In 2019 Shane Lowry from Clara in County Offaly won the British Golf Open and underlined his international sporting superstar status. But Lowry was not the first bearded superstar from Offaly. Bindon Blood Stoney was born in County Offaly in 1828 and he would go on to be an engineering heavyweight – though without getting the same acclaim as Lowry.
Bindon Blood Stoney studied at Trinity College Dublin and received a Diploma in Civil Engineering in 1850. His older brother was physicist George Johnstone Stoney who among many achievements came up with the term electron. Between 1850-52 Stoney worked as a mathematical assistant to William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse in Birr (previously called Parsonstown). He mapped the spiral form of the Andromeda Galaxy and observed 105 NGC objects and 8 IC objects. 91 NGC objects and all IC objects were new. This alone would have been a credible life achievement. But this was merely warming up for a genius like Stoney.
Bindon was inspired by his uncle, Professor William Blood, from Clare a mathematician who worked with Brunel on the railways in Britain. Professor Blood’s analysis of bridge technology allowed the building of the Boyne Viaduct, upon which Bindon later worked. In 1852 he went to Spain for a year as an assistant engineer working alongside William Greene (for Greene’s cousin Arthur) on surveys for the Aranjuez to Almansa railway in Spain. (It seems to be still possible to take a steam train to Aranjuez to Madrid on what must have been the same route).
In 1853, Stoney was Resident Engineer on the Boyne Viaduct under James Barton. This viaduct claimed to be the longest span in the world when constructed in 1857 and was probably the first to use metal girders of any such length. This project later encouraged Stoney to write his classical work on The Theory of Strains in Girders and Similar Structures, which gave practical advice for calculating the strains occurring in girders, becoming a standard reference work for structural designers. (I’m sure it is a riveting read!)
In 1856, Stoney was appointed Assistant Engineer to the Dublin Ballast Board and in 1859 Executive Engineer. Initially Stoney was acting as executive engineer to the famous George Halpin, who had bad health. Halpin also spent much time outside of Dublin due to his responsibility for the vast array of lighthouses around Ireland. This allowed Stoney gain much experience on his own and his rise in stature resulted in Halpin and Stoney falling out. Stoney was ambitious and an engineering innovator who had come up with a cheap way to develop the port of Dublin – something appreciated by the board but they also did not want to upset Halpin.
When Halpin retired, Stoney became the the new Inspector of Works and in 1868, he became the first chief engineer of the newly constituted Dublin Port and Docks Board
The following were some of the achievements of Stoney:
- He designed a large dredging plant and rebuilt the quay walls along both the north and south banks of the River Liffey, replacing the tidal berths by deepwater berths.
- He extended the northern quays eastward and created the Alexandra Basin. To avoid using costly dams and pumping, he made the lower sections of the deep-water quay walls with gigantic concrete blocks of up to 350 tons weight.
- The machinery for moving these enormous blocks, and the large diving bell for preparing the foundations, were all designed by Stoney.
- While building the North Wall Extension, Stoney also created a new 70-acre basin which had an average depth of approx 11.5 metres at high tide and 8 metres at low tide. This allowed ships of the largest class to dock.
- Between 1875 and 1877 Bindon Stoney used the same methods at the Poolbeg lighthouse, placing large concrete blocks each weighing around one hundred tons at its base to protect against winter storms.
- He designed Grattan Bridge, O’Connell Bridge, and Butt Bridge.
- He was consultant engineer on the harbours of Drogheda, Bray, Wicklow, Arklow, Wexford, Waterford, Kilmore, Queenstown (Cobh), Cork, Galway, Westport, Ballina, and Sligo.
The Stoney family came to Ireland from Yorkshire shortly after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Thomas Stoney acquired considerable land in Tipperary. Maybe this is one element of plantation times which is overlooked. It was not just a planting of aggressors, but also a planting of people with new ideas, some of which Bindon Stoney would inherit and expand upon.