal Astronomer of Ireland. He said of Hamilton: ‘This young man, I do not say will be, but is, the first mathematician of his age.’  

He entered Trinity College when he was eighteen and studied mathematics and Classics gaining an unprecedented ‘optime’ in both. Soon afterwards, in 1827, he was appointed, while still an undergraduate, Professor of Astronomy at Trinity College. Although this was a great opportunity for Hamilton, which included a decent salary and the title of Royal Astronomer of Ireland, it was also a place for his sisters to live. However, he spent most of his time studying mathematics and very little effort was devoted to astronomy. He was, however, twice awarded the Cunningham Medal, the highest honour bestowed by the Royal Irish Academy. And in 1835 he was knighted for his services to science; and both he and Michael Faraday were awarded the Queen’s Medal by the Royal Society that same year.

Plaque on Broom Bridge

Plaque on Broom Bridge

While on his way along the Royal Canal to a meeting in the Royal Irish Academy on 16th October 1843 the discovery of quaternions took shape in his mind. He etched the equation on Broome Bridge and the famous event is celebrated each year with a walk from the observatory to the site. Today quaternions are used in computer graphics, signal processing and orbital mechanics. As such, their use can be found in todays’ spacecraft attitude-control systems, and their discovery played a significant role in putting Man on the Moon. That’s out of this world, and something the Dunsink Astronomer would have loved.

Dunsink Observatory

Dunsink Observatory

 

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Irish Parliament House – First and Last

The Irish Parliament House on College Green was the first bicameral (two chambers) building in the world. The foundation stone was laid by Thomas Wyndham, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, on 3rd February 1729 and construction took almost ten years. It was designed by renowned Irish architect Edward Lovett Pearce who sadly died in 1733, aged thirty-four, and never lived to see his most famous work completed.

Irish Parliament

Irish Parliament

It was built on the site of Chichester House (owned by Sir George Carew) and used as the Parliament House since 1673. The place was in bad condition and, moreover, lacking in space. Pearce’s building addressed these issues, and although its workings were often disliked the building itself was appreciated for the elegance of its fine Palladian lines.

From the 1780s after Henry Grattan had secured a number of concessions from London, allied to the dangerous influence of the French Revolution and the 1798 Rising, Westminster decided that Irish affairs should be in its control. A vote in late 1799 went against Westminster’s wishes, but a second one in February 1800 where there was widespread bribery and awards of peerages, won the day and the House of Commons voted for its own abolition. The last sitting of the House was took place in August 1800. The new law, the Act of Union, came into effect on 1st Jan 1801 with all authority now resting with Westminster. This soon led to an exodus of peers and wealthy merchants that had a major negative impact on the Irish economy and a sharp decline in Dublin’s status.

As a final gesture of defiance against vote, John Foster (of Foster Place fame), the last Speaker of the House of Commons, retained possession of the Mace. It is believed that he hid it under his bed at home on Molesworth Street, and nothing more was heard of it until 1937 when it was put up for auction by Christies, London. It was bought by the Bank of Ireland and it is now in a glass case in the House of Lords. The Mace belonging to the House of Lords is now on show in the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History in Collins Barracks.

Mace - House of Commons

Mace – House of Commons

After its abolition the building was variously used as an art gallery and military depot. In 1803 it was purchased by the Bank of Ireland (who bought it for £40,000) as its new headquarters. When the building was sold it was stipulated that both chambers (Commons & Lords) be dismantled (so that it could never be used again as a parliament house), but the Lords is today almost unchanged. All the original fittings, including the beautifully engraved oak fireplace, are in use, and the bright red Woolsack which the Chancellor of Ireland sat on during debates, has now been restored. The magnificent 1,233 piece chandelier is original, and its counterpart from the Commons can be seen in the Examination Hall, across the road in Trinity College.

Oak Fireplace

Oak Fireplace

Magnificent chandelier

Magnificent chandelier

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Ernest Shackleton – Man of the Sea

ES as a young man

ES as a young man

If ever a man lived up to his family motto then Ernest Shackleton is most definitely that man. The words ‘By Endurance We Conquer’ were borne out to the maximum as he led all his 28 men to safety during the Antarctic expedition of 1914-1917. It is a tale of unbelievable skill, bravery and determination that is considered one of the greatest achievements in exploration. For this he is remembered as a man who showed consummate leadership skills and, of course, endurance, and they are all well presented in the Endurance Exhibition in Dun Laoghaire.

35 Marlborough Road

35 Marlborough Road, Dublin

Shackleton was born on the 15th February 1874 in Kilkea, near Athy in County Kildare. His father, Henry, decided to study medicine in Trinity College and moved his family into 35 Marlborough Road, Ranelagh for four years from 1880-1884. After graduating the family moved to Sydenham, south London where he practiced medicine for more than thirty years. Ernest, or ‘Mickey’ to his family and friends, went to school in Dulwich College where he admitted that was ‘not a good student’. And, surprisingly, when you consider what he did later on, he did not like geography! He had no desire to follow his father into the medical world and joined the merchant navy when he was sixteen. He progressed quickly, becoming a very capable mariner and met many influential Navy officers. It was through these contacts that he was invited by Captain Scott to travel aboard the Discovery to the Antarctic in 1901. They failed to reach the South Pole, as did his own 1907-09 Nimrod expedition that got to 88 23 degrees South, only 97 miles short of its goal. They turned back due to lack of provisions and to ensure their safety. At that time is was the closest that anyone had got to the South Pole.

On his return he received much public adulation and was knighted by Edward VII. He was feted when he came back to Dublin, and gave lectures in Earlsfort Terrace (now the National Concert Hall) and the Gresham Hotel.

For the 1914 expedition to cross the Antarctic, the team sailed in the Endurance on the day Germany declared war. After a final stop on South Georgia they set sail for the Antarctic on 5th December and arrived in the Weddell Sea on 19th January 1915. The ship became frozen in the thickening ice and it was eventually crushed and lost on 21st November. The team headed in three boats to Elephant Island, and from there Shackleton and five others made the momentous 800-mile journey in horrendous weather to South Georgia. The 17-day journey in the James Caird, the strongest of the open 20-foot boats, and the subsequent safe return of all the crew, is heroic and bordering on the miraculous. Endurance, indeed!

The James Caird in Dulwich College

The James Caird in Dulwich College

Shackleton was only 47 when died on the 5th January 1922 on South Georgia. He suffered a fatal heart attack, and is buried in the small graveyard in Grytviken.

Photo Credit: The James Caird by P O’Neill

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