Archive for the History Category

LGBT History Month

Posted in Biographical, History, LGBT on February 22, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve been out of circulation today so haven’t had time to do a proper post. I will however take this opportunity to remind you all that this is LGBT History Month, which is something I should have mentioned earlier!

And talking of history I notice that a year ago today saw the start of the UCU industrial action over pension cuts. So much has happened since, that seems like decades ago!


The Tree of Liberty Stone

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , , , on February 10, 2019 by telescoper

I had to come into the office today to do a few things ahead of what will be another busy week, but when I stepped out I found the weather to be much more pleasant than it has been of late, so went for a short stroll around the town of Maynooth. I’m also house-hunting, so I took the opportunity to have a look at the locations of a few properties I’d seen on the market before deciding whether to check them out in more detail.

Anyway, at the opposite end of the Main Street from the Maynooth University campus, I found the above monument, the Tree of Liberty Stone, which commemorates the (failed) Irish Rebellion of 1798 which had sought to emulate the French Revolution (which began in 1789) in overthrowing British rule in Ireland. This rebellion was launched by the Society of United Irishmen.

Incidentally, one of the founders and leading lights of the Society of United Irishmen was a character from Belfast by the name of Henry Joy McCracken. That name will be familiar to many astronomers, and especially to people involved in the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, as there is an astronomer with exactly the same name who did his PhD in Durham and who now works in Paris. Whether the present Henry Joy McCracken is directly related I don’t know.

The historical Henry Joy McCracken was executed by public hanging on 17th July 1798 after the failure of the 1798 rebellion. He was just 30 years old. Another thing worth mentioning is that he was a Protestant republican. There were more of those than people tend to think.

25 Years of Python!

Posted in History with tags , , on February 1, 2019 by telescoper

Not a lot of people know* that it is 25 years to the day since Guido van Rossum announced the release of Python 1.0.0:

The latest version of Python is 3.7.2.

It’s not quite correct to say that Python is 25 years old today, though. There were versions available before the official Version 1. For a full history see here.

*H/T to Tom Crick, whose tweet alerted me to this.

The Centenary of the First Dáil

Posted in History with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2019 by telescoper

As I mentioned at the weekend, today marks the centenary of the historic first meeting of the Dáil Éireann, at the Mansion House in Dublin on (Tuesday) 21st January 1919. The picture above shows the 27 Teachtaí Dála (TDs) present. The event is being commemorated this afternoon.

I’m summarizing the events surrounding the First Dáil largely because I didn’t learn anything about this at School. Despite Ireland being such a close neighbour, Ireland’s history is only covered in cursory fashion in the British education system.

The background to the First Dáil is provided by the General Election which took place in November 1918 and which led to a landslide victory for Sinn Féin who won 73 seats, and turned the electoral map of Ireland very green, though Unionists held 22 seats in Ulster.

In accordance with its policy of abstentionism, the Sinn Féin MPs refused to take their seats in Westminster and instead decided to form a provisional government in Ireland. In fact 35 of the successful candidates for the General Election were actually in prison, mostly because of their roles in the 1916 Easter Rising and the Ulster Unionists refused to participate, so the First Dáil comprised only 27 members as seen in the picture. It was chaired by Sean T. O’Kelly; Cathal Brugha was elected Speaker (Ceann Comhairle).

As part of this meeting, the adoption and the ritual of ‘the Turning of the Seal’ establishing the Sovereignty of the Irish Republic was begun. The First Dáil published The Declaration of Irish Independence.

It also approved a Democratic Programme, based on the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and read and adopted a Message to the Free Nations of the World in Irish, English and French:

On the same day as the first meeting of the Dáil (though the timing appears not to have been deliberate), two members of Royal Irish Constabulary were shot dead by volunteers of the Irish Republication Army in an ambush at Soloheadbeg, Co Tipperary. The IRA squad made off with explosives and detonators intended for use in mining. This is generally regarded as the first incident in the Irish War of Independence. The war largely consisted of a guerrilla campaign by the IRA countered by increasingly vicious reprisals by British forces, especially the infamous Black and Tans who quickly became notorious for their brutality and indiscipline.

Following the outbreak of the War of Independence, the British Government decided to suppress the Dáil, and in September 1919 it was prohibited. The Dáil continued to meet in secret, however, and Ministers carried out their duties as best they could.

The War of Independence lasted until the summer of 1921, when it was ended by a truce and the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. That, in turn, triggered another cycle of violence with the breakout of the Irish Civil War in 1922 between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces and the eventual partition of Ireland into the independent Republic and Northern Ireland which remained part of the United Kingdom.

Domhnall Ua Buachalla and the First Dáil

Posted in History, Maynooth on January 19, 2019 by telescoper

This Monday, 21st January 2019, is the centenary of a momentous day in Irish history. On 21st January 1919 the first Dáil Éireann met and issued a Declaration of Irish Independence and so the War of Irish Independence began..

This post from Maynooth Library describes fascinating archived material relating to Domhnall Ua Bramhall, who was elected to the First Dáil for Kildare North (which includes Maynooth).

I’ll probably do a brief post on Monday to mark the centenary.

MU Library Treasures

Ciara Joyce, Archivist

May God send in every generation men who
live only for the Ideal of Ireland A Nation’ James Mallon B. Co. III Batt.
I.R.A. Hairdresser “To the boy of
Frongoch” with E. D’Valera Easter Week 22/12/16 Frongoch’.

                                                            MU/PP26/2/1/7 Autograph by James Mallon

Members of the first Dáil 1919

On the 21st of January 1919, the first meeting of Dáil Éireann took place in the Mansion House, Dublin. Elected in the 1918 General Election, the members of parliament refused to take up their seats in Westminster, and instead established the Dáil as a first step in achieving the Irish Republic.

Prominent elected members included Michael Collins,Constance Markievicz, Éamon de Valera, Cathal Brugha, W.T. Cosgrave, Eoin MacNeill and Arthur Griffith. A number of T.Ds, including de Valera and Markievicz, were serving sentences in British prisons at the time and…

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Turning a Blind Eye

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , on January 2, 2019 by telescoper

As my little festive sojourn in Wales draws to a close, there’s no sign of the Brexit Pantomime season doing likewise. The latest episode of this tragicomedy saw Transport Secretary Chris Grayling dishing out £14 million of taxpayers’ money to a ‘company’ called Seaborne Freight to operate ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend when, in less than 90 days, the UK leaves the EU.

As his name suggests, there’s something very fishy about Grayling’s decision to hand out a lucrative contract, without any proper procurement process, to a company that has only existed for a few months, has never operated a ferry, has no trained staff and, above all, has no ships!

Is this lawful? I doubt it. Is it ethical? Certainly not. Will Grayling get away with it? Almost certainly. Recent events have shown that illegality, fraud and corruption are all part of the job description for a Brexiter.

Perhaps Grayling is trying to channel Lord Nelson who, in legend anyway, at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, held a telescope to his blind eye when ordered to retreat, saying “I see no ships”. The difference here is of course that the ships can’t be seen because they don’t exist.

“I see no ships” is actually a misquote: what Nelson said was something like “I have a right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal”. This event is not the origin of the phrase ‘to turn a blind eye’, either: the OED gives an example of its usage from 1698..

Anyway I think we can all see what the signal is in this case, a desperate government throwing public money down the drain without a shred of accountability. Get used to it. There will be a lot more of that in Brexit Britain. It’s what you voted for, isn’t it?

Fourier, Hamilton and Ptolemy

Posted in History, Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on December 17, 2018 by telescoper

As we stagger into the last week of term I find myself with just two lectures to give in my second-year module on Vector Calculus and Fourier Series. I didn’t want to present the two topics mentioned in the title as disconnected, so I linked them in a lecture in which I used 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.

Fourier’s work was so influential and widely admired that it inspired a famous Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton to write the following poem:

Hamilton-for Fourier

The serious thing that strikes me is not the quality of the verse, but how many scientists of the 19th Century, Hamilton included, saw their scientific interrogation of Nature as a manifestation of the human condition just as the romantic poets saw their artistic contemplation and how many poets of the time were also interested in science.

Anyway I was looking for nice demonstrations of Fourier series to help my class get to grips with them when I remembered this little video recommended to me some time ago by esteemed Professor George Ellis. It’s a nice illustration of the principles of Fourier series, by which any periodic function can be decomposed into a series of sine and cosine functions.

This reminds me of a point I’ve made a few times in popular talks about Astronomy. It’s a common view that Kepler’s laws of planetary motion according to which which the planets move in elliptical motion around the Sun, is a completely different formulation from the previous Ptolemaic system which involved epicycles and deferents and which is generally held to have been much more complicated.

The video demonstrates however that epicycles and deferents can be viewed as the elements used in the construction of a Fourier series. Since elliptical orbits are periodic, it is perfectly valid to present them in the form a Fourier series. Therefore, in a sense, there’s nothing so very wrong with epicycles. I admit, however, that a closed-form expression for such an orbit is considerably more compact and elegant than a Fourier representation, and also encapsulates a deeper level of physical understanding.