The Steam Engine

So let’s get the “technical” bits out of the way first! In thermodynamics and engineering, an ‘engine’ is defined as “a system that converts heat to usable energy, particularly mechanical energy, which can then be used to do mechanical work”. The steam engine performs this mechanical work using steam as its working fluid and it uses the force produced by steam pressure to push a piston back and forth inside a cylinder. This pushing force can be transformed, by a connecting rod and crank, into a rotational force for work. Steam engines are external combustion engines where the working fluid is separated from the combustion products. Easy, isn’t it!

An ‘aeolipile’ rotates due to the steam escaping from the arms. No practical use was made of this effect.

Although steam-driven devices were known as early as the above ‘aeolipile’ in the first century AD, with a few other uses recorded in the sixteenth century, in 1606 Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont patented his invention of the first steam-powered water pump for draining mines. Thomas Savery is considered the inventor of the first commercially used steam powered device, a steam pump that used steam pressure operating directly on the water. The first commercially successful engine that could transmit continuous power to a machine was developed in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen, then James Watt made a critical improvement in 1764 by removing spent steam to a separate vessel for condensation, thus greatly improving the amount of work obtained per unit of fuel consumed.

Jacob Leupold’s steam engine.

The first commercial steam-powered device was a water pump, developed in 1698 by Thomas Savery. Small engines were effective, though larger models were problematic and were prone to boiler explosions. Savery’s engine was used in mines, pumping stations and supplying water to water wheels which powered textile machinery. Then in 1720 Jacob Leupold described a two-cylinder high-pressure steam engine and the invention was published in his major work “Theatri Machinarum Hydraulicarum”. The engine used two heavy pistons to provide motion to a water pump, where each piston was raised by the steam pressure and returned to its original position by gravity.

Early Watt steam pumping engine.

The next major step occurred when James Watt developed an improved version, developing his engine further and modifying it to provide a rotary motion suitable for driving machinery. This enabled factories to be sited away from rivers, and accelerated the pace of the Industrial Revolution. But Watt’s designs were low pressure condensing engines and his patent prevented others from making high pressure and compound engines. Shortly after Watt’s patent expired in 1800, in 1801 Richard Trevithick and also (but separately) Oliver Evans, introduced engines using high-pressure steam. Trevithick obtained his high-pressure engine patent in 1802 and Evans had made several working models before then. These were much more powerful for a given cylinder size than previous engines and could be made small enough for transport applications. Thereafter, technological developments and improvements in manufacturing techniques (partly brought about by the adoption of the steam engine as a power source) resulted in the design of more efficient engines that could be smaller, faster, or more powerful, depending on the intended application. The Cornish engine was developed by Trevithick and others in the 1810s and it used high-pressure steam expansively, then condensed the low-pressure steam, making it relatively efficient. The Cornish engine design rather limited it to pumping, so they were used in mines and for water supply until the late nineteenth century. Early builders of stationary steam engines considered that horizontal cylinders would be subject to excessive wear, and as a result their engines were arranged with the pistons in a vertical position, but in time the horizontal arrangement became more popular, allowing compact, but powerful engines to be fitted in smaller spaces. The star of the horizontal engine was the Corliss steam engine, patented in 1849, which was a four-valve design with separate steam admission and exhaust valves and automatic variable steam cutoff. Corliss was given the Rumford Medal, an award bestowed by Britain’s Royal Society every alternating year for “an outstandingly important recent discovery in the field of thermal or optical properties of matter made by a scientist working in Europe”, and the committee said that “no one invention since Watt’s time has so enhanced the efficiency of the steam engine”. In addition to using 30% less steam, it provided more uniform speed due to variable steam cut off, making it well suited to manufacturing, especially cotton spinning.

A steam powered road-locomotive.

As the development of steam engines progressed through the eighteenth century, various attempts were made to apply them to road and railway use. In 1784, William Murdoch, a Scottish inventor, built a model steam road locomotive. The first full-scale working railway steam locomotive was built by Richard Trevithick here in the United Kingdom and on 21 February 1804 the world’s first railway journey took place as Trevithick’s unnamed steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway from the Pen-y-darren ironworks near Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon in South Wales. The design incorporated a number of important innovations that included using high-pressure steam, which reduced the weight of the engine and increased its efficiency. Trevithick visited the Newcastle area later in 1804 and the colliery railways in north-east England became the leading centre for experimentation and development of steam locomotives. Trevithick continued his own experiments using a trio of locomotives, concluding with the ‘Catch Me Who Can’ in 1808 and in 1825 George Stephenson built the ‘Locomotion’ for the Stockton and Darlington Railway. This was the first public steam railway in the world and then in 1829, he built ‘The Rocket’ which was entered in and won the Rainhill Trials. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830, making exclusive use of steam power for both passenger and freight trains and the first experimental road-going steam-powered vehicles were built in the late eighteenth century, but it was not until after Richard Trevithick had developed the use of high-pressure steam that mobile steam engines became a practical proposition. The first half of the nineteenth century saw great progress in steam vehicle design, and by the 1850s it was becoming viable to produce them on a commercial basis, but this progress was dampened by legislation which limited or prohibited the use of steam-powered vehicles on roads. Improvements in vehicle technology continued from the 1860s to the 1920s and steam road vehicles were used for many applications.

An early British horse-drawn fire engine with steam-powered water pump.

By the nineteenth century, stationary steam engines powered the factories of the Industrial Revolution. They also replaced sails on ships, giving us paddle steamers, whilst steam locomotives operated on the railways, with the latter continuing to be manufactured until the late twentieth century in places such as China and the former East Germany. Steam engines remained the dominant source of power until the early twentieth century, when advances in the design of the steam turbine, electric motors and internal combustion engines gradually resulted in the replacement of steam engines, with merchant shipping relying increasingly upon diesel engines, and warships on the steam turbine. The final major evolution of the steam engine design was in the use of steam turbines, starting in the late part of the nineteenth century. Steam turbines are generally more efficient than reciprocating piston type steam engines for outputs above several hundred horsepower, they have fewer moving parts and provide rotary power directly instead of through a connecting rod system or similar means. These steam turbines virtually replaced reciprocating engines in electricity generating stations early in the twentieth century, where their efficiency, higher speed appropriate to generator service and smooth rotation were advantages. Today most electric power is provided by steam turbines and were extensively applied for propulsion of large ships throughout most of the twentieth century. Although the old reciprocating steam engine is no longer in widespread commercial use, various companies are exploring or exploiting the potential of the engine as an alternative to internal combustion engines.

An industrial boiler used for a stationary steam engine.

For safety reasons, just about all steam engines are equipped with mechanisms to monitor the boiler, such as a pressure gauge and a sight glass, which is usually a a transparent tube through which the operator of a tank or boiler can observe the level of liquid contained inside, to monitor the water level. Many engines, both stationary and mobile, are also fitted with a governor to regulate the speed of the engine without the need for any human interference. The most useful instrument for analysing the performance of steam engines is the steam engine indicator. There is much more than can be said on the intricacies of how steam engines work, but I have no intention of detailing them here. Suffice to say that land-based steam engines could exhaust their steam to atmosphere, as feed water was usually readily available. Prior to and during World War I a design of engine dominated marine applications where high vessel speed was not essential, but it was superseded by the British invention of a steam turbine where speed was required, for instance in warships such as the ‘Dreadnought’ battleships and ocean liners. HMS Dreadnought, constructed in 1905, was the first major warship to replace the proven technology of the standard steam engine with the then-novel steam turbine.

A rotor of a modern steam turbine used in a power plant.

A steam turbine consists of one or more rotors (rotating discs) mounted on a drive shaft, alternating with a series of stators (static discs) fixed to the turbine casing. The rotors have a propeller-like arrangement of blades at the outer edge. Steam acts upon these blades, producing rotary motion. Turbines are only efficient if they rotate at relatively high speed, therefore they are usually connected to reduction gearing to drive lower speed applications, such as a ship’s propeller. But in the vast majority of large electric generating stations, turbines are directly connected to generators with no reduction gearing and typical speeds are from 3,000 to 3,600 revolutions per minute, but in nuclear power applications the turbines typically run at half these speeds. Steam turbines provide direct rotational force and therefore do not require a linkage mechanism to convert reciprocating to rotary motion so they produce smoother rotational forces on the output shaft. This contributes to a lower maintenance requirement and less wear on the machinery they power than a comparable reciprocating engine. The main use for steam turbines is in electricity generation and in the 1990s about 90% of the world’s electric production was by use of steam turbines. However, the recent widespread application of large gas turbine units and typical combined cycle power plants has resulted in reduction of this percentage to the 80% regime for steam turbines. In electricity production, the high speed of turbine rotation matches well with the speed of modern electric generators, which are typically direct connected to their driving turbines.

‘Turbinia’ at speed – the first steam turbine-powered ship.

In marine service, pioneered on the ‘Turbinia’, steam turbines with reduction gearing (although the Turbinia has direct turbines to propellers with no reduction gearbox) dominated large ship propulsion throughout the late twentieth century, being more efficient (and requiring far less maintenance) than reciprocating steam engines. In recent decades, reciprocating diesel engines and gas turbines have almost entirely supplanted steam propulsion for marine applications. Virtually all nuclear power plants generate electricity by heating water to provide steam that drives a turbine connected to an electrical generator. Nuclear-powered ships and submarines either use a steam turbine directly for main propulsion, with generators providing auxiliary power, or else employ turbo-electric transmission, where the steam drives a turbo generator set with propulsion provided by electric motors. A limited number of steam turbine railway locomotives were manufactured and some non-condensing direct-drive locomotives did meet with some success for long haul freight operations in Sweden and for express passenger work here in Britain, but were not repeated. Elsewhere, notably in the United States, more advanced designs with electric transmission were built experimentally, but not reproduced. It was found that steam turbines were not ideally suited to their railroad environment and these locomotives failed to oust the classic reciprocating steam unit in the way that modern diesel and electric traction has done.

With all of the above there is the need for safety. Steam engines possess boilers and other components that are pressure vessels which contain a great deal of potential energy. As a result, steam escapes and boiler explosions can and have in the past caused great loss of life. Whilst variations in standards may exist in different countries, stringent legal, testing, training, care with manufacture, operation and certification is applied to ensure safety. The steam engine contributed much to the development of thermodynamic theory, however, the only applications of scientific theory that influenced the steam engine were the original concepts of harnessing the power of steam and atmospheric pressure and knowledge of properties of heat and steam. The experimental measurements made by Watt on a model steam engine led to the development of the separate condenser. Watt independently discovered latent heat, which was confirmed by the original discoverer Joseph Black, who also advised Watt on experimental procedures. Watt was also aware of the change in the boiling point of water with pressure. Otherwise, the improvements to the engine itself were more mechanical in nature. Though thermodynamic concepts did give engineers the understanding needed to calculate efficiency, which aided the development of modern high-pressure and temperature boilers as well as the steam turbine. A modern, large electrical power station, producing several hundred megawatts of electrical output with steam reheat, economiser etc. will achieve efficiency in the mid 40% range, with the most efficient units approaching 50% thermal efficiency. It is also possible to capture the waste heat using cogeneration in which the waste heat is used for heating a lower boiling point working fluid or as a heat source for district heating via saturated low-pressure steam. In the twentieth century the rapid development of internal combustion engine technology led to the demise of the steam engine as a source of propulsion of vehicles on a commercial basis, with relatively few remaining in use beyond the Second World War. Happily many of these vehicles were acquired by enthusiasts for preservation and numerous examples are still in existence. In the 1960s, the air pollution problems in California gave rise to a brief period of interest in developing and studying steam-powered vehicles as a possible means of reducing the pollution, but apart from interest by many steam enthusiasts around the world, the occasional replica vehicle as well as experimental technology, no steam vehicles are in regular production at present.

This week… Empathy.
We can rarely experience things in the same way as another but we can empathise, even in silence, with them. Knowing that you are there, that they are not alone, can be enough. A few have said that to understand another person, you must swim in the same water that drowned them. But I believe that if you cannot swim, you can at least be a lifeline which others can hold on to and trust.

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St. Patrick’s Day

Yes, it is St. Patrick’s Day but today is also a special one for me as I celebrate my seventieth birthday. I am told that when I was born, my parents settled on naming me Andrew David, but other folk thought they ought to include Patrick. Except then I’d need George as well, which would have been far too many! So, Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick (in Irish, ‘Lá Fhéile Pádraig’, literally the Day of the Festival of Patrick), is a cultural and religious celebration held on 17 March each year, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. 385 – c. 461), the foremost patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early seventeenth century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. These celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, dancing and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Christians who belong to liturgical denominations also attend church services and historically, the Lenten restrictions on eating as well as the drinking of alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption. Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (for provincial government employees), and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. It is also widely celebrated in the United Kingdom, Canada, the U.S.A., United States, Argentina Australia and New Zealand, especially amongst Irish diaspora. It seems that Saint Patrick’s Day may be celebrated in more countries than any other national festival! Modern celebrations have been greatly influenced by those of Irish descent, most particularly those in North America. Sadly however, there has been criticism of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations for having become too commercialised and for fostering negative stereotypes of the Irish people.

Saint Patrick was a fifth-century Romano-British Christian missionary and Bishop in Ireland. Much of what is known about him comes from a ‘Declaration’ allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. According to his ‘Declaration’, at the age of sixteen he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. It says that he spent six years there working as a shepherd and that during this time he found God. In the Declaration he states that God told him to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home and after making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest. According to tradition, Patrick then returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity, which he successfully did. However, Patrick’s efforts were then turned into an allegory in which he drove snakes out of Ireland, despite the fact that it was already known that snakes did not inhabit the country. Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick and over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s foremost saint.

A three-leaved shamrock.

According to legend, Saint Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans. Incidentally, as part of my research I have learned that there is a difference between Shamrocks and Clovers. To start with, shamrocks always have three leaves, whilst clovers can have a fourth leaf. Shamrocks are usually green, but you can find purple, green or white clover. Finally, shamrocks grow in clumps, while four-leaf clovers are rare and grow one at a time. But back to the story. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, Irish traditional music sessions and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. There are also formal gatherings such as banquets and dances, although these were more common in the past. The participants generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organisations, charitable organisations, voluntary associations, youth groups and so on. More effort is made to use the Irish language, especially in Ireland, where 1 March to St Patrick’s Day on 17 March is ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ or Irish Language Week. Since 2010, famous landmarks have been lit up in green on Saint Patrick’s Day as part of Tourism Ireland’s ‘Global Greening Initiative’ or ‘Going Green for St Patrick’s Day’. The Sydney Opera House and the Sky Tower in Auckland were the first landmarks to participate in this and since then over 300 landmarks in fifty countries across the globe have gone green for Saint Patrick’s Day. Christians may also attend church services and the Lenten restrictions on eating as well as the drinking of alcohol are lifted for the day. Perhaps because of this, the drinking of alcohol, particularly Irish whiskey, beer, or cider, has become an integral part of the celebrations, so as you might imagine the tradition of ‘drowning’ or ‘wetting’ the shamrock was historically popular. At the end of the celebrations, especially in Ireland, a shamrock is put into the bottom of a cup, which is then filled with whiskey, beer, or cider. It is then drunk as a toast to Saint Patrick, Ireland, or those present. The shamrock would either be swallowed with the drink or taken out and tossed over the shoulder for good luck. Irish Government Ministers travel abroad on official visits to various countries around the globe to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day and promote Ireland and the most prominent of these is the visit of the Irish Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) with the U.S. President, which happens on or around Saint Patrick’s Day. Traditionally the Taoiseach presents the U.S. President a Waterford Crystal bowl filled with shamrocks, as this tradition began when, in 1952, Irish Ambassador to the U.S. John Hearne sent a box of shamrocks to President Harry S. Truman. From then on it became an annual tradition of the Irish ambassador to the U.S. to present the Saint Patrick’s Day shamrock to an official in the U.S. President’s administration, although on some occasions the shamrock presentation was made by the Irish Taoiseach or Irish President to the U.S. President personally in Washington. But it was only after the meeting between Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and President Bill Clinton in 1994 that the presenting of the shamrock ceremony became a recognised annual event for the leaders of both countries for Saint Patrick’s Day. The presenting of the Shamrock ceremony was cancelled in 2020 due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A St Patrick’s Day greeting card from 1907.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, it is customary to wear shamrocks, green clothing or green accessories. Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish and this story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older. In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and the Irish had many triple deities, which may have aided St Patrick in his evangelisation efforts. The first association of the colour green with Ireland is from a legend in the eleventh century ‘Lebor Gabála Érenn’, The Book of the Taking of Ireland. It tells of Goídel Glas (Goídel the green), the eponymous ancestor of the Gaels and creator of the Goidelic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic and [Manx). It is said that Goídel is bitten by a venomous snake, but saved from death by Moses placing his staff on the snakebite, leaving him with a green mark and his descendants then settled in Ireland, a land free of snakes. The colour green was further associated with Ireland from the 1640s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s and since then, the colour green and its association with St Patrick’s Day have grown. The Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, an Irish fraternity founded in about 1750, adopted green as its colour. However the Order of St Patrick, an Anglo-Irish chivalric order founded in 1783, instead adopted blue as its colour, which led to blue also being associated with St Patrick. Then in the 1790s, the colour green was adopted by the United Irishmen. This was a republican organisation, led mostly by Protestants but with many Catholic members, who launched a rebellion in 1798 against British rule. Ireland was first called ‘the Emerald Isle’ in “When Erin First Rose” (1795), a poem by a co-founder of the United Irishmen, William Drennan, which stresses the historical importance of green to the Irish and the phrase ‘wearing of the green’ comes from a song of the same name about United Irishmen being persecuted for wearing green. The flags of the 1916 Easter Rising featured green, such as the ‘Starry Plough’ banner and the Proclamation Flag of the Irish Republic. When the Irish Free State was founded in 1922, the government ordered all post boxes be painted green, under the slogan ‘green paint for a green people’ and in 1924 the government introduced a green Irish passport. The wearing of the ‘St Patrick’s Day Cross’ was also a popular custom in Ireland until the early twentieth century. These were a Celtic Christian cross made of paper that was covered with silk or ribbon of different colours, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the centre.

A St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin.

It seems that as a kind of national day, Saint Patrick’s Day was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries and only in later times did he become more and more widely seen as the patron of Ireland. Saint Patrick’s feast day was finally placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church due to the influence of Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding in the early 1600s. Saint Patrick’s Day thus became a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. It is also a feast day in the Church of Ireland, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church calendar avoids the observance of saints’ feasts during certain solemnities, moving the saint’s day to a time outside those periods and St Patrick’s Day is occasionally affected by this requirement, when 17 March falls during Holy Week. This happened in 1940, when Saint Patrick’s Day was observed on 3 April to avoid it coinciding with Palm Sunday, and again in 2008 where it was officially observed on 15 March. St Patrick’s Day will not fall within Holy Week again until 2160. In 1903, St Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland and this was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O’Mara. The week of St Patrick’s Day in 1903 was declared Irish Language Week by the Gaelic League and in Waterford they opted to have a procession on Sunday 15 March. The procession comprised the Mayor and members of Waterford Corporation, the Trades Hall, the various trade unions and bands. The parade began at the premises of the Gaelic League in George’s St and finished in the Peoples Park, where the public were addressed by the Mayor and other dignitaries. On Tuesday 17 March, most Waterford businesses, including public houses, were closed and marching bands paraded as they had two days previously. The Waterford Trades Hall had been emphatic that the National Holiday be observed. On St Patrick’s Day 1916, the Irish Volunteers, an Irish nationalist paramilitary organisation, held parades throughout Ireland. The authorities recorded thirty-eight St Patrick’s Day parades, involving 6,000 marchers, almost half of whom were said to be armed and the following month, the Irish Volunteers launched the Easter Rising against British rule. This marked the beginning of the Irish revolutionary period and led to the Irish War of Independence and Civil War. During this time, St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland were muted, although the day was sometimes chosen to hold large political rallies. The celebrations remained low-key after the creation of the Irish Free State, the only state-organised observance was a military procession, trooping of the colours and an Irish-language mass attended by government ministers. In 1927, the Irish Free State government banned the selling of alcohol on St Patrick’s Day, although it remained legal in Northern Ireland. The ban was not repealed until 1961. The first official, state-sponsored St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin took place in 1931. On three occasions, parades across the Republic of Ireland have been cancelled from taking place on St Patrick’s Day, with all years involving health and safety reasons. In 2001, as a precaution to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, St Patrick’s Day celebrations were postponed to May and in 2020 and 2021, as a consequence to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic the St Patrick’s Day Parade was cancelled outright. Organisers of the St Patrick’s Day Festival 2021 instead hosted virtual events around Ireland on their SPF TV online channel.

A St Patrick’s Day Christian procession in Downpatrick, where Saint Patrick is said to be buried.

In Northern Ireland, the celebration of St Patrick’s Day was affected by sectarian divisions. A majority of the population were Protestant Ulster unionists who saw themselves as British, whilst a substantial minority were Catholic Irish nationalists who saw themselves as Irish. Although it was a public holiday, Northern Ireland’s unionist government did not officially observe St Patrick’s Day. During the conflict known as ‘The Troubles’ (late 1960s to late 1990s), public St Patrick’s Day celebrations were rare and tended to be associated with the Catholic community. In 1976, loyalists detonated a car bomb outside a pub crowded with Catholics celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Dungannon where four civilians were killed and many were injured. However, some Protestant unionists attempted to ‘re-claim’ the festival, and in 1985 the Orange Order held its own St Patrick’s Day parade. Since the end of the conflict in 1998 there have been cross-community St Patrick’s Day parades in towns throughout Northern Ireland, which have attracted thousands of spectators and in the mid-1990s the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use St Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture. The government set up a group called St Patrick’s Festival, which aimed to offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world, to create energy and excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity, to provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations and to project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal. The first St Patrick’s Festival was held on 17 March 1996. In 1997, it became a three-day event, and by 2000 it was a four-day event. By 2006, the festival was five days long; more than 675,000 people attended the 2009 parade. Overall 2009’s five-day festival saw almost 1 million visitors, who took part in festivities that included concerts, outdoor theatre performances, and fireworks. The Skyfest, which ran from 2006 to 2012, formed the centrepiece of the St Patrick’s festival. The topic of a 2004 St Patrick’s Symposium was “Talking Irish”, during which the nature of Irish identity, economic success, and the future were discussed. Since 1996, there has been a greater emphasis on celebrating and projecting a fluid and inclusive notion of ‘Irishness’ rather than an identity based around traditional religious or ethnic allegiance. The week around St Patrick’s Day usually involves Irish language speakers using more Irish during “Seachtain na Gaeilge” (Irish Language Week). Christian leaders in Ireland have expressed concern about the secularisation of St Patrick’s Day and in ‘The Word’ magazine’s March 2007 issue, Fr Vincent Twomey wrote, “It is time to reclaim St Patrick’s Day as a church festival”. He questioned the need for “mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry” and concluded that “it is time to bring the piety and the fun together”. The biggest celebrations outside the cities are in Downpatrick, County Down, where Saint Patrick is said to be buried. The shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world formerly took place in Dripsey, County Cork. The parade lasted just 23.4 metres (25.6 yards) and travelled between the village’s two pubs. The annual event began in 1999, but ceased after five years when one of the two pubs closed.

Saint Patrick’s Day celebration in Trafalgar Square in 2006.

Research shows that celebrations abound elsewhere around the world though. In England, the British Royals traditionally present bowls of shamrock to members of the Irish Guards, a regiment in the British Army, following Queen Alexandra introducing the tradition in 1901 and since 2012 the Duchess of Cambridge has made the presentation. The Scottish town of Coatbridge, where the majority of the town’s population are of Irish descent, also has a Saint Patrick’s Day Festival which includes celebrations and parades in the town centre and Glasgow has a considerably large Irish population; due, for the most part, to the Irish immigration during the nineteenth century. This immigration was the main cause in raising the population of Glasgow by over 100,000 people.

Montreal hosts one of the longest-running and largest Saint Patrick’s Day parades in North America.

One of the longest-running and largest Saint Patrick’s Day parades in North America occurs each year in Montreal, whose city flag includes a shamrock in its lower-right quadrant. The yearly celebration has been organised by the United Irish Societies of Montreal since 1929 and the parade has been held yearly without interruption since 1824. St Patrick’s Day itself, however, has been celebrated in Montreal since as far back as 1759 by Irish soldiers in the Montreal Garrison following the British conquest of New France. There has been a parade held in Toronto since at least 1863, and many other places in Canada hold celebrations each year. In the U.S.A., whilst not a legal holiday there, the event is widely recognised and observed throughout the country as a celebration of Irish and Irish-American culture. Celebrations include prominent displays of the colour green, religious observances, numerous parades, and copious consumption of alcohol. The holiday has been celebrated in what is now the U.S.A. since 1601. In 2020, for the first time in over 250 years, the parade in New York City was postponed due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Russia took place in 1992. Since 1999, there has been a yearly ‘Saint Patrick’s Day’ festival in Moscow and other Russian cities. The official part of the Moscow parade is a military-style parade and is held in collaboration with the Moscow government and the Irish embassy in Moscow. The unofficial parade is held by volunteers and resembles a carnival. The island of Montserrat is known as the “Emerald Island of the Caribbean“ because of its founding by Irish refugees from Saint Kitts and Nevis. Montserrat is one of three places where Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday, along with the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The holiday also commemorates a failed slave uprising that occurred on 17 March 1768. In Australia, the first mention of St Patrick’s Day being celebrated there was in 1795, when Irish convicts and administrators in the penal colony, both Catholic and Protestant, all came together to celebrate the day as a national holiday and this was despite a ban against assemblies being in place at the time. But this unified day of Irish nationalist observance dissipated over time, with celebrations on St Patrick’s Day becoming divisive between religions and social classes, representative more of Australian ways than of Irish and therefore held intermittently throughout the years. As a result, St Patrick’s Day is not a national holiday – although it is celebrated each year across the country’s states and territories. Festivals and parades are often held on weekends around 17 March in cities such as Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, but on occasions festivals and parades are cancelled. For instance, Melbourne’s 2006 and 2007 St Patrick’s Day festivals and parades were cancelled due to sporting events, these being the Commonwealth Games and Australian Grand Prix which were booked on and around the planned St Patrick’s Day festivals and parades in the city. In New Zealand, from 1878 to 1955 St Patrick’s Day was recognised as a public holiday together with St George’s Day and St Andrew’s Day. Auckland attracted many Irish migrants in the 1850s and 1860s, and it was here where some of the earliest St Patrick’s Day celebrations took place, which often entailed the hosting of community picnics. However, this rapidly evolved from the late 1860s onwards to include holding parades with pipe bands and marching children wearing green, sporting events, concerts, balls and other social events, where people displayed their Irish history with pride.

St Patrick’s Day is also celebrated in other countries, some perhaps surprisingly. For example whilst Saint Patrick’s Day in Switzerland is commonly celebrated on 17 March with festivities similar to those in neighbouring central European countries, it is not unusual for Swiss students to organise celebrations in their own living spaces on Saint Patrick’s Eve. Traditionally, guests contribute with beverages and dress in green. In Lithuania, although it is not a national holiday there the Vilnia river is dyed green every year on the Saint Patrick’s Day in the capital, Vilnius. In addition, Saint Patrick’s parades are now held in many locations across Japan. The first parade, in Tokyo, was organised by The Irish Network Japan in 1992 and The Irish Association of Korea has celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day since 1976 in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield wearing green in the International Space Station on Saint Patrick’s Day, 2013.

I finish with the International Space Station, where astronauts there have celebrated the festival in different ways. Irish-American Catherine Coleman played a hundred-year-old flute belonging to Matt Molloy and a tin whistle belonging to Paddy Moloney, both members of the Irish music group ‘The Chieftains’ whilst she floated weightless in the space station on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2011. Her performance was later included in a track called ‘The Chieftains in Orbit’ on the group’s 2012 album, Voice of Ages. Chris Hadfield took photographs of Ireland from Earth orbit, and a picture of himself wearing green clothing in the space station, and posted them online on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2013. He also posted online a recording of himself singing ‘Danny Boy’ in space. Where to next, I wonder?

This week…a reminder.
“We change. We have to. Otherwise we spend our lives fighting the same battles” ~ James T Kirk, ‘Star Trek – Beyond’

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The history of chocolate began in an area known as Mesoamerica, which is a historical region and cultural area that begins in the southern part of North America and extends to most of Central America, thus comprising the lands of central Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to at least 1900 BC to 1500 BC. The Mexica, an indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico who were the rulers of the Aztec Empire, believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac and to give the drinker strength. Today, such drinks are also known as ‘Chilate’ and are made by locals in the south of Mexico and the north triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). After its arrival to Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it and it became popular throughout society, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people. However, in the twentieth century chocolate was considered essential in the rations of United States soldiers during war. The word ‘chocolate’ comes from the Classical Nahuatl word ‘xocolātl’, which is of uncertain etymology, and entered the English language via the Spanish language. Cultivation, consumption, and cultural use of cacao were extensive in Mesoamerica where the cacao tree is native. When pollinated, the seed of the cacao tree eventually forms a kind of sheath, or ear, averaging some twenty inches long, hanging from the tree trunk itself. Within the sheath are thirty to forty brownish-red almond-shaped beans embedded in a sweet viscous pulp. Whilst the beans themselves are bitter due to the alkaloids within them, the sweet pulp may have been the first element to be consumed by humans. Cacao pods grow in a wide range of colours, from pale yellow to bright green, all the way to dark purple or crimson. The skin can also vary greatly. Some are sculpted with craters or warts, whilst others are completely smooth. This wide range in type of pods is unique to the cacao in that their colour and texture does not necessarily determine the ripeness or taste of the beans inside. Evidence suggests that it may have been fermented and served as an alcoholic beverage as early as 1400 BC. But cultivation of the cacao was not an easy process, and part of this was because cacao trees in their natural environment grow to sixty feet tall or more. When the trees were grown on a plantation however, they grew to around twenty feet tall. Whilst researchers do not agree on which Mesoamerican culture first domesticated the cacao tree, the use of the fermented bean in a drink seems to have arisen in North America, and scientists have been able to confirm its presence in vessels throughout the region by evaluating the chemical footprint detectable in the micro samples of the contents that remain. Ceramic vessels with residues from the preparation of chocolate beverages have been found at archaeological sites dating back to the Early Formative (1900 to 900 BC) period. For example, one such vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico dates chocolate’s preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. On the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokayanan archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating even earlier, to 1900 BC. However a study, published online in Nature Ecology and Evolution, suggests that cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made, was domesticated or grown by people for food around 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. In addition, the researchers found cacao was originally domesticated in South America, rather than in Central America. A professor from the department of anthropology in the University of British Columbia wrote that “This new study shows us that people in the upper reaches of the Amazon basin, extending up into the foothills of the Andes in southeastern Ecuador, where harvesting and consuming cacao that appears to be a close relative of the type of cacao later used in Mexico, and they were doing this 1,500 years earlier”. The researchers used three lines of evidence to show that the Mayo-Chinchipe culture used cacao between 5,300 and 2,100 years ago, these being the presence of starch grains specific to the cacao tree inside ceramic vessels and broken pieces of pottery, residues of theobromine, a bitter alkaloid found in the cacao tree but not its wild relatives and fragments of ancient DNA with sequences unique to the cacao tree. In fact, Nature Ecology and Evolution reported what is believed to be the earliest cacao use from approximately 5,300 years ago recovered from the Santa Ana site in southeast Ecuador. Another find of chemically traced cacao was in 1984 when a team of archaeologists in Guatemala explored the Mayan site of Río Azul, where they discovered fifteen vessels surrounding male skeletons in the royal tomb. One of these vessels was beautifully decorated and covered in various Mayan glyphs. One of these glyphs translated to ‘kaka’, also known as cacao. The inside of the vessel was lined with a dark-coloured powder, which was scraped off for further testing. When the archaeologists took this powder to the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition to be tested, it is said they found trace amounts of theobromine in the powder, a major indicator of cacao. This cacao was dated to some time between 460 and 480 AD. Cacao powder was also found in decorated bowls and jars in the city of Puerto Escondido. Once thought to have been a scarce commodity, cacao was found in many more of these jars than once thought. However, since this powder was only found in bowls of higher quality, it led archaeologists to believe that only wealthier people could afford such bowls, and therefore the cacao. These special jars are believed to have been a centrepiece to social gatherings between people of high social status.

‘A Lady Pouring Chocolate’ by Jean-Étienne Liotard (1744).

Until the 16th century, the cacao tree was wholly unknown to Europeans. Christopher Columbus encountered the cacao bean on his fourth mission to the Americas on August 15, 1502, when he and his crew seized a large native canoe that proved to contain, amongst other goods for trade, cacao beans. His son Ferdinand commented that the natives greatly valued the beans, which he termed almonds, “for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.” But whilst Columbus took cacao beans with him back to Spain, it made no impact until Spanish friars introduced chocolate to the Spanish court. The Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, may have been the first European to encounter chocolate when he observed it in the court of Montezuma in 1519. In 1568, Bernal Díaz, who accompanied Cortés in the conquest of the Aztec Empire, wrote of this encounter which he witnessed “From time to time, they served him (Montezuma) in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence. José de Acosta, a Spanish missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later sixteenth century, described its use more generally as “Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, wherewith they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that ‘chili’; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh”. After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported to Europe. In the beginning, Spaniards would use it as a medicine to treat illnesses such as abdominal pain because it had a bitterness to it. Once sweetened, it transformed and quickly became a court favourite. It was still served as a beverage, but the addition of sugar or honey counteracted the natural bitterness. The Spaniards initially intended to recreate the original taste of the Mesoamerican chocolate by adding similar spices, but this habit had faded away by the end of the eighteenth century. At first, chocolate was largely a privilege of the rich whilst the lower class drank coffee, but once the steam engine was invented in the late 1700s, mass production became possible. Within about a hundred years, chocolate had established a foothold throughout Europe.

A 1909 Peter’s milk chocolate advertisement. It seems they were the company who produced the first successful milk chocolate bar.

The desire for chocolate created a thriving slave market, as between the early seventeenth and late nineteenth centuries the laborious and slow processing of the cacao bean was manual. Cacao plantations spread as the English, Dutch, and French colonised and planted. With the depletion of Mesoamerican workers, largely due to disease, cocoa beans production was often the work of poor wage labourers and enslaved Africans. In 1729 the first mechanical cocoa grinder was invented in Bristol, England. Walter Churchman petitioned the king of England for patent and sole use of an invention for the “expeditious, fine and clean making of chocolate by an engine” and the patent was granted by King George II to Walter Churchman for a water engine used to make chocolate. Churchman probably used water-powered edge runners for preparing cacao beans by crushing on a far larger scale than previously. The patent for a chocolate refining process was later bought in 1761 by Joseph Fry, who started the company that was to become J. S. Fry & Sons. Wind-powered and horse-drawn mills were used to speed up production, augmenting human labour. Heating the working areas of the table-mill, an innovation that emerged in France in 1732, also assisted in extraction. The Chocolaterie Lombart, created in 1760, claimed to be the first chocolate company in France. New processes that improved the production of chocolate emerged early in the Industrial Revolution. In 1815 a Dutch chemist introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness and a few years after, in 1828, he created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation, known as ‘Dutch cocoa’, introduced the modern era of chocolate and was instrumental in the transformation of chocolate to its solid form. In 1847 J. S. Fry & Sons learned to make chocolate mouldable by adding back melted cacao butter. Milk had sometimes been used as an addition to chocolate beverages since the mid-seventeenth century, but in 1875 Daniel Peter, a Swiss-French chocolatier who founded Peter’s Chocolate and who was also a neighbour of Henri Nestlé, invented milk chocolate by mixing in a powdered milk developed by Henri Nestlé. In 1879 the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the ‘conching’ machine which evenly distributes cocoa butter within chocolate. Lindt & Sprüngli AG, a Swiss-based concern with global reach, had its start in 1845 as the Sprüngli family confectionery shop in Zurich that added a solid-chocolate factory the same year the process for making solid chocolate was developed and later bought Lindt’s factory. Besides Nestlé, several chocolate companies had their start in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868 and in 1893 Milton S. Hershey purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago and soon began the career of Hershey’s chocolates with chocolate-coated caramels. Due to improvements in their machines, chocolate underwent a transformation from primarily a drink to food, and different types of chocolate began to emerge. At the same time, the price of chocolate began to drop dramatically in the 1890s and 1900s as the production of chocolate began to shift away from the New World to Asia and Africa. Therefore, chocolate could be purchased by the middle class. However, between 1900 and 1907 Cadbury’s fell into a scandal due to their reliance on West African slave plantations. Roughly two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with Ivory Coast being the largest source, producing a total crop of 1,448,992 tonnes. Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon are other West African countries among the top 5 cocoa-producing countries in the world. Like many food industry producers, individual cocoa farmers are at the mercy of volatile world markets. The price can vary from between £500 ($945) and £3,000 ($5,672) per ton in the space of just a few years. Whilst investors trading in cocoa can dump shares at will, individual cocoa farmers cannot simply ramp up production and abandon trees at anywhere near that pace. Only three to four percent of ‘cocoa futures’ contracts traded in the cocoa markets ever end up in the physical delivery of cocoa and every year, seven to nine times more cocoa is bought and sold on the exchange than exists. But chocolate is something which I think (and hope!) will always be with us.

This week… remember:
Earth without art is just “Eh”…

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