As we delve in the world of Aislings this month, I want to take a look at the myriad of ways in which we dream – and the Irish people that took these dreams and made them a reality.
There are certain dreams that we all have at some point in our life; the nightmare of missing the school bus (twenty years after such a thing was relevant to our lives…), the lucid visions of floating through the clouds, and the afternoon fantasies of winning the lottery! What I want to focus on today is those Irish dreamers who dared to think a little differently, and whose visions were powerful enough to become a reality – not just for them, but the world that they live in.
Can you relate to any of the visionaries below?
During the terrible plight of the Great Hunger in the mid-nineteenth century – many Irish families escaped their troubled circumstances back home and set their sights upon a better life across the Atlantic in North America.
These people dared to dream of a better existence in the most desperate of situations, and many of them succeeded not only in building a new beginning for themselves, but of spreading the Irish culture throughout the United States.
An example of one such man was John McSorely, who was born in Co. Tyrone in 1927 – set sail for America in 1951, and opened an ale house in New York City in 1854. McSorely’s Old Ale House still stands today, as the oldest Irish pub in America, and a testament to a generation of Irish travellers who dreamed of a brighter future.
You’ll all be familiar with the concept of Bono and his crew, but those of you who know me well – know that I simply couldn’t compile a list of Irish dreamers without including them on it.
In 1976 a 14-year-old Larry Mullen Jr. pinned a note for band members on the Mount Temple Comprehensive School notice board in Dublin, and from there, one of the world’s most successful bands had their very first practice.
As Bono said during U2 1989 New Year’s Eve gig in Dublin before launching into ‘I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For’: “Dream up the kind of world that you want to live in. Dream out loud.”
The dream of four 14-year-old boys not only monumentally changed their own lives, but those of all of us who have fallen in love with their music over the years.
Not only did Douglas Hyde make history as the first president of Ireland in 1945, a position that protects the Irish constitution, but he was also perhaps the strongest driving force behind the revival of the Irish language.
Growing up he developed close relationships with many native speakers in his home county of Roscommon, which resulted in a passion and affinity for the Irish language itself – which he carried into his education and career. His inaugural Declaration of office was even delivered in Roscommon Irish – a dialect of which he was one of the last fluent speakers.
In 1896 he founded the Gaelic League – a non-political organisation dedicated to the revival of Irish culture and heritage and open to all interested parties. He succeeded in making Irish a compulsory part of secondary education and was fundamental in raising Irish’s status to that of an official language.
He might have resigned as President of the Gaelic League in 1915, when the group started to be used as an influential power in the fight for independence, but Patrick Pearse of the 1916 Easter Rising hailed its foundation as one of the most important steps in Irish history, dubbing it “"the most revolutionary force that has ever come into Ireland".
There were to be five more Presidents of Ireland until the first women took her place in the office – and that place belonged to Mary Robinson.
Largely a ceremonial role, Robinson injected a new vigour and significance into the Irish presidency – revolutionising the politics of her country. However, she did not just dream of a better life for Ireland, but for the world as a whole – and resigned as President two month early in 1997 so that she could take up a post in the United Nations.
She remains a strong advocate for human rights and equality, and in 2004 her efforts were recognised by Amnesty International, with the Ambassador of conscience award.
Born in Tipperary in 1826, Lena Rice remains the only Irish woman in history to win the Wimbledon Singles title.
One of eight siblings, Rice’s first experience of tennis was playing with her sister Annie in the back garden, and her interest in the sport soon developed to the point of joining a local club.
On the fourth of July in 1890, Rice dared to view the world just a little differently when, instead of batting the ball back to her opponent from waist height as was customary at the time, she leapt to meet the ball in the air with her racket – sending it back across the net to claim the winning point.
By doing so she invented the now widespread move known as the overhead smash and, by daring to see the world just a little differently, she revolutionised the way in which the game is played in the modern age.
Sometimes the most ardent dreamers amongst us are the ones that ponder the world around them, determined to uncover the secrets of existence. To this day, Ernest Walton is the only Irish person to win a Nobel prize for Physics, an accolade that he achieved in 1951 alongside his partner John Cockcroft.
The Waterford-born physicist became the first person in history to split an atom, and his research helped verify former theories of atomic structure – providing the foundation for a whole new era of experimental physics.
While the work for which he was most famed took place at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, he returned to Ireland in 1934 to take up a position as a Fellow and lecturer at Trinity University in Dublin. He retained a close bond with his co-workers long after his retirement and before he died, he gifted his medal to the physics department.
Also known as “Madame Dragonfly”, Cynthia Longfield was a famed entomologist and explorer. Her passion for dragonflies took her on adventures all over the world, and her research made her a world-renowned expert in her field.
Her love of nature developed as she roamed the countryside surrounding her ancestral family home in Cloyne, Co. Cork. She adored the works of Charles Darwin as she grew up, aspiring to be just like him and, eventually, followed in his footsteps on her expeditions through the Pacific Islands.
She blazed a trail not just through her discoveries, but as woman achieving the heights of scientific recognition in a male dominated field, and in 1925 she became the first women to be accepted into the Entomological Society of London.
The things she was looking at may have been small, but she dreamed big – and today her legacy exists not only in her contributions to natural history, but in the form of two species of dragonfly named in her honour the Corphaeschnalongfieldae and the Agrionopter insignis cynthiae.
What is your own favourite example of an Irish person who dared to dream differently? Let me know in the comments below.