History of Garrison House Leighlinbridge County Carlow, John Tyndall, scientist




Born here - John Tyndall - pioneer of fibre optics!

John Tyndall was born in the Garrison House, Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow and he received his early education in Carlow before going to work for the Ordnance Survey, first in Ireland and later in England. While he worked he attended lectures at the local Mechanics Institute, where members of the working class could receive basic instruction in the sciences. In 1843 he was dismissed from the survey for protesting the working conditions of the Irish labourers. He moved on to work as a surveyor for the railroad industry. In 1847 he became a teacher at Edmundson School, Queenwood College, in Hampshire, where one of the first teaching laboratories in Britain was set up. There he became interested in the teaching of practical science and engineering.

John Tyndall (1820-1893) was born in the Garrison House, Leighlinbridge, County Carlow

Who was John Tyndall?

"John Tyndall (1820-1893) was one of the most influential scientists of the second half of the nineteenth century. The Anglo-Irish successor to Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday as Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Royal Institution (1853-1887), Tyndall was a prominent member of London scientific and social elites. His flamboyant lecturing style, honed by teaching science at private secondary schools, made him a highly sought-after public speaker both in the UK and abroad. He had a Promethean personality: as a young man he was fired as a government surveyor because he led an embarrassing campaign to reveal corruption at its highest levels; soon thereafter he resolved to study for a PhD under Robert Bunsen in Marburg despite not knowing any German..." Extract from Tyndall Correspondence Project - read full article here

In 1848 Tyndall went to Marburg University in Germany to carry out his Ph.D. studies. At that time Ph.D. degrees had only just been introduced and the German Universities were then world leaders in scientific research training. Tyndall studied Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics. He completed his degree in two years and went on to do research in Berlin, where he mingled with many of the great German scientists of that time.

He returned to Britain in 1851 but was unable to find a university position due to his unconventional education and his working class background. Finally in 1853, after a brilliant lecturing performance he was appointed professor of natural philosophy at the Royal Institution in London. There he developed his talents for lecturing and research and he took over from Michael Faraday as Superintendent in 1867.

From his time spent in Germany, Tyndall had an interest in the behaviour of crystals in a magnetic field. This led him to study the compression of crystal substances.

From this he took an interest in glaciers and was a pioneer in the sport of mountaineering. He also studied solar heat and radiation. He was particularly interested in the interaction of heat, light and atmospheric gases and he made a study of the scattering of light by particles in the atmosphere. In fact, it was Tyndall who first explained that the sky is blue because the different wavelengths of sunlight are scattered to different degrees by the atmosphere.

Having established that there were dust particles in the air, he showed that the air contained living microorganisms. He was an early advocate of Pasteur's germ theory of disease.

His scientific brilliance is highlighted by the number of scientific phenomena named after him, including the Tyndall effect, the Tyndall cone, Tyndall scattering, Tyndallisation and the Tyndallo-meter. Tyndall was one of the first people to coin the term "physicist" to differentiate himself from the traditional "natural philosopher".

Tyndall made many other contributions to science. For example he invented the fireman’s respirator and his invention of the light pipe led to the development of fibre optics.

John Tyndall (1820-1893) was one of the most influential scientists of the second half of the nineteenth century. The Anglo-Irish successor to Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday as Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Royal Institution (1853-1887)

He also wrote for newspapers and magazines and helped to found the now famous scientific journal Nature in 1869. Tyndall grew famous for both his theatrical style of lecturing and his public battle with famous figures. Controversially, Tyndall condemned the attitude of the catholic hierarchy in Ireland to Science and proposed that "science and reason, rather than faith are the only acceptable guides to truth". As a researcher, an educator, a lecturer and a controversialist, he played a major role in both the professionalism and popularisation of science. Read more about John Tyndall here and here and a blog based on his letters here


Leighlinbridge in 1824

According to PIGOT and Co.'s Provincial Directory of 1824. "LEIGHLINBRIDGE is a market and post town in the county of Carlow, is forty-five miles from Dublin, twelve from Kilkenny, and six from Carlow, on the high road to Kilkenny. The town is romantically situated on the banks of the river Barrow, over which is a neat stone bridge of nine arches. The market for corn and butter is much improving; the butter is conveyed by the river to Waterford, for the London and other markets. Among the public buildings of this place is the church, which stands on the west side of the river, and from the yard of which there is an extensive view of the country for many miles round; the windings of the river add much to the beauty of the scene. There are also two Roman Catholic chapels and an establishment for Carmelite friars. At the foot of the bridge are the remains of a very extensive castle, said to have been destroyed by Cromwell. About a mile from the town is a famous spa, much esteemed for its beneficial effects on consumptive habits. Leighlin is the sole property of Wm. R. Stewart, esq., whose hospitable and neat mansion is seated on the east side of the river; the lofty wood on his estate adds much to the beauty of the town. The market days are Monday and Saturday; a market is also held on Friday for butter. There are four fairs in the year, viz: on Easter Monday, the 14th of May, the 25th of September, and the 27th of December. The population is near 2000.

POST OFFICE - Post Mistress, Mrs. Mary Forrest. The mail to Dublin, by the Cork mail, at a quarter past ten in the evening. The mail to Cork at three in the morning. The mail to Carlow, by the Waterford mail, at half-past ten in the evening. The Thomastown, Gowran, and Bagenalstown mails are conveyed by the Waterford mail. The Kilkenny, Clonmel, and Callan mails by thy Cork Mail. Office hours from seven in the morning till eleven at night".

Borris Sheep Mart, photo James Burke

Borris Sheep Mart



About the village.

With its narrow, winding streets that rise and fall with the lie of the land, grey limestone malthouses and jagged castle ruins overlooking a 14th century bridge, the centre of the little town of Leighlinbridge straddling the River Barrow (and 1km off the N9) opens a vista of an earlier Ireland to the visitor.

Sketch of the Black Castle, Leighlinbridge by Fleming, from the National Library of Ireland.

Sketch of the Black Castle, Leighlinbridge by Fleming, from the National Library of Ireland.

The Garrison House Leighlinbridge County Carlow in the eighteenth  century

The Garrison House in the eighteenth century

The Valerian Bridge and Black Castle

The Valerian Bridge and Black Castle in late 1700s

The focal point of the town is its valerian-bearded bridge, built in 1320 by Maurice Jakis, said to be one the oldest functioning bridges in Europe. The Garrison is situated immediately beside the Black Castle, one of the earliest Norman castles in Ireland. The original "Black Castle" was erected by Hugh de Lacy in 1181, while the present castle is reported to have been built by Sir Edward Bellingham in 1547.

leighlinbridge, Ireland. Photo by James Burke

The Valerian Bridge and the Black Castle today. The Garrison House is situated immediately beside the Black Castle

The Carmelite Priory at Leighlinbridge

The Carmelites came to Ireland in 1271 and their first friary was built on the right bank of the Barrow River at Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow towards the end of the reign of Henry III (+ 1272). The Black Castle, now in ruins, which dominates the river crossing, was an Anglo- Norman fortress built in the previous century when the Normans coming up the coast to the Avoca River from their early base near Bannow Strand had invaded and taken much of the surrounding lands. The Carmelite friars who were to make up the community at Leighlinbridge were Normans from the Carmelite Province of England where the two principal friaries were at Aylesford and Hulne. The remains of the priory can be seen in the grounds of Garrison Waterside Holiday Centre.

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Leighlinbridge village

The Black Castle

photo James Burke

Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs Mountains less than half an hour's drive away!

click for scenic photo gallery

click for scenic gallery

barrow track at rathellin photo James Burke

The Barrow Track at Rathellin. 3 miles away.

Ballymoon castle, photo by james burke

Ballymoon Castle, Fenagh Road, Bagenalstown

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle - 12 miles from here

Blackstairs Mountains

Blackstairs Mountains