Category Archives: London

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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Edmund Burke – A Great Orator

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke was born in Dublin on 12th January 1729 to a Protestant father, Richard and Catholic mother, Mary Nagle who was County Cork. Richard was a prosperous solicitor and he sent young Edmund to be educated in a Quaker school in Ballitore, County Kildare. Later, in 1744 he entered Trinity College and in 1747 established a debating society called the Edmund Burke Club. The society merged with the Historical Club in 1770 to form the College Historical Society which is the second oldest student society in the world.

He went to London 1750 to study law, and against the wishes of his father, soon gave up and decided to earn his living by writing. His first published work, A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind (1756), attacked social philosophy, especially that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the great Swiss philosopher.

By the late 1750s he counted Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, David Garrick and Sir Joshua Reynolds among his circle of friends in London.

After a return to Dublin, where he acted as private secretary to William Hamilton, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he entered parliament in 1765. Over the following years he established himself as one of the greatest orators ever to speak in the House and his speeches have been studied ever since. He spoke out against Britain’s actions in America and thought war was the wrong path to follow. Subsequently, he attacked the French Revolution, for which he was criticised. However, many of his desperate warnings were borne out with the execution of Louis XVI and the rise of the despotic Napoleon.

A few of his many famous quotes:

  • Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting
  • Never apologise for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologise for the truth
  • You can never plan the future by the past

He died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on the 9th July 1797 and is buried in the local churchyard with his infant son Richard, whose loss affected him deeply.

Statue in Trinity College, Dublin

Statue in Trinity College, Dublin

 

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