Hidden gems of the Hamilton

Excavating the stomping ground for STEM and finding its national treasures

Found on the west end of campus and facing students strolling homebound towards Pearse Station, the Hamilton building stands as a modern marker of Trinity. As we begin the new year, the Hamilton approaches its 24th year in use since its opening in 1994. While it lacks the opulence of the older parts of Trinity, it holds a practical purpose and a relatively more modern design.

The grey walls and rectangular windows compliment the style of the Lloyd and Smurfit Institutes, and a passerby knows they’ve entered a different department to the rest of the college. Some would say that it lacks an inviting tone – the defining grandeur of old Trinity lost to the minimalism of the Hamilton. Others, and perhaps daily users of the building, would say it suits the needs of the students well and really, that is enough. What is unique about the Hamilton is that much of its value can be found from the names that brand each lecture theatre rather than in its structure.  

As you walk down the lively oblong hall, lecture halls can be found to the right at intervals both on the ground and first floor. The surnames on the plaques pay homage to intellectuals who made their mark in Trinity’s scholastic community. George Salmon’s research included the development of n-dimensional algebra theory, before becoming Provost of Trinity. Despite his now disgraced views on the exemption of women from College, women were admitted to study in Trinity shortly after his death in 1904.

One of these starting women, Constantina Maxwell, is celebrated on the first floor and was also posthumously awarded a lecture theatre in her name. Maxwell graduated in 1908 with a gold medal and senior moderatorship after studying History. She lectured in Trinity in 1909 and received a personal chair in Economic History thirty years later. As a staff member, she struggled against sexual prejudices, despite the monumental change that had occurred for female scholars. She, along with other women, did not receive equal pay and could not enter the Common Room until 1958 or to sit at the High Table until 1966. She continued to write books about Irish history regardless and her legacy is preserved to this day through her work.

John Joly is an Irish name recognised by those who studied Leaving Certificate Biology and Physics. Along with Henry Dixon, he is renowned for presenting the “theory of cohesion-tension,” a biological phenomenon justifying the upward movement of water in plant vasculature. He is also known for his experiment in measuring the age of the earth via sodium content in ocean water, and for developing radiotherapy for cancer treatment. Joly became a member of the Royal Society while he was still a student and wrote over 270 books and papers on subjects spanning from engineering to geology.

The lecture hall neighbouring the Joly is in honour of Sir John MacNeill, a civil engineer born in 1793. MacNeill contributed heavily to Irish railway planning. He was the first Professor of Engineering at Trinity in 1842 and held his position for ten years. In 1855 he helped to survey the route of a railway line linking Europe to India and partook in an expedition to the River Euphrates. His work also involved constructing bridges to cross rivers and join lakes in Northern Ireland.

The Synge Theatre is one that commemorates a national treasure of drama and literature. A comrade of poet W.B. Yeats, John Millington Synge is known as a legend of the Irish Literary Revival. He studied Hebrew and Irish at Trinity and moved to the Aran Islands, following the advice of Yeats. Life on the rocky terrain inspired him to write about the human condition and master the Irish English dialect. Synge later became a founding director of the Abbey Theatre and has since inspired many successful playwrights such as Sean O’Casey and Tom Murphy.

Perhaps the most coveted gem of the Hamilton is Sir William Rowan Hamilton himself. He is most well known for his modification of Newtonian mechanics, paving the way for the development of electromagnetics and quantum mechanics. At Trinity, Hamilton studied Classics and Mathematics and was appointed Professor of Astronomy prior to his graduation in 1827. At eighteen years of age, he was praised by the astronomer, Bishop Dr. John Brinkley: “This young man, I do not say will be but is the first mathematician of his age.” Hamilton studied geometrical optics, classical mechanics and invented “icosian calculus,” which is an algebraic structure. Hamilton received an optime in Greek and Physics, a rare distinction, and placed first in all his examinations. Hamilton’s formula for quaternion multiplication can be found on a plaque at Broombridge, where he first solved it while out walking with his wife. Hamilton’s immense collection of books was inherited by Trinity upon his death.

The Hamilton building is widely known as a student hub consisting of laboratories, various computer rooms, and a resourceful library. Less known are the figures behind each lecture theatre. Once discovered, their biographies can act as inspiration and reminders to students that hard work pays off in the end. Their findings and accomplishments are destined to outlive the extravagant buildings that act as vessels for the true wealth of Trinity – the successes that come from its graduates.