A song, a walk and a good story! This one-hour podcast walking tour follows the footsteps of the great scientist Sir William Rowan Hamilton, on the day in 1843 when he had a flash of inspiration, and invented a revolutionary new type of algebra, Quaternions.
Recorded on the annual Hamilton walk in 2011, it features the ballad of William Rowan Hamilton, interviews, and other stories of science and engineering.
FREE! DOWNLOAD: Quaternions by the Royal Canal (MP3 file, 20 MB). We recommend downloading by WiFi. If your browser plays the file, Right click the link & ‘Save as’
Route & content
Start near Dunsink Observatory, then follow the Royal Canal towpath east to Broombridge, where Hamilton scratched his quaternion equation in the stonework. Google map here. Along the way, hear how this Irish algebra helped to land a man on the Moon, also the Royal Canal and canal locks, the railway, the discovery of singular waves (which happened beside another canal), and more.
We recorded this podcast on the 2011 Hamilton Walk on October 16th, the 168th anniversary of Hamilton’s Eureka! moment. We’ve included interviews with people there, including Jack Gannon, who wrote the Ballad of William Rowan Hamilton, our theme song for the tour, and Noel Spain, from the Royal Canal Amenity Group, which helped restore the Royal Canal (reopened to boats in October 2010).
Hamilton walk route
The annual walk every October 16th starts at Dunsink Observatory, where Hamilton lived and worked all his life. The Observatory is not normally open to the public, so we suggest starting on Scribblestown Road, above the entrance to Teagasc National Food Centre (and just below the observatory).
Walk down to the canal at Ashtown, then take the towpath east to Broombridge. (The towpath is on the north bank.) The route passes locks 9 and 8, crosses Ratoath Road at Reilly’s Bridge, to end at Broombridge and the commemorative plaque. The full route is about 4 km long, and wheelchair accessible.
The train is a convenient way to do this walk. The Dublin-Maynooth railway follows the Royal Canal, with stations at Ashtown and Broombridge. Get the train to Ashtown, for the start of the walk, and a train at Broombridge at the end.
Dunsink Observatory is open to the public on the first and third Wednesday of each month from October to March. Admission is free, but booking is recommended.
Singular waves or solitons, were discovered beside a canal near Edinburgh by John Scott Russell in 1834. You can see a modern photograph of a soliton on the canal, recreated for an international conference in 1995. Here’s how Russell described his discovery on the day. A commemorative plaque marks the spot, just as at Broombridge.
The Royal Canal: we recommend Ruth Delaney’s book, Ireland’s Royal Canal, 1789-2009 and Irish Waterways History website, maintained by ever knowledgeable Brian J. Goggins.
Part of Dublin City of Science 2012.
This project was generously supported by Maths Week Ireland and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering & Technology (IRCSET)