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08 Aug

Francis Hutcheson’s Schooldays

An 18th century school interior. Rows of boys sit, each with a book. To the left the teacher sits at a desk correcting the work on one boy. To the right, two others are writing. Two small children are seated on the ground.

At Killyleagh during last year’s Francis Hutcheson event, someone asked what the school Francis Hutcheson attended there would have been like. This is an expanded version of the answer given then.

In Francis Hutcheson’s day education was officially provided at (Church of Ireland) parish level, with higher level diocesan schools and Royal schools (grammar schools) in each diocese. However in reality many parishes and dioceses had no schools so there were many schoolmasters and schoolmistresses running private schools for pay1. There were also schools providing elementary education associated with other churches.

From the age of eight, Francis Hutcheson attended the school associated with his grandfather’s church. It was run by John Hamilton in a disused meeting house near Saintfield, probably in very basic conditions (a later school in the area had a dirt floor and no ceiling). In addition to the elementary education provided, it is likely that Hutcheson’s grandfather Alexander Hutcheson tutored the more advanced students 2.
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17 Jul

Was It For This?

was it featured

“It may seem strange to some that The Irish Times would ask whether this is what the men of 1916 died for”, an editorial in the paper said the day the Troika came to Dublin, under the headline “Was it for this?”1. Why does this line from Yeats’ poem “September 1913”2 still resonate so much?

For many it is because the Ireland that the 1916 Rising aimed to achieve does not exist. Yeats’ dissatisfaction is shared with us. This feeling is not a new thing. In 1922, George Russell wrote in Studies that3:

the Irish Revolution, which began in Easter Week, has also triumphed solely in externals. Our spiritual, cultural, and intellectual life has not changed for the better. If anything, it has retrograded.

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15 Jul

Reading the Rising: The Red and the Green

An open book bearing Iris Murdoch's image.

Detail of Hughie O’Donoghue’s artwork “Red Books” (2013), John Paul II Library at Maynooth University

Iris Murdoch wrote only one historical novel, The Red and the Green1. It follows the events leading up to the 1916 Rising as they affect an Anglo-Irish extended family “in a complex story story of misunderstandings, failures of perception, and ultimate self-discovery” 2.

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10 Jul

A Certain Sense of Right and Wrong

There is a certain sense of right and wrong placed by nature in the minds of men […] We know by conscience that this moral sense is in us, and it would be vain to try and demonstrate it by argument; it is analogous to the intuitive perception of truth which is the basis of all knowledge, or to the sense of taste by which we distinguish foods; and just as we should have no notion of truth or falsehood if this intuitive sense of truth were taken away, nor any notion of flavours without this sense of taste, so, if this sense of right and wrong; of honourable and shameful, were removed, these words would have no force or meaning. This sense is so natural, so constant and uniform, that it can be stifled by no prejudices and extinguished by no passions; its sacred judgement can be corrupted by no bribes; it lives in the most wicked men, to whom virtue is so pleasing they involuntarily admire their betters.

Abbé Luke Hooke, Religionis naturalis et moralis philosophæ principia, methodo scholastica digesta (Paris, 1752-54), Vol I, pp. 482-3. Quoted in English in R. R. Palmer (2015) Catholics and Unbelievers in 18th Century France, Princeton University Press, pp. 40-1 (originally published 1961).

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01 Jul

Michael Brown on the Centrality of Ulster

The Union of Craic (see embedded tweet below)

This image of the Union of Craic reminded me of Michael Brown’s opening to his political biography of John Toland. 

Inishowen is isolated. A promontory on the northern reaches of the Donegal coast, located on the north-western corner of Ireland it is a remote peninsula which seems removed from the concerns of wider Irish, let alone British politics.

Yet this image is deceptive, for in fact Inishowen is near the very heart of the British Isles. The map of the archipelago, when turned on its side, makes this apparent, for the province of Ulster juts out into the Irish Sea and is nestled between the Argyllshire region of Scotland, the north Welsh region where the island of Anglesey gestures towards County Down, and the Cumbrian coastline of England. This position at the heart of the British Isles has had the unfortunate consequence of making the province the archipelago’s charnel house: when the political structures of governance and representation have become unstable or illegitimate, Ulster has been the central arena of contestation…

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26 Jun

Correcting Lucretius: Dúngal and Carolingian Cosmology

King and Court Astronomer

In January 1417 a man called Poggio Bracciolini pulled a book from a shelf in a German monastic library. The text was De Rerum Natura, a long poem written by the Roman Lucretius in the 1st century BC outlining the tenets of Epicureanism. Much has been written about that event and its effect on the Renaissance, even suggesting it was central in creating modernity1. The story of the text before it was found is less well known.

De Rerum Natura was a poem written in the 1st century BC outlining the tenets of Epicureanism, a philosophical school founded by Epicurus (c. 341-c. 271 BC)2. Epicureanism grew to be one of the major philosophical schools, declining in popularity from the 2nd century on. The oldest manuscripts of the poem that survive are held in the library of Universiteit Leiden: Voss. Lat. F. 30, from the early 9th century nicknamed O and Voss. Lat. Q. 94, nicknamed Q3.

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18 Jun

Robert Boyle, Irish Identity and Science

Getting into character ahead of the 5th annual Robert Boyle Summer School in Lismore from June 23 to 26 were organisers, Eoin Gill (Robert Boyle) and Dr Sheila Donegan, Boyle's sister and collaborator, Katherine Jones. Pic David Clynch Photography

Getting into character ahead of the 5th annual Robert Boyle Summer School in Lismore from June 23 to 26 were organisers, Eoin Gill (Robert Boyle) and Dr Sheila Donegan, Boyle’s sister and collaborator, Katherine Jones.
Pic David Clynch Photography

This year’s 5th Annual Robert Boyle Summer School which runs from June 23 2016 explores ‘Science and Irish Identity’. Organiser Eoin Gill argues that in Ireland, scientific achievements are less celebrated than literary ones. Gill says that1:

It is not unusual for people to talk openly about Yeats and Joyce and their significance in our history and culture. Science has been squeezed out, and some suggest it is because many of our leading scientists were Anglo-Irish and science therefore was seen as an Anglo-Irish pursuit and spurned by the Free State. Others claim that the Catholic Church was wary of science and some even suggest that Catholics themselves leaned more towards superstition than rational inquiry.

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16 Jun

The Veil of the Temple

I throw this ended shadow from me, manshape ineluctable, call it back. Endless, would it be mine, form of my form? Who watches me here? Who ever anywhere will read these written words? Signs on a white field. Somewhere to someone in your flutiest voice. The good bishop of Cloyne took the veil of the temple out of his shovel hat: veil of space with coloured emblems hatched on its field. Hold hard. Coloured on a flat: yes, that’s right. Flat I see, then think distance, near, far, flat I see, east, back. Ah, see now! Falls back suddenly, frozen in stereoscope. Click does the trick.

James Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 3: Proteus.

This episode of Ulysses is set at 11am on Sandymount Strand where Stephen sits on the rocks, idling away the hour and a half before he is due to meet Mulligan. While he sits, he reflects on form and substance, echoing the episode in the classical Ulysses, where Menelaus grips Proteus as Proteus changes into many forms.
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