Gunpowder, corn and oil: Clondalkin’s historic mills

Clondalkin has a long history of milling from the early 1700s, that includes everything from gunpowder to oil and corn meal.  And the ruins of several of these mills can still be seen in and around the local parks, especially Corkagh Park. The story probably starts on October 7th, 1717, when Nicholas Gruber was granted a licence for a powder (explosives) mill, one of the first such in Ireland.  Several more powder mills were added down the years, all around Kilmatead, in what was then a reasonably remote area, for safety reasons. One of the mills was the scene of a major explosion in 1787, and the shock was felt […]

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Dublin’s first skin disease hospital, Moore St

In 1818, an Irish doctor, Dr William Wallace, opened a hospital for treating skin diseases at No. 20 Moore Street, Dublin. This was, according to Wallace, not only the first such establishment solely dedicated to the treatment of skin diseases in Ireland but also in the British Empire of the time, which spread across the world. In the population boom and economic crash following the Act of Union in 1800, conditions were ideal in Dublin for the spread of skin diseases, with hundreds of half-starved people crowded together in tenements with few facilities for washing or clean cooking. As well as obvious diseases such as scabies, ringworm, lice infestation, anthrax, tuberculosis […]

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Outside Dublin Zoo circa 1890s

Dublin Zoo: for ‘Useful information and innocent amusement’

Dublin Zoo is one of Ireland’s most popular attractions, yet when it opened in 1831, it had just one wild boar! The idea for a ‘zoological garden’ in the city began when several gentlemen, Earls and other Dublin worthies met the previous year, and agreed to establish a zoo in Dublin to “provide useful information and innocent amusement… for those who have not the benefit of travel”. A site in the Phoenix Park was donated by the Lord Lieutenant, and on September 1st 1831, the gardens opened . . . with just one wild boar.  By the following year, however, it could boast : 47 mammals (15 of them monkeys), […]

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Commercial version of Rynd's syringe

World’s first hypodermic injection: Meath Hospital 1844

The world’s first hypodermic injection took place in Dublin’s Meath Hospital on June 3rd, 1844.  On that day, Dr Francis Rynd improvised an injection, to treat a severe case of facial pain in a woman patient. The woman had suffered for months, and been unable to sleep with the pain.  The usual painkiller then was to drink a solution of morphine, but this hadn’t worked  for the woman. Rynd realised that it might be more effective to deliver the morphine direct to where the pain was, and so he improvised: punctured a hole in the woman’s face, and applied the morphine.  It was the first hypodermic or subcutaneous local anaesthetic, […]

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Restored water clock tower, Killruddery

Historic water clock, Killruddery

This historic water clock is lovingly restored to working order, and open to the public, and the house and gardens are great for a family visit. The clock was built in 1906 by the 13th Earl of Meath, and housed in a tower attached to the house at Killruddery estate. It has a delightful chiming system that was added in 1909. Significantly, the clock mechanism successfully separates the pendulum from the drive train in an ingenious way using water — it is not mechanically connected to the escapement.   The entire clock was also inventively made from bits of scrap pipes, a motorbike wheel and chain, old lead, wire sourced from around […]

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Birthplace of modern submarine inventor

John Philip Holland (1840-1914) from Liscannor, Co Clare, invented the first successful commercial submarine and transformed war at sea.  He worked on his designs in the USA and they were bought by the US Navy, but he grew up in this small town on the Atlantic coast in 1840, where his father was a coastguard. There had been many attempts over several centuries to design an underwater vessel that could attack ships by stealth.  Holland began thinking about the problem as a teenager, and later when he worked as a science teacher in Ireland.  It was only when he emigrated to New Jersey in 1872 that he began seriously to work on […]

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Iveagh Gardens: secret garden, crystal palace

Many Dubliners have never  heard of this historic park hidden in the heart of the city.  Yet it’s just a stone’s throw from St Stephen’s Green, and well worth a visit.  And in 1865, these gardens hosted a great industrial exhibition, with a Crystal Palace that was a feat of engineering; also, a concert hall, and even a sunken archery garden.  And you can still see much of this in the gardens today. World trade fairs Industrial Exhibitions in the 19th century were the World Trade Fairs of their day, with pleasure gardens to amuse visitors, and companies from around the world showing the latest domestic appliances, scientific instruments, and […]

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One of Dublin’s hidden treasures!

Putting your head into the jaws of a Great White Shark.  The story of Tommy, the Prince’s elephant.  And, the tragic tale of Ireland’s last Great Auk.  Just some of the stories you can uncover when you visit the delightful and historic zoology museum in Trinity College Dublin — which is offering special guided tours for the summer of 2013. The museum was established in 1777, and has some 25,000 specimens from around the world.  Primarily used in teaching zoology to college students, and for research, the collection is also of historic and popular interest.   The museum is not usually open to the public — though access can be arranged, […]

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The engine that changed the world

In TCD’s engineering department you can inspect a working model of the steam turbine, the engine that  revolutionised marine transport and naval warfare and, most importantly, made cheap and plentiful electricity a reality.   It was invented in 1884 by Sir Charles Parsons,  from Birr Castle in Co Offaly, and you could say, his turbine made the 20th century possible:   every power station in the world still uses turbine generators — were it not for his turbine, we might still be using gas lighting and gas-powered appliances. Charles Parsons (1854–1931), a gifted engineer and entrepreneur, studied at TCD and Cambridge, then moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England’s great engineering city. Instead of […]

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The first children’s hospital in Ireland and Britain

In 1821 the first children’s hospital in Ireland and Great Britain was founded on what is now Balfe Street.   Called  the ‘Institute for Sick Children’, it was located at Numbers 8 and 9 Pitt Street — beside a farmyard that is now Dublin’s Westbury Hotel — and it came to be known as the ‘Pitt Street Institution’.  Amazingly, this institution survives today, as part of Tallaght Hospital. Pitt St, a teaching hospital, was set up to treat sick children in some of the poorest parts of Dublin, though it treated children from all creeds and means. The main founder was Sir Philip Crampton, an eminent Irish surgeon and anatomist, known as […]

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