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Down to Dublin – an original link

Down House

Down House

On a recent visit to London my cousin and I spent a pleasant afternoon in Down House, Kent where Charles Darwin lived. His house is now a museum, and the wonderful exhibition that is set in almost all the rooms of the house, tells of his travels and experimentation that helped him formulate his historic and ground-breaking ideas that were eventually brought to the world in his book ‘On the Origin of Species’.

A timeline of Darwin’s life led us from room to room with mementos of his journey on The Beagle to illustrate his thought process towards the theory of evolution. Of particular interest was his small, intimate library. Standing in the quiet space it was easy to imagine the great man sitting at the desk, contemplating the words he was writing and wondering about their importance and impact. As we found out, he postponed the publication of the book for twenty years because of the potential damage from its contentious findings.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Darwin was saying nothing less than that humans had evolved from a series of biological adaptations and not created by God. He knew it was revolutionary stuff, but he was finally impelled to publish before another scientist beat him to it. Alfred Russell Wallace, who had spent many years observing similar evolutionary changes in Borneo and various islands in the Far East, had published a paper suggesting what Darwin had discovered but was too afraid to go public with it. In the autumn of 1858 Darwin began a feverish year of research and editing, and finally, on 24th November 1859, his ground-breaking work was published by John Murray of Mayfair. The initial print run of 1,250 copies sold out in a few days and led, inevitably, to a mixture of high praise and equally loud condemnation. As a result of his work the scientific world was changed forever. His theories were proved many years later, and they now form a fundamental part of our knowledge.

Towards the end of the exhibition there was an original copy of the book on display set behind heavy, security glass. It was interesting to think that such a small piece of work had set fire to our imagination, explaining evolution and creating a firestorm of argument. It was one of the most profound books ever published and a thrill to be within touching distance. We left Down House feeling a little closer to the great man and in awe of his magnificent achievements.

Some days later on my return to Dublin, I met a friend who is one of Ireland’s leading manuscript conservators. I described my visit to Down House and my proximity to the famous book. Jay laughed, stopping my story in mid-sentence.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘I have a copy in my office at the moment. I’m doing some conservation on it,’ he said casually.

‘Wow; is there any chance of having a look at it?’

‘Sure, come in next week.’

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse and I duly showed up at Jay’s office, excited to see an original ‘Origin’ without any restriction.
Jay opened a drawer and took out a small white envelope. ‘Put these on,’ he said handing me a pair of soft, white gloves. Then he pushed back the flap and, seconds later, revealed a familiar sight. For there on the desk was a first edition of the famous book, its cover showing the signs of studied use and a corner slightly the worse for wear. ‘Open it,’ he said, grinning.

The Origin of Species

The Origin of Species

I smiled and ran my fingers gently over the cover and eased it open. I could smell its aged mustiness and noted that the pages were a little loose.

‘That happens with years of use,’ Jay said ‘but otherwise it’s in very good condition.’

‘And whose signature is that?’ I asked pointing to the well-written letters at the top of the contents page.

‘That’s the signature of its first owner, Rev. Samuel Haughton.’

I thought about the name for a few moments. ‘Do you mean the man who invented Haughton’s Drop?’

‘The very man,’ said Jay. ‘Strange, eh.’

Rev. Samuel Haughton

Rev. Samuel Haughton

It was strange indeed. Haughton, originally from Carlow, was a brilliant natural scientist and Professor of Geology at Trinity College, Dublin. Ever restless to learn more he studied medicine and graduated in 1862. In 1866 he submitted a paper on the most efficient and humane form of hanging. It had been noted that the hanging process was delivering different results depending on the prisoner’s height and weight. In some cases the convicted man was left dangling for minutes before death released him, while others had been decapitated. The inconsistency was addressed when Haughton’s submission won and was subsequently adopted. And with typical black (gallows) humour it soon became known as Haughton’s Drop. In later years he was elected President of the Royal Irish Academy and Secretary of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland.

Thinking about him I shook my head at the odd idea that came to mind.

‘What is it?’ asked Jay.

‘It’s ironic to think that Darwin’s book was about life evolving and this is a copy signed by a man who invented a way of ending it.’ I closed the book and felt, in an odd sort of way, that my story had come full circle, from Down to Dublin.

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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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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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Royal Irish Academy – Living History

Royal Irish Academy

Royal Irish Academy

The Royal Irish Academy is an all-Ireland learned society and was founded in 1785. The following year it was granted its royal charter, and its aims were ‘the promotion and investigation of the sciences, polite literature, and antiquities, as well as the encouragement of discussion and debate between scholars of diverse backgrounds and interests.’ The Earl of Charlemont, who described himself as a ‘lifelong learner’ was, appropriately, the first president. Today there are over 400 members, and some of the notable honorary members in previous years have included Charles Darwin, Max Planck and Albert Einstein.

The Academy’s first residence was at 114 Grafton Street (across from the Provost House, Trinity College), but it moved to its present address (19 Dawson Street) in 1851. The new premises had more space to accommodate the growing collections of antiquities, and the Reading Room and Meeting Room were added between 1852-54. Much of the collection was subsequently transferred to the new National Museum of Ireland in 1890, and included the Cross of Cong, the Tara Broach and the Ardagh Chalice.

The Reading Room

The Reading Room

The library’s unique collection of manuscripts (over 1,500) began when it was presented with the fourteenth-century Book of Ballymote. There are many other famous manuscripts in its care, but the most precious is the Cathach (Psalter of St Columba). This is the oldest surviving Irish manuscript and dates from the sixth century. The library is a research library for members, students, international scholars and members of the public. It holds the largest collection of Irish-language manuscripts, and archives on Irish history, archaeology and 19th century Ordnance Survey records. The library also holds the collection of Thomas Moore, the Irish singer and songwriter, who penned The Last Rose of Summer and The Minstrel Boy. His harp is on show in the library.

Thomas Moore's harp

Thomas Moore’s harp

In the grand Meeting Room you can find chandeliers and benches from the Irish House of Lords which was abolished over two hundred years ago. Now that’s living history!

Back benches

Back benches

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James Caulfield & his Casino at Marino

James Caulfield, the first Earl of Charlemont, was born in Dublin in 1728 and definitely left a mark on his native city. At the age of 18, and with little formal education, he set off on a Grand Tour in the company of a teacher, Rev. Edward Murphy. At the time it was common practice for young men of his class to travel around Europe learning about Classical art and history. They certainly took their time, and Caulfield spent nine years visiting Holland, Germany, Italy, Egypt and Greece where he was particularly impressed by the ancient architecture. He made countless drawings of buildings, and these helped inspire the plans for his pleasure house, the Casino. When he returned to Dublin in 1755 he decided to build his Casino (‘small house’) on land he had been given by his stepfather, in Donnycarney. He renamed his estate Marino after the small town Marino, south of Rome.

Guarding lion

Guarding lion

Georgian elegance

Georgian elegance

During his Grand Tour he had met William Chambers and asked him to design the Casino. Chambers was the most sought-after architect of his day, with buildings like Somerset House (London) and the Exam Hall (Trinity College, Dublin) to his credit. He drew up the plans but, unfortunately, never came to Dublin to see his work completed. However, the work went ahead and it was finished in 1775, and it is considered one of the finest Neo-Classical temples in Europe.  When built, it had a clear and spectacular view of Dublin Bay and the mountains beyond. It is full of surprises and uses plenty of architectural tricks to maximise and display the wonderful Georgian interior. Far from being a single space the Casino has three storeys and sixteen rooms. The lavishly decorated rooms, ornate plaster work and intricate marquetry floors are stunning, and hark back to the Casino’s glory days. Sadly, access to the roof is not permitted at present, and a glimpse of Dublin Bay as Caulfield had will have to wait.

Main Room - elaborate decoration

Main Room – elaborate decoration

And as a Member of Parliament Caulfield needed to be  ‘in town’ and he had Chambers design a town house. This was Charlemont House, Parnell Square, better known since 1933 as the Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery. Caulfield was, in his own words, a ‘lifelong learner’ and was a founding member of the Royal Irish Academy and served as its first President. Yes, the man left quite a few marks.

Casino with Dublin Bay beyond

Casino with Dublin Bay beyond

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