THE recent visit of a retired Japanese professor of physics to the townland of Ballycarrickmaddy, situated outside Lisburn, attracted a lot of attention locally.
Professor Koichi Ohta and his wife considered themselves fortunate to have been able to leave Japan three days after the earthquake caused devastation in their homeland.
Professor Ohta embarked on a month long tour throughout Europe seeking out information relating to eminent physicists who were pioneers in their specialised fields and had made discoveries that would change the lives of future generations. He has already published biographies of leading physicists and he has plans for another book to include a number of Irish born physicists.
On Wednesday April 6, 2011 Professor Ohta spoke to several classes at Ballycarrickmaddy Primary School having been invited there by staff. They learned of his visit to the area after he had been in contact with the Rev. Nicholas Dark at Magheragall Parish church some months ago. The Professor was anxious to find the birthplace of Sir Joseph Larmor and he was aware that it was in the Magheragall area although finding the exact location was proving difficult.
For many in the district the name of Sir Joseph Larmor was a mystery which made locating the birthplace even more difficult.
Slowly but surely the mystery would unravel and it was recalled by some of the older residents in the area that there was once a plaque mounted on a pillar at the end of a laneway off the Glenavy Road, Lisburn some years ago. It read "Birth place of Sir Joseph Larmor, F. R.S., M.A., D.Sc. Mathematician & Physicíst 1857 - 1942." The plaque was removed, and the original building replaced a number of years ago.
Joseph Larmor was born on the 11th July 1857 at Ballycarrickmaddy to Hugh Larmor and Anna Wright.
There are three headstones Iocated to the front of Magheragall Presbyterian Church which assist in charting the family history of the Larmor family from this area. The headstones overlook the site of the original family home only a short distance away. Some of the inscriptions on the oldest Larmor headstone are now virtually impossible to read due to the effects of weathering. It is believed this headstone marks the burying place of Joseph Larmor's grandparents Alexander and Jane (nee Weir) who were married about 1810. The headstone records the death of their son John in 1848, daughter Elizabeth in 1898, and daughter Agnes Kernaghan who died in 1901. Another daughter, Jane was married into the Dawson family. In later years Agnes Kernaghan resided at 19 Chapel Hill, Lisburn with some members of the Dawson and McMurray families who were her nieces.
Joseph's Larmor's parents Hugh and Anna are also buried ín the same family plot and a headstone is erected to their memory. The headstone to the left of this marks the burying ground of Matthew Larmor and his wife Mary (nee Mairs). Matthew was another son of Alexander Larmor.
When the death dates of the Larmor family are checked with the obituaries in the local newspapers it becomes apparent that both Hugh Larmor and his brother Matthew had relocated to the vicinity of the Antrim Road in Belfast. It is believed that the family left the Magheragall area in the 1860 period and took up residence in this. Joseph's father Hugh was listed as a shop keeper. As a boy, Joseph attended Eglinton Street National School which was located a short distance from his home in the Antrím Road area. He excelled at school and attended Royal Belfast Academical Institution. A table of examination results published in the local press in 1870 bear testimony to his ability. In his annual report given at the distribution of prizes at the school, Mr. R.C.J. Nixon, President of the Board of Masters praised his head boy Joseph Larmor, who had attained a 1st Charters premium in the classical department. Mr. Dixon informed his audience that Joseph "ha been continuously fulfrlling the promise of excellence which his examination work has at all times manifested." That year he also received prizes for achievements in the English and Mathematical departments.
In 1871 he attended Queen's University, Belfast. There he obtained the first Science Scholarship which he regained each year of his course. He also received the Sullivan Scholarship in 1871 Porter Scholarship in 1873, and the Dunville Studentship for Science in 1874. Whilst at Queen's he obtained a double first at B.A. and M.A. examinations. In 1877 he attended Cambridge University and in 1880 he became the Senior Wrangler there. He would return to the Cambridge in 1885 after leaving his post at Queen's College, Galway where he had been professor of natural philosophy.
A first edition of his publication in 1900 is now on sale in today's
"www" marketplace between
£280 and £670. It was published by Cambridge University and titled "Aether and Matter: A Development of Dynamical Relations of Aether to Material Systems on the Basis of the Atomic Constitution of Matter, including a Discussion of the Influence of the Earth's Motion on Optical Phenomena. Being an Adams Prize Essay in the University of Cambridge."
The title of the book gives us some insight into the complicated subject matter upon which Joseph Larmor would base his career. It is recognised that his findings in his published works paved the way for Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Joseph Larmor became a Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1903.
He received many honours throughout the course of his life. In the London Gazette dated Friday 30th July, 1909 readers were informed that "Joseph Larmor, Esq, D.Sc., F. R.S., Secretary of the Royal Society, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge" was one of a number of people that year on whom Kíng Edward VII conferred the honour of Knighthood at Buckingham Palace on Thursday 22nd July. On the 17th February 1911 it was announced that Sir Joseph Larmor had been returned to serve as a member of Parliament, representing the University of Cambridge, a position that he held for eleven years.
Sir Joseph Larmor returned to Northern Ireland, having retired from Cambridge in 1932, and he spent his retirement in Holywood, County Down. He resided in a large detached house at Drumadillar, Demesne Road, Holywood. His death on the 19th May 1942 was announced in the local press and his funeral took place on May 21st 1942. He is buried at Holywood Cemetery adjacent to the old friary church there. The names of his parents, brothers and sisters are recorded on the obelisk headstone that marks his final resting place.
The Larmor name not only appears on the headstones in the graveyards at Magheragall and Holywood. Larmor's theorem, Larmor formula, Larmor frequency and Larmor radius are all terms widely known amongst mathematical physicists today. "Larmor House" is one of six houses at his old school R.B.A.I. At Queen's University, Belfast there are Larmor studentships and scholarships which were founded in 1943.
On the 26th November, 2009 The Ulster History Circle unveiled a blue plaque in memory of Sir Joseph Larmor. It is mounted on a solicitor's office at 24 Antrim Road, Belfast which was once a former home of the Larmor family when they relocated from Ballycarrickmaddy to Belfast. The announcement of the death of Sir Joseph's father, Hugh in 1877 announced that he died at his residence at 58 Duncairn Street, Belfast. It is believed that due to the development of the area that Duncairn Street would later be included in the Antrim Road. His mothers address at her death in 1882 was given as 54 Antrim Road, Belfast. The extended Larmor family from Ballycarrickmaddy had a number of addresses in that area of Belfast including 6 Baltic Avenue, 30 Indiana Avenue, 114 Limestone Road, and 32 & 36 Alliance Avenue. One of the pupils at Ballycarrickmaddy Primary School was undoubtedly pleased to announce to his classmates that his home was situated on the site of the birth place of this world famous mathematician and physicist. He and his family would most likely still be unaware of that fact had it not been for the recent visit of Professor Ohta from Japan. Perhaps one day we may see some form of recognition to Sir Joseph Larmor within the Lisburn District. After all, there is a crater on the moon named after him in his honour.
Thanks to the Rev. Nicholas Dark - Magheragall Parish Church, Rev. Angus McCullough - Magheragall Presbyterian Church, Brian Todd - Více-Principal R.B.A.I., Peter Dunbar - Ballycarrickmaddy Primary School. Their assistance undoubtedly guaranteed that Professor Ohta's fact-finding visit to the area was a success.
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Professor Koichi Ohta, from Japan speaking to pupils at Ballycarrickmaddy PS. US1411-515cd