Things you may not have known were invented by Irish people
For a small country we’ve certainly made a big impression on the world. From Bono to BO’D and from Oscar Wilde to Liam Neeson, many Irish stars have become famous worldwide. But what about those unsung heroes who have shaped our lives in other ways?
The Submarine – John Philip Holland
Did you know that the submarine was invented by an Irish school teacher? John Philip Holland was originally from Liscannor, Co. Clare. Living near the Cliffs of Moher, where his dad was a coastguard, he developed an early interest in the sea, sketching his first plans for a submarine as a schoolboy. He emigrated to Boston in 1872 and stayed focused on his goal, entering and winning two US Navy amateur submarine competitions, with designs for submarines that were not actually built, until finally his hard work paid off and the American Navy bought one of his designs in 1900.
Colour Photography – John Jolly
If it wasn’t for Offaly-born Irish physicist and inventor, John Joly, we might still be living life in black and white. In 1894 he invented a system of taking and viewing photos on glass plates with narrow lines in 3 colours – red, green and blue – printed on them. He also invented many other things, including, most notably, the development of radiotherapy.
John Philip Holland
Chocolate Milk – Sir Hans Sloane
Anglo-Irishman, Dr. Hans Sloane, from Co. Down is credited with a truly delicious invention – chocolate milk. His work as a botanist took him on a voyage to Jamacia in 1687, where he collected many plant specimens, including some from the cacao plant. The Jamaicans were already adding cacao shavings and cinnamon to water, but it didn’t taste great and Sloane’s additions of milk and sugar made for a much tastier recipe. He brought his revised recipe back to Europe and marketed it as a medicinal product (to be fair, chocolate does make most things better!). It later became part of Cadbury’s recipe.
Kay McNulty – The Irish “Mother of Computer Programming”
Did you know that an Irish woman was one of the 6 programmers of the world’s first computer? Born in Donegal, Kay McNulty’s family moved to America when she was just 3. After graduating from college with a degree in maths, she answered an ad for female “human computers”, who could calculate bullet and missile trajectories for the US Army during World War 2. The work was difficult and laborious and initially it took up to 40 hours to calculate just 1 trajectory with a calculator. After a few months they began to use a differential analyser, a mechanical analogue calculator, which could perform the same job in under a minute. The ENIC, one of the world’s first electronic computers developed in 1945 by her husband, John Mauchly, was capable of doing the job in 10 seconds. McNulty was selected as one of its first programmers, making her one of the world’s first ever computer programmers. Unfortunately, Kay McNulty and the women on this team did not get the credit or recognition they deserved for their pioneering work and their contribution to computer programming but it is widely recognised today.
A Way to Measure Wind – Francis Beaufort
The Beaufort Scale, a 13-point scale used to measure the force of the wind at sea or on land, was invented by Navan man, Sir Francis Beaufort in 1805. He was a hydrographer and admiral in the Navy and was tasked with making charts of the sea. Having been shipwrecked at the age of 15 and having worked on ships all his life, he knew first-hand the difference between “Calm” (Point 1), where smoke rises vertically, and “Hurricane Force” (Point 13), where the result is devastation, and everything else in between. His scale is still used today in shipping forecasts all over the world.
Aeneas Coffey – A Better Way to Distil Whiskey
Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention and the Irish have made some noble contributions to the alcohol industry over the years. Aeneas Coffey has been described as “the Thomas Edison of the alcohol industry”. A graduate of Trinity College, Coffey’s work in Tax and Excise, brought him into contact with many illegal distillers and smugglers. This familiarised him with the design and operation of a wide variety of whiskey stills and got him thinking about what he could do to make them work better. He set about modifying the traditional column still to produce a lighter spirit with a higher alcohol content, which he patented as the “Coffey Still” in 1930. Coffey’s Still was adopted all over the world and used to make rum, gin, vodka and whiskey, and is still widely used today.
Arthur Guinness – Guinness
No prizes for guessing who invented this one! Arguably one of our greatest inventions, and certainly one of Ireland’s most successful exports, Guinness was invented by none other than Arthur Guinness. Arthur’s father, Richard, worked for the Irish Archbishop, Arthur Price, brewing beer for the workers on his estate. The Archbishop became good friends with Arthur’s father, and later became Arthur’s godfather. Following in his father’s footsteps, Arthur started brewing himself in 1752 with £100 he inherited from the Archbishop. He started off brewing stout but in 1770 started experimenting with porter, resulting in a happy outcome – the invention of Guinness. Today Guinness is enjoyed in over 150 countries worldwide, with over 10 million glasses of Guinness drank every day all around the world.
We Irish, sure have a gift for invention, as can be seen from the abundance of creative gift ideas you’ll find on our website. Here are a few of our personal favourites…
While we may not have invented brown soda bread, we certainly perfected it,
so here’s your chance to create some of your very own.
It’s the best thing since…well, sliced bread!