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17 Nov

Exploring Irish Archives

Bookshelves in the Russell Library, Maynooth (c) Irish Philosophy (CC BY 2.0)

Bookshelves in the Russell Library, Maynooth
(c) Irish Philosophy (CC BY 2.0)

Some 87 separate Irish archives are listed on the Learn About Archives website, including some already feature on this site such as Marsh’s Library, the Russell Library in Maynooth and the Bolton Library. Other archives listed include those in universities and schools, National Archives (mostly based on Dublin), the Northern Irish Public Records Office (PRONI), county archives, diocesan libraries and more.

Learn About Archives also gives basic information about archives, gives news and events, lists a pdfs of documents under various categories and lists links to relevant websites. It also links to the Irish Archive Resource which allows users to search Irish Archives and lists genealogical resources.

Learn About Archives also maintains the Google Map of archives in Ireland.

10 Nov

This Man Had Kept A School – Pearse’s educational philosophy

St Éanna's hurling team

A hurling team from St Éanna’s
from “The Story of a Success” (1917)

Pádraic Pearse is, of course, best known as the leader of the Easter Rising in 1916, the man who read out the proclamation in front of the GPO. Born on 10th November 1879 at 27 Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse St) in Dublin, he gained a love of Irish from his mother and from his education from the Christian Brothers in Westland Row. He joined the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) in 1895 aged 16, rising quickly through the ranks to become editor of its newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis (“The Sword of Light”) in 1903. He graduated from the Royal College Dublin (now UCD) in 1901 (Flanaghan, p. 276).

Writing in An Claidheamh Soluis from 1903 to 1909, Pearse repeatedly emphasised the need for education reform to secure the intellectual and political independence of Ireland. The Irish language was key: Pearse believed that the personality of a nation is reflected in its language and “by coming into touch with the language, we come into touch with that personality” (Ó Buachalla, p. 73 quoted in Flanaghan, p. 276).
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03 Nov

George Boole Bicentenary Links

Remembering Boole Day
With Boole, #Boole and @GeorgeBoole200 trending in Ireland and the world at various points yesterday, it’s no surprise there were a lot of links being shared. If 1 is the universe and 0 is nothing, this list is closer to 0 than 1: there is a lot more on @georgeboole200, @boole2school and @UCC.

The site GeorgeBoole.com was set up last year by UCC and contains a wide range of information about Boole and the development of boolean algebra. Do you know there is a crater on the Moon named after Boole? That and more here.
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23 Oct

James Ussher: Academic Modernity

Archbishop Ussher of Armagh, intellectually the most imposing figure of this early period, combined moderate religious Calvinism and academic modernity in a manner more typical of the contemporary Dissenter than of bishops of the established church. He gave financial assistance to Samuel Hartlib, who as well as being publisher of Petty’s Advice, acted as a one-man clearing-house for advanced ideas in education, religion and the sciences. In 1641 he paid the publishing costs of Arnold and Gerard Boate’s Philosophia Naturalis (Dublin, 1641), being in agreement with the book’s strongly anti-Aristotelian tone. When in 1640 Dr Prideaux expressed fears over some of John Dury’s pansophist writings […], his friend Constantine Adams, ‘to shade off this needlesse fear,…did instance unto him in the ArchB. of Armach’. […]

But Ussher himself was no scientist, and knew relatively little of the New Learning’s techniques and justification. His correspondence with the English mathematician Henry Briggs and with the astronomer John Bainbridge was concerned largely with the help the new science could provide for his own historical and chronological studies. […] Nonetheless Ussher’s interest in science did lead him to acquire some of the manuscripts belonging to John Dee, Edward Wright and John Bainbridge.

From K. Theodore Hoppen (1970) The Common Scientist in the the Seventeenth Century: A study of the Dublin Philosophical Society 1683-1708, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 11-12.

To put the printing of the Philosophia Naturalis into perspective, of the 93 books printed in Dublin between 1626 and 1650, it was the only one dealing with science (even taking the widest possible sense of the term.) The Boates are cited by Robert Boyle in his Origin of forms and Qualities alongside Lucretius, Bacon and Gassendi as excellent authors who are opposed to Aristotelian ideas.

I’m intrigued by James Ussher, patron of the New Learning, but I haven’t as yet found any more on this side of him in relation to science. This from Renaissance Mathematicus, In defence of the indefensible, explains how the work of Ussher and others like him laid the foundation of both modern history and archaeology.

21 Oct

The Poor and Politics

Great pains have been taken to prevent the mass of mankind from interfering in political pursuits; force, and argument, and wit, and ridicule, and invective, have been used by the governing party, and with such success, that any of the lower, or even middle rank of society who engage in politics, have been, and are, considered not only as ridiculous, but in some degree culpable; even those who are called moral writers, employed their talents on the same side, so that at last it became an indisputed maxim that the poor were not to concern themselves in what related to the government of the country in which they lived, nevertheless it is an error of the most pernicious nature, as will appear from considering the subject. […]

Now on what foundation do these arrogant claims rest; it is not superior virtue, for in such hands power should be vested; on a fair comparison it will be found, that the aristocracy have not a superiority in that respect. Power, long continued in any mortal hands, has a tendency to corrupt; ans when that power is derived from birth or fortune, and held independent of the people, it is still more likely to be abused; it is not that they contribute more to the support of the state, for that is manifestly not the case. […]

It is not here intended to question the right of landed property; but merely to show, as if evident from these considerations, that even in a pecuniary view, the mass of the people are entitled to a share in the government as well as the rich.

From Thomas Russell (1796) A letter to the people of Ireland, on the present situation of the country, by Thomas Russell, -an United Irishman, Belfast.

Russell (21 November 1767-21 October 1803) was openly radical, as the above extract shows. The Dictionary of Irish Biography outlines his position – he “proclaimed the right of the poor to participate in politics…and believed that radical measures should be taken to alleviate inequalities between rich and poor. He was appalled by harsh conditions in textile mills and encouraged workers to form trade unions. Fervently opposed to the African slave trade, he denounced it repeatedly in his writings as one of the great evils of the age and refused to consume sugar or rum.”

Further Reading

James Quinn (2009) “Russell, Thomas”. in James McGuire, James Quinn (eds) Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

James Quinn (2002) “Thomas Russell: United Irishman.” History Ireland.

19 Oct

A Brief Account of John Abernathy

Recent biographies concur that John Abernathy was probably born in Bligh (near Cookstown), Co. Tyrone on 19th October 1680. His father, also John, was a Presbyterian minister there. In 1698 John Abernathy senior went to London with Patrick Adair to communicate Irish Presbyterian support for William III. His mother took refuge in Derry/Londonderry: John’s siblings were among the 10,000 who died in the famous siege. John had been sent instead to relatives in Ballymena who then brought him to Scotland where he was educated. In 1692 he returned to his parents in Coleraine. He went to Glasgow University aged 13, graduated MA in 1696, studied divinity in Edinburgh and returned to Ireland in 1701/2.

He was ordained in 1703 and became minister in Antrim. He married Susannah Jordan (d. 1712), with whom he had one son and three daughters.

Abernathy had a leading role in the Irish Presbyterian debate over whether ministers should be obliged to sign up to the Westminister Profession of Faith, an obligation only introduced in the Irish Presbyterian Church in 1705. The debate raged from 1719 until 1726, when the non-subscribing ministers, including John Abernathy, were sequestered in the Presbytery of Antrim.
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16 Oct

A Noble Woman: Lady Jane Wilde

Jane-Wilde

wildeswomenGuest Post: Eleanor Fitzsimons
Wilde’s Women by Eleanor Fitzsimons is published today 16th October 2015. It is to be launched on Tues 20th October at 6.30pm in the Gutter Bookshop, Cows Lane, Dublin. In the book Eleanor Fitzsimons explores the central role women played in Oscar Wilde’s life and career, from his sister Isola, who tragically died young, to his accomplished wife Constance and a coterie of other free-thinking writers, actors and artists. The first female influence on Oscar is the subject of this post: his mother, the nationalist and feminist writer Lady Jane ‘Speranza’ Wilde.


When Lady Jane Wilde learned that her son Oscar’s latest play had the provisional title ‘A Good Woman’, she wrote to express her disapproval: Read More

15 Oct

Sailing to Utopia: Oscar Wilde on Altruism and Anarchism

Gustave Dore. Dudley street, seven dials. Busy street scene with sets of shops which can be seen on the right. The shops are selling shoes which are lining up on the floor around the opening from under the ground. Children and their mothers are in front of them. This image was first published in 'London, a Pilgrimage' 1872, on p.158.

Seven Dials, by Gustav Dore (1872) Wikimedia, Public Domain

In Fortune Linsey McGoey asks Do today’s philanthropists hurt more than they help?. The article quotes Oscar Wilde:

In his essay, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Oscar Wilde berated the tendency of benefactors to use their charity as a bulwark against redistributive demands.

“The best among the poor,” Wilde wrote, “are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so … Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.”

Wilde’s essay covers much more ground than this, however, ranging from the purpose of living, the effects of contemporary capitalism, the possible results of mechanisation and the question McGoey cites as one of the biggest questions facing 19th-century philanthropy, the ironic possibility that “growing charity simply exacerbated economic inequality by thwarting demands for better wages and the right to unionize.”

To that question, Oscar Wilde gives an emphatic yes. Many people are truly concerned with poverty and are going as far as spoiling their lives in an attempt to relieve it. “But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.” Just as slave owners who were kind made slavery seem less horrible and therefore encouraged it to persist, altruists perpetuate the system that creates poverty.
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10 Oct

Anti-Philosophy Mindset

I would call it more an anti-philosophy mindset. People in general regard philosophy as being a bit airy-fairy, and about abstract things which, again, have nothing to do with the practical life of people.
Has it always been like that? The fact is that during the last few centuries most philosophers in Ireland have been Anglo-Irish. They felt they had the right to think freely about the world. They felt themselves part of the European scene, and the Catholics thought that the people who had the right to think freely about the world were Anglo-Irish and priests.
Since then, we have in universities quite a number of Catholic or post-Catholic philosophers, and they are simply ignored by the culture at large. If you look at the work of Irish philosophers — people like Richard Kearney, Philip Pettit, William Desmond — they are never noticed on the Irish scene, never reviewed, never discussed. So in that sense, Irish criticism is a very poor thing; it is confined to the real world, namely fiction.

Desmond Fennell, quoted in Unthinkable: Great Ideas for Now, by Joe Humphries, pp. 55-56 (available from Irish Times Books).

The book is based on the Unthinkable columns in the Irish Times, which started on World Philosophy Day 2013 “as a small gesture towards imagining a different future (p. 1). The column aims to gather great ideas from various thinkers to illustrate the range of alternative ways there are to looking at and approaching the world, a breadth (the Desmond Fennell quote would suggest) that is too often passed over in Ireland.

In tandem with the launch of the book, Joe Humphrys of Unthinkablechaired a debate asking “Are science and religion really in conflict?”. See this Irish Times page to read Joe’s summation in Socratic dialogue form, to hear the full debate or to listen to the Irish Times Off Topic podcast which includes a discussion involving me, Joe Humphreys, Hugh Linehan and Fionn Davenport on Philosophy and Irish Life.

The Unthinkable column continues weekly in the Irish Times.

04 Oct

God-Provoking Democrat: Archibald Hamilton Rowan

god-provoking

God Provoking CoverGuest Post: Fergus Whelan

This is the address given by Fergus Whelan at the launch of his new book, God-Provoking Democrat: The Remarkable Life of Archibald Hamilton Rowanpublished by New Island Press. The launch was held at The Church, Dublin – originally St Mary’s Church of Ireland, where Hamilton Rowan is buried.


My subject Archibald Hamilton Rowan the United Irishman was conceived in Ireland but was born and grew up in England in wealth and privilege. His mother contrived to keep him out of Ireland. She feared that her son would develop passions there which might lead to his ruin. Her fears came close to being realised in the great tumult in Ireland at the close of the eighteenth century. Read More