Archive for the History Category

The Old Rugged Cross – George Lewis

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , on April 15, 2022 by telescoper

A descendant of Senegalese slaves, George Lewis was born in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1900 where he learned to play the clarinet and started to play with jazz bands in the 1920s. Many musicians left New Orleans for Chicago during that period but Lewis stayed and lived on in relatively obscurity until the New Orleans “revival” began in the 1940s. After appearing on records with likes of Bunk Johnson, Lewis became a sort of Patron Saint of traditional jazz, with a style rooted in the home-town traditions of Gospel Music and Street Parades that was very different from that of the popular clarinetists of the Swing Era such as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Lewis was never a great player from a technical point of view, but he was an authentic emblem of early Jazz and the back-to-basics move he represented proved very popular especially in Western Europe and Lewis had a late renaissance in his career in which he travelled widely playing with “traditional” bands around the world during the height of the “trad” boom of the fifties and sixties. He died in 1968.

Anyway, because it’s Good Friday I thought I would post this video of him in his later years playing the hymn The Old Rugged Cross, which was written in 1912 and has been a staple of New Orleans funeral processions ever since:

Deciphering the past using ancient Irish genomes

Posted in Education, History, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 30, 2022 by telescoper

I thought I’d use the medium of this blog to advertise the forthcoming Dean’s Lecture at Maynooth University by Prof. Daniel Bradley of Trinity College Dublin which takes place tomorrow evening at 7pm.

Prof. Bradley

The abstract is:

Our genomes are our biological blueprints. Their DNA code also carries the traces of our family ancestry and at a deeper level, the history of the population we come from. With modern instruments we can sequence for the first time the DNA of people who lived thousands of years ago and read their long-lost biological stories. Genomes from ancient Ireland, including from those buried in famous megalithic tombs such as Newgrange and Poulnabrone dolmen, highlight the great migrations that brought different waves of people to the island, and also give us hints of the very different societies that prevailed in our prehistory.

I’ll be attending the lecture in person on Maynooth University campus but it will also be streamed via Youtube so if you find this sort of thing as fascinating as I do but can’t attend in person please do register here in order to get the link that will enable you to join the live stream.

Update: it was very interesting!

Summer Time Again

Posted in History, Maynooth on March 27, 2022 by telescoper

Well, Spring has definitely arrived. We’ve had glorious weather for over a week now, exactly as I like it – sunny and not too hot. Yesterday for the first time this year I pegged my washing out on the line in the garden, and of course today the clocks went forward so we’re now on Irish Summer Time.

Among the many sensible decisions made recently by the European Parliament was to approve a directive that will abolish `Daylight Saving Time’. I’ve long felt that the annual ritual of putting the clocks forward in the Spring and back again in the Autumn was a waste of time effort, so I’ll be glad when this silly practice is terminated.
It would be better in my view to stick with a single Mean Time throughout the year. This was supposed to happen in 2021 but I suppose has been delayed because of the pandemic.

The marvellous poster above is from 1916, when British Summer Time was introduced. You might be surprised to learn that the practice of changing clocks backwards and forwards is only about a hundred years old. in the United Kingdom. To be honest I’m also surprised that the practice persists to this day, as I can’t see any real advantage in it. Any institution or organization that really wants to change its working hours in summer can easily do so, but the world of work is far more flexible nowadays than it was a hundred years ago and I think few would feel the need.

Anyway, while I am on about Mean Time, here is a another poster from 1916.

Until October 1916, clocks in Ireland were set to Dublin Mean Time, as defined at Dunsink Observatory, rather than Mean Time as defined at Greenwich. The adoption of GMT in Ireland was driven largely by the fact that the British authorities found that the time difference between Dublin and London had confused telegraphic communications during the Easter Rising earlier in 1916. Its imposition was therefore, at least in part, intended to bring Ireland under closer control of Britain. Needless to say, this did not go down well with Irish nationalists.

Ireland had not moved to Summer Time with Britain in May 1916 because of the Easter Rising. Dublin Mean Time was 25 minutes 21 seconds behind GMT but the change was introduced at the same time as BST ended in the UK, hence the alteration by one hour minus 25 minutes 21 seconds, i.e. 34 minutes and 39 seconds as in the poster.

Blog Life

Posted in Biographical, Film, History with tags , , on March 23, 2022 by telescoper

It has been a very strange past few weeks on the blog with much higher levels of traffic than usual (though it is now reverting to more normal levels). Initially I assumed that this abnormal activity was generated by a certain person sniffing around old posts looking for things to complain about, but further investigation revealed that wasn’t the case at all.

In fact, a large fraction of the increase was generated by a post I wrote about a decade ago about Operation Carthage, a British air raid on March 21st 1945 aimed at destroying the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen.

The reason for the sudden increase in interest in this particular post is that a new film about the tragic events of that day, The Shadow of My Eye, has been on Netflix this month and this has apparently spurred people to google the subject, some of them finding my old post as a consequence. I haven’t seen the film so won’t comment on it myself, although there are some recent comments on the old post from people about it.

Talking about comments, I should remind my readers that I do have a policy which is published on the front page of this site. The statement of this policy includes

Feel free to comment on any of the posts on this blog but comments may be moderated; anonymous comments and any considered by me to be vexatious and/or abusive and/or defamatory will not be accepted.

If people make it necessary for me to ban them from posting comments, then all their previous comments will automatically be moved offline. I don’t take this step very often, but I make no apology for doing so when a person’s behaviour justifies it.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Lecturing in the Dark

Posted in Biographical, Education, History, Maynooth, Politics with tags , on March 9, 2022 by telescoper

We’ve had several power cuts on Maynooth University campus today.

I had a lecture during one of them. The lecture went ahead with the usual chalk-and-talk, although the room was a bit on the dark side without any electric lights. More seriously I could neither record nor webcast the lecture because there was no internet so I couldn’t connect to Panopto. Ironically, the topic of the lecture was electromagnetism.

After a couple of false starts we finally got power back this afternoon, but the power failure seems to have had a number of fairly drastic consequences. Our office machines which are currently unable to access the internet. Also the data projector in our computer lab seems to be completely bust, but that is less important than the fact that the none of lab computers is working. Fortunately we don’t have a lab session on Wednesday afternoons, but I hope we can get this fixed before tomorrow when we do have a lab session!

By the way this is what our computer lab looks like:

Fortunately, next week is study week (the week containing the St Patrick’s Day holiday) which will give us time to regroup. It can’t come soon enough!

With an energy crisis looming as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine I wouldn’t bet against much worse problems with electricity supply in the near future. I’m old enough to remember the Oil Crisis of 1974, with petrol rationing, regular power cuts and the Three Day Week. I wonder if we will soon be experiencing something similar again?

Update: after yet another power cut I decided to go home earlier than usual. When I got back to my house in Maynooth at 6pm I saw no sign that the power had been off at all!

The Fifth Battle of Kharkiv

Posted in History with tags , , , on March 8, 2022 by telescoper
The ruins of the Regional Administration Building on Freedom Square, Kharkiv

When a speaker at yesterday’s vigil mentioned that his family were from Kharkiv, the scene of great destruction and heavily civilian casualties as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I was reminded that this location was the scene of no fewer than four huge and bloody battles during the Second World War.

Kharkiv fell to German forces after the First Battle of Kharkiv took place in October 1941. The first attempt by the Soviets to take it back led to the Second Battle of Kharkiv, which took place in May 1942, and was a catastrophic defeat for the Red Army. Among other things this fiasco revealed Stalin to be a military leader of legendary incompetence. He had a huge numerical advantage in men, tanks, artillery and but most of his troops were poorly trained conscripts who were sent into a position from which they were easily outflanked, then encircled and finally destroyed. The losses were appalling: almost 300,000 casualties and the destruction of over a thousand tanks. This defeat left the way open for German forces to advance on Stalingrad (now Volgograd), where they were finally halted in 1943.

The Third Battle of Kharkiv of January 1943 was another German victory but resulted in a salient which was successfully attacked during the Battle of Kursk leading to a massive German defeat. Kharkiv was finally recaptured by the Soviets in August 1943 after a fourth major battle.

It seems in the Fifth Battle of Kharkiv, Putin is following Stalin’s policy of sacrificing the resource he values least – the lives of his young conscripts – but the big difference between then and now is that it is the Russian army is attacking a predominantly Russian-speaking part of Ukraine; Kharkiv is only 25km from the Russian border. If Putin’s army is prepared to behave so abominably to people he claims are his own, one can barely imagine the horrors he will inflict on the Ukrainian-speakers elsewhere in Ukraine. This isn’t just a war, it’s a genocide.

Calamity Again

Posted in Art, History, Maynooth, Poetry, Politics with tags , , on March 7, 2022 by telescoper

This lunchtime I attended a public vigil for Ukraine on Maynooth University campus. It was a moving experience, not least because of the presence of a Ukrainian PhD student, Oleg Chupryna, who addressed the gathering. Although he has lived in Ireland for over 20 years many members of his family are still in Ukraine. They were in Kharkiv when the invasion happened, having refused to leave because they didn’t think the Russians would actually invade, but then found themselves under relentless shelling by Russian artillery. His family managed to flee Kharkiv for the countryside a couple of days ago, but are still trapped in Ukraine, apart from one family member who has arrived safely in Dublin and who read the following poem (in Ukrainian) by Taras Shevchenko, followed by the English translation. you see below.

Shevchenko (who was a painter and illustrator as well as a poet) was born a serf, so the use of the word slavery is not metaphorical. Sales of artwork enabled him to be  bought out of his serfdom in 1838, but he spent a great deal of time imprisoned by the Russian authorities. He died in St Petersburg in 1861 at the age of 47.

The poem Calamity Again  was written in 1854, in the middle of the Crimean War, at which time Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire. The poem was written at Novopetrovsk Fortress, depicted in the above painting by Shevchenko himself.

Dear God, calamity again! …
It was so peaceful, so serene;
We but began to break the chains
That bind our folk in slavery …
When halt! … Again the people’s blood
Is streaming! Like rapacious dogs
About a bone, the royal thugs
Are at each other’s throat again.


Jazz Quiz – Spot the Link

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , , on February 11, 2022 by telescoper

Time, I think, for a quick lunchtime jazz quiz. Here are two great old records from the classical period of Jazz. Can you spot the link between them?

The first is a slow blues recorded in 1928 called Superstitious Blues featuring a formidable singer by the name of Hattie Burleson in the company of Don Albert (trumpet), Siki Collins (soprano saxophone), Allen Van (piano), John Henry Bragg (banjo) and Charlie Dixon (brass bass):

The second, an up-tempo stomp recorded a year earlier in 1927, is one of the hottest jazz records ever made – the way it catches fire for the last 45 seconds or so is absolutely sensational no matter how many times you listen to it. It is performed by the Johnny Dodds (on clarinet) and his Black Bottom Stompers, consisting of George Mitchell and Natty Dominique on cornets, John Thomas on trombone, Charlie Alexander piano, Bud Scott banjo and Johnny Dodds’s younger brother, Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds, drums.

So, what’s the connection?

Well, nobody tried to answer so I will: real name of Don Albert, the trumpet player in the first track, was Albert Dominique and he was the nephew of the more famous Natty Dominique who played on the second track. Not a lot of people know that.

First Light at L2 for JWST

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on February 5, 2022 by telescoper

After a successful launch, subsequent deployment of its sunshield and mirrors, and arrival at its orbit around the Second Lagrange Point, the goal now for the James Webb Space Telescope is to align the optical components of the telescope to the required accuracy. This is not a simple task – each of the segments of the main mirror has to be aligned to within a fraction of a wavelength of the light it will observe (in the near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum) – and it will take several months to complete. However, we did hear yesterday that the telescope has now seen “first light”, in the sense that the first photons have landed on its detectors. The first images to be formed will be blurry and distorted, but these will be used to adjust the components until they reach the required sharpness.

For more details of this process see here.

Incidentally, it is worth saying a little bit about L2, the second Lagrange point of the Earth-Sun system. As the diagram below shows, this orbits the Sun at a greater distance from the Sun than the Earth. According to Kepler’s Laws, and ignoring the Earth’s gravitation, a test particle placed in a circular orbit at this radius would move more slowly than the Earth and would not therefore hold a fixed position relative to the Earth and Sun as it went around. The effect of the Earth’s gravity however is to supply an extra force to speed it up a bit, so it can keep up and thus remain in a fixed configuration relative to both Earth and Sun.

The opposite applies to L1: an object placed here would, in the absence of Earth’s gravity, move more quickly and thus pull ahead of the Earth. Having the Earth there holds it back by just the right amount to maintain a fixed position in the rotating frame.

The interesting thing about L1 & L2 is that while they are both equilibrium points, they are both unstable to radial perturbations. An object placed at either of these points would move away if disturbed slightly. JWST does not therefore just sit passively at L2 – it moves in a so-called halo orbit around L2 a process which requires some fuel. It’s not that there’s an actual mass at L2 for it to orbit around, but that its motion produces a Coriolis Force that keeps it from moving away. It’s very clever, but does require a bit of energy to keep it in this orbit.

Unlike L1 & L2, the Lagrange Points L4 & L5 are stable and therefore attract all kinds of space junk, such as asteroids, cometary debris, and preprints by Avi Loeb.

Another interesting Lagrange Point is that Joseph-Louis Lagrange was born in 1736 in Turin, but that does not mean that he was Italian. At that time Italy did not exist as a political entity; in 1736 Turin was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Although born in the part of the world now known as Italy, he was never an Italian citizen. In fact he lived most of his life in Berlin and Paris and died in 1813, long before the Kingdom of Italy was founded (in 1861).

Bloody Sunday Remembered

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , on January 30, 2022 by telescoper

I’ve been a bit busy today catching up on the backlog caused by my recent incapacity so I’ll just post a quick item to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bogside Massacre which took place on Bloody Sunday (30th January 1972) in Derry as British paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights demonstration. For more information see here.

I’m old enough to remember the news of this at the time and the widespread coverage of this event on the media today brought back a lot of memories. I certainly didn’t think then that, fifty years on, none of the soldiers who murdered these civilians would have been brought to justice.

Thirteen people people died that day, and another died of his wounds some months later. Their names are:

Patrick (‘Paddy’) Doherty (31)
Gerald Donaghey (17)
John (‘Jackie’) Duddy (17)
Hugh Gilmour (17)
Michael Kelly (17)
Michael McDaid (20)
Kevin McElhinney (17)
Bernard (‘Barney’) McGuigan (41)
Gerald McKinney (35)
William (‘Willie’) McKinney (26)
William Nash (19)
James (‘Jim’) Wray (22)
John Young (17)
John Johnston (59) – shot twice and later died on 16 June 1972

May they rest in peace, and may their murderers not.