Monday, July 5, 2010

My (mathematical) trip to Ireland

I was invited to give a talk in Dublin, Science Gallery on June 2. It was in connection with Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef exhibit there.
The invitation to go to Dublin actually first time came already in January but then some funny things happened with scheduling for the reasons not known to me. Finally I offered to stop in Dublin on my way to Riga where I was to give an opening keynote for the European Conference Textures. There were two reasons I wanted to go to Dublin - I learned that there are some of my works on display there (not mentioned in official exhibition booklet), but most of all I wanted to meet with Irish Reef enthusiasts - and I am very happy that we all met and connected. My mathematical models that are in collection of The IFF were on display in so called Math Chapel (strange name must say for the place where people could learn about hyperbolic geometry and make their own models but of course - titles are up to organizers of the exhibit according to their vision).
There was also my piece "The Land and the Sea" exhibited - (yes, the same one which is at the top of the blog).That was not credited at all, at least I could not find anything that mentioned it. The day I arrived in the Science Gallery the piece was missing from its display place. I was told that the director has it in his office since he took it with him travelling to Helsinki where he received a prestigious award for the Science Gallery. May be I should have felt flattered that my piece had traveled to Finland, but I doubt that it was credited properly there. May be that was one of the reasons why the director was too busy to talk to me, even so busy that had no time to say simple hello.
I guess the missed display time on the wall was made up for my piece to be the last one taken off when the whole show was over on June 11.(Thanks, Irene, for the picture, I borrowed it from your blog.). Thanks to all who came to see me and thanks for the chat before and after my talk - it was such a great energy and joy around us!

We had great time in Dublin. We had nice talks with the gallery volunteers, were well taken care by Beth and Lynn who had organized my talk.

I was happy to reconnect with my models that were on display and use them for my talk adding a nice model of the hyperbolic soccer ball made in the gallery by one of the guides and I had some of my own stuff with me.

The hotel David and I were staying was close to Trinity College and Science Gallery. It was a little surprise first to find out that the hotel is actually in the fire station - fire trucks and ambulances were stationed right outside our windows. Amazingly - we could sleep well (no, no, Guinness has nothing to do with that!).
The day we arrived first we had to have a nap because of time difference between NYC and Dublin, then wee walked to the Gallery - the exhibit looked wonderful, I could see how much love Irish crocheters had put in their work. Also the gallery itself is a  great place for exhibits.
From the gallery we walked to the Old Library to see the Book of Kells. I have always been fascinated with old books and manuscripts but this is the most beautiful piece of art and is really amazing. It was also great to have an opportunity to visit the Long Hall. (It is not allowed to take pictures in there, so I posted an image from website.) David and I tried to imagine David's great grandfather coming here and reading around the turn of 20th century.

The other place in Dublin connected with David's great grandfather is Christ Church Cathedral. From here he was forced to leave because of the disagreement with the church, his writings were banned, and he emigrated to Montreal, Canada, where he is commemorated for his service behind  the altar of St. Patrick's Basilica.  (coincidence - we visited that place when I was giving my previous public lecture last November.)
By the way Jonathan Swift was once a dean here.

Christ Church Cathedral was an interesting place to visit also from the mathematical point of view - it has a lot of interesting tiles.

When I was teaching history of mathematics class for years I was telling my students that William Rowan Hamilton discovered quaternions while walking across the bridge in Dublin (according to the sources I had). Now, of course, Wikipedia gives more precise description. Anyway, finally I was in Dublin and had to find this magic bridge that gave such a divine inspiration. I liked Ha'penny bridge, but it would not fit because it is an iron bridge and Hamilton could not inscribe the famous equation on it. On the Internet I found the name of the bridge - Broom Bridge but none of the bridges in the center of the city (close to trinity College) would have such name.
While walking around we found some anchor rings - during my talk I mentioned them when showing my model of crocheted hyperbolic pants - both are the examples of double hole torus.

The Millenium sculpture picture can be used talking about Euclid's Parallel Postulate :-)

The other nice use of the mathematical form was this pyramid as a memorial to Irish soldiers in Merrion Square Park.

So the day after my talk we were determined to find the Broom Bridge. Google maps gave us a location - it has to be on Broom bridge Road. make sense. We found the bus that goes to the right direction. A bus driver did not know what we were talking about, so we kept looking for Royal Canal.

After crossing it several times we decided it is time to get out. There was a wide open space with new developments nearby and some bridge straight ahead.  We walked there.

From the pictures of the plaque I knew it had to be on the side but this bridge did not have any, also the road crossing it was not the right one. Few passerby there to interview, and the few we asked did not know who Hamilton was. Of course, when we explained that he was famous physicist and we are mathematicians, people  felt safer to leave us alone.

At least we figured out that we have gone too far and started to look for the bus stop. This time we were lucky - the bus driver knew where the Broom Bridge is.

He was a little suspicious about us wanting to visit the place, and we enthusiastically started to tell him a reason why we were interested to find the place.
The driver said nothing, stopped the bus between bus stops to point out exact direction of the bridge. His politeness seemed to me bordered with certain degree of sympathy.
When we reached the place I could clearly see why - for sure I would not be comfortable walking there alone and I was happy that two of us went there in bright daylight.

To get to the canal, we crossed train tracks but there was nothing on a bridge indicating wonderful mathematical discovery.
We used the overpass to get on the other side of the canal - and here it was! At that point I realized how important it is to go back to the sources - Hamilton was not walking ACROSS the bridge but Along the canal UNDER the bridge! Of course, now it is possible to find more tuned story on Web but - sorry my former math history students!

Somebody might hope that in the place like this it is possible also to come up with some brilliant idea yourself. I looked on both sides of the bridge, and the only thought I could have was - why there are well kept up memorial places for writers (in Dublin particularly - Oscar Wilde, James Joice, Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw, WB Yeats,...) but you really cannot find such places for scientists? In Dublin tourist map there is only one mention of Sir William Rowan Hamilton - the house where he was born. We were not the only ones who tried to look for the Broome Bridge. I just found this account about a group of mathematicians searching for it in 2004. Comparing pictures I have to say that there has been an improvement in this place - at least there was no graffiti this time. 

But may be I am unfair wishing that place would be better kept up. One of the most interesting things to see in highly recommended Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane is Francis Bacon's studio. He was quoted to say that he cannot be creative in a neat and tidy place. 

We did not have enough time in Ireland because we had to go to Riga. We hoped to have more time to spend exploring Ireland on our way coming back but things turned out such that we had only one more day - June 29th.

That was a day we went to see Newgrange, the World Heritage site. I learned about this site once researching on spirals, when they first appeared as human symbols. And this is one of the oldest sites - built about 5000 years ago. It is not allowed to take pictures inside the passage. But it is indeed amazing to see how well built this place is. We were walking around it and thinking what amazing skills and knowledge those early humans had. Life expectancy at that time was around 30 years of age. So the place was built during several generations.  

The passage and chamber of Newgrange are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber. The dramatic event lasts for 17 minutes at dawn on the Winter Solstice and for a few mornings either side of the Winter Solstice.

To have such precision there had to be previous observations. Also stones are gathered from different places, some even as far as 80 km, so they had to know where those stones are and how to transport them.

Here I am next to the mysterious spirals that nobody really knows what they mean. Our tour guide gave different possible versions people have come up. I would vote for the one that said that this stone represented a map of the area where three interlocking spirals mean three mounds -  Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth, diamond shapes are fields, but wavy line on the bottom is Boyne river.

There are more of these signs on stones that are around the hill. They certainly felt to me not as ornaments but containing some important information those early humans wanted next generations to know.

  May be we all have gone too far in our technological world that we do not know anymore how to understand and translate basics? 

In one of the talks in Riga conference, a presenter quoted a line from the autism manifesto:

If I cannot speak that does not mean I have nothing to say     

I was remembering this phrase walking around the mound of Newgrange.

We also went to see some of high crosses of Ireland. This is one of crosses in Monasterboice. This particular cross tells the story in the Bible. Instead of writing the manuscript they just carved it in stone!

The place was built late late 5th century. At that time there were small communities that lived together and built high towers to protect themselves. At that time most of he Europe was burning in war flames, badly damaged by Romans. Many important ancient manuscripts were saved by Irish monks. I always wondered why, and I think here in Monasterboice I saw the answer.
I was looking again on the geometric signs on the crosses and tombstones. 
 There was so much more I wanted to see in Ireland. Good bye - I hope to be back. 


  1. Thanks for everything!
    We hope to have you back!

  2. excellent travel/life experience/photo blog entry! thank you! in the middle with your interview right now, greetings from Riga Signe Martišūne