The Atlas of Irish Mathematics: Carlow (Aug 2019)


We head to Carlow for our 14th Irish region focussed blog, following previous ones on people associated with Donegal, Wexford, Armagh, Limerick, Westmeath, Mayo, Belfast, Wicklow, Kerry, Galway, Monaghan, Tipperary and Sligo.  This installment also marks the completion of 3 years of monthly blogging about assorted aspects of Irish maths.

Carlow is small, but just as in the case of the equally modestly-sized Sligo, explored here two months ago, this southeastern county has mathematical gems aplenty.  We highlight both people who were born or reared there, and people who worked there.  In particular, we include many staff members who teach maths or statistics at the Regional Technical College founded there in 1970 or its successor the Institute of Technology Carlow (from 1992 on).  Carloviana has run a multi-part series on the history of the RTC/IT starting in 2012, from which much useful information was gleaned.



Early names of note such as O'Riordan, Conwill, Tyndall and Haughton join with members of prolific and talented families (Dowling, Thrift, Dobbs, Nevill) from the down through the ages, and we also highlight several overlooked people.

Two decades ago Maurice OReilly wrote up a visit he took with Elizabeth Oldham and Olivia Bree to Clonmelish, south of Carlow town, and its connections with the geometry of early medieval Ireland.  That treats of an era well before the one covered below.

Comments, additions and corrections are, as always, welcome.  As are more photographs of the forgotten faces from the (distant and recent) past.

Thanks to Olivia Bree (SPD) and Diarmuid Ó Sé (Carlow IT) for valuable input. Last updated 16 Jan 2022.


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 1. Michael O'Riordan was from Roscrea, Tipperary.  In the mid 1780s he was listed as "Doctor O'Riordan, Nautical Professor; Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh; Doctor of Science; Professor of Mathematics".  He moved from Roscrea to Dublin in 1788, and appeared in 1790 as being in charge of the English and Mathematical Academy in Kilkenny town.  Starting two years later he styled himself professor of mathematics and natural philosophy in Carlow.  He published a Comment on Sir Isaac Newton's Principia in the early 1800s.  Little else is known about him, other than that he taught John Conwill below.  He made mathematical contributions to several periodicals of the era; one of his puzzles is shown above.  (Thanks to Michael Monahan for valuable input here.)

Grant's Almanac (1783-1785) / Anthologia Hibernica (1794) / The Gentleman's Mathematical Companion (1802) / Ladies Diary


 2. John Conwill (1802-1880) was born in Carlow, and little is known about his education, though he was apparently taught by O'Riordan above.  He himself taught at Ballinabranna NS (1833-1847) and Leighlinbridge NS (1847-1877).  He contributed to the Educational Times.

Bio 1 / Bio 2 / Edu Times

 3. Physicist and chemist John Tyndall (1820-1893) was born 2 August in Leighlinbridge, Carlow.  He was taught by Conwill above.  He first worked in ordinance survey in Ireland and England (1839-1844) and applied the skills acquired there in railway construction in Britain for the next few years.  He then taught maths and surveying in a school for a year, and in 1848 moved to Marberg, in Germany, studying experimental science under Bunsen and Knoblauch.  In 1850 he became the first Irishman with a doctorate in maths, for the thesis "Die Schraubenfläche mit geneigter Erzeugungslinie und die Bedingungen des Gleichgewichts für solche Schrauben" on screw surfaces done under Friedrich Stegmann.  Most of the rest of his career was spent at the Royal Institute in London, working alongside Faraday.  He is remembered for his extensive popular exposition of science and for key discoveries in diamagnetism, infrared radiation, and the physical properties of air, as well as for numerous physics texts. His name lives on in the Tyndall effect, and Tyndallization, and some credit him as a climate science pioneer.

Wikipedia / Enc Brit / RIGB / Dict Sci Bio

 4. Mathematician, geologist and doctor Samuel Haughton (1821-1897) was born 21 December in Carlow town. He studied maths at TCD (BA 1843, MA 1852, DSc 1891), where he taught for over 35 years, for much of that as professor of geology.  His mathematical work was extensive, and he also qualified as a medical doctor.  The 10 maths books he co-authored with TCD colleague Joseph Galbraith are credited with educating ”a generation of Irishmen in technical issues that would make them skilled and employable.”

Wikipedia / Enc Brit / Hist of Irl / TCD / RIA / Edu Times

 5. Robert Griffin (1835?-1913) was born in Carlow and was educated at TCD (BA 1857?, MA 1863, LLD), where he was a scholar and then worked as a tutor.  He authored the books The Parabola, Ellipse, and Hyperbola, Treated Geometrically (1879) and An Elementary Treatise on Plane Trigonometry (1883).

1901 Census / 1911 Census


 6. Novelist and poet James Murphy (1839-1921) was born in Glynn, in the south of county Carlow.  He is believed to have graduated from the Training College for Teachers in Marlborough St, Dublin, in 1860, whereupon he became principal of the Public Schools in Bray, Wicklow, later becoming Town Clerk there.  In the 1880s, he was professor of maths at St Gall's secondary school, on Dublin's Stephen's Green, a Catholic University affiliate.  In the 1890s, he worked as an inspector for the Intermediate Board of education  He was well known for his novels, many of them with a 1798 or landlord clearance theme (e.g., The Forge of Clohogue).  

Ricorso  / Poets of Ireland / Family / 1901 Census / 1911 Census.

 7. Edward Dowling (sometimes listed as Hughes-Dowling, 1854-1940) was born in Ballyloo, Carlow (baptised 19 June).  He was educated at the University of London (BA c 1873), and then for a few years travelled and taught on the continent.  He taught at St Patrick's College in Carlow in the late 1870s, and was a student at UCD in 1882, possibly earning an RUI degree.  He taught maths at UCD in the mid 1880s, and at various secondary schools throughout Ireland for another 30 years, also serving as inspector for the Intermediate Board.  His brother Patrick is below, and his son John earned UCD degrees in physics and taught there for half a century. (Thanks to Ronan Malin for the photo.)

1901 Census / 1911 Census / Obit


 8. Joseph McGrath (1858-1923) was born in Bagnalstown, Carlow (baptised 27 August), a cousin of the Dowling brothers, and was educated at the University of London (BA 1887).  He taught maths at St Patrick's, Drumcondra (1884-1892) before becoming secretary of the RUI, and in turn registrar of NUI from 1908 on.

NUI / Link 1 / Link 2

 9. Patrick Dowling (1858-1922), brother of Edward above, was born 26 October in Carlow.  He was educated at UCD (BA 1892), and taught elementary maths there at least 1887-1901.  He also taught at Maynooth and Carysfort, and later served as registrar of the Royal College of Science for Ireland, while for a while also being head of maths at the Dublin Technical Schools (and teaching at Kevin St).  His first wife was John Casey's daughter Catherine (who died in 1905), and he edited or revised some 1890s editions of the geometer's books.

Obit / Fund / 1901 Census / 1911 Census

10. William Thrift (1870-1942) was born 28 February in Halifax, Yorkshire, England, and grew up there and in Carlow.  He was educated at TCD (BA 1893, MA 1896). He was Erasmus Smith's Professor of Natural & Experimental Philosophy (1901-1929), got DSc in 1936, and served as Provost (1937-1942). He was also active in politics, serving at TD several times in the 1920s-1930s. He edited the 1912 edition of Thomas Preston's Theory of Light, and was a very accomplished chess player.  His sister Lily (1875-1961) below and Dublin-born brother Harry (1882-1958) did maths degrees too, that latter also working at TCD for many years.

Wikipedia / Nature / Masons / 1901 Census / 1911 Census

11. Lily Thrift (later McCaw, 1875-1961) was born 2 October in Halifax, Yorkshire, England, sister of William above, and grew up mostly in Carlow.  She was educated at Alexandra College, earning an RUI BA (1898).  She taught for a few years then married in 1902 and moved to Armagh.  (Thanks to Douglas Mobray for the photo.)

Family / 1901 Census / 1911 Census

12. Samuel Bennett (1876-1964) was born 11 August in Ballyteigelea, Carlow, northwest of Borris, and was educated first at Queen's Belfast (BA 1888) then at TCD (BA 1900, MA 1903) where he was a science scholar in 1899.  In 1911 he was Inspector of Factories for HM in Yorkshire, and in 1939 he was listed a civil servant.

Paper / 1901 Census / Grave

13. Maggie Webster (later Stringer, 1888-1954) was born 19 September in Ballykeenan, near Myshall, Carlow, and was educated at TCD (Scholar, BA 1913).  She taught in England, married in Yorkshire in 1918, and soon moved to Australia.  [Thanks to Kristy Thexton for photo.]

1901 Census / 1911 Census

14. Neil Dobbs (1917-1963) was born 7 November in Kampala, Uganda, and grew up there, in Kenya, and in Dublin. He was educated at TCD (Scholar 1939, BA 1940).  His career was spent first in the civil service in the Gold Coast, and later as a teacher at St Columba's in Dublin. He married Eleanor Nevill below. Their grandson Neil is also a mathematician.


15. Eleanor Nevill (later Dobbs, 1917-1999) was born 28 July in Nurney, Carlow, and was educated at TCD (Scholar & BA 1940).  She married Neil Dobbs above, and their grandson Neil is a mathematician (currently at UCD).  Following decades in the Gold Coast, she taught at Alexandra College until 1981.  Her sister below also got a maths degree.


16. Cecily Nevill (1921-2002) was born 10 July in Nurney, Carlow, and was educated at TCD (Scholar 1942, BA 1944).  She taught at Royal Holloway for a while, and was then engaged in teacher training and student enrichment in both Kenya and Bath.

Paper 1 / Paper 2



17. Mary O'Brien (later O'Connor) was born in Dublin, and was educated at UCD (BA 1970, MA 1971).  She taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) about 1972-2015.


18. Michael Heaton (1948??-1997) may have been born in the Mullingar area.  He taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) from 1973 till his death.


19. Colm Kelly taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) from 1972 to about 2010.



20. Pat O'Connor taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) about 1972-2015.


21. Pat Walsh taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) for many years from about 1972 on.


22. Michael Hegarty taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) for many years from 1972 on, then at WIT.


23. Páid Ó Murchú was born in Cork city, and was educated at UCC (BA 1972?, MA 1974? with thesis under Des MacHale).  After a spell at the CSO, he taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) about 1980-2019.


24. Marion Murphy (born Cork or Tuam?) was educated at UCG (BA 1974). She has taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) for many years.


25. Michael Wall (1953-2014?) was born in Castledermot, Kildare, and was educated at Maynooth (BSc 1973?, MSc 1974? with thesis under Richard Watson).  He taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) 1980-2014?.

  26. Rae Jordan was born in Dublin and was educated at UCD (BA 1974, MA 1975).  He taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) 1978-2013.
  27. Pat Murphy (from Cork?) was educated at UCC (BA 1975) and TCD (MSc in CS).  He taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) since about 1977.
  28. Eugene Kernan was born in or near Drogheda.  He taught at Carlow RTC (later IT Carlow) 1980-2014.
  29. Dermot Bowers was born in Carlow and grew up there and in Dublin.  He was educated at UCD (BSc 1980, MSc 1982, PhD 1985).  His thesis on "Finite Inhomogeneous Elastic Deformations" was done under Michael Hayes.  His career has been spent in industry in Belgium, then as an EU consultant, and most recently in the public sector in Saudi Arabia.

30. Statistician Nuala Sheehan was born in Carlow town, and was educated at first at UCD (BSc 1980, MSc 1982).  She did her PhD on "Genetic Restoration on Complex Pedigrees" under Elizabeth Thompson at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her career has been spent at the University of Leicester where she has supervised 6 PhD students.



31. Diarmuid Ó Sé was born 2 July in Limerick city, and grew up in Ardnacrush, Clare.  He was educated at Maynooth (BSc 1981, MSc 1982, PhD 1986), his PhD on "Classical Gauge Field Solutions and Their Topological Properties" being done via DIAS research under Tigran Tchrakian.  He has taught maths and management at Carlow RTC (now IT Carlow) since 1986, where he has supervised one PhD student.

Carlow IT

32. Theoretical physicist Michael McGettrick was born in Carlow town, and was educated at TCD (BA 1986) and Notre Dame (PhD 1991).  His thesis "On Virasoro Constructions from Kac Moody Algebras" was done under Bill McGlinn.  His career has been spent at at UCG/NUIG, where his current interests are quantum computing, computer algebra, and tropical geometry.


33. Lester Coyle was born in Carlow, and was educated at TCD (BA 1989) and the University of Michigan (PhD 1995).  His thesis on "Diffusion of Random Walk in a Random Environment" was done under Joe Conlan.  He taught at Duke and Loyola University before switching to finance.  He co-authored the book Lectures in Contemporary Probability (1999).



34. Joseph Bennett was educated at Maynooth (MSc 1992) and has been teaching at IT Carlow for many years.  He is also currently pursuing a PhD at Maynooth.

35. Damien Raftery was born in Dundalk, Louth, and raised there and in Sligo town. He was educated at UCD (BSc 1994, MSc 1995) and has been teaching at IT Carlow since then.


36. Aisling Twohill was born 19 November in Carlow town, and was educated at St Pat's Drumcondra (BEd 1998) & DCU (PhD 2018), her thesis being done under Thérèse Dooley & Lysaght.  Her career was seen her work in the actuarial field, in primary teaching, and more recently at SPD/DCU.


37. Séamus Kelly was born in Ballymurphy, near Borris, Carlow, and was educated at Maynooth (BSc 1998) and NUIG (MSc 2000, PhD 2008+). His thesis on "Combinatorial Polytopes and Group Cohomology" was done with Jim Cruickshank & Graham Ellis. After a few year teaching at Maynooth he went into industry.

38. Aishling Nic an Tuile was born in Carlow, and was educated at UCD (BSc 2007, PhD 2012), her thesis on "Relativistic Motion of a Particle of Small Mass in a Scalar-Tensor Theory of Gravity" being done under Peter Hogan. After a spell in Applied Languages at UCD she became an editor and author.


  39. Esther Brett has taught at IT Carlow for many years.
  40. Liz McGloughlin has taught at IT Carlow for many years.
  41. Sharon McDonald has taught at IT Carlow for many years.