Dunsink Observatory is one of the oldest scientific institutions in Ireland. Built in 1783-1785 using a bequest to Trinity College from Provost Andrews it was originally the observatory attached to Trinity College Dublin and also the residence of the Andrews’ Professor of Astronomy (who also bore the honorary title of Royal Astronomer of Ireland until 1922). The observatory is situated on the highest point to the north-west of Dublin about 8km from the city centre. It was operated by Trinity College until 1947 at which point it was purchased by the Irish State and transferred to the School of Cosmic Physics.
Of the many occupants of the Andrews’ Professorship by far the most important was Sir William Rowan Hamilton, Ireland’s greatest mathematician and arguably also our greatest scientist, who spent his entire working life in Dunsink. His discovery of quaternions while walking to Dublin from Dunsink on the 16th October 1843 is celebrated annually with a commemorative walk from Dunsink to Broom bridge.
For many years Dunsink provided the local time standard for Dublin and there are a number of references to Dunsink time in James Joyce’s great novel Ulysses. It was never a good site for observational astronomy and its fame rests almost entirely on the theoretical and mathematical work carried out there rather than on any great observational discoveries. Like most of the older European observatory buildings it is now used mainly as office and residential accommodation and as a centre for small meetings, workshops and for public outreach, in particular the long-running series of public open nights during the winter months.
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