Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ireland Revisited: Afterword

412 years ago, my 10th-great grandfather, John Harrington, included the following in a report to his godmother the Queen on his recent deployment to Ireland:
I have informed myself reasonably well of the whole state of the country, by observation and conference: so I count the knowledge I have gotten here worth more than half the three hundred pounds this journey hath cost me.
If I ever meet Sir John, I'll tell him that I got the other 150 pounds' worth.

I'm not going to be as bold as he was with my assessment after two deployments, though. While I think this pair of Harringtons is now reasonably well informed about certain aspects of Ireland that we knew nothing about before, we are also well enough informed to know that the "whole state" of any country, even one as small as that one, is beyond us.

Our first reconnaissance is done, though, that much is certain. What comes next will be very different from exploration of geography -- I doubt very much that any future visits will lend themselves to a daily account or mapping. Instead, what I think lies ahead for Ireland and me is some in-depth research on some very specific topics. The precise form of what comes out of that research will depend in large part on what's uncovered in it, but I know who its central figure will be, and he's not one I would have expected before this second trip to Birr.

Laurence Parsons, Fourth Earl of Rosse, may not have been a riveting intellectual giant like his father or a reckless technological and industrial giant like his younger brother, but by virtue of time and position he ties together a parade of fascinating personalities and a sea change in the way we all live our lives. His time spanned from the first automobile tragedy to the runup to WWI's mechanistic horror, his astronomy bridged from the gentility of a country gentlemen's avocation to the first mountaintop professional observatory run by a modern university, the geography of his story spans from Birr to Santa Cruz. The next steps in research are to try to get a sense of the man himself beyond his brusque diary entries and to fill in more details concerning his week in Northern California in 1891 -- including trying to crack the mystery of those four blank diary pages.

As concerns the latter, I'm anxiously awaiting the re-opening of the Lick Observatory Archives at the University of California, Santa Cruz, just down the road from my home here in Boulder Creek. The archives have been unavailable for many months due to facilities renovation, but should reopen before the end of the year, and I'm anxious to see if I can find more about the Fourth Earl's interactions with the Lick staff of the time, including the Observatory's blustery (and largely unpopular) first Director, Edward Singleton Holden. I know a little something about that particular cast of characters already, having worked as an editor and archivist for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, an organization founded by Holden in 1889.

As concerns a sense of the man himself, I suspect that will require getting dusty in Armagh and Trinity College, Dublin for starters. The archives at Birr, fascinating as they are, primarily show only one end of conversations: letters received. Letters from Lord Rosse to the astronomers at Armagh and writings of his during his long tenure as Chancellor of Trinity College should help give more insight than his short diary entries do.

This will be fun.


A few footnotes:

A big difference:

The biggest difference to us between our 2006 visit and this one four years later is not a hard call: it's the ease of getting around Ireland on the roadways. The reach of "dual carriageway" superhighways from Dublin now radiates to all of the island's other major cities, and no place in Ireland is more than a couple of hours by car on good, modern roads from Dublin, Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Cork, or Waterford. It is as though all of the US had made the transition from 1930s roads to a complete modern interstate network in less than a decade, and the effects on the character of Ireland will be profound and permanent. The network was just in its finishing stages in August, 2010. The following video clip shows eight minutes of a drive along the M7/N7 toward Limerick, and gives a pretty good flavor of the magnitude of the transition. The first third is along a new superhighway (the M7), the middle third is along a new connecting road from the superhighway to a village, and the final third is along the N7. The connecting road is typical of new non-superhighway roads which have also proliferated across the island, and its breadth and clear sight lines bear little resemblance to the narrow, hedgerow-walled roads they replace. The N7 from Birdhill westward in the last part of the clip is typical of what constituted a major national highway during our 2006 visit.

(The banter between Diane and me at the roundabout refers to a joke I had cracked during a visit with Lord and Lady Rosse about how American tourists might be miffed that the Irish seem to be intent on not remaining picturesquely impoverished and quaint.)

Photos in a trice:

A link to this has been posted on this blog before, but it's sensible to repeat it here: all of the 700-plus photos in the albums of this trip over on sharrington.net can be seen in rapid-fire on this YouTube video in only six minutes:

Plans gang agley:

Back in July of 2010, this SherWords post invited readers to hold on to a map of our intended travels to compare with what actually happened. Just in case you've lost yours, here are the two maps -- planned on the left and actual on the right.

Evidently, a major ankle injury tends to sag one's peregrinations down and to the right.

Which leads to this closing note: I knew before that my wife is a tough cookie who doesn't let a little pain stop her. I just didn't quite appreciate the magnitude of her grit. If it had been me taking a tumble off that stile in County Antrim, I can guarantee you that a lot more of our days would have looked like August 26.



Ronnie said...

The superhighway pictures make me very sad. I am so glad that we were able to make our first trip in the middle sixties when it was still very magical. I know they have a right to progress, but I miss the old.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Hedgerows *are* wonderful.

It looks like you logged more miles than the original plan called for. Also sounds like you might be going back more often! Interesting research and fun are an unbeatable combination.

Sherwood Harrington said...

A really nice thing about one side of the research is that I'll be able to do a lot of it within 50 miles of Ft. Harrington!