The Irish. We’re the loveable rogues of the world. Sure, we’ve given the world James Joyce, U2, Michael Fassbender and Guinness. Get this, though: our achievements run much deeper than the arts.
Here we take a look at Irish people who have quite literally changed the world.
We start our journey with a man who is considered the father of the modern submarine; a man by the name of John Philip Holland. As a young lad he was captivated by Jules Verne’s epic novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and couldn’t shake his fascination with what lay beneath the mysterious waves.
John was born in 1840 in a little place in County Clare called Liscannor. Opportunities for an engineering virtuoso were thin on the ground in Liscannor, so in 1873 he packed up and joined the rest of his siblings who had moved to America.
He quickly found work in an engineering firm in New York before becoming a teacher in New Jersey. He spent his nights drawing designs by flickering candlelight and slowly but surely his submarine took shape. John approached the US navy with his designs but they were dismissed as “a fantastic scheme of a civilian landsman”. He didn’t let this deter him, and designed better and better versions of his submarine. He built his first fully functional one in Todd & Rafferty’s Shop in New Jersey. The US Navy couldn’t ignore this genius Irishman any longer and in 1900 they bought the submarine designs for $150,000 and so the USS Holland was born – the first submarine of the US Navy fleet.
Next up is a man who was one of the key contributors to the scientific revolution on the 1600s: Robert Boyle. Some consider him the founder of modern chemistry. He discovered a fundamental scientific truth that “At a constant temperature the volume of a confined ideal gas varies inversely with its pressure”, which became known as Boyle’s Law. It led to a much greater understanding of how pressure works and was used in everything from syringes to underwater exploration.
Boyle grew up in Lismore Castle. You can imagine puffs of smoke and sparks shooting out of the castle chimneys from his scientific explorations. He was also a member of a mysterious club known as the ‘Invisible College’ (think League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). His achievements didn’t end with discovering universal truths though; he also invented the pneumatic pump and a perpetual motion machine. Good man Robert!
Next up we have a man that James Bond, fighter pilots, stuntmen and Dick Dasterdly all owe allegiance to: Sir James Martin. For Sir James was the genius who invented the ejector seat. James was born in 1893 in County Down and ironically it was his life’s passion to make things go up.
Imagine it now, a world without ejector seats, that’s not a world I want to live in. Just as things look their worst, the plane wing is on fire, enemy rockets are locked on, all seems doomed then BANG! Ejector seat to the rescue. Just another gift the Irish have given the world.
Reinventing the wheel… almost
When we’re not writing award-winning literature, painting the odd masterpiece and selling millions of albums, we love a spot of inventing.
The world has us to thank for colour photography. John Joly from County Offalyfound a successful way of producing
colour photographs from a single plate and changed the way we see the world.
Like chocolate milk? You’re welcome. It’s well-believed by some that Sir Hans Sloane from County Down was lounging in the Caribbean one day munching on some
chocolate and found it a wee bit bitter. So he added milk, and voilà! A taste sensation was born.
Cut your knee? Sudocrem is your only man. For minor burns and nappy rashes, we all turn to the antiseptic healing Sudocrem it. The magical qualities of Sudocrem have been salving hurts since it was invented in Ireland by Dublin pharmacist Thomas Smith in 1931.
It was an Irishman (James Hoban to be exact) who designed the residence of US presidents: The White House.
We coin words too. The term ‘boycotting’ was created in Ireland when a mean old landlord called Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott got ignored by all his tenants and an entire village. He couldn’t buy milk in the shop, get any work done by locals or even get his hair cut. Thus the term ‘Boycotting’ was born.
Not all of our achievements lie in the past either.
Our little island is forging a confident business path into the future. Dublin is known as the Silicon Valley of Europe, due to the amount of IT companies with European Headquarters here, including Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, PayPal, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Pfizer and most recently, HubSpot.
The video below has some very impressive figures, it’s Ireland by the numbers:
We may be the island of saints and scholars, but we also know how to invent the odd world-changing device. So next time you see a colour photo, an ejector seat, a submarine or just a humble pot of Sudocrem, spare a smile for Ireland.