Archive for ireland

Winners and Losers

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords, Politics with tags , , on May 30, 2019 by telescoper

Hopefully the hecticity of the last week or so will now begin to die down and I can get on with the rest of my examination marking, which I hope to complete today.

Now to a couple of updates.

Yesterday I took delivery of the above book. Regular readers of this blog will probably not recall that I won the Financial Times Crosssword competition way back in February. The prize never arrived so I contacted them to ask what had happened. It must have got lost in the post, but they kindly sent a replacement which arrived promptly. The book is not a dictionary, but is about the story of the creation of one – the Oxford English Dictionary to be precise. I look forward to reading it!

The other matter to be updated concerns the Irish Elections to the European Parliament. The counting of these proved to be a slow process but watching the regular updates on the web as votes were transferred is actually rather fascinating. It’s surprisingly difficult to predict where second choice votes of eliminated candidates will end up. The Green Party seems rather `transfer-friendly’, for example, whereas Sinn Féin is not.

In my own constituency of Midlands-North-West it took thirteen rounds of counting to pick the four MEPs: one for Sinn Féin, two for Fine Gael and one strange but probably harmless Independent. The turnout was about 50%. I think Fianna Fáil made a tactical error by fielding two candidates: neither had enough first-preference votes to make the cut.

I was worried that the dreadful Peter Casey might sneak in in fourth place but he fell well short of the required transfers, though he still got a worryingly large number of votes. The Irish Media are making the same mistake pandering to him as they have done in the UK with Nigel Farage: he gets far more airtime than the other candidates despite being obviously unfit for office.

Elswhere, Dublin elected MEPs from the Green Party (1), Fine Gael (1) and Fianna Fáil (1) and one Independent standing under the banner of `Independents for Change’ (I4C). The incumbent Sinn Féin candidate Lynn Boylan lost her seat. The 4th candidate here will only take a seat in the European Parliament if and when the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

As I write there’s a recount going on in Ireland South, but it looks like the winners will be Fine Gael (2), Fianna Fáil (1), I4C (1) and the fifth (who will only take up a seat after Brexit) will probably be from the Green Party. It looks like incumbent Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada (and unsuccessful candidate for the Presidency) will lose her seat, but the count is very close: only a few hundred votes are in it, hence the recount. UPDATE: in fact there will be a full recount of the whole ballot, which could take weeks.

Overall it’s clear that the losers are Sinn Féin, who lost two MEPs (and also about half their councillors in the local elections). After appearing to improve their vote share in recent years this is a definite reverse for them. The party that gained the most is the Green Party, with (probably) two MEPs and a strong showing in Midlands-North-West. I wonder if they can keep this momentum going for a General Election?

Interestingly, unlike the rest of the `United’ Kingdom Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote system for European Elections too. There Sinn Féin came top of first preferences and won one seat, with another for the Alliance and one for the DUP. That’s two-to-one in favour of `Remain’.


Voting Matters in Ireland

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on May 21, 2019 by telescoper

Arriving back in civilization last night I discovered that my polling card for Friday’s voting has arrived at last along with instructions on the Referendum to be held alongside the Local Council Elections and the European Parliament Elections, all held on 24th May.

I’m looking forward to casting my ballot. It is a new experience for me to vote here in Ireland. Both elections are held under Proportional Representation (Single Transferable Vote) which seems to me a very sensible system. One ranks the candidates in order of preference with votes progressively reallocated as the lowest-ranked candidates are eliminated. You can rank all the candidates or just some. In the system employed here one ranks the candidates in order of preference with votes progressively reallocated in various rounds until one ends up with the top n candidates to fill the n available seats. Surplus votes from the top candidates as well as those of eliminated candidates are reallocated to lower-preference candidates in this process.

The Local Elections involve filling 40 seats on Kildare County Council, with five councillors representing Maynooth. The nine candidates are listed here, in case you’re interested.

For the European Parliament Elections things are a bit more complicated. For the purposes of the EU elections Ireland is divided into three constituencies: Dublin, Ireland South and Midlands North West. I am in the latter, which elects four MEPs. There are 17 candidates for this constituency, listed here.

As a relative newcomer to Ireland I first sorted the candidates into three groups: (i) those that I would be happy to see elected, (ii) those that I don’t really like but could tolerate, and (iii) those that I wouldn’t like to see representing me under any circumstances. There are plenty in the latter category. There seems to be a law in Ireland that there has to be at least one deranged simpleton on every ballot paper, and there are several in this election. I will choose my lower-preference votes to ensure that none of these dickheads, especially racist gobshite Peter Casey, benefit from my vote in any way.

Although the STV system seems very sensible to me, it does lead to a rather lengthy counting process – especially if everyone does what I plan to do, i.e. rank all the candidates instead of just their favourites.

Grubb Parsons: the Irish Connection

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2019 by telescoper

The other day I stumbled across an interesting article that discusses, among other things, the famous telescope and optical instrument manufacturing company, Grubb Parsons. The piece is a few years old but I didn’t see it when it came out. It’s well worth a read.

Grubb Parsons was still a famous company when I was at school, but it closed down in 1985. The main works were in Heaton, in Newcastle Upon Tyne, not far from where I was born; my father went to Heaton Grammar School.

Grubb Parsons made a huge number of extremely important astronomical telescopes, including the Isaac Newton Telescope, pictured above at the works in Heaton.

Interestingly, the names ‘Grubb’ and ‘Parsons’ both have strong Irish connections.

Howard Grubb was born in Dublin in 1844 and in 1864 he joined the optical instruments company set up there by his father Thomas Grubb. When his father died in 1878 Howard Grubb took over the Grubb Telescope Company and consolidated its reputation for manufacturing high quality optical components and devices. He was knighted in 1887.

Back in 1845 Thomas Grubb had helped build the famous ‘Leviathan‘ telescope for William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse at Birr Castle in County Offaly.

Charles Algernon Parsons, who took over the Grubb Telescope Company after it was liquidated in 1925, and relocated it to Tyneside, was the youngest son of William Parsons ( just as Howard Grubb was the youngest son of Thomas). He no doubt kept the name Grubb in the company name because of its associated reputation.

Parsons had a wide range of business interests besides telescopes, mainly in the marine heavy engineering sector, especially steam turbines. When I was a lad, ‘C A Parsons & Company’ was still one of the biggest employers on Tyneside. It still exists but as part of Siemens and is a much smaller operation than in its heyday.

One final connection is that Sir Howard Grubb and Sir Charles Algernon Parsons both passed away in the same year, 1931.

Spring Equinox in the Ancient Irish Calendar | 20 March 2019

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 20, 2019 by telescoper

I’m sharing this interesting post with a quick reminder that the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere occurs today, 20th March 2019, at 21:58 GMT.

Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland

Equinox is the date (or moment) some astronomical alignments in Ireland mark as being auspicious. Not many, mind you, but some, like the cairn on Loughcrew or the two passages of Knowth, a sort of super-alignment with quadruple significance. Though the actual alignment of Knowth is disputed, it might be a lunar alignment or not an alignment at all.
The equinox is far less obvious an astronomical event than the two solstices, celebrated in Ireland and also the subject of astronomical alignments. It is like the equinox, which occurs in-between the winter solstice and the summer solstice, and vice versa, twice a year. However, it is just one event, as the spring and autumn equinox happens at different dates, but are for all intents and purposes identical events.
Taking place around 20th March and 22nd September, the equinox is the moment when the plane of the Earth’s equator passes…

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A Grand Slam Weekend

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , , on March 19, 2019 by telescoper

Well, here I am sitting in Cardiff Airport yet again waiting for a flight back to Dublin so I reckon it’s time to break my self-imposed blogging silence.

I had an enjoyable little break, the highlight of which was the rugby on Saturday between Wales and Ireland. I actually managed to get a ticket for the game, though I am not at liberty to divulge how I got it. I was a long way back from the pitch, practically in the rafters of the Principality Stadium, but the view wasn’t bad. Sadly, I forgot to charge my phone up overnight before the match and by the time I made it to my seat the battery had died, so I have no pictures of the event to share.

I had expected Wales to win, but hadn’t expected such a one-side match. After scoring after just over a minute, Wales controlled the game. Instead of the intense atmosphere I’d been anticipating, the mood in the crowd was more like that you might find at a cricket match while the home side is steadily accumulating runs against ineffective bowling. When the Ireland fightback hadn’t materialized by the fourth quarter of the game, the celebrations started and the singing grew louder in the steadily falling rain. At least Ireland got a consolation try at the end, but if truth be told they didn’t really turn up for the match.

I got absolutely drenched walking back to the Cardiff residence, but it was worth it for the privilege of seeing a Grand Slam unfold live. I only caught the second half of the final match of this year’s Six Nations, the Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England, on the radio. This seems to have been the most exciting of the tournament, ending in a 38-38 draw after England had been 31-0 up! Greatest comeback since Lazarus!

But all credit again to Wales for their Grand Slam, a great achievement by any standards. It’s revenge what happened ten years ago, when I was in Cardiff (though not in the ground) for a Grand Slam decider between Wales and Ireland, a frantic and exciting match which Ireland won. Not so much excitement this time, but a far happier crowd of Welsh supporters!

So that’s the St Patrick’s Bank Holiday Weekend over with and I’m now heading back to Ireland. This week, or what’s left of it, is `Study Week’ which means there are no lectures. We have finished six weeks of teaching this term at Maynooth, and there are six more after Study Week but there is another week off looming for Easter. As it happens, I’m attending a small conference in London on Thursday and Friday (of which more soon) so I’m just back in the office tomorrow before flying off again for two days in the capital of Poundland.

A Boost for Data Science in Ireland

Posted in Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on March 11, 2019 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog (both of them) will know that before I moved to Maynooth University I worked (part-time) in the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University, during which time we were very happy to be awarded a Centre for Doctoral Training by the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), shared across Cardiff, Swansea and Bristol, as part of a big investment in this area by the UK government.

Now Science Foundation Ireland has announced a similar programme in Ireland: on Tuesday 5th March, Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, announced investment of over €100 million in six new SFI Centres for Research Training in the fields of ICT and data analytics. I’m very pleased to hear that Maynooth University is involved in two of these; there’s a news item on the University web pages here.

One of the new SFI Centres for Research Training, in Foundations of Data Science, is a joint initiative of Maynooth University, University College Dublin and the University of Limerick, with the support of Skillnet Ireland underpinning its industry and enterprise engagement. This Centre was awarded a total of €21 million, including industry and university contributions to train 139 PhD students towards a world-class foundational understanding of Applied Mathematics, Statistics, and Machine Learning. This represents the largest ever investment in mathematical sciences research in Ireland. The Maynooth involvement is based around the famous Hamilton Institute.

I’m not involved in this initiative myself, at least part of the reason for which is that I didn’t even know about the scheme until the results were announced, but I do hope there will be opportunities for my future PhD students working in `Big Data’ problems in cosmology to benefit from some of the training opportunities it provides.

A much wider issue is that companies based in Ireland have reported difficulties in filling vacancies with candidates sufficiently well trained in data science so hopefully this will help close the skills gap here.

“No Erasmus please, we’re British..”

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on February 28, 2019 by telescoper

As the ongoing Brexit fiasco systematically trashes Britain’s international reputation, the consequences for the UK University sector are becoming increasingly obvious. In particular, the realization that Britain now defines itself exclusively by its xenophobia has led to a decision by Spain to remove the UK from the list of potential destinations for students under the Erasmus scheme. I’m sure other nations will soon make the same decision.

The European Union has agreed to honour Erasmus grants this year to UK students wish to study at European universities under Erasmus regardless of whether there is a Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU, but this is unlikely to be anything other than a stop-gap. It’s very sad to think that British students will be denied access to the Erasmus scheme in future, along with losing all the other benefits of Freedom of Movement.

Every cloud has a silver lining, though. Irish universities are more than happy to accept Erasmus students, and the one I work in (Maynooth) has a very active involvement in the scheme. So if you’re a student based in the EU, and want to study at an English-speaking university, why not apply to study in Ireland?