Flavour of Gaelic Origin

There is a strong flavour of his Gaelic origin in Eriugena’s thought, an unmistakable dash of that Gaelic love of enterprise, fearlessness of consequences, and joy in conflict which can find a field in philosophy and literature as well as in deeds of war and difficult feats of self-devotion. As a thinker he follows without hesitation the lead of reason, not fearing that the end of philosophy could be any other thantruth, though charges of heresy and the thunders of the Church abound. The quality of the race which have made many of its difficulties are yet the qualities which make individual Irishmen, and will yet make the Irish nation great.

Irish mathematician and writer Sophie Bryant in Celtic Ireland, p. 57 (archive.org).

The Cause of Ireland is the Cause of Labour: James Connolly

James Connolly Statue, Liberty Hall, Dublin (c) William Murphy/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
James Connolly Statue, Liberty Hall, Dublin
(c) William Murphy/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

James Connolly was born in Edinburgh to Irish immigrant parents on 5th June 1868. Joining the British Army at 14, he first set foot in Ireland as a member of the Royal Scots Regiment, stationed first in Cork and then in Dublin. When his regiment returned to England in 1889 he deserted and returned to Scotland where in 1890 he married Lillie Reynolds, who he had met in Dublin. He became involved with left-wing politics in Scotland, moving to Dublin in 1896 to take up a job as paid organiser of the Dublin Socialist Club. He disbanded the Club and reorganised it as the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He founded the radical newspaper Worker’s Republic in 1888. An extended lecture tour in the US starting 1902 saw him become involved with the US Socialist Party and the “Wobblies” (Industrial Workers of the World). He returned to Dublin in 1910, becoming national organiser for the Socialist Party of Ireland, and moved to Belfast to organise the newly founded Irish Transport and General Workers Union, ITGWU1.

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Robert Boyle Summer School, Lismore Co. Waterford, 25th-28th June, 2015

The Robert Boyle Summer School takes place this year (2015) from June 25th-28th in Lismore Heritage Town, Co Waterford. This summer school will attract people interested in exploring different aspects of culture. It is not a “scientific conference” but will be of special interest to scientists, engineers, technologists, along with historians, educators and anyone with … Read more

Delinquents of India

Burke, leading the prosecution, railed against the way the returned company “nabobs” (or “nobs”, both corruptions of the Urdu word “Nawab”) were buying parliamentary influence, not just by bribing MPs to vote for their interests, but by corruptly using their Indian plunder to bribe their way into parliamentary office: “To-day the Commons of Great Britain prosecutes the delinquents of India,” thundered Burke, referring to the returned nabobs. “Tomorrow these delinquents of India may be the Commons of Great Britain.”

Burke thus correctly identified what remains today one of the great anxieties of modern liberal democracies: the ability of a ruthless corporation corruptly to buy a legislature. And just as corporations now recruit retired politicians in order to exploit their establishment contacts and use their influence, so did the East India Company.

From “The East India Company: The original corporate raiders” by  in The Guardian. Burke’s battle against the East India Company and the impeachment of Hastings was counted as one of Burke’s greatest deeds by reformers such as Mary Leadbeater.

Borne to Dialectics

Ireland may claim the distinction of having produced three philosophers, each of whom formed an epoch in the history of thought. Johannes Scotus Eriugena, the founder of the Scholastic system—— Hutcheson, the father of the modern School of Speculative Philosophy in Scotland—— and Berkeley, the first who explicitly maintained a Theory of Absolute Idealism—— were all men of Irish birth, and were marked, in a greater or less degree, by the peculiar characteristics of Irish genius.

It has frequently been observed that the genius of the Irish people is naturally borne to dialectics. The author of Hudibras, indeed, selects ‘the Wild Irish’ as the types of that mystic learning and occult philosophy that he ridicules in Ralpho. Nor was this the mere fancy of the poet. As early as the time of Charles the Bold, the contemporary chronicler speaks of the multitude of philosophers, who, like Scotus, crossed the sea from Ireland. At a later period, Bayle speaks of the Hiberians as renouned for able logicians and metaphysicians; and Stewart describes them as distinguished in all the Continental Universities for their proficiency in the scholastic logic. And the facts justify the statement […]

The Irish logician, in fact, was as ubiquitous as the Irish soldier of fortune.

The opening sentences of The veil of Isis: a series of essays on idealism (1872) by Thomas E. Webb (1885 edition available on archive.org). As well as the (Catholic) scholastics, Webb goes on to praise Trinity College Dublin and those associated with it such as Berkeley, Browne, Burke, King and Dodwell, and closes with a nod to Lecky. Born in Cornwall on 8th May 1821, he clearly became a strong advocate of both Trinity College Dublin and Irish philosophy.

Hudibras is a mock heroic poem on the Civil War by Samuel Butler. Charles the Bold is probably a typo for Charles the Bald, Bayle was a 17th century French philosopher and Stewart probably the Scottish philosopher Dugald Stewart.

Orthodox Opinions, Primitive Manners: the dramatic life of Philip Skelton

Early or pre-Christian statue, Boa Island, Loch Erne Wikimedia, Public Domain
Early or pre-Christian statue, Boa Island, Loch Erne, near Pettigo
Wikimedia, Public Domain

In the dead of night, the lady was awoken by voices. The first begged that the household rise and pray for the speaker, a poor sinner. The second, the house-owner Robert Plunket, tried to comfort the first, telling him he was a charitable, pious clergyman, with few or none as good as he. The seeker of prayers was the rector of the parish, Philip Skelton, who rented an earth-floored room from Plunket for lack of a rectory.

It was true that the clergyman toiled for the people in the parish of Templecarn, instructing them in religion (whether they wanted it or not), distributing charity and even acting as doctor when needed. A place of wild moorland surrounding Lough Derg, it was not a place where one would expect to find the author of Deism Revealed, one of the most popular books of the age, already in its second edition1 .

This religious despair was (his biographer suggests) a result of his intellectual isolation. The biography also paints Skelton as a person of strong emotion. Born near Lisburn Co. Antrim, in February 1707, in his youth he was strong and handsome, adept at swords, cudgels and boxing and with a “warm” temper. He reportedly fought at Donnybrook Fair, beating all comers but returning the prize-money so the ladies’ entertainment could continue. At Trinity College (where he graduated BA in 1728), he argued with a fellow student, who then accused Skelton of Jacobitism to the Provost, the student’s relation. This resulted in the Provost’s emity towards Skelton for the rest of his life, almost resulting in Skelton losing his scholarship. Yet Skelton also formed a life-long friendship with his tutor, Patrick Delany, friend of Swift2. This was a repeating pattern in his life – he had warm friendships, but his forthright manner, inability to lie and habit of dissolving friendships when affronted meant he remained in a lowly position in the Church of Ireland hierarchy. Hence “as his opinions were orthodox, his manners were primitive”, a description of him included on his tombstone3.

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Root and STEM

Taming the Electric Fluids (c) PhotoAtelier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Taming the Electric Fluids
(c) PhotoAtelier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the general consciousness, philosophy is more associated with the arts than with science. The nesting of philosophy under “literature” in the Oxford Reference timeline tool is one example. In the case of Irish philosophy it’s understandable given great writers such as Swift, Wilde and Yeats fit into the category of Irish philosopher. But Irish philosophy (as all philosophy) also includes people who are interested in the natural world, mathematics and technology.

AE wrote in 1925 (Irish Statesman): “Ireland has not only the unique Gaelic tradition, but it has also given birth, if it accepts all of its children, to many men who have influenced European culture and science, Berkeley, Swift, Goldsmith, Burke, Sheridan, Moore, Hamilton, Kelvin, Tyndall, Shaw, Yeats, Synge and many others of international repute.” Four of those names unequivocally played a role in the history of STEM. Three of those were also philosophers.

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Honest, Noble and Most Ancient

Toland testimonial

The text of a testimonial given by the Franciscans of Prague to John Toland, taken from A collection of several pieces of Mr. John Toland (1726) edited by Pierre Desmaizeaux after Toland’s death in 1722 (on Google Books). This testifies that John Toland came from a honest, noble and most ancient family from the Innisowen peninsula. There were many rumours about Toland’s background, including that he was the illegitimate son of a priest.

John Toland visited the Irish College in Prague in 1708 and met Francis O’Devlin (the second signatory above), renowned for his work in the Irish language. The college itself was founded in 1629. Its first superior was Patrick Fleming, mentioned previously in connection with the Irish colleges in Leuven and Rome. He, along with fellow-Irishman Matthew Hoar, was killed on 7 November 1631 by Calvinist peasants while fleeing a threatened attack on Prague in the Thirty Years War.

More on the Irish College in Prague is in the Irish Times today (Andy Pollak, 28th April 2015). Surprisingly the College library contained a work by Toland: his edition of the works of English republican James Harrington Oceania.

The latin text of the testimonial:

Infra scripti testamur Dom. Joannem Toland ortum esse ex honesta, nobili & antiquissma Familia, quae per plures centenos annos, ut Regni Historia mostrant memoria, in Peninsula Hiberniae Enis-Oën dicta, prope urbem Londino-Deri in Ultonia, perduravit. In cujus rei firmiorem fidem, nos ex eadum Patria oriundi propriis manibus subscripsimus, Pragae in Bohemia, hac die 2 Jan. 1708.

Further Elucidations on Newton’s Thoughts

how acceptable I thought it might be to the Learned World, upon a second edition of Mr. Newton’s Phil. Nat. Princ. Math. to receive some further Elucidations upon those sublime thoughts therein containd. I do not know how far Mr Newton himself may be inclinable to undertake such a task, I am apt to think he may not conceive it worth his While, but may rather leave it to others to build on that Foundation that he has laid. If therefore by your Advice and Incouragement any of the Curious Witts of Lond[on] could be put upon such an undertaking, I should think it very wel worth his Pains. We have in some Measure already an Instance of the Relish Many would have of such a Work in what Mr Whiston has Publishd in his New-Theory. Which you know has had an abundance of Mr Newtons doctrine in it, and has invited a Multitude of Readers that would hardly ever have lookd into Mr Newtons own Work, By reason of the Difficulty of the One, and the Familiarity of the Other.

From a letter dated November 13, 1697, from William Molyneux (born 17th April 1656) to Hans Sloane (born 16th April 1660). Sloane MS 4036, fol. 367, as quoted in Science and the Shape of Orthodoxy: Intellectual Change in Late Seventeenth Century Britain by Michael Hunter.

This letter is characteristic of the roles both men played: Molyneux (one of the few who could appreciate Newton’s Principia without assistance, per Hunter) seeking to disseminate Newtonian physics more widely, and seeking the support of Sloane, editor of the Philosophical Transactions and centre of a network of those “witts” interested in natural philosophy. The book Molyneux recommended emulating is A New Theory of the Earth. At the time of writing the spread, let alone the widespread acceptance, of Newton’s physics had only just begun.

Mysticism and Better Business: George William Russell (AE)

St. John Ervine’s play Changing Winds (1917) includes the following line: ‘Was there any one on earth less like the typical Ulsterman than George Russell, who preached mysticism and better business?” Russell’s story seems a radical divide between two aspects: the ‘strayed angel’ (as W. B. Yeats’ sisters nicknamed him): artist, poet, spiritualist, visionary and the practical man: agricultural economist, organiser of the Irish co-operative movement, journalist and newspaper editor.

Born on 10th April 1867 at William Street, Lurgan, Co. Armagh, Russell lived there until 1878 when the whole family moved to Dublin. Russell spent every second summer in Armagh and on a visit in 1883 began to experience supernatural visions which continued into adult life, affecting both his art and his sense of self. His artistic talents had been clear from a young age and he took classes at the Metropolitan School of Art where he came to know the poet William Butler Yeats around 1883. Yeats wrote a pen portrait of him about this time.

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