The Atlas of Irish Mathematics: Armagh (Oct 2017)


In recent months here, we've taken a look at the careers of some mathematically trained people from Donegal and Wexford. This month, we focus on people associated with the northeast county of Armagh.

As usual, those listed started with a degree in maths or a related field, unless otherwise indicated. We also include some astronomers from down through the ages who worked at the Armagh Observatory.

Of course, some lives (and careers) drifted far from the mathematics studied in university. Journalist and biographer William Monypeny (1866-1912) was born in Ballyworkan, Portadown, Armagh, and educated at TCD. He had a colourful life as a newspaper man in London and Johannesburg, later writing the first biography of Benjamin Disraeli. Richard Best (1869-1939) was born in Richhill, Armagh, educated at TCD, and had a distinguished career in the judiciary. Minnie McKee (1883-1975, later Capper) was born in Lurgan, Armagh. Not long after graduation from QUB she emigrated to Canada and married. Thomas Atkinson (1905-1942) was born in Armagh and educated at TCD. His short career was spent in the British civil service in India and Burma. Margaret Boland (1922-2007) was born in Armagh and educated at TCD, where she was a maths scholar; her career was spent in the civil service in Belfast.


The information below is extracted from the Annals of Irish Mathematics & Mathematicians, which currently documents over 3500 people. Its spin-off Atlas of Irish Mathematics highlights some of the more notable careers, county by county.

There are undoubtedly instances where the designation "born in Armagh" could refer to the town or more generally to the county but we don't know which is more accurate. Hence, some county births may be mistakenly attributed to the town on the map. Corrections, as always, are welcome.

Last updated 24 Jan 2024.



 1. Astronomer Hugh Breen (1791-1848) was born in Armagh.  Nothing is known about his education, but his career included a spell teaching maths at the Armagh Mechanics Institute (1826-1831), followed by extensive work at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (-1835-1848).  Three of his sons were engaged in similar work at Greenwich. 

IAJ / Hugh Jnr / James1 / James 2


2. Astronomer Thomas Romney Robinson (1792-1882) was born 23 April in Dublin and went to school at Belfast Academy.  He was educated at TCD, where he was taught physics (1814-1821) and authored the book A System of Mechanics.  He spent 6 decades at the Armagh Observatory, where his many accomplishments including inventing the 4-cup anemometer.

Wikipedia / Ask


3. William Morgan (1845-1913) was born in London, and educated at TCD. He was soon appointed headmaster of the Royal School in Armagh, where he taught for over two decades, following which he served as a clergyman nearby.


4. Robert Russell (1858?-1938) was born in Armagh and educated at TCD, where he was a maths scholar. He then taught there for over three decades, including a stint as the Donegall Lecturer.

5. William McClelland (1859-1928) was born 4 Jun in Loughgall, north of Armagh town, and was educated at TCD. He served as headmaster at schools in Santry, Portalington, and for 24 years at the Grammar School in Clonmel. He wrote books, both on spherical trigonometry (with Thomas Preston below) and on geometry.  He contributed to the Educational Times.


Obit 1 / Obit 2 / Educational Times


6. James McMahon (1856-1922) was born in Armagh, and first pursued metaphysics and classical studies at TCD. He then taught mathematics at Cornell for 35 years, serving as chair too, and published extensively in applied maths. He was a founding member of what became the American Mathematical Society, and is believed to be the first Irish person to supervise a doctoral thesis. He wrote three books, on calculus, geometry and hyperbolic functions, respectively.

Wikipedia Cornell


  7. George Parker (1862?-1923) was born in Armagh, and was educated at TCD, where he was a tutor for many years.  He authored 4 books for students, on astronomy, optics, mechanics and hydrostatics.

Death / Son


8. Thomas Finch (1863-1916) was born in Armagh and educated at TCD.  His career (-1885-1916) was spent teaching at the Dundalk Educational Institution (later known as the Dundalk Grammar School) which he had attended himself.

Edu Times / 1901 Census / 1911 Census


9. Mathematical physicist Thomas Preston (1860-1900) was born 23 May in Kilmore, Armagh, and was educated at TCD. His short career was spent at UCD, where he did research in electromagnetic and spectroscopic sciences. He is remembered for his work on the analysis of spectral lines, and for two physics textbooks. He also authored a maths book with William McClelland above.

Wikipedia / Ulster Bio / RDS


10. Molly Acheson (later Faris, 1880-1958) was born 12 June in Portadown, Armagh, and was educated at Girton (BA earned 1904). She taught in Belfast until her 1919 marriage to Samuel Faris. In 1907 TCD awarded her an ad eundem MA. She and her sister below married brothers.

1911 Census


11. Grace Acheson (later Faris, 1885-1973) was born 17 December in Portadown, Armagh, and was educated at Queen's Belfast (BA 1907, MA 1909). She taught English and classics as well as maths at Victoria College (1909-1912) until her marriage to George Faris, and again (1925-1951) following his early death, rising to the rank of headmistress. Her son John Faris (1913-2011) was a logician at QUB.

1901 Census / 1911 Census 


12. Astronomer Ernst Öpik (1893-1985) was born in Estonia, and educated at the universities of Moscow and Tartu. He lectured at Tartu, Harvard and Hamburg before spending over three decades at Armagh Observatory. His son Uno Öpik (1926-2005) was an atomic physicist who was educated at QUB and later lectured there for over 20 years.

Wikipedia / Armagh / Obit

13. Garfield Woods (1906-1973) was born in Derrycory, Armagh. He was educated at TCD, and lectured there briefly before settling in Malaya, where he taught in schools, and rose to become Deputy Director of Education.

Web 1 / Web 2


14. Astronomer Eric Lindsay (1908-1995) was born 26 January in the Grange, near Portadown, Armagh.  He was educated in physics at QUB (BSc 1928, MSc 1929) and at Harvard (PhD 1934).  His thesis on "The Distribution in the Southern Sky of the Stars Brighter than the Thirteenth Magnitude" was done under Bart Bok.  After a few years at Boyden Station (South Africa), he became the 7th director of the Armagh Observatory (1937-1974).  He played a key role in the establishment of the planetarium there.  He also lectured at QUB.

Wikipedia / A&G / DIB / ADS

15. Astronomer Mervyn Ellison (1909-1963) was born 5 May in Fethard-on-Sea, Wexford, and grew up there and later in Armagh upon his father becoming director of the observatory.   He was educated at TCD (sci scholar 1930, BA 1931 with gold medal, MSc 1932).  His early career was spent teaching, for a year in Armagh and then at Sherborne School in Dorset (1933-1939). followed by work for the UK admiralty, all the while being engaged in astronomical observations.  TCD awarded him DSc (1944).  He was appointed to the Royal Obs Edinburgh (1947-1958), and finally Dunsink & DIAS (1958-1963).  He authored the book The Sun and its Influence (1955).

Wikipedia / BEA  / ADS


16. Florence Berryman (1910-?) was born 28 March in Armagh town, and was educated at QUB (MA 1939, MA 1931). Her master's thesis done under William Morton was on "Recent Researches on Solids in Motion in Fluids".

1911 Census

17. Sarah Symington (1915-1956-?) was born 26 October in Lurgan, Armagh, and educated at QUB (BA 1939). She taught for many years at Ballinagone, Portadown.

18. Ralph Spearman (1927-2013) was born in Armagh town and educated at QUB. He taught for many decades at the Belfast Royal Academical Institution.


19. Theoretical physicist Arthur Kingston was born in Armagh and educated at QUB, where he earned his PhD on "A study of atomic oscillator strengths and the second Born approximation" with Benno Moiseiwitsch and then spent most of his career on the staff.


20. Tom Short (?-1984?) was born in Crossmaglen, Armagh and was educated at ?? and at TCD, earning his doctorate on "The application of transformer-coupled ratio-arm bridges to precision capacitance measurements" with Brendan Scaife. For many years he was the head of electrical engineering at Kevin Street.

21. Richard Watson was born in Portadown, Armagh, and was educated at Maynooth, Warwick and Swansea. He taught at Maynooth for 35 years—earning his doctorate on "Tangent Stars" with Tony O'Farrell along the way—and also served as dean there. He has co-authored two books, Maynooth Mathematical Olympiad Manual and A Resource for Transition Year Mathematics Teachers.


22. John Lennox was born 7 Nov in Armagh and educated at Cambridge (BA 1964?, MA 1965?, PhD 1970). His doctorate on "Centrality and Permutability in Soluble Groups" was done with James Rosenblade. His career included three decades at Cardiff working in algebra and more recently he's lectured at Oxford on maths and theology.  His books include Subnormal Subgroups of Groups (1987) and The Theory of Infinite Soluble Groups (2004).


23. Theoretical physicist Michael Murtagh (1943-2001) was born 27 Jul in Lurgan, Armagh. He started his education at Maynooth, and then at UCD, from which he earned an NUI Travelling Studentship. His Harvard PhD (done with Richard Wilson) on "TSP Hadron angular distributions in in-elastic muon proton scattering" was completed while he worked at Brookhaven National Labs, where he spent his whole career.



24. Ted Kelly was born 21 Jun in Derrynoose outside Keady, Armagh, and was educated at QUB and at MIT. His 1970 PhD on "Immersion of Symmetric Spaces" was done with Sigurdur Helgason. He taught briefly at the Universities of New Brunswick and Missouri at St Louis, before moving to the insurance industry, rising to CEO of Liberty Mutual.

IT / Times / Indo


25. Ron Perrott was born 27 Dec in Portadown, Armagh, and was educated at QUB (BSc 1965, DPhil 1968).  His thesis ("Part 1: Autoionising Levels in Helium : Part II: Application of the Fredholm Expansion to a Scattering Problem") was done under Alan Stewart & B. Benno Moiseiwitsch.  His early career was spent at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), NASA (Ames) and CERN (Geneva).  He then headed up software engineering back at QUB for a quarter of a century, supervising numerous doctoral students.  Since then he has been based at Oxford.  He has authored the books Parallel Programming (Addison Wesley, 1987) and Software for Parallel Computers (Chapman & Hall, 1992).

Oxford / Awards

25. Astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell (née Bell) was born in Lurgan, Armagh, and educated at Glasgow and Cambridge. Her doctorate on "The Measurement of radio source diameters using a diffraction method" was supervised by Antony Hewish. Her career has included stints at the Universites of Southampton and London, the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, the Open University, Bath, and Oxford. She is best known for her co-discovery of pulsars.

Wikipedia / Enc Brit / TCD


27. Tom Conlon was born in Armagh and educated at QUB and Bristol. His PhD on "The Ordinals < E_0" was done under John Mayberry. His career has been split between telecommunications and teaching at the secondary level. In more recent years he has focussed on 17th century scientific translations.
28. Ivan Graham was born in Portadown, Armagh, and grew up nearby in Derrykeevan. He was educated at Edinburgh and the University of New South Wales, doing his doctorate on "The Numerical Solution of Fredholm Integral Equations of the Second Kind" with Ian Sloan & Will Smith. Most of his career has been spent at Bath, where he has supervised numerous doctorates and authored two books.

29. Astronomer Mark Bailey was born in England, and educated at Cambridge, Sussex and Edinburgh. His doctorate on "Evolution of galactic nuclei" was done with Peter Brand & Victor Clube. For over 20 years he served as Director of the Armagh Observatory, retiring in 2016.

Armagh Obs

30. John Harte was born in Armagh town and educated at Oxford (BA 1977?) and QUB (PhD 1980?).  His career was spent lecturing at Dundalk RTC / DKIT (1981-2017).

31. Astronomer Apostolos Christou was born in Greece and educated at Athens, Heriot-Watt and Queen Mary College. His PhD on "An Investigation of Secular Perturbations in Planetary and Satellite Systems" was done under Belfast's Carl Murray. Most of his career has been spent at the Armagh Observatory.

Armagh Obs

32. Statistician Adrian O'Hagan was born in Keady, Armagh, and educated entirely at UCD. His PhD on "Topics in Model-Based Clustering and Classification" was done under Brendan Murphy & Claire Gormley. He now teaches at UCD too, where his interests include actuarial science, model averaging, and insurance loss data.
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