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Dublin’s Wordy Men

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

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:

WBY

WBY

 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.

GB Shaw

GB Shaw

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 Beckettth

Samuel Beckett

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 BridgeB1

Samuel Beckett Bridge

 

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Sir John Gray – The water bringer

On O'Connell Street

On O’Connell Street

Once described as a Renaissance Man and by being a doctor, surgeon, journalist, newspaper proprietor and politician the commentator was ‘spot on’. It is rare that a person should excel in so many different disciplines but then John Gray was the exception to all the rules. He was born on 13th July 1815 in Claremorris, Mayo and entered Trinity College, Dublin where he studied medicine. In 1839 he graduated as a Master in Surgery from Glasgow University, returned to Dublin, married Mary Dwyer and worked in a hospital on North Cumberland Street.

Although from the Protestant ruling class Gray became the political editor of the nationalist newspaper The Freeman’s Journal and was co-owner from 1841. He used the newspaper to discuss important issues and in 1843 backed Daniel O’Connell’s call for the Repeal of the Act of Union and both men were sentenced to prison. However, due to the impetuousness of the prosecutor who challenged Gray’s defence to a duel, neither he nor O’Connell went to gaol.

At Vartry Reservoir

At Vartry Reservoir

In 1850 he became sole proprietor of The Freeman’s Journal and reduced the price and considerably increased its readership. With his interest in local politics he was elected an alderman of Dublin Corporation in 1852. He put the issue of clean water for the city at the top of his agenda and did everything to promote the Vartry Scheme. This was a massive project and necessitated building a series of water pumping and filtering stations from the Vartry River to Dublin. Due to chronic overcrowding and bad housing conditions in the city the introduction of clean water was vital in defeating the regular outbreaks of typhus and cholera that claimed so many young lives. On the day the project came into operation, 30th June 1863, Gray was knighted by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Reservoir and Tower

Reservoir and Tower

In 1865 he stood as a Liberal Party candidate in the general election and was elected as MP for Kilkenny City. During his time at Westminster he was a busy and successful campaigner for the reforms espoused in The Freeman’s Journal, such as the disestablishment of the Anglican Church of Ireland, improving the educational opportunities for Catholics and reform of the land laws. His fight for the provision in the new Landlord & Tenant (Ireland) Act 1870 of fixity of tenure gathered great support and was eventually conceded by Prime Minister Gladstone.

Vartry Reservoir

Vartry Reservoir

He died in Bath, Somerset on the 9th April, 1875 and his remains were returned to Ireland. As a man held in the highest esteem he was honoured with a public funeral and burial in Glasnevin Cemetery. And, shortly afterwards, a public subscription raised the necessary funds for a statue on O’Connell Street. It was unveiled in 1879 and is dedicated to the ‘appreciation of his many services to his country, and of the splendid supply of pure water which he secured for Dublin’.

Through the gate

Through the gate

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Ireland’s Oldest Museum

Zoological Museum, TCD

Zoological Museum, TCD

For those interested in animal history a visit to country’s oldest museum is not only a must but a real joy. The Zoological Museum was established in Trinity College nearly 250 years ago, and has more than 20,000 items. Some of the earliest donations came from wealthy collectors, and artifacts from Captain Cook’s expeditions in Australia and the South Sea Islands. You can see a platypus, kangaroo and a Tasmanian Tiger that has, sadly, been extinct since 1930.

Narwahl tusk

Narwahl tusk

There is something here for everyone, from the big to the tiny, from an elephant skeleton to trays of beautiful butterflies, and ‘live’ exhibits of worms, beetles and a rather large, hairy spider! Most of the items are in glass cabinets and there computer tablets where you can get information of what you are viewing. On the main counter you can see and touch a very impressive Rhino’s skull, elephant teeth, animal hides and the almost mystical narwhal tusk that was taller than my guide, Lauren. There are jaws of a Great White shark with rows of razor-sharp teeth. Even lying on the table, unmoving, they are a scary proposition. You can stick your head in (if you dare!) and have your photograph taken, and it’s as close I ever want to get to those choppers.

JAWS

JAWS

One of the best collections is that of the Blaschka Glass Models of marine invertebrates. These were made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in Germany in the late 1800s and were used in schools and colleges as colourful, visual aids. And in the next cabinet is a replica skull of the Piltdown Man who was meant to be the ‘missing link’ between apes and man. This was later exposed as a hoax.

Little Monsters

Little Monsters

Engagement is the word to describe a visit to the museum that is open every day until August. There is a small fee, but then there is much to see and enjoy.

 

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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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Pitch Drop Experiment – It takes time…

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.

Trinity College

Trinity College

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.

THE experiment

THE experiment

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.

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Alice in Trinity College

Berkekey Library

Berkeley Library

Christmas is always a time when fairy tales are in the air and none more so than Alice in Wonderland which was published 150 years ago, on 26th November 1865. And to celebrate this landmark in publishing Trinity College has a special display of related books and illustrations from its collection. It will be on show until early January and is in the foyer of the Berkeley Library.

The book’s full title is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and was written by Lewis Carroll. His proper name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) who was a mathematician (lecturing in Christ Church, Oxford), logician and a pioneer of the new art form of photography. Among his most famous portraits were those of Michael Faraday, Lord Salisbury and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

He Latinised his names Charles Lutwidge to Carolus Ludovicus, reversed them and then changed them to ‘vulgar’ English getting Lewis Carroll. He was also an Anglican deacon and the great-grandson of Charles Dodgson who was the Bishop of Elphin in Roscommon in the 1770s.

The idea for his most famous book came during a boat trip along the Isis river from Folly Bridge, Oxford to Godstow on 4th July 1862. He made up the story as he went along to entertain the three young Liddell sisters: Lorina, Alice and Edith whose father was the Dean of Christ Church. The girls liked the story and Alice asked Carroll to write it down for her. In 1864 he gave Alice a handwritten copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground in which he added his own illustrations. Others read it and over the next year he tweaked the story, and with the help of top illustrator John Tenniel, it was published by Macmillan with the slight name change. And since then it has never been out of print; so new generations are still finding out about the colourful cast of characters: the Hatter, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit and the manic Queen of Hearts who loves to shout ‘Off with their heads’. Great stuff.

Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll

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January 2016

For anyone interested in finding out more about Alice the British Museum, London, is running is running a course in March 2016.

Details : http://bit.ly/1QGmhhY

 

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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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