Tag Archives: dunsink observatory

Dublin’s Culture Night – what fun!

Pearse Museum

Pearse Museum

It was busy in town with crowds visiting the many houses, galleries, houses, museums that took part in Culture Night. The pleasant, dry weather certainly helped matters, and everywhere there was excited talk as visitors moved from venue to venue. All in all it was a great event, and what I enjoyed most was the good nature and the genuine interest shown by Culture Vultures, both young and old!

The event has become one of the Dublin’s main attractions, for locals and tourists alike, and a real ‘must-see’. It offers unique opportunities to visit places that are often closed to the public and, as such, is engaging like no other event and growing year-on-year. And with venues from all corners of the city taking part; from Dunsink Observatory in the west to Windmill Lane Studios in the east and Malahide Castle in the north to the Pearse Museum in the south, there was something for everybody to see and enjoy. And, for those wishing to move quickly between venues there was a Free Culture Night Bus service. Yes, everyone was involved!

Dunsink Observatory

Dunsink Observatory

There is so much to see that you have to have a plan, something that is usually gets forgotten about after visiting a few venues. But that is part of the fun and it adds to the sense of discovery that is so important. That’s what happened to mine, anyway, but I was more than happy with I saw, and heard. For music is a big part of the event and there was so much on offer. There were formal shows in Dublin Castle and Smithfield Square and any number of impromptu performances in small venues and in the open air. Outside the National Gallery I saw four young trumpet players, in dress suits, playing Classical Music that got a loud round of applause. It was different, something that is very much the theme of the event.

Thomas Moore's harp

Thomas Moore’s harp

I enjoyed a guided tour of the recently, and beautifully revamped, National Gallery that was abuzz with excitement. Then it was along a noisy Nassau Street and into the beautiful Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street. This is a veritable treasure house of Irish history where you may indeed spend more time that you might have planned. You can see Ireland’s oldest manuscript that dates from the sixth century, and the collected works of the great singer and writer Thomas Moore, along with his harp. In the Meeting Room there are chandeliers and benches from the House of Lords that was abolished under the Act of Union of 1800.

Then it was into the Mansion House where the guide gave our group a very swift and informative tour of the building that has been the Mayoral Home since 1715, the oldest in the British Isles. The famous Rotunda was added in 1821 for the visit of King George IV, and ironically it was where the First Dáil assembled on 21st January 1919 and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence.

It was a great night and I just wish that I had the time to visit other wonderful places and meet more enthusiastic visitors. Maybe the organizers might consider extending the event to a two-night affair, but I am very happy to see it thrive and grow and continue to bring so much fun and excitement to so many.

The Mansion House

The Mansion House

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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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Dunsink Observatory – Eye on the Sky

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

Dunsink Observatory – 1785

Clocks that kept 'Dunsink' time

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!

South Dome

South Dome

Grubb Telescope in South Dome

Grubb Telescope in South Dome

 

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