A fresh late spring morning greeted the guests at Carrickfergus Library where they gathered to celebrate the life and achievements of a local man who made his mark in the field of mathematics the USA in the early nineteenth century.
Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, welcoming the Mayor of Carrickfergus and other guests to this special event, said that it was the latest in the series of the Circle’s blue plaques, joining those already here in Carrickfergus; the soldier and yeoman warder Daniel Cambridge VC on High Street; another Victoria Cross recipient, James Bell Crichton on Woodburn Road, and the shipbuilder Paul Rodgers on the Belfast Road. Today these plaques were joined by one to a man who made a significant contribution to mathematics. Robert Adrain was a mathematician of original thought, whose influence was prominent in early 19th century America. His Ulster Scots background gave him a radical bent, which led to his joining the ‘Turn Oot’ of 1798. Its failure, followed by Adrain’s exile, was America’s gain, when he became a teacher of renown in the universities of the east. The Ulster History Circle was delighted to honour Robert Adrain’s achievements with this blue plaque, and in addition Carrickfergus Library was an appropriate place to commemorate this scholar. The Circle would particularly like to thank Libraries NI and Mary Bradley, for allowing the plaque to go on this building, and the Ulster-Scots Agency for the financial support they have given towards the plaque. This was the latest in a series of plaques the Agency is funding this year, all across Ulster.
If one wanted to meet Robert Adrain, not exactly in the flesh, but in the steel, the place go to was the Thompson Dock in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, to see him in a life-size steel cut-out. Robert was there, along with nine other Ulster Scots Innovators, in a new Gallery on the floor of the dock, which the Ulster-Scots Agency opened last weekend, as part of the Belfast Maritime Festival. Chris was pleased to say that six of the ten innovators had Ulster History Circle plaques, and details of these plaques were on display in the gallery.
Since the early 1980s, the Ulster History Circle had put up more than 170 blue plaques all over Northern Ireland, and one in Co Donegal, to celebrate the achievements of those men and women who have contributed significantly to our history, locally, nationally, and internationally. The Circle is an entirely voluntary organisation, and relies on the support of local authorities, individuals, organisations, and businesses to fund its plaques. Chris thanked Ian Crozier, CEO of the Ulster-Scots Agency for his support and also colleagues Maud Hamill and Mairead Ferguson from the History Circle, who had worked hard on the planning for this event today.
Ian Crozier, CEO, Ulster-Scots Agency, said that he was delighted to be here with the Ulster History Circle to unveil a blue plaque to mark the contribution of another Ulster-Scot to life here and in the United States of America. It was also a pleasure to be in Carrickfergus, the most historic town in Ulster, on the edge of the Scotch Quarter, to add another layer to the richness of its story. He looked forward to continuing cooperation with the Council on a project to erect new signage and interpretations of the old Scotch Corner and to being that aspect of the historic town to a wider audience. Robert Adrain was involved, as were many Presbyterians, in the ‘Turn oot’ of 1798, and that was an aspect of our heritage which was misunderstood and deserving of greater exploration, and the recognition of people like Adrain and others such as Jemmy Hope of Mallusk. With the advent of the new ‘super councils’, where the centre of administration was moving further away from people, things that mean something to people in the identity and heritage of their local area will become more important, and the blue plaques would be an important part of that.
Alderman Billy Ashe, Mayor of Carrickfergus, then unveiled the plaque.
Following refreshment in the Library Dr Steven O’Direan, a distant relative of Robert Adrain, provided a detailed account of Robert’s life and achievements.
Here are some photos of the event.