10 Jun 2012
Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 7 June 2012
Kieran’s Our City, Our Town
Cork Independent, 7 June 2012
Technical Memories (Part 19)
Experiments in a Shed
“It was my goof fortune in the early nineties to attend St. Luke’s National School, Cork, the headmaster of which, John B. Crawford ruled metaphorically with rod of iron. Crawford was a giant in stature and was known generally as ‘Long John’. He was a gifted teacher and in addition to the ordinary routine subjects gave us instruction in the fundamentals of sound, light, magnetism, electricity, anatomy and physiology…such experiments may seem trivial to the youth of today, but appeared very wonderful and intriguing to us, youngsters of fifty years ago” (Alfred Godfrey Leonard, address to Institute of Chemistry of Ireland, 22 November 1950).
The lecturer in physics and chemistry at the Crawford Municipal Technical Institute in 1912 was Alfred Godfrey G. Leonard. He gave an address to the Institute of Chemistry of Ireland in 1951, which was published in their journal called Orbital. An obituary to Dr. Leonard is also listed in the same journal in 1966. Over his career, he worked with others in making chemistry a main stream subject in educational organisations across Ireland.
A native of Cork, Alfred Leonard received his early education at St Luke’s National School in Montenotte. In 1898, he moved to the Cork Grammar School, at Sidney Place on Wellington Road. The school was the property of, and under the general control of, the City of Cork Church School Board. In street directories in the early 1900s, this boarding and day school prepared boys for the university, army, navy, civil service, legal and medical professions and mercantile pursuits. There were a few scholarships from the elementary schools. The general work of the school included training for the Intermediate Examinations, Science and Art Department, Agricultural and Technical Department, and the General Synod’s examination in Holy Scripture.
Alfred received teaching from the headmaster Rev. Ralph Harvey, Osborn Bergin, George Taylor and Louis McNamara. Osborn Joseph Bergin (1873-1950), an eminent scholar in the field of Irish Studies, was a native of Cork. He was educated at Cork Grammar School and Queen’s College Cork (now University College Cork). He learned Irish from Pádraig Ó Laoghaire, a national teacher in Beara. Bergin was appointed a lecturer in Celtic at Queen’s College Cork in 1897. Bergin was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in March 1907. He held the post of Professor of Old and Middle Irish at University College Dublin from 1909 to 1940.
On the teaching of science at the Cork Grammar School, Alfred Leonard notes that:
“Prior to 1900, the teaching of science was under the control of the Science and Art Department, South Kensington. We received oral instruction in sound, light, heat and mechanics which enabled some of us to pass examinations conducted annually by the Department. On rare occasions inspectors from the Department visited the school and when this occurred prompt warning was sent to the Christian Brothers’ School next door, a friendly act, which was reciprocated by them should an inspector arrive there first. On one occasion, I remember, we were engaged in mathematics when the warning arrived and promptly the few pieces of apparatus possessed by the school were brought out and the instruction was changed to Natural Philosophy; but all to no purpose, as the inspector did not appear.”
When the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction was established in 1900, Alfred remembers the starting of a campaign for the introduction of experimental science teaching in schools, and laboratories were established in almost secondary schools. When the laboratory was under construction in the Grammar School, Mr. England, who had been trained in Owen’s College, Manchester taught Alfred and his class. Alfred notes that he and his friend wished to move beyond oral teaching and wished to have practical experience;
“Most of our pocket-money went in the purchase of small quantities of very ordinary chemicals. These we used at home in an outhouse for the preparation of hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, chlorine, bromine, iodine, carbon dioxide and such like substances. Instead of flasks we used stoneware pickle jars; corks were bored with red-hot skewers and heating effected by a spirit lamp.”
In 1902 Alfred won a Government Scholarship to the Royal College of Science in Dublin. The scholarship amounted to 21/- per week of the college (30 weeks) with a travelling allowance to and from home. Some 40 students entered the college each year. The first year course was common to all faculties and laid a sound foundation in mathematics, mechanics, chemistry, physics, practical geometry, and free-hand drawing. Professor Walter Hartley delivered the first year lectures, which were fully illustrated with experimental demonstrations. A pioneer in the area of spectroscopy, Hartley was the recipient of many international honours. Among his most significant analysis was his work on the relationship between molecular structure and absorption spectra, and his discovery of the absorption of ultraviolet radiation by ozone. Many of his studies addressed practical applications of scientific research, covering subjects such as dyes for the Irish textile industry, studies for the brewing and distilling industries and chemicals for the prevention of potato blight.
To be continued…
644a. Alfred Godfrey Leonard, c.1960 (source: Institute of Chemistry of Ireland)