Dublin is famous for many things and over its thousand-year history it saw the building of the first two-chamber parliament (Houses of Commons & Lords) – now the Bank of Ireland, College green – in the 1730s; the construction of the Rotunda by Benjamin Mosse in 1745, which is now the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world, and the production of Guinness, one of the best-known drinks in the world. However, its contribution to the written word is legendary with its three native-born Nobel Laureates for Literature giving it a unique place in history.
WBY – home on Sandymount Avenue
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Sandymount and is considered one of the foremost of 20th century literature. He studied in London and spent summer holidays with his maternal grandparents in Sligo, a place that he often wrote about. With Lady Augusta Gregory he established the Abbey Theatre, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 that cited his ‘inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.’ Voted as Ireland’s favourite poet his poem Easter 1916, written in the months after the event, capture the mood of the nation at that very tense moment. On the other hand one of his earliest works, Lake Isle of Innisfree (from 1888), a twelve-line written in style of the Celtic Revival that was then becoming popular is still the poem that most people are familiar with:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was born in 33 Synge Street, but went to London where he worked as a theatre critic before starting to write. He is best known as a playwright (he wrote more than 60 plays) with Man and Superman, Saint Joan and Pygmalion being the most famous. In 1938 a film version of Pygmalion was produced in Hollywood and it won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. He is the first person to have won both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar. In 1906 he moved to a house in Ayot St Lawrence, north of London, that late became known as Shaw’ Corner. He spent the rest of his life here and loved nothing more than tending the garden with his wife Charlotte. In 1950 he fell while pruning a tree, and he died shortly afterwards from complications associated with the fall. He was ninety-four! His and Charlotte’s ashes were scattered along the paths and throughout the garden they loved.
Samuel Beckett (1913-1989) was born in Foxrock and went to Trinity College. A keen sportsman he is the only Nobel Laureate to have played first class cricket having featured in two matches against Northamptonshire. He was in France when WWII began and fought with the French Resistance and was awarded both the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille de la Resistance. He described his efforts during the war, rather humbly, as ‘boy scout stuff’. He had met James Joyce in Paris in the 1930s and had begun writing before the war began. In 1949, his bleak absurdist play Waiting for Godot was well-received in Paris. When the play was first performed in London in 1955 it was voted ‘the most significant English language play of the 20th century’. His works consider the tragicomic conditions of life, that often combine a bleakness and minimalism which he captured so well. Beckett was at the forefront of ‘modernist’ writing style and a leading light in the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. He lived and worked in Paris until he died on 22 December 1989 and he is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery. And on 10th December 2009 the new bridge across the Liffey was named in his honour.
Samuel Beckett Bridge
My friend had told me, jokingly, not to hold my breath and I didn’t. Looking at the Pitch Drop experiment in Trinity College recently all I could do was laugh, for if I was to see the drop drip I would have to wait about ten years. Holding my breath was out of the question, but the experiment, quirky as it is, did certainly hold my attention.
The Pitch Drop experiment was setup in October 1944 by a colleague of Nobel laureate Sir Ernest Walton, and remained unmonitored for decades on a shelf in a lecture hall where it gathered dust. The experiment was to measure the viscosity (thickness) of pitch, and when in 2013 scientists noticed that a drop had formed the glass jar in which the experiment was housed was moved and a webcam setup to record the ‘drop’. And it came to pass that on 11th July 2013 at 5pm the first ever ‘drop’ was recorded. Based on analysis of the experiment the scientists in Trinity College estimated the viscosity of the pitch to be about two million times that of honey, and about twenty billion times the viscosity of water.
A similar experiment was setup in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell in the University of Queensland (Brisbane) and this is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest, continuously running laboratory experiment. And in 2006 Parnell and current Professor, John Mainstone, were awarded the Ig Noble Prize in Physics for the experiment!
After waiting for a black drop that never came my friend and I went to a well-known, local hostelry where the black drops, thankfully, dropped much more quickly. Slainte.
Filed under Dublin, Science
For a man interested in colour and who published scientific papers on the subject, the adjective colourful applies to Erwin Schrödinger who lived on Kincora Road, Clontarf for seventeen years and certainly left his mark. Among his many achievements here was a series of lectures given in Trinity College in February 1943 on ‘What is life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell.’ This was inspirational to many scientists, most notably James Watson and Francis Crick whose work led to the discovery of DNA in 1953. A sculpture commemorating the achievement was unveiled on its 60th anniversary in the Botanic Gardens which James Watson attended.
Schrödinger was an only child born in Vienna in 1887 to middle-class, educated parents and was tutored at home until the age of eleven. Later he attended school, then university where he excelled and gained a PhD in Physics. World War I interrupted his progress and he spent it as an officer in the Austrian army.
DNA sculpture in Botanic Gardens
After the war he had a number of different positions, married Annemarie (Anny) Bertel in 1920, before he was offered the chair in Theoretical Physics at the University of Zürich in 1921. He stayed there for six years, probably the most productive time in his career, before being offered the post of Max Planck’s replacement at the prestigious University of Berlin. And it was during his time in Zürich that he became interested in wave mechanics after reading a paper by Albert Einstein. Thinking about how to explain the movement of an electron as a wave his 1926 paper provided a theoretical basis for the atomic model. His groundbreaking work is hailed as a masterpiece, and one of the greatest accomplishments ever in in science. It subsequently led to new insights into quantum mechanics and other areas of chemistry. In 1933 both he and Paul Dirac (Cambridge University) were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’ is his famous thought experiment that illustrates the problem of the interpretation of quantum mechanics when applied to everyday objects.
DIAS – Burlington Road
By that time he was aware that many of his Jewish colleagues were being dismissed from their posts and he decided to leave Hitler’s Germany. He went to Oxford University for three years before returning to Austria in 1938. The following year he accepted Eamon de Valera’s offer of coming to Ireland and helping establish the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS). De Valera, himself a mathematician, got ‘his man’ and made sure that Schrodinger’s visa arrangements were processed speedily. For Schrodinger’s needs were indeed complicated and had previously stymied him at both Princeton and Oxford, as he lived with his wife and his lover, Hilde March, with whom he had a daughter. Of his relationship with the fairer sex he said: ‘Poor things, they have provided for my life’s happiness and their own distress. Such is life.’ Colourful indeed.
Plaque in Kincora Road, Clontarf
Filed under Dublin, Science
George Bernard Shaw is one of the giants of Irish literature, and over a long life of 94 years he was a prodigious writer of plays, letters and an ardent socialist.
33 Synge Street, Dublin
He was born in 33 Synge Street on 26th July 1856 to George Shaw, a grain merchant, and Lucinda Gurly, a professional singer. He attended Wesley College and later a private school in Dalkey. Although he had a lifelong love of learning he disliked formal education considering ‘Schools and schoolmasters prisons and turnkeys.’ Later, in 1895, he was a co-founder of the London School of Economics.
He went to London in 1876 and joined his mother who had moved there with her voice teacher George Vandeleur Lee four years earlier. Most of his early years there were spent in various libraries reading the works of great dramtists, and visiting thestres. His early novels were rejected by publishers, but he began to make a living by writing critical reviews for London magazines.
In 1892 his first play Widowers’ Houses, a sharp attack on slum landlords, opened in the Royal Theatre on 9th December. He considered it one of the worst plays that he ever wrote, but by the mid-1890s he was one of the most popular and successful playwrights in London. Works like Mrs Warren’s Profession, Arms and the Man and Candida drew critical reviews for their incisive commentaries on class-structure, morals and the prevailing social issues. This is often considered his greatest contribution to the dramatic art.
In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in 1938 had the rare distinction of becoming the only person to also win an Academy Award for his work on the film of his play Pygmalion. This was later adapted as the musical My Fair Lady in 1956 and as movie of the same name in 1964.
George Bernard Shaw
In 1906 he moved to the small village of Ayot St Lawrence, north of london, and lived there for the rest of his life. The house is called Shaw’s Corner and his ashes, with those of his wife Charlotte, were scattered along the footpaths and garden they loved.
Seamus Heaney at Sandymount Strand
The middle of June and, thankfully for a change, the weather was bright and warm. It was Bloomsday and I decided to sample the atmosphere at the James Joyce Museum in Sandycove. Outside the famed Martello Tower, where Joyce stayed for a short time and which features in the opening pages of Ulysses, was a colourful scene. Many people were dressed in the Edwardian period style, and lively talk, laughter and compliments filled the air. I went inside, bought a few postcards, and asked the assistant if he would put the Museum’s stamp on them, and on my copy of Joyce’s book. He flicked open the cover and with a quick downward push pressed the unique stamp. I was delighted to have my book dated, but sadly not signed, of course, at the ‘the source’.
A little later I was walking home and went into the local shop and surprise, surprise who did I meet but Seamus Heaney who was folding a copy of the Irish Times under his arm. I stuck out my hand. ‘Happy Bloomsday,’ I said and we shook hands. He was on his way to a Bloomsday celebration and noticed my book. I told him about the stamp and when I asked him if he would sign it for me, he smiled and the cover was flicked open, again. He handed it back to me and headed for the door. ‘Happy Bloomsday,’ he said and it most certainly was. Thanks for the memory Seamus.
Ulysses – signed by Seamus Heaney
WB Yeats – Sandymount Green
Although he did not spend much time in the neighbourhood, WB Yeats still casts a watchful, fatherly eye over the place. His bust in Sandymount Green looks out on the small and pleasant triangular park in the centre of the village. It is an oasis of calm of which the dreamer in Yeats would surely have approved.
He was born only a short distance away at 5, Sandymount Avenue on 13th June 1865 and left with his family for England two years later. He did return to Ireland years later and lived in what was for him his spiritual home in Sligo. With his father, John Yeats, a well-known artist he met many of Ireland’s leading lights in the arts and began writing poetry from an early age. His first book of verse The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, published in 1889, shows his early interests in Celtic mythology and the occult, themes which he moved away from as he matured. Apart from the title poem two others, notably, The Stolen Child and Down by the Sally Gardens are considered some of his finest early work. Over the years he became a leading member of the Irish Literary Revival movement, and alongside Lady Augusta Gregory, Edward Martyn and other kindred spirits founded the Abbey Theatre, which he served as chief in its early years. On its opening night, 27th December 1904, his play Cathleen ni Houihan and Lady Gregory’s Spreading the News were performed.
In 1889 he met Maud Gonne, who having read his first published poem The Isle of Statues, sought him out. He was smitten with her beauty and outspoken, confident nature and thus began a lifelong, unrequited love. He proposed marriage in 1891, and when rejected admitted that thereafter ‘the troubling of my life began’. She was his muse and although they did briefly become lovers many years later it did not last. I was recently given a book of his poems and particularly like Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven which beautifully captures the essence of love:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Sandymount Green – tread softly…..