Archive for the History Category

The First Landing on the Irish

Posted in History with tags , , , , , , on September 7, 2019 by telescoper

While at the Irish National Astronomy Meeting last week I picked up a free copy of the magazine Astronomy Ireland. I chuckled when I saw this little item about the stamps issued in Ireland to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 first landing on the Moon:

If you can’t read the text it refers to a spelling error in the Irish language version of the caption on the Neil Armstrong stamp at the top image: instead of the Irish word for Moon (Gealach) the text contains the word for Irish (Gaelach). The caption thus translates as the 50th Anniversary of the First Landing on the Irish


A Very British Coup

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , on August 28, 2019 by telescoper

Known liar, charlatan and tinpot dictator Boris Johnson.

Got back to Ireland this morning to find that the UK Government has decided to suspend Parliament. The deed is already done:


Remind me, what was all that stuff about the European Union being undemocratic?

Any lingering doubts anyone might have had about the direction in which the United Kingdom might go after known liar Boris Johnson became Prime Minister will have been dispelled this morning by the decision (by a small group within the Cabinet) to prorogue Parliament. There can be no doubt that this is a coup d’état. The parallels with 1930s Germany are chilling. If you ever wondered what you would have done in then, as the Nazis took over, that’s what you’re doing now.

This may allow the populist charlatans behind this manoeuvre to force through their chaotic `no deal’ Brexit, but they cannot be allowed to get away with this. I live in hope that one day they will be brought to book for this scandalous act. When that happens the retribution will be a joy to watch.

This disgraceful episode has made much easier a decision I have been putting off for almost two years. I’m putting my house in Wales up for sale and cutting the last of my ties with the United Kingdom. Enough is enough.

Preparatory Reading

Posted in History, Literature, Politics with tags on August 12, 2019 by telescoper

With less than a month to go before I take up a position as Head of Department, I thought I’d spend some of the book tokens I got from the Everyman Crossword prize on some preparatory reading material…

The Coles of Arms

Posted in Biographical, History with tags , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2019 by telescoper

Sparked by an exchange on Twitter last week with another person (who has the same surname as me) on the subject of heraldry, I did a little bit of googling about and found a little snippet I found quite intriguing. Although the name Coles is found all over England and Wales, with strong concentrations in the South West of England and in Northamptonshire, according to this source the name is of Anglo Saxon origin and is first recorded in Yorkshire as the family name of George Coles, which was dated 1555, in the “Register of the Freemen of the City of York”, during the reign of Queen Mary 1. The same source also points out that a branch of the Coles family subsequently moved to Ireland, though it gives no details (unless you pay for them).

I subsequently found that in Burkes General Armory (which details all the Coats of Arms registered in the UK and Ireland) the first entry under the surname Coles is indeed in Ireland, where it was confirmed in 1647. That date is during the Irish Confederate Wars, a couple of years before Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland with his army. One might surmise that this particular branch of the Coles lineage was somehow caught up in these hostilities, probably on the English side.

Anyway the description of the corresponding Coat of Arms, in typically cryptic heraldic language is:

Gu. on a chev. betw. two lions’ heads erased or, ten ogresses. Crest — A snake wreathed about a marble pillar ppr. garnished or.

The first part refers to the escutcheon (shield): Gu is short for Gules, a tincture (red), and it describes the main colour of the field of the escutcheon; chev is for chevron (an inverted v-shape), one of the Honorable Ordinaries (basic designs for the escutcheon). This and the two lions’ heads are described as `or’ (andother tincture, meaning gold-coloured); erased means `without the body’; an ogress is a special case of a roundel (filled circle) in which the circle is black (the word `pellet’ is also used).

The Crest is self-explanatory other than that `ppr’ is short for `proper’ which means, roughly speaking, `natural-coloured’. I’m not of the significance of the snake and the marble pillar.

Here is a mock-up of the whole thing:

There are several other entries for the name Coles in Burkes General Armory and I’m certainly not claiming that I have the right to use this Coat of Arms but I am intrigued by the Irish connection with the name Coles and will see what more I can find out about it.

Old-School Physics

Posted in Education, History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on July 27, 2019 by telescoper

The recent circulation to his staff of daft (and in some cases erroneous) rules to be used when writing documents has led to much hilarity on the media we call social. Among the obvious errors are that the correct abbreviation for `Member of Parliament’ is `MP’ not ‘M.P.’ and that `full stop’ is actually two words (not `fullstop’). On top of those his insistence that civil servants use Imperial units for everything actually may be unlawful as the official system of units for the United Kingdom is the metric system.

The latter exhortation has caused a particular outcry among people under the age of about 50 (who have never been taught Imperial units), and especially scientists (who understand the obvious superiority of the SI system).

Anyway, all this reminded me that many years ago when at Cardiff there came into my possession a book of very old school and university physics examinations, which are of interest because I’ve been posting slightly less ancient examples in recent weeks. These examinations were set by the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, which was founded in 1883,  an institution which eventually became Cardiff University. I find them absolutely fascinating.

The papers are rather fragile, as is the book containing them, so I daren’t risk trying to scan them systematically in case flattening them out causes damage. Here instead are a few random examples that I photographed on my desk, in the manner of an old-fashioned secret agent. Sorry they’re not all that clear, but you can see them blown up if you click on them.

The collection is fairly complete, covering most of classical physics, at all examination levels from university entry to final Honours. Of course there are no questions on relativity or quantum physics appear (which had yet to be invented) but other than that – and the units! – they’re not too different from what you might find in the examinations for the early stages of contemporary physics programmes.

The Wonderful Barn

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , on July 26, 2019 by telescoper

Despite the fact that it’s only a few miles away from Maynooth (in Leixlip) I had never heard of this extraordinary building until yesterday. The Wonderful Barn (for that is its name) is known to have been built in 1743 but nobody actually knows what its purpose was. Probably the best theory is that it was designed to be used as a granary, as it was built immediately after a severe famine (in possible anticipation of others in the future), but alternative possibilities to have been suggested are a tower from which people could shoot game birds, a folly (it was built by the Conolly family, owners of Castletown House and is on the Estate which has another famous folly), and simply as a means of providing work for poor people in a time of great hardship. Anyway, it’s a weird building, built from bricks but faced with what looks like recycled stone rubble.

Here’s a short video that includes some drone footage of the Wonderful Barn that gives you an idea of its corkscrew-shaped construction.

Also Sprach Zarathrustra: Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang

Posted in History, Music, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on July 21, 2019 by telescoper

Here is a short video of the historic first manned landing on the Moon. I don’t know about you but I find the ghostly images are extremely affecting.

If there’s one piece of music indelibly associated with the Apollo missions, it’s the piece accompanying that clip: the introduction (or `Dawn’) from the orchestral tone poem Also Sprach Zarathrustra by Richard Strauss. Amazingly it was only a couple of years ago that I heard this piece performed live for the first time. I vividly remember how  the percussionists were clearly enjoying themselves during that performance. Not many orchestral pieces start with the percussion section front and centre. Whenever I’ve heard the piece since then I can’t help thinking how much I’d love to have a bash at the timpani part!

Anyway, here’s a clip from the Proms a few years ago to give you some idea of the tremendous impact this piece can have when you hear it in a concert hall.