Archive for St Patrick’s Day

The Vernal Equinox 2020

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 20, 2020 by telescoper

With everything else going on I quite forgot that the Vernal Equinox or Spring Equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) took place today (Friday 20th March) at 3.49am (Irish Time). This is in fact the earliest Spring Equinox for 124 years, the fact that 2020 is a leap year moving it a day earlier in our calendar. It’s a lovely day in Maynooth too!

People sometimes ask me how one can define the `equinox’ so precisely when surely it just refers to a day on which day and night are of equal length, implying that it’s a day not a specific time?

The answer is that the equinox is defined by a specific event, the event in question being when the plane defined by Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk (or, if you prefer, when the centre of the Sun passes through the plane defined by Earth’s equator). Day and night are not necessarily exactly equal on the equinox, but they’re the closest they get. From now until the Autumnal Equinox days in the Northern hemisphere will be longer than nights, and they’ll get longer until the Summer Solstice before beginning to shorten again.

Loughcrew (County Meath), near Newgrange, an ancient burial site and a traditional place to observe the sunrise at the Equinox

Here in Ireland we celebrated Saint Patrick’s day on March 17th, the reputed date of his death in 461 AD. Nobody really knows where St Patrick was born, though, so it would be surprising if the when were any better known.

In any case, it wasn’t until the 17th Century that Saint Patrick’s feast day was placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church. In the thousand years that passed any memory of the actual date was probably lost, so the Equinox was perhaps rebranded for the purpose.

The early Christian church in Ireland incorporated many pre-Christian traditions that survived until roughly the 12th century, including the ancient festival of Ēostre (or Ostara), the goddess of spring associated with the spring equinox after whom Easter is named.

During this festival, eggs were used a symbol of rebirth and the beginning of new life and a hare or rabbit was the symbol of the goddess and fertility.

In turn the Celtic people of Ireland probably adapted their own beliefs to absorb much older influences dating back to the stone age.

St Patrick’s Day and Easter therefore probably both have their roots in prehistoric traditions around the Spring Equinox, although the direct connection has long been lost.

St Patrick’s Day Beard of Ireland 2020

Posted in Beards, Biographical with tags , on March 17, 2020 by telescoper

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh!

Today is St Patrick’s Day, a national holiday in Ireland, so I’ve swapped working from home for not working from home.

Anyway it has been officially announced that I am the winner of the 2020 Beard of Ireland poll. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for me!

It is was a nail-biting contest (though we all washed our hands carefully afterwards).

The runner-up was Aodhán Connolly who is from Northern Ireland, as were many of the other contenders. There was a nice piece in the Belfast Telegraph but I haven’t seen anything in the Republic.

Anyway, for those who asked here is one of those selfie picture things that young people do, showing current beard configuration.

Now wash your hands please!

A Rambling Post

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 15, 2018 by telescoper

Thursdays are busy days for me, starting with a 9am lecture on Computational Physics in Physics Hall, followed in the afternoon by a two-hour laboratory session on the same subject. Today we did exercises on root-finding and numerical integration, but didn’t get through as many examples as I had hoped. In between I had a number of jobs to do, including a lunchtime meeting off campus with my landlord to pay the rent (which he collects in person). I was a bit late back for the lab and, after apologizing, complained that I was too old for all this running around. One of the students kindly said that `age is only a number’. I replied `I know, but unfortunately in my case it’s a rather large one..’

I now have a bit of a break from teaching in Maynooth. There is no teaching next week as it is `Study Week’ and Monday 19th March is a public holiday (for St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, which this year falls on a Saturday). Study week is followed by a week’s holiday because of Easter. Teaching resumes here on Tuesday April 3rd. Somewhat surprisingly the Easter break here is shorter than in the UK.

The four-week batch of strikes in UK universities over pensions in which I have been participating ends tomorrow, which means that I will be lecturing in Cardiff again next Tuesday (20th March). This lecture will be Lecture 8 of 11, with lectures 5, 6 and 7 missing in action (industrial action, to be precise). Cardiff students are then on vacation for three weeks for the Easter break, with lectures resuming on 16th April. All of this means that for the next three weeks I won’t have to do the mid-week trip from Cardiff to Maynooth (which I am beginning to find rather tedious). I plan to stay all next week in Wales and return to Ireland the following week, as I have been invited to give a seminar then at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (which I have never visited before).

Anyway, all that rambling just serves to illustrate that it’s a complicated business being in a superposition of jobs. I’m looking forward to the summer, when my wavefunction will collapse onto Ireland (if I haven’t collapsed from exhaustion before that).

To end on a very sad note, I heard today that Emeritus Professor David Bailin passed away yesterday. I knew David from both times I was at Sussex (as a graduate student and postdoc in the 1980s, and as Head of School of Mathematical and Physical  Sciences from 2013 to 2016). He was a very fine theoretical physicist and a very nice man who was held in a very high regard by all who worked with him. Condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.