Online atlas marks Ireland’s scientific and engineering treasures

16 May 2012

Newgrange in Co Meath. UNESCO has also designated it a world heritage site. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Ireland’s seven scientific and engineering wonders are being celebrated in a new interactive online map of the island. Did you know, for instance, that Ireland hosts some of the world’s oldest fossil footprints on Valentia Island or that the great telescope at Birr was the largest on the planet for more than 70 years?

The Atlas of Ingenious Ireland has been designed to highlight sites of scientific interest around the country, and is part of the Dublin City of Science 2012 programme.

Journalist Mary Mulvihill, who is the author of the book Ingenious Ireland, created the website. She said the atlas also features 60 top places of scientific interest around the country, ranging from museums to wildlife watching and Ireland’s top 10 astronomy and science sites.

Apparently, Irish algebra helped to land a man on the moon and Newgrange is arguably an astronomical observatory that is 1,000 years older than Stonehenge.

Prof Patrick Cunningham, chief scientific adviser to the Irish Government, said the atlas builds a clear picture of the nation’s record of innovative discoveries.

So here’s a taste of Ireland’s seven wonders, according to …

Valentia Island, Co Kerry
One of the world’s oldest fossil trackways is on Valentia Island. Such trackways were apparently made by a creature resembling a salamander, and are preserved in rocks by the cliff near Valentia radio station.

The Giants Causeway

Image courtesy of

Giant’s Causeway and Antrim Coast Road
The Giant’s Causeway’s basalt columns formed when a lake of molten lava cooled slowly, some 60m years ago. UNESCO has also designated the Giant’s Causeway a world heritage site. It’s known in Irish as Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFomhórach.

The Burren in Co Clare
The rocky limestone landscape of the Burren in Co Clare beholds vast ecological diversity, including caves, rare and vulnerable habitats, turloughs or seasonal lakes; and a rich plant life. In all, more than 600 plant species have been recorded there, including 23 species of orchid.

Newgrange in the Boyne Valley in Co Meath
This elaborate burial mound was around 3200 BC during the Stone Age. According to the atlas, it is arguably the world’s oldest observatory, designed so that at each winter solstice the rising sun shines directly into the inner chamber.

Sir William Rowan Hamilton

William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865). Image from Wikimedia Commons

Broome Bridge, Co Dublin
On 16 October 1843, a new type of algebra was invented by Irish scientist Sir William Rowan Hamilton, as he walked beside Dublin’s Royal Canal. Born in 1805 in Dublin, Hamilton was an astronomer and mathematician who made vital contributions to classical mechanics, algebra and optics. His ‘quaternions’ describe things moving in 3D, and are now used to orient spacecraft and in 3D animations and computer games. A plaque now marks the spot at Broome Bridge.

Great Telescope in Birr in Co Offaly

The Great Telescope in Birr, otherwise known as Rosse

Leviathan Telescope, Birr Castle in Co Offaly
In 1845, William Parsons, third Earl of Rosse, built the world’s largest telescope at Birr Castle. It enabled Parsons to see further into space than ever before. In April 1845, Parsons discovered the Whirlpool Nebula, and showed that this fuzzy object was a spiral cluster of stars. The telescope remained the world’s largest telescope until 1917. It has now been restored to working order.

Irish businessman Dermot Desmond has now invested in a planned radio telescope project, called i-LOFAR, which is also destined for Birr in Co Offaly.

The Boyne Viaduct, Drogheda in Co Louth
This bridge spans the River Boyne at Drogheda, and was the final link in the Dublin-Belfast railway line. When it opened in 1855, it was termed a wonder of the engineering world. To minimise the structure’s weight, the engineering team opted for a lattice-work made from wrought-iron girders. When completed, their bridge was the longest of its kind in the world at the time, at 155 metres.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic