Tuesday, March 18, 2014

And you thought the only thing the Irish invented was the shillelagh…

Well, it’s no longer St. Patrick’s Day, but nothing wrong with continuing to keep on with the virtual wearing o’ the virtual green.

So today we’ll focus on the many and varied contributions that the Irish have made over the years to science and industry, drawing on a recent article on Gaelic Tech that Jason Perlow had on ZDNet.

Who knew that we have an Irishman – John Joly – to thank for color photography? It may have been 1973 when Paul Simon reminded the world that “everything looks worse in black and bright,” but it was in 1894 that Joly “found a successful way of producing color photographs from a single plate,” revolutionizing photography.

Joly was also a pioneer in the use of radiation for the treatment of cancer, to which we can all give thanks.

One of the earliest long distance telecomm inventors was William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, who helped lay a transatlantic cable – and methods for transmitting data -  his connecting Cork to Newfoundland. He also figured out the temperature of absolute zero and, yes, came up with the Kelvin Scale.

John Philip Holland – no relation to John Philip Sousa - designed the first successfully-launched submarine, the Fenian Ram. The U.S. Navy’s first subs were based on his design. And, unlike most of the Irish inventors, who were Anglo-Irish, Holland was a native Irish speaker. (Erin Go Bragh!)

Another one for the Cathlicks: Louis Brennan “came up with the design for the first guided missile system for coastal defense (essentially a steerable torpedo), the first functional helicopter, monorail trains and also the ejector seat.”

Well, I thought that Leonardo DaVinci came up with the helicopter. (Maybe not a functional one.) But how great that an Irishman invented the ejector seat?

Ernest Walton co-developed an early particle accelerator, and won a Nobel Prize for artificially splitting the atom, making him the only Irishman to win a Nobel in science. (They’ve fared better in Literature.)

Robert Mallet invented instrumental seismology.

Father Nicholas Callan – who hailed from Dundalk, from whence cameth my Trainor ancestors – invented induction coils, which enabled “all modern forms of electrical consumption as well as electricity used in many types of consumer applications.”

And I guess it wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day – or the morning after the night before – without a shout out to Aeneas Coffey, who invented something called the columnar distillation process that enabled the mass production of distilled alcoholic beverages.


A tip of the scally cap to my friend Valerie O’ for suggesting this for a blog post.

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