Archive for the History Category

“And” Time Draws Nigh

Posted in History, Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on November 30, 2020 by telescoper

It’s November 30th 2020, which means we have just three teaching weeks to go until the end of term. I am currently teaching two modules: Mechanics 1 and Special Relativity for first-year students and  Vector Calculus and Fourier Series for second years. We’re now getting to the “and” bit in both modules.

I didn’t want to present the two topics mentioned in the title of the second year module as completely disconnected, so I decided to link them with a lecture in which I use the divergence theorem of vector calculus to derive the heat equation, the solution of which led Joseph Fourier to devise his series in Mémoire sur la propagation de la chaleur dans les corps solides (1807), a truly remarkable work for its time that inspired so many subsequent developments.

That gives me an excuse to repost the following “remarkable” poem about Fourier by William Rowan Hamilton:

In the first-year module I will be spending most of this week talking about potentials and forces before starting special relativity next week, at the proper time.

This day and age we’re living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like fourth dimension
Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein’s theory
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax relieve the tension
And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed

As time goes by, the other thing  drawing nigh is the loosening of Ireland’s current Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions which were imposed about six weeks ago though,  judging by the crowds drinking in Courthouse Square on Saturday night, a lot of folks have thrown the rules out the window already.

I think it’s a dangerous time. The daily cases are still hovering around the 250-300 mark and will undoubtedly start climbing even before Christmas itself:The chances of us getting back to anything normality during the early part of next year are exceedingly slim.

On the GAA

Posted in Biographical, History, Sport with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2020 by telescoper

Since moving to Ireland almost three years ago I have (somewhat unexpectedly) become a fan of GAA and regularly watch both hurling and Gaelic football on the TV, which is quite often.

Ireland is very keen on sports generally, with big followings for both rugby and soccer but, at least in terms of attendances, hurling and Gaelic football are by far the most popular sports in Ireland. That’s quite remarkable because these are entirely amateur games. One of the great things about the GAA is that it’s a real grass roots organization, where even games between local clubs can attract very big crowds. (I’m talking about the pre-Covid era there, obviously.) The players tend to be local and there’s a strong involvement of the community in the local clubs.

Hurling is my favourite GAA sport – the level of skill on display is truly awesome and it’s played at an amazingly fast tempo – but I do watch the football when I can too and am more gradually getting into it. Incidentally, these two sports are played on the same pitches with the same goals and the same number of players on each side (15) and have basically the same rules – with a player’s hurley (stick) in hurling being in one-to-one correspondence as far as the rules are concerned with a player’s foot in Gaelic football. The ball of course is bigger in football; the small one used in hurling is called a sliotar. Scoring is the same in both: 1 point getting the ball between the two posts over the bar as in rugby and a goal (3 points) for getting the ball into the back of the net below the bar.

I took a break in the early afternoon yesterday to watch the All Ireland Quarter Final match in the hurling between Galway and Tipperary, an entertaining match played in fine weather which was won by Galway 3-23 to 2-24. Later on, I settled down to watch the Leinster provincial final between Dublin and Meath live from Croke Park in the evening. Given that this match was on the same day as Bloody Sunday it was preceded by a solemn commemoration of those that died a hundred years ago which I thought was beautifully done. Here’s a video tribute made by the GAA itself, played at the end of the pre-match commemoration along with specially-composed music.

After the match there was a wreath-laying ceremony involving the players which was unfortunately spoiled on the television broadcast by a commentator who talked all the way over it.

The match itself was a very one-sided affair, which was effectively all over by half time (when the score was Dublin 2-12 Meath 0-2). It ended Dublin 3-21 Meath 0-9, which is a margin of 21 points: quite a thrashing for Meath. I’m not an expert, but the Dublin side were far more mobile and inventive than Meath and thoroughly deserved their win.

There wasn’t a crowd of course. I think the commemorative event would have been even more emotional if there had been. Watching the actual match though it struck me that we’re all getting used to watching sport in an empty stadium. It’s probably going to take some getting used to the noise when (if) live audiences eventually return.

UPDATE: Tipperary beat Cork in Munster final this afternoon to win it for the first time in 85 years. The team were wearing replica jerseys of those worn by the Tipperary team that played Dublin in 1920.

After all the provincial finals, including a surprise win for Cavan over Donegal in Ulster, the four teams in the semi-finals of the All Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2020 is exactly the same as it was in 1920. The final, between Dublin and Tipperary, was not played until 1922.

(The match played on Bloody Sunday was a Challenge Match not part of the Championship.

Domhnach na Fola

Posted in History, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2020 by telescoper

In the days before lockdown I would often travel past Croke Park on the train from Maynooth into Dublin Connolly station. It’s a magnificent stadium, with a capacity over 80,000, its stands towering up on all sides of the playing field which is used for major sporting events organized by the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), chiefly hurling and gaelic football. It’s located quite close to Drumcondra Station, the last stop before Connolly on the way into Dublin. I’ve never actually been inside the ground, and you can’t see much of the interior from the train because of the stands, but I do hope to see a match there one day.

Croke Park looked very different a hundred years ago today, on November 21st 1920 (which was a Sunday).

Croke Park, looking towards Hill 16, taken on the day of November 21st 1920.

Incidentally, the low hill you can see in the background is Hill 16. There’s a story that this was built up using rubble from buildings destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, but this seems to be apocryphal.

Anyway, as you can see, there wasn’t much in the way of buildings around the playing field in those days, and not much to give spectators cover if they were trying to flee from gunfire.

A Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary started in Croke Park at 2.45 pm on November 21st. About ten minutes into the game, armed police (including members of the regular Royal Irish Constabulary, Auxiliaries, and some Black and Tans) suddenly arrived at the southern end of the park, panicking some of the spectators who tried to run away. Without warning the police opened fire on the crowd. The first to die was 11 year old William Robinson who was sitting in a tree outside the ground to get a better view. Overall the firing lasted about 90 seconds. Thirteen people were killed outright and another died of his wounds later. Others were injured either by gunfire or in the crush resulting from the panic.

Among the dead was Tipperary’s star player Michael Hogan, who was shot dead on the playing field as he tried to find cover. Information from post-mortems released many years after the event revealed that most of the victims had been shot in the back.

Michael Hogan, star player and Captain for the Tipperary team at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday. He died that day.

The massacre could have been even worse had the British forces at the other end of the ground, who had an armoured car with a machine gun, shown more restraint. The machine gun was fired above the heads of the people running towards this contingent. They didn’t shoot anyone but they did force the crowd back towards the gunfire from the other end of the ground. Had they opened fire at the crowd there would have been a massacre on the scale of Amritsar, where hundreds died.

Witnesses also said that while the security forces let all the Dublin players go, they lined up the entire Tipperary team against a fence and were preparing to shoot them all when a junior officer intervened and ordered them to be released. Tipperary was perceived to be a hotbed of IRA activity. Michael Hogan was in fact a member of the Irish Volunteers.

So what on Earth had happened to trigger this indiscriminate slaughter, on the day known now as Bloody Sunday (Irish: Domhnach na Fola)

The overall context is the Irish War of Independence which started in 1919 and was largely a guerilla campaign waged in rural areas. There had not been large-scale eruptions of violence in Dublin. That changed on November 21st 1920. That morning, members of the Irish Republican Army under the direction of Michael Collins, had carried out an operation across Dublin intended to eliminate the ability of the British forces to gather intelligence on the IRA. Hit squads entered the homes of known or suspected British intelligence operatives across the town and shot them. Fifteen people were killed that morning, including at least two innocent civilians in the process.

The IRA members responsible for the killings on Sunday morning melted away into the city. Once again the police and security services seemed to be fighting an invisible enemy. However, knowing that there was a football match going on that afternoon, and that at least some of those involved with the GAA had strong Republican leanings and may indeed be active IRA members, they decided to search all the spectators at the match of which there were over 10,000. The hope was, presumably, to find in the crowd at least some of those responsible for the morning’s assassinations. Instructions were given that anyone who ran away when the search operation began should be presumed guilty and shot.

News about the morning’s events had spread through Dublin that morning and it was widely anticipated that the British would carry out reprisal killings, probably in their usual indiscriminate fashion they had employed previously. When armed men arrived in vehicles outside the ground, the instinct of many spectators was therefore to run even before the searching began. Nervous and trigger-happy police deployed in a harebrained plan to make the slaughter inevitable. Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the murders at Croke Park.

Later that day two members of the IRA were caught by the security services, taken to Dublin Castle, beaten and then shot under the pretext that they were trying to escape. These killings brought the death toll past thirty. Bloody Sunday indeed.

The events in Croke Park handed a major propaganda victory to the IRA and also sparked an escalation of the violence. Just a week later, at Kilmichael in County Cork, the IRA ambushed two trucks carrying a total of 18 Auxiliaries, killing 17 of them and leaving the other for dead. On December 11th the British burned down a large part of the city of Cork in retaliation against another attack on their forces. And so it went on into 1921 to the point where the British eventually realized that Ireland had become ungovernable (by them) and a process was started that brought about independence (at least for part of Ireland).

As you can imagine there have been many commemorations of the grim events of a century ago. I watched a very interesting documentary on the TV earlier this week and there have been many articles in the newspapers and elsewhere about it, taking different angles. Those I found the most moving were those that dealt with the memory of the innocent lives lost. One very poignant idea was to stage 14 very short plays around Croke Park about each of the victims.

Here is a sort of trailer, featuring the heartbreaking story of Jane Boyle – the only woman to die on Bloody Sunday. Her death was particularly tragic as she was due to marry her fiancé Daniel Byron the following week. The couple went to mass at St Kevin’s Church on Harrington Street on Sunday morning and proceeded to Croke Park afterwards. When the firing started, they fled. In the scramble for safety, Daniel felt Jane’s hand go limp; she had been shot in the back and died instantly. She was buried later that week in her wedding gown.

Newton’s Laws in Words

Posted in History, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 13, 2020 by telescoper

I’ve been teaching my first-year Mathematical Physics students about Newton’s Laws of Motion so decided to record this little video as an aside discussing the history terminology and use of language.

Unfortunately the only microphone I have is the one built into my laptop and it tends to suffer sometimes from a crackle caused (I think) by the fan inside the machine interfering with the mike. I guess the noise appears when the CPU is working hard causing the machine to heat up so the fan works harder. The sound on video recordings I make this low budget way do break up from time to time, which is rather irritating. Obviously I need to buy an external microphone and when I do I might record this again but in the meantime you’ll just have to put up with it breaking up a couple of times!

Memories of Philae

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 12, 2020 by telescoper

It seems that today is the sixth anniversary of the day (November 12th 2014) that the probe Philae, having detached from its parent spacecraft Rosetta, and subsequently landed successfully (ish) on the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

I didn’t realise it was so long ago, but who could forget the feeling of intense excitement we felt on that day as Philae approached its objective?

An interview with Éamon de Valera

Posted in History with tags , on November 8, 2020 by telescoper

I thought I’d share this old film that I came across a few days ago. It dates from 1955, at which time Éamon de Valera was leader of the opposition. It is quite a strange film. Notice how the camera position keeps changing as does the placing of the interviewer (Professor Curtis Baker Bradford), who at one point is standing up near to the sitting interviewee in a way that looks very unnatural. Notices the frequent changes of camera angle too. I’m guessing they had to change reels quite frequently and the camera operator used those opportunities to change the set up. It all looks rather stilted with de Valera not at all relaxed but that might have been typical of him. He seems particularly uncomfortable, though, talking about the Easter Rising of 1916: notice how he skips from the Proclamation of the Republic directly to the surrender. I’ve heard it said that Éamon de Valera was not a particularly effective leader of the battalion at he commanded Boland’s Mill during the uprising (which would not be surprising because he had no real military training). Some even say that he had some sort of breakdown while under fire and couldn’t really function during the fighting. It may just be what his political opponents who spread that around, of course. Nobody who wasn’t there will ever really know.

P.S. Apart from anything else, this film shows what a great job Alan Rickman did at “doing” Éamon de Valera in the film Michael Collins

Out in the Dark – by Edward Thomas / Killed in Action – by W.H. Davies

Posted in History, Poetry with tags , , , , on November 8, 2020 by telescoper

Out in the dark over the snow
The fallow fawns invisible go
With the fallow doe ;
And the winds blow
Fast as the stars are slow.

Stealthily the dark haunts round
And, when the lamp goes, without sound
At a swifter bound
Than the swiftest hound,
Arrives, and all else is drowned ;

And star and I and wind and deer,
Are in the dark together, – near,
Yet far, – and fear
Drums on my ear
In that sage company drear.

How weak and little is the light,
All the universe of sight,
Love and delight,
Before the might,
If you love it not, of night.

by Edward Thomas (1878-1917).

Edward Thomas was killed in action at the Battle of Arras. His friend W.H. Davies was devastated by this and responded by writing this poem called Killed in Action (Edward Thomas):

Happy the man whose home is still
In Nature’s green and peaceful ways;
To wake and hear the birds so loud,
That scream for joy to see the sun
Is shouldering past a sullen cloud.

And we have known those days, when we
Would wait to hear the cuckoo first;
When you and I, with thoughtful mind,
Would help a bird to hide her nest,
For fear of other hands less kind.

But thou, my friend, art lying dead:
War, with its hell-born childishness,
Has claimed thy life, with many more:
The man that loved this England well,
And never left it once before.



Track and Trace & Ligatures

Posted in Covid-19, History with tags , , , , on November 2, 2020 by telescoper

I was interested to see (on Twitter) the above example of track-and-trace from 1665, at the height of the Great Plague of London. I’m not sure how effective this notice was…

Other than its historical context, looking at this piece of text reveals some interesting things about how it was printed.

Note the liberal use of the symbol “ſ’”, for example. This character is sometimes called the “long s”*. There’s a full Wikipedia article on this and I have posted about it before which means there’s no point in repeating here, but I will just mention that the long s was used widely in manuscripts after the distinction arose better upper case and lower-case letters (which was around about the end of the 8th Century) wherein the lower-case form, the “short s” (i.e. s),  was used exclusively at the end of words or before an elision, and the long s everywhere else. It survived into the era of printing, not just in English but also in other languages including German. In fact “ſ” forms the left-hand element of the ligature “Eszett”, written  “ß”, of which the other part is “z”.

Note the use of a ligature that looks like the Eszett at the end of the word “Sickness”. This is not actually an Eszett but is instead a ligature formed from the long s and the short s. I haven’t seen many examples of this in old printed books but I’m by no means an expert in 17th Century orthography but I’m given to  understand this was used in fonts based on the Antiqua class of typefaces, typically used for printing Latin text. I suppose the piece above was produced by a printer used to that form of material. That doesn’t narrow it down much, though, as many scholarly works were published in Latin at that time.

The number of esses (both long and short, as well as capital “S” in “Sickness” and “Swelling”) is quite considerable given its brevity. The last sentence contains quite a tongue-twister too: “said sign shall”!

There is another ligature “ct” in the word “infected” in the heading. This is quite common in old printed works, especially in Latin.  Here is an example from Newton’s Principia; see the word “rectam” in the statement of the Second Law of Motion:

The combination “ct” is quite common in Latin, as is “ss”, as are many other digraphs, including “et” (the ligature for which gives the symbol &; “et” means “and” in Latin).

Ligatures were introduced in handwriting, partly to embellish the script and partly to save time. Joining two letters together is a way of eliminating a duplicate stroke of the pen and avoiding having to lift it from the paper. When printing presses were introduced, ligatures were found to make typesetting with movable type easier because one block would replace frequent combinations of letters. It also allows the compositor to reduce the spacing between the characters, saving paper and also making the text easier to read.

*Incidentally, for the mathematically inclined, the long s is also the original form of the integral sign, introduced to mathematics by Leibniz to stand for “summa” (sum), which he wrote “ſumma”.



Black ’47

Posted in Beards, Film, History with tags , , , on October 14, 2020 by telescoper

The film Black ’47 was released in Ireland in 2018 (just after I moved here) but although it got good reviews I didn’t get around to seeing it in the cinema. Last Friday however it turned up on TV so I watched it and thought it was excellent.

The film tells the story of Martin Feeney (played by James Frecheville) who returns home to Ireland having deserted from the British Army, in 1847, only to find his native Connemara in the grip of the Great Famine. Witnessing the callous treatment of his people by landlords, their agents and the British authorities he sets out on a trail of violent retribution against the oppressors. In structure the film is very like that of a classic `revenge’ Western, though set in the Wild West of Ireland rather than America. It’s very well acted by a very fine cast and superbly photographed, grimly convincing in its depiction of the extreme deprivation of the time, with gripping action sequences. Among many other things, I was impressed by the realistic portrayal of the unreliability and inaccuracy of mid 19th Century firearms. The rifles in use by the British Army at that time were muzzle loaded, using paper cartridges, so their rate of fire was very low too.

There are some splendid beards too.

I’m sure there will be people to correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think there were any feature films made about the Great Hunger, despite its importance in Irish history, before this one.

Here’s the official trailer for the movie. I think it’s well worth watching if you can get to see it, though somehow I doubt it will be on prime time television in the UK like it was here in Ireland…

The Strand at Lough Beg – Seamus Heaney

Posted in History, Poetry, Television with tags , , , , , on September 17, 2020 by telescoper

Last night I watched a harrowing but compelling film called Unquiet Graves which is about the activities of the Glenanne gang, a loyalist paramilitary group which carried out in excess of 120 murders during the 1970s including the horrific bombings in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974. Many members of this gang were serving members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment which ensured that these heinous crimes were never properly investigated and in many cases the families of the victims are still waiting for justice.

The film makes very difficult viewing but is a timely reminder of a terrible period in Irish history and gives reason to reflect on the importance of the Belfast Agreement that brought peace to a part of the world that so recently stood on the brink of civil war.

One of the victims of the Glenanne gang was a young man called Colum McCartney, a cousin of the poet Seamus Heaney. Colum’s car was stopped not far from Armagh by men in army uniforms. He was made to get out and kneel, and then he was shot in the back of the head. His companion, who tried to run away, was shot in the back as he fled. Seamus Heaney composed this poignant elegy to his murdered relative.

In Memory of Colum McCartney

All round this little island, on the strand
Far down below there, where the breakers strive
Grow the tall rushes from the oozy sand.
–Dante, Purgatorio, I, 100-3

Leaving the white glow of filling stations
And a few lonely streetlamps among fields
You climbed the hills toward Newtownhamilton
Past the Fews Forest, out beneath the stars–
Along the road, a high, bare pilgrim’s track
Where Sweeney fled before the bloodied heads,
Goat-beards and dogs’ eyes in a demon pack
Blazing out of the ground, snapping and squealing.
What blazed ahead of you? A faked road block?
The red lamp swung, the sudden brakes and stalling
Engine, voices, heads hooded and the cold-nosed gun?
Or in your driving mirror, tailing headlights
That pulled out suddenly and flagged you down
Where you weren’t known and far from what you knew:
The lowland clays and waters of Lough Beg,
Church Island’s spire, its soft treeline of yew.

There you used hear guns fired behind the house
Long before rising time, when duck shooters
Haunted the marigolds and bulrushes,
But still were scared to find spent cartridges,
Acrid, brassy, genital, ejected,
On your way across the strand to fetch the cows.
For you and yours and yours and mine fought the shy,
Spoke an old language of conspirators
And could not crack the whip or seize the day:
Big-voiced scullions, herders, feelers round
Haycocks and hindquarters, talkers in byres,
Slow arbitrators of the burial ground.

Across that strand of ours the cattle graze
Up to their bellies in an early mist
And now they turn their unbewildered gaze
To where we work our way through squeaking sedge
Drowning in dew. Like a dull blade with its edge
Honed bright, Lough Beg half shines under the haze.
I turn because the sweeping of your feet
Has stopped behind me, to find you on your knees
With blood and roadside muck in your hair and eyes,
Then kneel in front of you in brimming grass
And gather up cold handfuls of the dew
To wash you, cousin. I dab you clean with moss
Fine as the drizzle out of a low cloud.
I lift you under the arms and lay you flat.
With rushes that shoot green again, I plait
Green scapulars to wear over your shroud.