Robert S. McAdam (1808-95)


[Robert Shipboy McAdam; occas. MacAdam] b. High St., Belfast; son of Robert S. MacAdam; ed. Belfast Academical Institution; owned and managed Soho Iron Foundry, Townsend St., with br. James, who was also a geologist; built turbine engines for the linen trade; learnt Irish travelling with his father for the firm; became fluent in 13 languages; employed scholars Aodh Mac Domhnaill and Art Mac Bionaid; fnd. and ed. Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 1853-62;

published ‘Six Hundred Gaelic Proverbs Collected in Ulster’ in Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 1858-1862; served as vice-president of the Natural History and Philosophical Society (Belfast); organised exhibition for British Association for the Advancement of Science; co-fnd. Ulster Gaelic Soc., 1883; declared all his efforts to be motivated by ‘respect for [his] native country and love for the language’; bur. in the family tomb in Knockbreda cemetery; his papers are held in Belfast Central Public Library. DIH OCIL

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Breandain Ó Buachalla, I mBéal Feirtse Cois Cuain (1968); Art[hur] J. Hughes, Robert Shipboy McAdam: His Life and Gaelic Proverb Collection (Belfast: IIS 1998); Séamus P. Ó Mórdha, ‘Arthur Bennett’s Correspondence with Robert S. Mac Adam’, in Seanchas ArdMhacha: Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, 2, 2 (1957), 374-88[?].

See also Colm Beckett, “A Study of Robert S. McAdam’s manuscript English-Irish dictionary / Staidear ar fhocloir lamhscriofa Bearla - Gaeilge Roibeaird S. Mhic Adhaimh” (QUB 1995) [PhD Thesis]. 

Note: Art Bennett was Art Mac Bionaid, the author of a manuscript history of Ireland written in the 1850s. In 1846 he wrote to McAdam: ‘It appears that I will never have happy tidings to send you. On this morning a fine girl, a daughter of mine, died of convulsion after 4 days’ standing. She was fifteen years of age and worse than all cha raibh biadh nó deoch nó pingin a cheannóchadh e nó a d’adhlacódh i ar mo sheilbh [I didn’t have any food or drink, or even a penny to buy them in my possession.]’ (Quote in Alan Titley, ‘The Queer Mind of Sean O’Faolain’, in Nailing Theses: Selected Essays, Belfast: Lagan Press 2011, p.93.)

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The Archaeology of Ulster’, in Ulster Journal of Archaeology[1st Ser.], 1 (1853): ‘[...] the lineal descendants of the former lords of the soil and their retainers vegetate, as it were, in ignorance of the wondrous changes going on in the world around them.’ (p.2; quoted by Fionntán de Brun, in ‘Temporality and Revivalism’ [UU Research Series, April 2011].)

The Archaeology of Ulster’ (1853): ‘We are on the eve of great changes. Society in Ulster seems breaking up. ... .We stand as it were at the threshold of a new social edifice in process of erection and not yet completed; while all around us lie scattered the ruins of the ancient structure fast hurrying to decay. Before these are altogether swept away let us gather a few fragments.’ Further, MacAdam likened the rapidity of change to one of the ‘dissolving views’ of a magic lantern show, with steam and education transforming areas that ‘conquest and colonisation failed to effect in centuries.’ (pp.7-8; quoted in Fionntán de Brún, ‘Expressing the Nineteenth Century in Irish: The Poetry of Aodh Mac Domhnaill (1802–67)’, in New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua, Spring 2011, p.86-87.)

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Kate Newmann, Dictionary of Ulster Biography (Belfast: QUB/IIS 1993), lists James McAdam (1801-1861), Belfast geologist and naturalist; note BBC Northern Ireland documentary on MacAdam, April 1996; also Dr. Art Hughes, lecture, ‘The Life and Legacy of Robert s. MacAdam’, 25 Jan. 1996, Linen Hall Library.

Belfast Central Library holds Bryson and MacAdam manuscripts, purchased from Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1989. (See Rascal online.)

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