Ireland packs as much scientific as literary punch yet we’re far more comfortable applauding the work of Yeats and Joyce than Robert Boyle and other leading Irish scientists, the organisers of a major think-tank say.
The general public will join scientists, academics, historians, philosophers and performers in Lismore, Co. Waterford shortly for the 5th Annual Robert Boyle Summer School which runs from June 23 onwards. This year’s event explores ‘Science and Irish Identity’ and will probe why scientific achievements are less celebrated, organiser, Eoin Gill, explained.
“It is not unusual for people to talk openly about Yeats and Joyce and their significance in our history and culture.” According to Gill, “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. “
The four-day long school in the tradition of summer schools such as the Merriman and McGill includes presentations, walks, poetry, re-enactments and lively debate as well as social events will appeal to anyone curious about culture, science, history, philosophy and ideas. It was first established five years ago to explore the place of science in our heritage and culture.
“We will also be examining the truths about science and our identity, noting how Irish greats from Swift to Joyce addressed science in their works and explore the fading of science from national conversation. We will trace this through to today. ” Mr Gill added.
TCD Professor Jane Ohlmeyer will be talking about how the Boyle family, and others that came to the Munster region as settlers in the 17th century, saw themselves. The influence of science on Irish history and the influence of Irish history on science will be traced by US historian Dr David Attis. The Earl of Rosse, whose ancestor built the biggest telescope in the world at Birr Castle, will talk about his family’s contribution to world science from Ireland.
Prof Jim Malone will tell the story of the remarkable Rev Samuel Haughton mathematician, geologist and medic who developed equations for the humane hanging of criminals. The place of science in Irish culture from the late 20th century will be examined by journalist and academic Dr Brian Trench and Prof. Mark Ferguson Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Science Advisor to the Government will relate the current place of science in Ireland and the government’s plans for where science should be.
Meanwhile Lismore-born Dr Florence McCarthy will talk about the identification of a new drug candidate for the treatment of leukaemia derived from a natural source, the bloodhorn tree. On Sunday, Professor Luke Gibbons will talk about the period from Celtic Revival into the Free Sate while Dr Bill Eaton will bring it back 350 years arguing that Boyle’s “On Forms and Qualities” published in 1666 was one of the most important works in the history of philosophy.
Illustrating that science isn’t “apart” from other areas of culture, Professor Iggy McGovern will preside over a reading of his sonnets in commemoration of another of Ireland’s great scientists, William Rowan Hamilton. Eoin Gill, Sheila Donegan and Paul Nugent will be recreating some of Boyle’s fascinating experiments from 350 years ago.
The 2016 School, which is booking now on Eventbrite and www.robertboyle.ie. The theme will resonate with the commemorations of the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme, Mr Gill said. “The school will take place in between these events from 23-26 June. The theme presents the opportunity to explore different Irish identities, not in terms of conflict but in their involvement in and attitudes towards science,” he added.
Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691) was born in Lismore Castle, County Waterford, Ireland. The youngest son of the Great Earl of Corke, he was to devote his life to philosophy, becoming one of the leading thinkers of the age known as the scientific revolution. Although he practised alchemy, Boyle is known as the Father of Modern Chemistry, as his book, the Sceptical Chymist (1661), helped establish chemistry on a scientific footing. He conducted seminal investigations with vacuums and the behaviour of gases, in physics, the life sciences, haematology, medicine, philosophy and theology.