Spirits rise in Dublin’s Phoenix Park

 

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A warm sunny late August day saw me, once again, within the green wonderland of history, nature and fresh air, which is Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

I have the great privilege, of being able to visit the Phoenix Park very often and once within its welcoming precincts, my heart bathes in a warm glow of gladness and my spirit, no matter how down I may be feeling, invariably rises.

Today’s visit however, I do believe, felt an exceptional one. At its start, as always, I slung my rucksack on, pulled my headphones on, tuned in to some beautiful symphony music, popped on my sun hat and was away walking once again, within my very own paradise.

I love being close to magnificent trees; wandering along trails and meandering bridal paths. I quickly left Chesterfield Avenue behind and headed in a northerly direction among the welcoming oaks, on a winding trail adjacent to the parks perimeter wall. As the crow flies, away off to my right, but well out of sight, was the parallel running, North Road.

Maybe it was the near perfect nature of the weather. Maybe it was the sun allowing its golden shafts of light to glint playfully through the branches of the great oaks and adorn the leaf strewn path ahead of me, with angular brush strokes, like a glowing art work of nature, in progress. Maybe it was the soothing audio balm, of delightful symphonic music as it flowed, like a therapeutic river of joy, deep into my consciousness. Maybe it was all of the above and much more; who knows? All I know is, that in those beautiful moments, I felt at one with nature; a deep deep contentment, the likes of which I do not recall, ever having experienced before.

I walked onward along the path, which eventually led me to the Phoenix Park old School House and there, I crossed the North Road and entered the beautiful arboretum, just inside the periphery of Ashtown Demesne. As always, I lingered for a brief period, in admiration and in awe, of the gloriously lofty sequoia (red wood tree) and it’s many splendid companion tree species.

There were many people in the park, but today, it was as if I was in a different place. As if I had been transcended. Although I could see people, my consciousness was captivated like never before, by the beauty of the nature which surrounded me. I felt so deeply immersed, in the twin glories of the enviornment and the melodic symphonic sound, which was so delightful in combination, that one could almost taste it.

I continued along the periphery of Ashton Demesne, a walking trail which I had enjoyed on many previous occasions. As I progressed, my feeling of transcendence intensified and at one point, having emerged from the trees, small butterflies began to rise from the grass in front of me and flutter playfully, across my path.

As more and more butterflies rose up, to add to the beauty of my path and joined in their wonderful aerial dance, I felt as if I was being transported to the orchestra pit from whence this glorious symphonic sound was flowing; that I was observing myself, on a giant screen, wandering, so contentedly, among those beautiful butterflies. In those moments, I longed for the ability to freeze frame that scene; to set the freeze frame clock for 1000 years. As the scene began to fade, I gave the most grateful thanks to my parents, for having created me and thus allowed me the great privilege of conscious witness, to such immence beauty.

I ended my walk, with an most extraordinary feeling of deep contentment and a wish for many more days like this. My wish was not just on my own account, but also for all of my Brother and Sister humans, as we travel along life’s amazing journey.

Two friends of mine, on two seperate occassions, gave me gifts of plaques which carried the following messages:

  • “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass … It’s about learning to dance in the rain”
  • “Life is a journey, enjoy it”

After nature, within the Phoenix Park, whispered to me in such a profound and reafirming way, I now read those words with deeper seeing eyes and with a true comprehension of their meaning.

Now, having read the post; sit back, relax, close you eyes and re-travel that wonderful journey. It may be the very type of theraputic imagining which will deliver to you also, that sense of contrentment which I enjoyed, while experiencing the original moments.

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The Hound of the Irish

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There is a beautiful vast park land, called the Phoenix Park close to where I live. On the occasions when I walk there, which thankfully are many, it never fails to amaze me how many people, with canine companions, also avail of this lovely environment. For canine and walker it’s a win-win relationship. Canine needs exercise; so does human and so, a symbiotic relationship, blossoms. However, there is so much more to the human/canine relationship, than simply the mutual need for exercise. There has to be, because a survey in 2006 discovered amazingly, that there were 640,620 dogs in Ireland.

During one of my recent walks, I got to thinking about the extraordinary special relationship which has evolved over millennia, between canines and humans and the incredible broad family of canine types, which their chosen close contact with humans, has since spawned. I am delighted of course, to be aware of the fact, that one particular breed of canine, both literally and metaphorically, towers over the rest. I am of course referring to the Irish Wolf Hound which when standing on its hind paws, can reach to seven feet tall; without question, likely, the tallest dog in the world. Although the above photo is of a white Wolf Hound, commonly, this shaggy coated breed, would present in a grey colour.

In both real history and in Irish mythology, the Irish Wolf Hound distinguishes itself as a truly extraordinary and capable breed. Amazingly, as with all other canine types, the Irish Wolf Hound’s ancestors are, in fact, Wolves. Wolves roamed freely in the Irish forests, from as far back as 34000 BC. However, Wolf Hounds were not actually bread in Ireland before 3 BC.

In ancient Ireland, as humans settled and began to farm animals, marauding Wolves mainly predating on livestock, became a major problem for the settlers. Hungry Wolves, in hunting packs, were found to be clever, tenacious, fearless and vicious predators which did not differentiate, between live stock and settler. Society therefore concluded, that something significant had to be done, to defend against the menace and threat to their very survival, which the Wolf had become.

It is believed, that the canine ancestor of the species we know today as the Irish Wolf Hound was brought to Ireland circa 7000 BC. It was not until 3 BC however, that the breed seems to have been cultivated as a formidable companion, for the nobility. It was trained for use as a war dog in battle; a sight hound in hunting and a guard dog. Wolf Hounds became valued gifts, given by Irish nobility, to their foreign counterparts. Such was the reputation of these fine beasts, that they merited mention within the writings of no less a personage than, one Julius Caesar.

Under Brehon Law, only nobility could own Wolf Hounds. Legend has it that Fionn Mac Cumhall was the proud owner of no less than 500 hounds. His two favourite hounds being named: Bran and Sceolan. The Gaelic for Wolf Hound is: Cu Faoil.

Elk, wild Boar and Deer were regularly hunted in ancient Ireland and the magnificent canine, later to be known as the Wolf Hound, would have assisted greatly in such hunts. However, its formidable reputation was to be built mainly on it’s unsurpassed prowess in hunting Wolves. During such hunts, Wolf Hounds would typically have been used in pairs; although sometimes, in a small group of up to five. The Wolf Hound was the only dog fast enough to catch a Wolfe and strong enough, to kill its quarry. Other dog species were intimidated by the scent of a Wolf. The Wold Hound however, had been carefully bread not to fear such a scent. Because of its excellent eye sigh, the Wolf Hound (a sight hound), vastly surpassed other canines. Other dogs relied mainly upon their sense of smell, to guide them in tracking. The Wolf however, was renowned for leaving very poor scent markers. In 1571, Wolf Hounds were recorded as being used, in the hunting of Wolves, in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains.

By 1584, the Wolf problem in Ireland was so severe, that legislation was enacted to attempt to address it. Bounties were placed upon Wolves. The amounts varied, depending upon whether the kill presented, was male, female or cub. The magnitude of the Wolfe problem in Ireland was apparently so impacting, that during the Cromwellian occupation, Oliver Cromwell put a blanket ban on Wolf Hounds being given outside of Ireland, as a gifts.

In Ireland, the last Wolfe was reported as having been killed in Carlow, in 1786. Following the elimination of Wolves in both Britain and Ireland, the Wolf Hound breed began to fall into decline. Despite such decline and in testimony to the versatility of the breed, there are a number of recorded instances, where Irish Wold Hounds, have been trained very successfully, in sheep herding. In the 1800s, one Captain George Augustus, set about the challenge of reviving the breed, which thankfully by virtue of his actions, is still around, for us to treasure and enjoy today.

Sadly, despite it’s formidably impressive physique, the Irish Wolf Hound has but a short life span of between just six to eight years. As with many other dog breeds, our Irish Wolf Hound, seem to possess particular systemic physiological weakness e.g heart and bone related issues, which unfortunately typically contribute, to its early passing.

In celebration of this wonderful breed, the Hound of the Irish, it would be nice if there was an annual Irish Wolf Hound Festival. What better venue, for such a festival, than Dublin’s magnificent Phoenix Park? After all, the park is already a much-loved, canine walkers paradise.

At the beginning of this article I intimated that there has to be much more to the human/canine relationship, than simply the mutual need for exercise. Of course, every dog owner will tell you there is. Each dog owner enjoys their own unique relationship with their canine companion. Such relationships are truly exemplified in the life of an amazing Irish Wolfe Hound by the name of: Bally Shannon.

Here is a moving excerpt, from some stories about heroic Wolf Hounds:

“An Irish knight or officer had his Wolf Hound with him at the Battle of Aughrim, and together they slew many enemy. But at last the master himself was killed. He was stripped and left on the battle field to be devoured by wolves. But his faithful dog never left him. He remained at his side day and night, feeding on other dead bodies on the battlefield, but allowing neither man nor beast to come near his master’s corpse until nothing was left of it but a pile of whitening bones. Then he was forced to go farther away in search for food, but from July till January he never failed to return to the bones of his master every night. One evening some soldiers came across the battlefield, and one of them approached the Wolf Hound to see what manner of beast he might be. The dog, thinking his master’s remains were about to be disturbed, attached the soldier, who called loudly for help. The others came running up and shot the faithful dog through the heart.”

To read the balance of the above story and the full story of Bally Shannon, here is the link – Bally Shannon

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“I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen”

 

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When referring to World War One, American President Woodrow Wilson famously remarked: “This is a war to end all wars”. Oh; how wrong was he?

In 2014, we marked the centenary of the commencement, on 28th July 1914, of that terrible global conflict, during which so many young lives, were needlessly and senselessly, wiped out.

Just short of two years later, on 1st of July 2016 we paused once again, this time to solemnly mark the centenary of  perhaps the greatest mass slaughter of human beings, by their own kind, in the history of humanity. I am of course referring to, the commencement of that major World War One action, known as: the battle of the Somme.

Whenever I read history, in relation to the many tragic events surrounding World War One, I never cease to be amazed, by the apparent almost naiveté, on the part of so many unsuspecting young men, as they were being recruited into ranks which were ultimately to become, wave upon wave, of lead stopping fodder. We often read, that so many of those doomed young recruits, saw the prospect of their involvement in that awful conflict, as being one of adventure; an adventure to be shared with friends and perhaps neighbours. So, what an unspeakable tragedy it was, for the reality of their believed adventure, to turn out be, the elimination of whole streets of their friends and neighbours.

Ireland, being part of the British Empire of that time, did not escape the awful slaughter. Over 200,000 Irish men, fought in World War One. If we consider casualties from those Irish who fought not just in the British army, then we discover that 49,500 of our countrymen, never returned to their families. However, they were certainly not alone in spilling their blood in those awful killing fields, as so many other nationalities, were meeting their maker, in those terrible places, too.

During 2014, as part of a commemorative project to mark the 100 anniversary of World War One, organised by Librivox (Free Audio Books), I contributed an audio piece for inclusion within one of their catalogues. My piece was about a young American Air Man named Briggs Kilburn Adams.

In the summer of 1916 Briggs volunteered as an ambulance driver in France. In the autumn of 1916 he went back to America to finish his education and upon graduating immediately returned to France to train as an Airman. Briggs was a prolific letter writer and he regularly sent the most graphic descriptions of his experiences home to his family in America. This is what Briggs College Tutor had to say, upon reading some of the material he sent home:

“They are the most beautiful bits of writing to have come out of the war – beautiful in style and colour and motion. No one else has taken me up in the air and shown me what it must be to fly; no one else has presented so vivid a figure of war as it should be portrayed.”

Listen here to:

Selected Letters by Briggs Kilburn Adams, Lieutenant of the Royal Flying Corp

So, it is now time to transfer from America, back to Ireland.

On 1st July 2016, our national Television Station RTÉ (Radio Telefis Éireann), broadcast a unique, Battle of the Somme, commemorative programme entitled: My Adopted Soldier.

The project, of the same name upon which the  TV programme was based, was the brainchild of History Teacher from Donegal: Gerry Moore.

Gerry’s interest had been stirred by an “old crumpled photograph of a grand-uncle who died in World War One”. Given that the tragic impact of that war, had probably not left a single county in Ireland unscathed, Gerry thought it would be a good educational history project and a respectful tribute, to some of the young men who had lost their lives, for one student from each of the 32 counties in Ireland to adopt a soldier, research the soldiers background and following this, the 32 students would then bring that body of research together and archive it for posterity, within a specially prepared website.

What an amazing idea!  Well done Gerry and well done Student Researchers.

So, this is the background story, to the My Adopted Soldier Project, as introduced  by: Gerry Moore –

My Adopted Soldier – Project History

And here is the link to the archive which tells the stories of the 32 Adopted Soldiers –

My Adopted Soldier – The Archive

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Historical Magazine

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It could be a magnificent augmentation, to the already significant tourist value of Dublin’s beautiful Phoenix Park, but it currently languishes within the half sleep of near dereliction; I am of course referring to the Magazine Fort, which sits atop St Thomas’s Hill, next to the Island Bridge Gate, on the Liffey side of the park.

Like many Dubliners’, throughout my life, I have spent innumerable happy hours in and around the Phoenix Park. As a child, it was my playground and no doubt like many other lucky children with access to the park, we transformed it into many magical imaginary worlds, as we lost ourselves in play. As adults, no such imaginary transformations were required, as we could plainly see the park, for the beautiful natural wonderland which it was and continues to be. Full marks to the OPW (Office of Public Works) staff throughout the years, for maintaining this beautiful public amenity and indeed many other public parks in the Dublin area. However, from as far back as my recollection will go, the Magazine Fort has been locked off from public access and left to wallow in a sad, slow and progressive decline. Such has been it lengthy abandonment and accompanying decline that activities now occur, in regular proximity to it, which let’s say would never form part of any family entertainment (enough said).

You know, there is much to be done in our Ireland of today. Much of which, on a priority basis, needs massive public investment and expenditure e.g. homelessness and child deprivation would be two shameful facets of life in today’s Ireland, which immediately spring into my mind. Without question, such utter and urgent human need must be prioritised above much else and whatever be their manifestations and underlying causes, must be addressed without delay.

In life however, we oft-times are called upon, to attempt to carry out several things, at the same time. So many aspects of the mosaic of our lives, go to make up its quality. One such aspect being the wonderful heritage, in its manifest forms, which surrounds us and which far too many of us, can take for granted. The Phoenix Park’s Magazine Fort to me, is a prim example of our architectural heritage, in neglect.

The Magazine Fort  was built in 1735 (281 years ago, at time of this writing). It stands on a vantage point site formerly occupied by Phoenix House, which in its time, was the residence of Sir Edward Fisher and had been built in 1611. Sir Edward Fisher, at that time, was Viceroy (or Deputy to the King of England). He had been charged with looking after the Kings affairs, in an Ireland which then, was ruled by and from, England.

So, both the Magazine Fort site and the current structure upon it, are hugely historic and hugely significant in terms of Irish national heritage and in my humble opinion, are more than worthy, of effective preservation and transformation into an accessible, educational, entertaining and enjoyable museum, of both military and perhaps, local social history. In fact, such a project, at that site, is way overdue.

It is said, that the longest journey, always starts with a first step. It is also said, that in relation to achieving anything, where there is a will; there is a way. Both truisms.

What we need right now, despite present economic circumstance, is for OPW Management to take a brave initiative. To formulate a plan of development for the Magazine Fort site, perhaps along similar lines to what I have just suggested. To take that plan to Government and to advocate for its part funding and completion, within a reasonable time frame.

Of course funding is likely to be challenging and perhaps to date, has been the singular reason, why this wonderful and most important historic site has languished, year after year, in almost derelict obscurity. We really do need to do something about this, before the structure becomes so unstable, as to crumble before our very eyes.

There are ways and means of funding such a project. There are literally thousands of Irish people out there, both at home and abroad (the latter being our famous diaspora) who, if they were made aware, of a well structured plan of restoration with a realistic timeline, would I believe be willing, in perhaps many ways, to support it, including funding.

Look, the women’s mini marathon took place today: 6th June 2016. Since inception, that great annual event has garnered, over its thirteen year existence, €200m for thirteen charities. Splendid work and congratulations to all organisers and participants. That amazing fund-raising effort amounts to €15m accumulated per year. I read somewhere lately that since inception 958,000 individuals have participated in those marathons. That means that €15.68 was raised per individual participant, over that period. If funding is the big hold back, then why can not something similar be done, in relation to a project to preserve and open for public and tourist enjoyment, the Magazine Fort site in the Phoenix Park.

We are all now well familiar with the concept of crowd funding. It’s almost as common today, as dish water. There is no reason, a cleverly thought out and incentivised international crowd funding programme could not be put together, to facilitate such a worthy project, as restoring the Magazine Fort. Perhaps, for example, on the basis of crowd donations the Government might consider agreeing to matching whatever funds may be generated and in a gesture of start-up good will, might even consider funding the first planning phase, of such a project. There is no question, that such a project would be good for employment, either voluntary of full-time, or both.

Having considered all of this, it is perfectly possible that there were, or are plans already somewhere, gathering dust in relation to such a project. It would of course be inconceivable, that no one previously would have considered the Magazine Forth, worthy of such preservation.

If plans for the Magazine Fort do exist, I believe it is now time to revisit such plans and if they don’t exist, it is certainly past time to draft them and get on with the important work of bringing back to life a hugely important heritage site, for the education and enjoyment of our present and future generations of Irish citizens and for our tourist guests, alike.

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Drawing on the Marathon History of the Phoenix Park

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What do Irish Marathon Runners and Irish Artists have in common?

Well, apart from the fact that a Marathon Runner can be an Artist and an Artist can be a Marathon Runner they do have something else in common; from time to time, they use Dublin’s iconic Phoenix Park.

As it happens, I use Phoenix Park too. As often as I can I avail of its myriad of nature cloaked walking trails in my attempts to maintain muscle mass.

So, on Sunday 16th November 2012, having decided that Phoenix Park’s Ashtown Demesne would be the pleasant venue for my walking exercise and being completely oblivious to the fact that the New York Marathon was in town, I headed to the park.

You guessed it. By the time I got through the Castleknock Gates of the park I was very much aware that the New York Marathon had definitely come to town, as the athletes were gathered and flexing their muscles on Chesterfield Avenue, just beyond the Mountjoy Roundabout. It was the usual hubbub scene typical of such events; yellow jacketed Stewarts, Gardaí and Park Rangers all mobilised to control and direct the flow. There was quite a buzz about the place.

As a result, my diverted journey to Ashtown Demesne took a little longer than usual, but I didn’t mind. Hurricane Sandy had put the kibosh on the plans so many Irish runners had to participate in the real New York Marathon, so who was I to feel discommoded by their alternative arrangements.

My being delayed was in a good cause because it facilitated: Wayne Reid, Runner No 6917 coming in first with a time of: 02:43:48, Niall Lynch, Runner No 6882 coming in second with a time of: 02:48:59 and Joseph Wright, Runner No 6962 coming in third with a time of: 02:50:55. It also facilitated Karen Lavelle, Runner No 6810, Sherry Johnston, Runner No 6804 and Olwyn Dunne, Runner No 6766 coming in 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively in the women’s section, in just over three hours each. Well done to all participants.

So if they were the Athletes, what then of the Artists?

Having eventually reached Ashtown Demesne and having completed my exercise, which had taken me on a very pleasant walking trail around the periphery of the Demesne, I called to the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre. I had been searching for literature on flora of the park and reckoned what better place to begin my quest. I quickly obtained what I had been looking for and was just about to leave, when I noticed some activity in the exhibition area.

On further investigation, I was delighted to discover an artistic treasure trove of sixty magnificent mounted and framed line drawings of the individual iconic Lodges, Monuments and Scenes from Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

I had not previously seen such a comprehensive collection of beautiful hand crafted art work related to the park. I thought, how lovely it would be for every Irish person living abroad to have one of these beautiful reminders of home to adorn the place which by choice, or by necessity, they presently call home.

Keen to discover the background to the project I spoke with Ms Sheelagh Duff, the Artist whose pen had given form to these lovely images. Sheelagh told me that it had taken her two years to complete the work. While congratulating  Sheelagh on her artistry I found myself thinking, what a lovely legacy has been created for both present and future generations to enjoy.

Perhaps it may have something to do with my inherent love for Dublin’s Phoenix Park, but I instinctively feel that Sheelagh’s Phoenix Park art pieces would make lovely gifts for our Irish Diaspora.

When Sheelagh told me that she did not have any web presence I thought it a shame that her excellent work did not have a broader showcase and offered to introduce her on the internet, hence this article.

Since this article was first written, in late 2012, I have put together the following facility for showcasing some of Sheelagh’s work, enjoy:

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Stationary Grandeur

Standing resplendent, beside Dublin’s river Liffey, at a point where St.John’s Road West meets Victoria Quay, is the magnificent Heuston Station Building.

Formerly known as Kingsbridge Station, the front of this impressive structure was designed in 1846 by English Architect Sancton Wood. Its linked train shed, which extends back, parallel with the river Liffey, was designed by the eminent Irish Civil Engineer: Sir John Benjamin Macneill.

The front structure of the building is of Italian palazzo design featuring Corinthian columns, balustrades, carved swags, urns and domed campaniles.  During the 1990s the older interior passenger concourse area of the station was extensively re-designed and refurbished with additional platforms being added in the early 2000s.

Heuston Station, probably the most elegant of all Dublin’s Train Stations, caters for both main line and suburban passengers. Five million passengers pass through this station each year on mainline routes travelling south and west and on suburban routes, travelling south west.

In 2004 Heuston Station gained a transport neighbour in the form of LUAS Red Line Trams (Dublin’s Light Rail System) with their own stop right in front of the older Heuston Station building.

In 1966 Ireland celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising and during that year, Kingsbridge Station was re-named Heuston Station after Captain Sean Heuston. Sean Heuston was vice-commandant of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. He worked in Limerick, for the Great Southern and Western Railway Company and later in their Traffic Manager’s Office at Kingsbridge Station, hence the re-naming of the station in his honour.

Striking, is the way I would describe the typical night view of the illuminated frontage of the Heuston Station Building, as seen either from an approach along Victoria Quay or from a selected viewing point, across the river Liffey on Ellis Quay.

On a number of occasions Heuston Station has been a double act; accommodating both trains and movie makers.

During 1979, a large section of the interior of Heuston Station was transformed to represent the Victorian period London Bridge Station, during the making of the Michael Crichton film: The First Great Train Robbery. Famous actors: Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down, among others, had starring roles in the film. The film, which was mostly shot in Dublin, went on to earn critical acclaim and secured a: Best Motion Picture Screen Play Edgar Award in 1980, for Director Michel Crichton.

In 2011, Stephen Soderberghs’ film: Haywire saw Heuston Station again in the lime light, as a shooting location. The fast action, Spy Thriller film starring popular actors: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas, to name but a few, went on to critical acclaim and grossed $32.4 million worldwide.

Heuston Station is but a ten minute walk from another of Dublin’s most beautiful landmarks: The Phoenix Park.

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Mankind’s Curiosity

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Monday 21st July 1969, 2:56am and the five people sleeping soundly in the Caravan at Glengarriff Caravan Park were my parents, my younger brother, younger sister and me, the nineteen year old. We were on a family holiday. Poignantly, and for no reason other than life simply moving on, I do believe that it was the last family holiday in which we all participated.

My recollection of that week is one of wet mornings (what’s new I hear you ask), and a troublesome car. My uncle Michael had lent my father his Ford Cortina for the trip. Although my father had several cars over the years, I can’t recall if he owned one at that particular time. If he did then his judgement must have been that it would not be reliable enough to trust on the long journeys which our planned holiday was likely to involve. Cars were somewhat less reliable in those days.

Anyway, our illusion that we were doing mighty by having the luxury of the Cortina for the week was shattered on the first misty morning when no amount of key turning would engender a response from an exhausted battery. When push came to shove you could take your pick. It was either push or shove, in copious amounts thank you very much, which had to be applied before the blue flyer (as we affectionately named the car) would jerk into life and grant us the possibility of touring for that day.

Holiday or no holiday, Monday 21st July 1969 was no ordinary day. It was a momentous day, during the early hours of which mankind made history in a spectacular feat of exploration, which up to that point in time had been but a dream.

Throughout my late teenage years I had been enthralled by and fully absorbed with, the Apollo Moon Landing Programme.  I had followed each of the missions with the same level of engagement as if lost among the pages of a compelling page turning novel. I was in awe of the talented people at NASA who moved the programme forward, step by careful step, as prelude to the events of 2:56am on 21st July 1969 at which point “one giant leap” was taken for mankind, when the sole of Astronaut: Niall Armstrong boot touched the surface of the Moon.  During each and every mission up to Apollo 11, I had been glued to our black and white television at home, soaking in every blurry image which was transmitted.

We had no access to a television in the Caravan, such a portable facility did not exist in those days, so the first thing on my mind when I got up on the morning of the 21st was where, and how quickly could I get my hands on a newspaper?  I was certainly not best pleased when push and shove had to be applied to the blue flyer, before the newspaper mission could be carried out. At least the Apollo 11 technology seemed to have been a bit more reliable.

Anyway, the blue flyer eventually kicked into life and got us to nearby Newsagents where we staked our claim to the morning broadsheet and in addition, to some lime marmalade and peanut butter, the later items being firsts for the nineteen year old.

It is not manners to read during a meal, our parents would have told us on many an occasion. Well let me tell you, during breakfast on 21st July 1969, there was no way that this kid was not going to read about the successful moon landing while munching his thickly lime marmalaided brown bread. Given the historic nature of things, the rules were bent more than a little.

Fast forward forty three years to 6th August 2012 at 5:17am (GMT), and another epic marker is laid down, on mankind’s long journey to the stars, with the successful autonomous landing of the Curiosity Robotic Rover (MSL), an average distance of 141,548,358 miles away, on the planet Mars. What an achievement?

For me, contrast could not have been greater with that misty black and white Apollo 11 day back in 1969. Here I was this morning, with a comfortable ringside seat from 5am onward, watching proceedings at NASA’s JPL mission control, in real time and in crystal clear vivid colour via the internet on my small laptop computer. How very far we have travelled technologically since then, I thought.

The seven thousand people in the US and around the world, who over recent time have been involved in bringing the Curiosity MSL mission to this morning’s spectacular safe beginning, with the new technology soft landing on the surface of the red planet, deserve immense congratulation. Their combined vision, teamwork and sterling problem solving capabilities have moved humankind’s greater star travel project forward yet one more important notch. In so doing, they have provided priceless inspiration for thousands of young men and women who may now as a result, feel compelled to find their way into the space sciences and who may in time themselves actualise the science fiction concepts of today.

It all began when our early ancestors gazed at the twinkling silver points of light, in night skies over their primitive landscapes and simply wondered. But when human ingenuity evolved telescopes, which allowed us to see our companion worlds up close, there was really no looking back.

Sir William Rowan Hamilton, one of Ireland’s greatest mathematicians and scientists, spent his entire working life at Dublin’s Dunsink Observatory. He is famous for his discovery, in 1843 of quaternions (a number system that extends the complex numbers and applies them to mechanics in three-dimensional space).  Hamilton and his like, laid much of the mathematical ground work which would eventually feed into space science and serve to guide us to the enlightened place we are in today, on our conscious journey to the stars.

Dunsink Observatory is one of the oldest scientific institutions in Ireland. Built between 1783 and 1785 using a bequest to Trinity College from Provost Andrews, it was originally the observatory attached to Trinity College Dublin and also the residence of the Andrews’ Professor of Astronomy (who also bore the honorary title of Royal Astronomer of Ireland until 1922). The observatory is situated on the highest point to the north-west of Dublin; about 8km from the city center and is in close proximity the Dublin’s famous landmark, the Phoenix Park.

Was any present day Irish Scientist involved with the Curiosity (MSL) Project?  Indeed there was.  Dr. Robert Lillis, a Dublin-born academic who received his primary theoretical physics degree in Trinity College was involved. Dr.Lillis worked on the radiation assessment detector instrument on the probe. He is also working on the next mission to Mars called: MAVEN which is due for launch in twenty six months’ time.

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