Person: De Valera, Éamon
Trained as a mathematician Éamon de Valera went on to beccome head of the government of the Irish Republic.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Just over three years later, de Valera began his primary level education by attending Bruree National School.
- young teacher and a brilliant mathematician who made a great impression on his famous pupil.
- The best way for progressing in life and education was to attend one of the Christian Brothers Schools (C.B.S.) which provided 'people, irrespective of social status, the opportunities of a higher education' in the hope of winning an exhibition or scholarship which would enable a student to attend one of the private second level institutions.
- De Valera began his second level education at Charleville C.B.S. in 1896 and the following year he successfully won an exhibition worth £20, retainable for three years.
- He was accepted in Blackrock College, Dublin in 1898, and he was described as a 'fanatic for mathematics'.
- This irked his Greek teacher, John Maguire, CSSp, to such an extent that he ordered de Valera to write a Greek sentence in his mathematics copybook.
- He was also placed first in Euclid, and when all results were combined it was discovered that de Valera ranked highest in the class, winning him Student of the Year.
- Considering his compatriots included John D'Alton, a future Primate of Ireland, and the illustrious O'Rahillys, both of whom distinguished themselves in the academic sphere, Tomás becoming the first director of the school of Celtic Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) and Alfred becoming Professor of Mathematical Physics in University College, Cork (UCC) and later Registrar and President of the same College, it was a good achievement, as the standards were particularly high.
- At this time, the Royal University of Ireland held open examinations, which meant students could sit examinations irrespective of college attendance.
- As a result, some second level institutions, such as Blackrock, decided to offer third level training to students.
- When de Valera completed Senior Grade and had matriculated successfully, he entered University College Blackrock with the intention of pursuing a degree in mathematics and mathematical physics.
- It was reported that de Valera was a very talented teacher, and therefore, he was entrusted with teaching both Senior Grade students and undergraduate degree students, though he still had to finish his own degree! The pressures of a full teaching load left him little time to study and as a result, he had to be contented with a pass degree.
- He graduated in 1904 and afterwards attended post-graduate lectures at Trinity College Dublin for a while.
- This made further study difficult for him; however, he benefited from the public lectures given by University College Dublin (UCD) lecturers' Arthur Conway and Henry MacWeeney, and lectures given by the Astronomer Royal, E T Whittaker.
- After meeting Conway, de Valera's interest in quaternions began to grow.
- During this time, de Valera was engaged by several of the top Dublin schools to teach higher mathematics and mathematical physics classes.
- This was an all-female third level institution which was dedicated to preparing girls as primary teachers.
- Arising from this, and his friendship with Conway and Whittaker, de Valera's confidence grew and he applied for the Chair of Mathematical Physics in University College, Cork, in 1912.
- After all the applications were assessed the Governing Body took a straw vote to decide who they would recommend to the National University of Ireland (NUI) Senate for the position.
- In this vote de Valera secured 11 votes, two higher than the nearest competitor, E H Harper.
- Harper was elected to the chair, and de Valera managed to secure a post teaching mathematical physics in St Patrick's, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, a recognised College of the newly formed NUI.
- De Valera had for many years been a supporter of reviving the Irish language.
- Due to de Valera's participation in this uprising, his formal study of mathematics stopped.
- The uprising was quickly put down by British forces and its leaders were sentenced to death.
- In part because of de Valera's American birth he escaped execution.
- Although still in prison, he was elected President of the Sinn Féin Party which won an overwhelming majority of the vote in December 1918.
- In February 1919, de Valera escaped from Lincoln Prison.
- A truce was called in 1921 and de Valera began the process of persuading the Dáil to accept his proposals for the future of Ireland.
- He used a mathematical approach to argue for the type of treaty he thought would be acceptable to all sides.
- When the treaty was ratified in 1922 forming the Irish Free State, de Valera, opposed it on the grounds that it still required an oath of allegiance to Britain.
- He was imprisoned by the government of the Irish Free State but released in 1924 after which he founded the Fianna Fáil Party.
- In 1927 de Valera persuaded members of Fianna Fáil to take the oath of allegiance so they could enter the Dáil.
- De Valera began the process of making Ireland independent from Britain.
- In 1948 de Valera lost power when he refused to enter a coalition.
- He then began a world tour to gain support for the unification and independence of Ireland.
- Full independence was granted when Britain recognised its new status in April 1949, but the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland was required before unification could occur.
- De Valera returned to power in 1951 but failed to gain sufficient support in 1954 to continue.
- He resigned his role as head of the government and head of Fianna Fáil in 1959 so that he could stand for the presidency.
- He was elected president and reelected in 1966.
- The most important contribution de Valera made to mathematics both in Ireland and internationally was the foundation of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) in 1940.
- The institute initially consisted of two schools namely, the School of Celtic Studies and the School of Theoretical Physics, and in 1947 a third school, the School of Cosmic Physics, was added.
- It was the result of consultation between de Valera, his past professors Arthur Conway and E T Whittaker, as well as with the foremost American mathematician of the time, G D Birkhoff.
- Before the foundation of DIAS, de Valera explored the possibility of securing the services of a world renowned mathematical physicist.
- The Institute, as proposed, would be under the guidance of these men or women who, it was hoped, would be able to begin in the Institute once it was established.
- Whittaker, in a letter to de Valera, wrote that since Schrödinger was 'much disliked' by the Nazis, any attempt to contact him outright would be 'frustrated', and that the Nazis, rather than dismiss him, might kill him.
- Once DIAS was founded, it was discovered that only Schrödinger could accept a position.
- Conway had been recently made President of University College Dublin, and Whittaker felt he could not leave his university post due to the outbreak of World War II.
- former scholars are to be found in chairs in many parts of the world, and the school may feel reasonably proud that Ireland has, with profit to herself, made an international contribution to physics.
- The foundation of DIAS, among other acts, culminated in de Valera's election as an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1968.
- the President's great regret is that the time he can devote to maths is necessarily very limited.
- However, he has read from time to time articles on modern physics -- atomic particles, quantum dynamics ...
- During this time de Valera's poor sight had deteriorated, and using dark linoleum was the only way he could practice mathematics.
- the way in which he would agree to take a walk, on doctor's instructions, only when his secretary had read to him a mathematics problem which he could ponder over as he walked.
Born 14 October 1882, Manhattan, New York, USA. Died 29 August 1975, Dublin, Ireland.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive