Century of Endeavour
Some Reviews in the 1990s
(c) Roy Johnston 1999(comments to email@example.com)
Books Ireland, circa May 1991: Science and CultureMore People and Places in Irish Science and Technology; ed Charles Mollan, William Davies, Brendan Finucane; Royal Irish Academy; £5.95, £10.95 HB.
Vulgar and Mechanick; JE Burnett & AD Morrison-Lowe; Royal Dublin Society; £15.00.
The first of these RDS scientific 'who was who' publications appeared in 1985 and I had the pleasure of reviewing it in Books Ireland, giving it the welcome it deserved. It has become something of a collectors piece, reflecting the increasing acceptance of things scientific as part of the culture.
(This interest has also been stimulated by the Aer Lingus Young Scientists Exhibition, which has definitively placed 'S&T' in a respected niche in the Irish cultural spectrum, to the extent that the current 'European City of Culture' contains and S&T component. But I digress.)
This second offering in the RIA series has preserved the same format: two pages per person, and a few key references for those who want more; sometimes more pages for the places. We are nowhere near the bottom of the barrel yet; I found I knew or knew of most of them, and the few I didn't were intrinsically interesting and I found myself asking myself why had I not heard of them before.
The overwhelming Protestant ascendancy colonial flavour of the collection is noticeable, but it is interesting to observe the rate at which the emerging Catholic middle-class begins to trickle in, despite the barriers placed in its way by Cardinal Cullen, with his catastrophic rejection of the Queen's ('godless') Colleges when they were set up in the 1840s. This disaster held back the emergence of a competent national leadership for a couple of generations; even as late as 1908 the Dublin meeting of the British Association could only muster a tiny handful of people of subsequent national significance, one of them being one Edward de Valera, a schoolteacher in Blackrock. There was also one Houston, who taught science at St Enda's, and who initiated Horace Plunkett's co-operatives into the mysteries of quality control of butter. Nuggets like this one would like to have found in the section on the BA in Ireland, but unfortunately Dr Mollan went to Bradford to get his chapter on the BA, and the author, Jack Morell of the School of European Studies, wrote from the angle of the BA and not from the Irish angle.
I have nothing against Jack Morell as a historian, and no doubt from the BA angle the Cork meeting of 1843 was a disaster, for which the Irish were never forgiven. However from the Irish angle the very factors that rendered it a 'disaster' (ie O'Connellite politics) were exactly what should have made it interesting to a historian alive to the implications of such an event in the Irish context.
I can refer readers frustrated by this to my analysis of the Irish BA meetings which I did for the Crane Bag in 1982 (Vol 7 no 2), and if they get that far and run into the further frustrations of lines left out and ghastly misprints, I can give them a clean copy on disc. Participants at the Cork BA meeting included McCullough, Kane, Mallet, Sabine, Apjohn and many others, a high proportion of whom are sketched in 'People and Places'.
The Earl of Rosse presided. The issues addressed were of national, international and imperial significance. As in 1908, people of subsequent or current significance in the nation-building process were thin on the ground, but Thomas Davis showed up, and wrote it up subsequently in the Nation, in terms which showed that he had little feel for the role of emerging industrial scientific technology in the national aspirations, though he did identify an invention of interest to him as a newspaper publisher.
It is frustrating to be obliged to dwell on the weaknesses of what is otherwise an important book. I must add another one. Among 'places' they include the School of Cosmic Physics, with an article by Patrick Wayman covering Dunsink Observatory, and highlighting Brinkley and Whittaker. This should have been labelled Dunsink Observatory, as it excludes all reference to the Merrion Square centre of the School, where scientists of world standing (eg Janossy, Pollak, O'Ceallaigh) worked creatively in the 1940s and 50s. It is placed on the same footing as the School of Theoretical Physics, for which Schroedinger and Heitler are highlighted, to the exclusion of Synge. This presentation is unbalanced and misleading. There remains an unfulfilled need for a balanced assessment of the DIAS as a whole, covering its national roots and influences, and its international significance, not the least of which was to provide de Valera with an FRS. The third volume of 'People and Places', which I understand is on the agenda, is now not the place for this, as the scope has been partially pre-empted.
Let me conclude by indicating some of the nuggets which do exist, rather than those that were needed by the context and omitted. We have Grubb, whose telescopes dominated the world market for most of the 19th century; the 3rd Earl of Enniskillen (Cole) who encountered and was influenced by Agassiz, becoming the owner of the largest collection of fish fossils ever made, now in the British museum. Agassiz pointed Irish geologists towards Lough Doon near the Connor Pass, on the basis of which John Ball in 1849 laid the foundations of Irish glacial geology, a trail followed subsequently by Farrington, Mitchell and others. Robert Kane, whose 'Industrial Resources of Ireland' became a classic consulted by the de Valera generation in the context of the independence movement, was President of Queen's College Cork, but never lived there. There must lurk politics behind this: was there a whiff of 'Catholic tokenism' in his appointment, in response to Cardinal Cullen? The appetite is whetted for more. Gosset ('student's t-test' in statistics), Geary, Conway, the Nolan brothers (who created the now thriving 'atmospheric physics' field), bring us well into living memory. It is good that we are learning to celebrate at last people who have for long been known and respected abroad.
Overall the editors have done a reasonable job, considering that it is at the margin of their other work. It is not their fault that there is no-one whose job it is to assess historically S & T in Ireland and put it into the nation- building context. They have produced a good pilot-project for this role, which needs development.
The instrument trade in Ireland is the raw material of 'Vulgar and Mechanick'; the tongue-in-cheek derogatory title puts it in context, contrasting it with the gentlemen amateur scientists who in the period covered were an important part of its market. This very modestly claims to be an incomplete 'work in progress' report, but in fact is well-researched and meticulous; the authors work for the National Museums of Scotland and are dedicated professionals. The research funding came initially from the Royal Society in London. It follows on from a work by D J Bryden on scientific instrument-making in Scotland published in 1972, and constitutes a conscious attempt to trace the spread of scientific technology into cultures regarded from the metropolitan angle as being 'remote fringe'. In this context it is of great interest.
It goes in some depth into the Grubb history, and has a complete listing of all the telescopes ever made by the firm. There is also a complete listing of all Dublin instrument-makers up to 1922, in which the Yeates and Mason families are dominant.
The importance of land-surveying in the development of the instrument trade is highlighted.
What we have in these two books are two windows into an ongoing process: that of assimilation into a national culture of a component whose origin was in conquest and theft of land by violence. This problem is common to all post-colonial cultures. They have to learn to absorb and turn to the national benefit the scientific culture which was at the root of the technological superiority of their oppressors, rather than to reject it. There are welcome signs that the Irish are learning to do this, and beginning to overcome the socio-cultural problems, at a time when in the imperial heartland scientific culture is in palpable decline.
Both are relevant in the current European context, where the attempt of the Bosnian republic to establish a pluralist national democracy, with equal rights for Serbs, Croats and Muslims, supported initially by mass peaceful demonstrations of Bosnians of all ethnic backgrounds, is in the process of being drowned in blood, at the active instigation of an army dominated by Serbs, in cahoots with local ethnic-Serbian irregulars.
No State established on the basis of the hegemony of one ethnic group can evolve into a healthy democratic nation, with which all its citizens identify. The collapse of the USSR, with its hegemonistic role for the Russian component, is another object-lesson.
The conditions for a multi-ethnic people to evolve a common national consciousness are not simply defined, but a key aspect would appear to be a common economic life, with credible development potential. This aspect has however been overemphasised in Marxist treatments of the national question, to the exclusion of the other cultural, religious and linguistic aspects.
The attempts on the part of the Irish over the centuries to evolve a common national consciousness constitute a classic laboratory for the study of the problems of the European nation-building process. All the complicating factors are there: several ethnic, religious and linguistic dimensions, with dissensions fostered sedulously by a powerful neighbour. One would almost think that the Serbs had studied the history of how the Tories in the pre-1914 period dealt with the Home Rule question, and decided they could do a more thorough job of destruction.
The Dissenting Voice, by Flann Campbell; Blackstaff Press; 513pp; £13.95 UK pb; 0-85640-457-8.
Flann Campbell's father was Joseph Campbell, poet, friend of Shane Leslie, Patrick Colum, Herbert Hughes, Gaelic League member and pillar of the Irish cultural renaissance; it must have given Flann pleasure to have been able to write him into the history of the courageous (but so-far unsuccessful) attempts of the Ulster people to contribute to the emerging pluralist Irish identity. (It remains on the present writer's agenda to do the same for his own father, Joe Johnston.)
He has traced the history, from the Plantations to the present day, of the Protestant role in Irish nationhood, and in so doing has set an agenda for the unfinished business.
The potential for the development of a vibrant national economy and culture under all-Ireland Home Rule undoubtedly existed. There is a hint of what might have been, in his account of the 1904 Gaelic League Feis, held in Cushendall, with native speakers from Rathlin Island rubbing shoulders with Bulmer Hobson, Alice Stopford Green, Sir Horace Plunkett and their like. The potential of the co-operative movement for the development of local-based industry was beginning to be appreciated, and the Danish model was being taken up.
Political support for Home Rule existed among the more liberal and far-sighted of Protestant intellectuals and business people; there was a Protestant Home Rule Association in the 1890s; Bulmer Hobson's Dungannon Clubs attracted young supporters of all persuasions, called for advanced national-democratic objectives and opposed enlistment in the British Army; the Independent Orange Order was challenging the Unionist establishment with the Maheramorne manifesto (1905). A peaceful transition to Home Rule, with the potential for secession on the Norway- Sweden model, seemed to be on the agenda. What went wrong?
Flann Campbell's final chapter shows how this embryonic pluralist Irish nation was strangled at birth, by an unprecedented armed, violent and racialist conspiracy, fomented from outside by the Imperial establishment, who looked on the Liberal government as if they were Bolsheviks, and leaned on the centuries of anti-Catholic prejudice ingrained in the English national psyche. This chapter, entitled 'The Carson Crusade', constitutes an uncanny blue-print for the way the Serbian hegemonistic elite of the old Yugoslav State is engaged in strangling at birth the emerging pluralistic Bosnian nation.
This book should be read primarily by those who think Irish nationality is in some way 'Catholic', especially Irish Americans. It should also be read by Irish Protestants who need some reinforcement of their sense of identity.
Renegade, by Marjorie Quarton; Andre Deutch; 309pp; £14.99 UK; £16.60 IR; hb; 0-233-98722-3.
Marjorie Quarton has written a piece of family history, in 'faction' mode, and the 'renegade' in question was an ancestral relative of hers, one Henry Fulton, a Church of Ireland minister, who was with the United Irishmen, and was deported to Australia. He was regarded as the black sheep of the family, and she has done a good job rehabilitating him.
Although she is an established writer, this book has so far to my knowledge got few if any serious reviews, largely I suspect because being published in England no-one knew how to review it, and to what it related. One reviewer regarded it as 'romance', not being alive to the reality of the historical background. The reason for this is that Marjorie Quarton's standing as a writer is based on the English market for fiction written from the angle of an animal. She has however endowed this genre with a valid social-historical perspective; her earlier book Corporal Jack was a dog's eye view of the First World War, the basic insights for which were derived from family historical documents.
In contrast, the present reviewer feels that, like the Flann Campbell book, this piece of social and family history is relevant to the current problem of pluralistic democratic nation-building in the European context. This is the political angle, and in the book she has a sure touch, giving a convincing picture of how a young Protestant radical could in the 1790s have evolved into a leading revolutionary position at local level in Tipperary.
There are encounters with Jonah Barrington and Wolfe Tone embedded in the narrative, and an account of how Henry Fulton and his colleague Fr William O'Meara worked together to swear in the United Irishmen in Borrisokane and Templederry. There follows capture at the hands of the Cork yeomanry, trial and deportation to Australia, where he has further adventures, ending up a respected member of the colonial land-owning community. All in all, a 'rattling good yarn', with the added merit in the Irish context (and indeed in the Australian) that it brings the socio-cultural issues to life, and poses the question: what is a nation?
There must be a mine of raw material for interesting 'faction' in the family records of the many Protestants in the 19th century who attempted to participate in the establishment of an inclusive national identity. Marjorie Quarton deserves recognition in Ireland, with Jennifer Johnston and others, among the pioneers in this field. Don't let the cover put you off, or, indeed, the title.
The idea of a 'dictionary of national biography' derives from the perception that there exists a nation, which should make its people aware of those within it, or who originated in it, who have achieved fame. The Byrne/McMahon book is apparently a fall-back from an attempt to do this for the whole of Ireland, which became constrained by space and resources. In their previously-planned 'Lives' collection they found that there were so many from Ulster that it seemed sensible, when cutting it down to size, to do so on a geographical basis, rather than on more elusive and possibly controversial quality criteria. I can understand the problem.
The selection problem is indeed daunting. It is a pity that they have made no attempt to indicate how they addressed it. Presumably the selection therefore reflects the perceptions of two contemporary literary and political-minded intellectuals in Derry. I draw this conclusion from a rough statistical analysis of the 100 or so lives, to each of which they give a page or two, without however giving any references for the benefit of anyone who might like to dig deeper (a somewhat serious flaw in my opinion). The names are organised alphabetically; it would be more useful if they were arranged by sector.
Let me give an outline of the statistics. From before 1600 there are 5, of which 2 military and 3 religious. In the 17th century there are 2 military and 4 religious; also 2 literary and 1 dramatic. Drama peaks in the 18th century with 3, all emigre; the politicals begin to come in (6), there is a scientist. In the 19th century the politicals begin to dominate (10); there are 6 literary and 2 scientists. The 20th century is dominated by politicals (15) and literary (14); there are 3 scientists, 2 technologists and 4 who can be categorised as 'labour or co-operative movement', representing the embryonic aspiration to democratise the economic development process.
An aspect of the definition of the existence of a nation is the ability of a talented person to achieve fame within it. If an important sector shows up where in order to get to be famous you have to go abroad, then the completeness of the national identity is in question. On the statistics of the selected sample, of the 22 literary figures, 7 made their careers in Ireland outside Ulster and 3 abroad. Of the 6 scientists, 4 made their careers abroad and 1 in Ireland outside Ulster (Praeger). The one scientist making a career in Ulster was Whitla, of medical fame. What about Walton, or indeed Bell? Of the 31 politicals, 9 prospered in the Dublin context and 5 abroad (mostly Britain or the Commonwealth).
All this however is of little value without a defined selection procedure. I can think of procedures for establishing one, but they would involve research resources. The Byrne/McMahon book has adumbrated the scene, and hopefully will provide a stimulus for the task to be undertaken systematically. It provides nuggets, for which the reader has to dig; my favourite one is the fact that William Pirrie, chief of Harland and Wolfe, was a Liberal and organised the famous pro-Home Rule meeting of 1912 addressed by Winston Churchill. The Orange gangs, instigated and subsequently armed by the Tories out of office, broke it up.
The Ulster Historical Foundation production devotes about 20 pages to each of the nine selected lives, and gives references. It is more along the lines of what a 'national biography' collection should be like. The editors admit however that the selection was dominated by the problem of matching subjects with authors, and achieving a balanced approach to period and political significance (implicit or explicit).
The result is a selection which includes for the 20th century Ernest Walton, Nobel-prize winner for his work in nuclear physics in Cambridge in the 1930s, Claude Auchinleck who was in command at the 1st battle of el Alemein, preventing Rommel from reaching the Suez Canal in 1941, Helen Waddell, who made her literary and scholarly career in England, and John Lavery, the painter, the face of whose wife Hazel Martyn used to grace our pound note.
The 19th century is represented by Charles Gavan Duffy, who is remembered primarily in Ireland as a Young Irelander, but whose main claim to fame is perhaps as an Australian statesman.
The 18th century is represented by John Dunlap, who printed the US Declaration of Independence, and founded the first US daily newspaper; also William Paterson who was Governor of New Jersey. The main contributor to Ulster culture on the home ground, in this selection, was John Abernethy, a leading theologian among the non-subscribing Presbyterians, who led the campaign against the Test Act. He also converted Irish-speaking Catholics on the shores of Lough Neagh to the reformed faith.
The 17th century is represented by Owen Roe O'Neill; the author Raymond Gillespie of Maynooth goes in some depth into the politics of the Confederation, and O'Neill's own politics, which were modelled on his experience of the Dutch Republic, which he had been engaged in trying to suppress on behalf of the Spanish, from whose service he had deserted in order to come to Ireland. O'Neill's politics could perhaps therefore be regarded as in advance of the Confederation, which was dominated by 'old English' royalists. His evolution to a position where he was prepared to deal with Monck and Coote, of which I had been aware and curious about, becomes explicable against this background. This I regard as one of the great Irish historical 'might-have-beens', illustrating embryonically the potential for mutual support between English and Irish democratic radicalism.
The 'Scientists and Inventors' book, which is sponsored by BP Oil, gives on its fly-leaf a map of the birthplaces of the 12 people selected.
As may be expected, there is a concentration in the Belfast area; west of the Bann we have Ernest Walton (1903-?, Cookstown) and Sir James Murray (1788-1871, Derry), the inventor of superphosphate fertiliser, which he introduced to the Dublin scientific community in 1835, and supported with extensive field trials during the next decade. The scientific potential for organising the Irish people to avoid the Famine existed, but unfortunately so did the political barriers to effective national government.
The others listed are Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753, botanist, pharmacist, nutritionist and physician, responsible for the abolition of scurvy in the British Navy); Joseph Black (1728-1799, chemist, discoverer of carbon dioxide and inventor of calorimetry); Thomas Andrews (1813-1885, ozone, gas liquefaction); William Thompson (Lord Kelvin; 1824-1907, age of the earth, transatlantic telegraphy, the absolute zero of temperature); Mary Ward (1827-1869, biological microscopy, born in Offaly and married into Stangford, friend of Rowan Hamilton and the Earl of Rosse); John Boyd Dunlop (1840-1921, the pneumatic tyre); Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865-1953, botanist, author of the classic 'Way that I Went'); Harry Ferguson (1884-1960, built and flew his own aircraft in 1910, went on the invent the Ferguson tractor, with hydraulic lift); Sir James Martin (1893-1981, inventor of the aircraft ejector seat) and Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943-, the discoverer of the pulsar in 1968; she is currently Professor of Physics in the Open University).
On the whole we have three creditable books to come out of Ulster; their simultaneous arrival on the scene from three independent sources says something about the current political re-thinking which is going on. Do we not, after all, have in Ireland (with our embryonic nation still trying to build itself out of 'Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters') the potential for providing a political model which may yet be of use to the various proto-nations of Europe in the context of avoidance of Bosnian-type disasters?
This potential however will only be realised when the scientific stream in the culture, which has up to quite recently been predominantly Protestant, is welcomed into the national cultural mainstream, and is able to identify with it. We do not yet fully have this situation, though there are signs that in the end it may develop, thanks to the cultural influence of things like the Aer Lingus Young Scientists Exhibition, which always attracts a strong Northern contingent.
I have not traced where this was published, but it could have been for one of the Institute of Physics publications, or some learned journal, given that I felt the need to give notes and references. Alternatively it could have been Technology Ireland.
This publication is a record of a conference which took place in 1991 to commemorate the tercentenary of Boyle's death. The venue was Stalbridge in Dorset, where Boyle lived between 1655 and 1668, on an estate inherited from his father the Earl of Cork.
The conference had as its main contributors scholars from England, Scotland, the USA and Italy, and presumably attracted international participation, though this is not recorded. There was no input from Ireland, and only the scantiest of references to Ireland in the text and in the bibliography; I will note these below and put them in context.
(I undertook however in this review to relate Boyle to Ireland, and I propose to do so by making some preliminary remarks on the role of the Boyle Medal, which is issued as a mark of esteem from time to time by the RDS. I propose to analyse the Boyle Medal experience in greater depth shortly elsewhere, and this provides me with an opportunity to air one or two working hypotheses, on which comments would be welcome and will be acknowledged in the future paper when it appears.)
The editor of the Proceedings, who is the Professor of History at Birkbeck, London, introduces the material with a background review, in which there is an intriguing reference to a 'method' to be observed in the management of his Irish estates, referenced to an MS in Chatsworth House, Lismore. He was methodical in his personal life, to the point of eccentricity, as witnessed by his practice of selecting from 'divers sorts of cloaks' by reference to a thermometer, and to chemical cordials taken by reference to a wind direction indicator in his bedroom ceiling. Boyle straddled the transition from alchemy and witchcraft to modern science, and Hunter draws attention to the problem of trying to understand what ended up in print, and why, in the complex and tense cultural and political environment.
Malcolm Oster (Oxford) goes into the background politics, he has the only substantive reference to Ireland, in which he notes the objective of the Earl of Cork as being to populate Munster with Protestant settlers, with a view to obtaining a Protestant majority in the Irish House of Commons.
The Civil War disrupted this process. Boyle, then in his late teens, would appear to have tended to support the King, despite the fact that '... the Anglo-Irish circle around Lady Ranelagh were solidly for the Parliamentary camp...'. He did so however from the safe distance of Geneva, where he sat out the worst of the war, on family advice, returning to his estate in Stalbridge as soon as it was clear that despite the turmoil he was in a position to claim his entitlement. There he was in a position to survive in a neutral position, supported by the local environment. His future Royal Society colleague, Oldenberg, with whom he was in correspondence, was solidly Republican. On the whole Boyle's main objective during this period was to to concentrate on the organisation of the Baconian science project via the Invisible College, which ultimately under the Restoration became the Royal Society.
Regrettably I am unable to do justice to the remaining 10 papers at the foregoing level of abstraction; I will simply note them in passing; their titles give some feel for the scope of current Boyle studies. John Harwood, in Pennsylvania, goes into the language of 17th century scientific discourse. Rose-Mary Sargent (Boston) traces the influences of Bacon, Pascal and Galileo, and draws attention to Boyle's interest in, and respect for, traditional knowledge embodied in the skills of craftsmen. Antonio Clericuzio (Cassino, Italy) goes in depth into the Sceptical Chymist, Boyle's most notable work, and traces the alchemical links; Boyle was not attacking alchemy, but chemistry as it was then taught; he advocated a proper blend of practice and theory, which, paradoxically, was to be found more with the alchemists. Lawrence Principe (Baltimore) goes into Boyle's alchemy, which he took seriously, absorbing much time and resources, as does William Newman (Harvard), from the angle of the analysis of the perceived meaning of the concept of the 'corpuscle'. John Henry (Edinburgh) on the 'cosmical qualities' touches on the beginnings of the 'earth sciences' in Boyle's writings, and Jan Wojcik (Alabama) goes into Boyle's theology. Edward Davis (Pennsylvania) does a good detective job on the relationship between Boyle, Hooke Descartes and the 'Disquisition about Final Causes'; the latter is analysed in depth by Timothy Shanahan (Los Angeles), taking on critically the work of Lennox. Finally, J J Macintosh (Calgary, Canada) discourses on Locke and Boyle on miracles and God's existence.
Altogether we have here a rich mine of material for the historian of science and on the early Royal Society. The bibliography , while dominated by material from Britain and the US, has significant inputs from Italy (after all the cradle of Renaissance science) and from Japan.
The one bibliographic reference to Ireland is entitled 'Boyle and the Irish Bible', by R E W Maddison, published in 1958 in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. I find this intriguing, as this must have been in the context of the Bedell bible and the politics of attempting to convert the native Irish to the reformed faith. There is material to be mined here, I suspect.
I now come to the question of the Irish connection, which is not so much with Boyle himself, as in the use of his name as an 'ideological label' in the Irish context, in that when the Boyle Medal was initiated in 1898 by J Joly(1) as an RDS science award, there may have been a touch of post-Parnellite imperial triumphalism. I am inclined to think however that Joly's primary motivation was to encourage scientists to publish in the Proceedings of the RDS, so as to keep the RDS among the mainstream of imperial-core Baconian scientific institutions, acting as a local political platform for a sort of Anglo-Irish mafia which was then influential in the Royal Society. G F Fitzgerald(2) and G J Stoney(3) were key people in this process. Joly wanted the RDS to get the kudos of honouring Boyle, which the Royal Society itself had never done. Boyle's Irish roots were thus only a pretext.
In his introduction to the first award event, when it was given to Stoney(4), Joly gave Boyle's estimate of Ireland as '..a barbarous country where chemical spirits were so misunderstood, and chemical instruments so unprocurable, that it is hard to have any hermetic thoughts in it..'. At the same time, he looked forward to when '...the greatest Irishmen will have their names inscribed upon the roll of Boyle medallists..'.
After Stoney there was Thomas Preston in 1900 (anomalous Zeeman effect); then a long gap until Joly himself in 1911 (basic geology; the age of the Earth etc), followed in 1912 by Sir Howard Grubb (telescope control systems), 1916 H H Dixon (ascent of sap in trees), 1917 J A McClelland (condensation nuclei), 1921 G H Pethybridge (plant diseases, potato blight), 1928 W R G Atkins (wide-ranging work in chemistry and physiology of plants) and W E Adeney (dissolved oxygen as a measure of water pollution), 1931 Sir J Purser Griffith (peat technology; civil engineering of the ports). For each of these there is a citation and a list of papers published, and it is possible to see a trend into increasing publication abroad. Although the papers listed were creditably in or near the mainsteam, the RDS as a world-class scientific institution was visibly declining. and its role as a grooming-centre for aspirant FRS candidates fast eroding.
In the 30s an attempt was made to revise the rules, and even the naming, in the context of the new State. Felix Hackett (UCD Physics), who was somewhat influential on the RDS Science Committee, wanted Boyle to be dropped in favour of Sir Robert Kane(5) or Fitzgerald(2). Hackett's view however did not prevail; he had remained under a cloud scientifically as a result of his early association with the Blondlot 'N-ray' fiasco, as outlined in his 1904 RDS paper; this was a cold-fusion-like episode, generating discredit. The award continued to lose momentum and they stopped publishing the list of papers along with the citation.
Then in the mid-60s the requirement of publication in the RDS Proceedings was dropped, with the result that the later awards became ritualistic events; people who had already made their name in the international arena were given usually belated national recognition. G F Mitchell(6) received the Boyle long after he became an FRS, despite the fact that the RDS had given him early research support for the pollen work which eventually gained him international recognition. There had developed what amounted to a crisis in the national scientific esteem recognition process, due to the virtual collapse of Irish scientific publishing.
Some process of recognition of the value of scientific work done in Ireland, and the generation of cross-disciplinary peer-esteem, is necessary, and an award system is a valid means of catalysing it. To have such a system, however, requires the existence of an accessible and objective measure of quality and quantity of output. We do not have such a measure at present, due to the now universal practice of scattering papers around the international specialist journals.
What could perhaps be done is to find means of motivating scientists to contribute abstracts, of those of their papers which are published in prestigious international journals, to a National Abstracts Review. This could be scanned, not only by people in industry seeking specialist knowhow-sources (an important role for such a publication), but also by talent-spotters seeking to identify appropriate people to be proposed for awards such as the Boyle Medal, which would need to be upgraded, and associated perhaps with a cash prize, a sort of national Nobel-like process, or a senior version of the Aer Lingus Young Scientist Award. There would then be a visible procedure for the generation of scientific esteem in appropriate quantities in the national context. I am not saying that there is no such procedure now; there is one, but it is opaque and subject to the stresses and strains of academic politics, which generates a high noise-level, in which I suspect many good signals get lost.
There is much to be learned from the legacy of Boyle both in the global and Irish contexts, but the latter is convoluted and needs to be teased out. The aspects I have noted above should be taken as a preliminary review and a long way from the last word.
Notes1. John Joly, 1857-1933, geologist, physicist, inventor; Professor of Geology in TCD from 1897.
2. G F Fitzgerald, 1851-1901, Professor of Physics in TCD from 1881; Secretary of the RDS 1881-1889; contributed the 'Fitzgerald Contraction' concept to the process that led Einstein to Relativity.
3. G Johnstone Stoney, 1826-1911, Fitzgerald's uncle, Secretary to the Royal University.
4. Stoney is best known as the originator of the electron as a theoretical concept, of which he estimated the charge. He also did important work on the kinetic theory of gases. He encouraged Preston on to the trail which led to his discovery of the anomalous Zeeman effect.
5. Sir Robert Kane, 1809-1890, is remembered for his best-selling 1841 chemistry textbook, and his 1844 'Industrial Resources of Ireland'. He was the first President of Queens College Cork.
6. G F Mitchell, now retired, was Professor of Quaternary Geology in TCD; he developed a procedure for the use of pollen as a means of dating bogs and other post-glacial deposits. This became a standard procedure globally, and he became an FRS in 1972 in recognition of this work.
Dr Roy Johnston was originally a physicist; he worked with C O Ceallaigh on high-energy particle physics in the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies in the 50s. He then went into industrial applications work, and subsequently into applied-research consultancy at the university-industry interface. He is currently working as an innovation consultant in industry.
ATQ Stewart has provided the answer, in great detail: it was via the Scottish Enlightenment and the Whig 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, in which William III with his background in the Dutch Republic presided over the imposition of a proto-democratic constitution on the English monarchy, re-asserting the aspirations of Cromwell, and cheered on by the ageing Levellers and their descendants. Echoes of this are discernible in Padraig O'Farrell's '98 Reader' via the words of some of the Orange songs. Cecil Kilpatrick's 'William of Orange: a Dedicated Life' constitutes an honest attempt to place the Orange perceptions in a European context, with a view to broadening the understanding of the faithful, while Derry Kelleher's '1798 Myth and Truth' reminds his targeted contemporary Irish social-republican readers of the positive roles of both Cromwell and William in the evolutionary background of the Republic.
(It is perhaps relevant in passing to mention that the organisation of a revolutionary Army Convention, with election of officers, and an elected Army Council as the leadership, we owe to Cromwell's New Model Army.)
Of these four books, the first two are scholarly, while the second two are primarily aimed at helping the faithful to understand the complexity of the evolving current situation.
A Deeper Silence: the Hidden Origins of the United Irishmen. A T Q Stewart. Blackstaff Press, 225 pp, £9.99 pb 0-85640-642-2
This is a reprint in paperback of a 1993 hardback edition, aimed at the bicentenary market. He begins, symbolically, with the US Ranger visit to Belfast Lough in 1778, which is regarded in the lore as being the trigger for the formation of the Volunteers. He then goes on to demolish this myth, unearthing a volunteering tradition going back to 1641, with subsequent peaks in 1711, 1715 and 1745, in all cases aimed at the defence of the 'freedom, religion and laws' of the colonial Irish nation.
Their post-1778 objective was the defence and enhancement of the fruits of the Whig revolution as embodied in the Dublin Parliament. The transition from this to the more inclusive United Irishmen is covered in some detail; no need to go into this now. What is interesting is the roots, the links in the 'apostolic succession'.
Key figures in the transition were William Drennan and his brother-in-law Samuel McTier. Drennan's father the Rev Thomas Drennan was a key influence on him, though he died in 1768 when William was 14. Thomas Drennan had been friendly with Francis Hutchison during his college time in Glasgow (where Presbyterian ministers trained). Hutchison was a significant figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, and his grandfather Alexander Hutchison from Ayrshire had been appointed by the Commonwealth as the Puritan pastor of Saintfield in 1657. Alexander took charge of Francis' education, so that when he went to Glasgow in the 1700s he was in a position to contribute, from living memory, to the student radical thinking of the time.
One of many foci was Addison's Cato which was taken up as a Whig propaganda-piece, especially by the 'Real Whigs and Commonwealth-men who kept alive the levelling principles of the Civil War'. Another focus was John Abernethy, the New Light, and the resistance to the imposition of the Westminster Confession. Swift, Molyneux, Toland and many others enter the picture, in a complex web of Whig, radical and dissenting intellectual contact. So we can trace the line of intellectual succession from Drennan to Cromwell credibly, via the Scottish Enlightenment, in the tolerant environment provided by William of Orange.
The '98 Reader: Ed Padraic O'Farrell. Lilliput, 208 pp, pb, npg, 1-901866-03-3
This is a collection of quotes from contemporary sources, songs, poems covering the 1798 period and its aftermath, with selected reading, chronology and index; a useful reference book. The material is grouped, poetically, into sections headed lines from the 'Croppy Boy'. Under 'early, early in the spring' we get the words of the 'Rights of Man', which I have long wanted to possess, having heard them sung by Eoghan Harris, in the heady sixties, in Wolfe Tone Society events. Davis's 'Dungannon Convention', the Liberty Tree, Drennan's Wake of William Orr and other gems are presented. We also get the founding documentation of the United Irishmen and the Orange Order, along with a contemporary account of the Battle of the Diamond.
We get insights into the informers' world of Higgins the Sham Squire, proclamations, and reports of lesser-known episodes in Kildare, Meath and Offaly, followed by the Wicklow saga, and the sorry tale of executions and Heppenstal the walking gallows. The Wexford story, Betsy Grey, Humbert, Tone, Emmet, the man from God knows where: it's all here, endless raw material for evoking something of the complexity of the period, in dramatic or literary constructions. I had not realised we owed Roddy McCorley to Ethna Carbury.
Although the Orange songs show an arrogant contempt for recumbent Croppies, they are however pervaded with the perception that they are defending their 'freedom, religion and laws' from the alien French, perceived as still being the Catholic absolutist power of a century earlier. They are consciously defending the 1688 Constitution, their 'republican monarchy'.
We have here a well-produced popular account of the life and times, without detailed references, but with a listing of source-books, the primary ones being Nessa Robb's 1966 study, also Stephen Baxter in the same year, and the Dutch van der Zee study of 1973. Peter Berresford Ellis's 1976 'Boyne Water' is also referenced.
The important thing is that the European dimension of this episode of Irish history is explored at a reasonable level of depth, with the role and nature of the Augsburg league explained; this of course was aimed at curbing the power of Louis XIV of France, and included not only Protestant Holland and Germany but Catholic Austria, Spain, and indeed the Pope himself. William was a nephew of Charles II of England. He had the status of the representative of the province of Zeeland at the Council of State of the Netherlands which met at the Hague. He assumed the role of Captain General, in order to organise the defence of the Netherlands against the incursions of Louis, who, as William soon discovered, had an arrangement with Charles II to split the Netherlands between them. He thus made his reputation as the defender of the Netherlands Republic. His leading role was moderated, on the insistence of Holland, by the need to refer to a Council of Deputies, in other words, the concept of the democratic republic was emerging. He subsequently was content to accept this model for the constitutional control of the monarchy when he was invited to replace Charles II in England.
It is good that our Orange brethren are being given the opportunity to absorb some of the complexity of the background to the Boyne, with Spain and the Pope as their ally, and a republican monarch. They will perhaps become more fit to adjust to the complexities of the Good Friday Agreement.
1798 Myth and Truth: Derry Kelleher. Kestrel Books, 36pp, pb, £4, 1-900505-85-1
This is aimed at those republicans and socialists who have been attempting to assert political left-republicanism as an alternative to Provisional militarism. It has to be mined by the dedicated reader for the excellent and relevant facts and opinions which are there, but I must say I have problems with the style. He has far too many concepts per paragraph.. He tries to drag in too many allusions, and chase too many hares, though I can see his reasons for them, and most of them are justified. Despite all this, he does manage to convey a clear message, which is in support of the message I have been developing above, namely '...there would be no inconsistency in Gerry Adams and co. celebrating the victory of the Dutch Republic at the Battle of the Boyne...'. Kelleher summarises William's life and times in a manner of which I think Kilpatrick would approve.
I look forward to a time when the residents of the Garvaghy Road will see their way to joining the Orange parade, and be made welcome by the Portadown Orangemen, celebrating conjointly the Dutch and Irish Republics, and the abolition of absolute monarchy.
Science and Colonialism in Ireland; Nicholas Whyte; Cork University Press; ISBN 1-85918-185-6; PB, NPG.
This is an important ground-breaking book, in that it is the first work by a professional historian of science to examine how science fared in the transition from Ireland in the UK to post-1921 partitioned partially-independent Statehood, and how the emerging State related to the role of science in the modernising process.
It is ironic that the project, under which the material for the book was collected, was funded by the British Academy, and although the work was done from Queens University in Belfast, the history of science in Northern Ireland is explicitly excluded. This alas must be noted as a basic flaw in the book, given the all-Ireland nature of pre-independence science culture in Ireland, and the persistence of this all-Ireland culture in all sectors of science despite Partition.
Despite this limitation, we have an important book which I hope will act as a trigger for initiating the resourcing of an academic centre, somewhere in the Republic, for the historical study of the science component of Irish culture, throughout Ireland, and its embedding in the Irish Studies agenda globally.
It is difficult in a short review to give much feel for the complexity of the transition, especially where there is no good accepted theoretical model for the processes at work. The author does lean somewhat on the European-diffusionist model of Basalla, and on the Canadian work of Pyenson on science in the British Empire and Dominions, but does not seem to have come across the work of Elisabeth Crawford of Strasbourg, on scientific esteem and national consciousness, and on the core-fringe question in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The latter to my mind constitutes a better paradigm for the analysis of the complex processes at work, and I have to some extent used this in my own 'work in progress' on this front, some of which can be seen on my web-site http://www.iol.ie/~rjtechne/, primarily in my analysis of the RDS Boyle Medal awards over the century of their existence.
Nick Whyte covers the Ascendancy-dominated 19th century and is on the whole correctly dismissive of the 'gentleman-amateur' aspect as expressed in the concentration on astronomy, though I think he does not give credit enough to the indirect influence of the 1840s Birr Castle telescope project on the teaching and practice of engineering, and on the optical industry via the firm of Grubb, which supplied telescopes to the world from its factory in Rathmines. The link between big-house science and the needs of the emerging nation was on the whole however tenuous.
Of greater significance was the question of access to science via a university training, and the 'Catholic University' question, which was not resolved until the foundation of the NUI in 1908. Whyte is also correctly dismissive of the perception that the Catholic Church as such was 'anti-science'; this perception was held by some of the Ascendancy scientific elite.
Whyte gives credit to the Royal Irish Academy for resisting the divisive 'National Academy' concept which emerged under the leadership of Eoghan MacNeill, and which if it had won through would have introduced the partitionist principle explicitly into cultural life, with the all-Ireland aspect of the RIA being undermined. This episode however lapsed in the Civil War context, leaving the RIA with the opportunity to become an inclusive transitional body, which it did successfully. Whyte however does not seem to appreciate the significance of this all-Ireland status of the Academy, and does not develop it.
On the other hand he does draw attention to forgotten all-Ireland episodes like the replacement of Horace Plunkett in 1907 by TW Russell, Liberal MP for South Tyrone. Plunkett had anomalously remained for a time in charge of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction after the Liberal victory. Russell's role in promoting research into agriculture, forestry and fisheries was significant.
The decline of the Geological Survey under the new State is analysed, and the break-up of the College of Science under the pressure of the Civil war. Whyte however lets the Free State government down lightly as regards their neglect of science; he holds that they simply did not want to spend money on anything, and science suffered accidentally in this context. He is therefore somewhat dismissive of my 1983 Crane Bag argument that this was an opportunity missed for putting constructive science at the service of the new State, and that this myopia was due to the culture-gap between science and the national movement in previous decades, with science being viewed as part of the colonial culture.
On the whole there is plenty of unfinished business here, and Whyte's book constitutes an important beginning for an innovative cultural exploration project, for which he deserves credit.
Foster spent some time in 2001, on sabbatical leave from the University of British Columbia at Vancouver, in NUI Maynooth, where he gave 3 seminars on topics which had 'science, technology and religion' aspects: Evolution, the Titanic, and field work in natural history. I had the good luck to attend, and participate in, the Evolution one: I was suitably impressed at the ambiance, and the nature of the philosophical bridges being built. Foster has worked these seminars up into a creditable book, which I hope will stimulate others on the theme of science and technology in the Irish cultural context.
John Tyndall (whose Carlow origin has become known and celebrated thanks to the work of Norman McMillan), in his capacity as President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, delivered the 1874 keynote address to that body assembled in Belfast, in the form of a broadside attack on the religious establishment, in defence of the scientific treatment of domains such as evolution and cosmology, in contrast to the biblical version of creation.
This was basically an episode in the development of science in the British culture, echoing the public controversies involving Charles Darwin, TH Huxley, Bishop Wilberforce and others, which are well-known in the history of science. The impact on Ireland however has been neglected, and Foster illuminates this, treating the reactions from the clergy and scientists of Belfast, from the Irish colonial scientific establishment in the Royal Irish Academy, and from the Irish Catholic establishment in Maynooth, as well as Newman and the Catholic University lobby.
The Belfast Protestant scientific establishment had been comfortable with the two culture approach to science and religion, but Tyndall's 1974 Address introduced tensions, and the situation became complex. Kelvin's estimate of the age of the earth at 500M years was far too short for evolution to have taken place; it lurked uneasily between the two camps.
Foster takes issue with Richard Kearney, whose 1993 Carlow conference paper Tyndall and Irish Science he criticises for ignoring the Northern dimension, the Presbyterian evangelical response (with many echoes in Britain and in the US) being substantially more vehement than the Catholic.
There is more work to be done in elucidating how this impacted on the attitude of the Catholic Hierarchy to university education, and the process that led eventually to the NUI, and to the general acceptance of Evolution in Irish science. Foster has however made a creditable start.
The Titanic was indeed the triumphal culmination of 19th century engineering, symbolic however of the forces which led inevitably to the first world war. Foster goes into the European background, bringing out some of the contradictions, as expressed in the German-British technological rivalry. Size and speed of ship was a competitive inter-imperial race.
In the analysis of the Titanic disaster from the liberal humanist angle, Foster leans on Kipling, Conrad, Wells and EM Forster. The workers engineers who built and manned the ship come out of the story well; the villains are associated with profit-oriented management and capitalist greed. Incidentally, it is not widely known that Lord Pirrie, who ran Harland and Wolff, was a Home Ruler, and sought to recruit Catholic workers, believing in the industrial resources of Ireland as a whole; Foster mentions this in passing.
In the final section we get the history of the Belfast Naturalists Field Club, from which emerged Robert Lloyd Praeger, whose classic Way that I Went has introduced several generations to the Irish natural environment. This was a result of the spread of the railways and the invention of the bicycle; the Field Club movement peaked before World War 1. The movement spread over all Ireland, and fuelled the Lambay Island and later the Clare Island survey. Praeger was the moving spirit behind the first all-Ireland meeting of the Irish Field Club Union, in Dublin in 1895, moving then to Galway. Subsequent triennial meetings took place in Kenmare 1898, Dublin 1901, Sligo 1904, Cork 1907 and Rosapenna (Donegal) 1910. The Union however dissolved in 1913, though activity persisted for a while, and the Belfast club remains active to this day.
Ironically the gunboat Helga, which bombarded O'Connell St in 1916, was a fisheries protection vessel, and it had serviced the Clare Island survey earlier, and in 1915 had been used in a scientific survey of crustaceans.
To conclude: while Foster's book is another contribution to the establishment of the scientific component of Irish culture on a secure all-Ireland basis, it is far from definitive; it suggests many trails to follow. One which Foster seems to have missed is, perhaps, the role of the Field Clubs in making the acceptance of Evolution in scientific biology the unquestioned norm. The discursive nature of Foster's book indicates a need for a more integrated approach. It should be bought by cultural historians, and if the many trails are followed systematically, maybe a credible 'colonial to post-colonial transition' paradigm for 'science and Irish culture' will emerge.
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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999