Mathematical (and Poetic) Offerings From the Land of Saints and Scholars


With another St Patrick’s Day safely behind us, it’s a good time to remember that over the past few centuries The Land of Saints and Scholars has made significant — if sometimes overlooked — contributions to mathematics, science and engineering, as well as to the arts. Ingenious Ireland‘s Mary Mulvihill recently wrote a thoughtful piece on this in the Irish Times (but take the provocative headline with a grain of salt, that was due to an overexcited sub-editor). A few scholars have even been productive in both arenas, as we’ll see presently.

Caption: The works of Robert Boyle at the Russell Library at St Patrick’s College Maynooth, established 1795 (Photo: Colm Mulcahy)

In the mathematical sciences, there were many notable Irish innovators whose work had global impact, from Robert Boyle (1627-1691), Nicholas Callan (1799-1864) and William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), to Nobel laureate Ernest Walton (1903-1997) and John Bell (1928-1990). These men arguably considered mathematics and the physical sciences to be two sides of the same coin, as did many until relatively recently.


Caption: William Rowan Hamilton and Ernest Walton

The Irish Maths Facts Twitter account showcases Irish mathematics and mathematical science achievements by Irish scholars at home and abroad, as well work by long-term visitors to the island from overseas. The scope is deliberately broad and inclusive, starting in the period when all of Ireland was part of the British Empire, going up to the present when roughly three quarters of the island forms the Republic of Ireland, with the six counties of Northern Ireland remaining within the United Kingdom. Geographically, this philosophy is in sync with that of Maths Week —> Read More