I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Science and Nation

Shane McCorristine
The Royal College of Science for Ireland, 1867-1926: Exhibition at the Humanities Institute of Ireland, opening December 17th1 George Moore described the Dublin of 1882 as a pitiful city haunted by the spectre of murder and cultural decline, where the recently embellished St Stephen’s Green “looked like a school-treat set out for the entertainment of charity children”.2 Yet, while it may have been wishful thinking to describe it as the second city of the British Empire, late Victorian and Edwardian Dublin was no backwater in terms of scientific culture. All of the major cultural institutions and gentlemen’s clubs were within ten minutes walk of each other and one professor wrote: “Of all British cities there is probably none – except London and Edinburgh – where a student of science enjoys so many privileges and advantages as in that of Dublin.”3 Although Irish industrial output was in a near-constant state of decline from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, Dublin at the turn of the century was the home of some significant state-of-the-art technical industries, such as the Guinness Brewery and Sir Howard Grubbs’s works at Rathmines. The correspondence of George Francis FitzGerald, recently digitised by the Royal Dublin Society, demonstrates the rich intellectual network that could be maintained by a Dublin-based physicist. Another excellent example of the advanced state of Irish science is the fact that the physicists John Joly and William Fletcher Barrett were separately lecturing on their own X-rays only two months after Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen published his paper “On a New Kind of Rays” in December 1895.4 Finally, although Irish achievements in astronomy were closely interlinked with the dominance of the Protestant Ascendancy, the general literacy regarding astronomy in Irish public discourse at the turn of the century can be seen from Agnes Mary Clerke’s popular books to the hyper-scientism of the Ithaca episode in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Indeed, facing the very park which Moore lambasted was a science college which lasted for almost five decades and went about its business educating generations of engineers, chemists, surveyors, teachers, and other professionals. How quietly this institution functioned may be ascertained by the contemporary complaint of its physics professor, Barrett, that even some people living at St Stephen’s Green were unaware of its existence.5 Aside from some brief overviews6, the history and work of the Royal College of Science for Ireland (1867-1926) has not received the attention it deserves, perhaps as a result of the…

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