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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

John Tyndall (1820-1893)

World Acclaimed Scientist

Part 1

Source: Carloviana Vol. 2. No. 27 1978/79. p.22-27

John Tyndall
John Tyndall of Leighlin Carlow's genius
by Norman McMillan and Martin Nevin,
Carlow Regional Technical College.


This article is based principally on the researches of the first of the authors into all the biographical material on Tyndall in the Royal Institution of G.B. and the local researches of the second author. A considerable number of people have been interviewed and Tyndall's extensive correspondence have been reviewed. Any extracts in Tyndall's extensive writings relating to Ireland have also been considered.

This study forms an essential part of the research presently being undertaken by the authors and others on the Tyndall Commemorative Exhibition Committee. This article, aims to assess those impor­tant aspects of Tyndall's life in Leighlin and his relationship with his family home, which have not been covered in his biography. (Ref 1).

Tyndall's Genealogy

The name Tyndall, has Northumbrian origins, and certainly John was convinced that his own family derived from that region, as later in his life he got much pleasure from staying with Sir William Armstrong (Ref 2) in the Tyne Valley, where he was regaled with stories of his family origin. Genealogy was a preoccupation of John's and he believed that he was a descendant of William Tindale the martyr who was burnt to death in 1536. He wrote, "It is a historic fact that some members of the Stenchcome branch went to Ireland in 1672 and planted themselves permanently there. To this may be added the tradition amongst us all — and here the wish of the Irish to establish an ancestry must be taken into account — that we are descended from the martyr." (Ref 2).

Certainly William (I) was a family name, as we find from John Tyndall who wrote: "Family tradition and sufficient documentary evidence connect the Irish Tyndall's with the Tyndall's of Gloucestershire and with the stock to which belonged William Tyndale the martyr. Some members of the family (amongst whom special mention is made of a William Tyndall) crossed over from Gloucestershire in the course of the 17th century. Along the eastern coast of Ireland in Wexford, Waterford, Carlow and Dublin — are scattered a few descendents of these men.

Tyndall's grandfather, also named William, possessed a small landed property in Wexford, whence he removed to Co. Carlow, taking up his above in the little town, or rather village, of Leighlin Bridge, where he added to his means by acting as an agent to William Steuart. (II). William Tyndall and his eldest son, John, were both men of warm temper and un­bending will. A difference of opinion on some point now not known was so aggravated by these peculiarities of temper and character, that the father on his death bed revoked his former will, and left his property to two sons of a second marriage.

The eldest son, John, had very young married the daughter of a farmer from the neighboring village of Ballybrommell.

Prospect Hall, Protestant Road, Coolcullen,
House of Tyndall's grandfather William

He had since supported himself by making shoes and selling leather. His prospects being anything but bright, he joined the Irish Constabulary when it was first established, and was attached to the service for many years: some of which were spent by him and his young family in the so-called barracks at Nurney, where he was superintendent of the small local force, consisting of some 10 or 12 men. He afterwards returned to Leighlinbridge and there resumed and carried on to his death in 1847, his old trade of shoemaker. His wife's name was Sarah Macassey. She is said to have been a woman of refinement and culture somewhat beyond her station, characterised by her gentleness, her quiet courage, the strength of her affections and her fondness for poetry, which she transmitted to her children. Five children were born of the marriage, three of which died in infancy; the remaining two were John, the future man of science, and a sister, Emma, some years his senior." (Ref 3). Sarah's background has emerged from correspondence between Tyndall and his mother. He wrote enquiring:

"I think you told me that the name of your grandmother's father was Malone, and he cut her off with a shilling for marrying out of connexion. Your great grandfather Malone, was I think you told me, a man of property and that he divided his properties amongst his sons. I think you told me that Janeville belonged to him: is this the Janeville near Ballybrornmell? Excuse me bothering you with these questions. They may be of interest at some future day. Did not my grandfather Tyndall own some property at Coolcullen, (III), and did he not take his property from my father: and did not Lord Frankfort, afterwards obtain the property by lawsuit?" (Emphasis added).

To which his mother gave a full reply, which explains the confusion:

"My grandmother's family were people of wealth and property; their name was Malone. But my grandmother marrying out of meeting she was denied by them. Her father left three townlands one each to her brothers: Ballybrommell (IV) to William, Ballintrain (V) to Thomas, and Killkay (VI) to Pim — I believe that is Nehemiah — and to my grandmother one shilling. This however never altered the affection of her husband for her, and they had abundance while they lived. They had one son, and that was my father, and she reared him as she was herself reared as a Quaker, and I went along with him to a meeting where Mrs. Leckie, first saw me." (Ref 4) Tyndall's father was a staunch Orangeman as we discover from Mrs. Tyndall.

"Though his lot was caste in the lower levels of life, Tyndall's father was a man of superior intelligence, remarkable for his firmness and independence of character, his logical facilities, his great love of reading, especially in historical and controversial subjects, his purity of life, and his rare integrity, In spite of the quickness of temper alluded to, he gained the respect and confidence of all who knew him, among Catholics and Protestants alike. He was an ardent politician and an Orangeman, and a member of the Brunswick Club. He had in his possession a fragment of a flag which had fluttered at the Battle of the Boyne. By unreserved intercourse, he inspired his children with the sentiments he himself entertained." (Ref 4).

Certainly Tyndall's uncle William was also a fierce protestant. He was a mason who was a member of the Tullow lodge. whose son's Caleb sash the Car low Regional College has in its possession. We have been told by Mrs. E. Breen of Bagenalstown that when Caleb married a Catholic girl from this town a certain Miss' Elizabeth Robinson (VII) and was married by a priest, the father shut him out of the family and even refused him entry to his dying mother. Caleb later crept up the lane while the funeral of his mother was taking place and took a photograph of this ceremony.

From what has been said, it is clear that Tyndall was very much in the poor protestant Irish tradition. His family were hard working settlers, with a strong religious and political views who were committed to education as a means of advancement of their position, and whose family genealogy was therefore a matter of real pride.


I — The present William Tyndall, who lives at Coolcullen, carries the name from his father, grand­father and great grandfather who was John Tyndall's (father of the Professor) brother. There is however some doubt over what exactly was the relationship between William and the professor as both appeared to be about the same age.

II — Steuart Lodge, Leighlinbridge now the home of Mr. J. Lennon is a house somewhat reduced in size from the Steuart's time.

III — Prospect Hall. Protestant Road, Prospect, Coolcullen, Carlow was a property of 110 acres which apparently Lord Frankfort was able to obtain because of failure to make a yearly payment to a certain Mr. Roberts of 2s. 6d. an acre. This Lord was an absentee landlord who acted through agents in Ireland. (Letter from Mrs. L. C. Tyndall to Canon Wilcocks, of Bagenalstown on 23 January, 1903). Mr. Robert Stedmond, Coolcullen, confirmed that the ruin which is adjacent to the land of Mr. Butler of Prospect House, Prospect, Coolcullen was called Prospect Hall. The present property is 68 acres but this is part of an original holding which was divided between the Butlers and Agars. This house was a fine three storey house with sloping roof and barn which was lived in by the Butler's until 30 years ago when the new house was built. The slates of the old house were used for the new house.

IV — Ballybrommell House is now occupied by Mr. Tom Bradley and family and is a property formed by the amalgamation of two properties. From the present owner we discovered that a Church of Ireland family the Garretts lived here in the eighteenth century. It is probable that the Malone children were born in the middle of that century and that William Malone (Jnr.) was left the property in the 1770's or 1780'a. In those days it would have been a property of well over 100 acres. It is a fine granite house with several outhouses. Eve (Ref 1) and Mrs. M. Doyle in her "St. Lasarian's Leighlin" state that Tyndall's mother was from Ballinabranna. It would appear that this is incorrect.

V — Ballintrain House is at present empty. This house is a granite house with a new roof which according to locals has just been sold by Seamus Quirke. It stands on some 100 acres.

Kilkea House

VI — Kilkea House (note spelling different from Professor Tyndall's mother used) is a property of 200 acres but the old house is no longer occupied although it still has a roof. The last occupiers, some thirty years ago of this fine granite house were the Roche's. In Pim Malone's time there was no barn built on to the house. The present occupiers are Mr. and Mrs. George Salter and family.

VII - Elizabeth Robinson. Died in 1938 aged 71. Grandmother of Mr. John Byrne, retired Principal of Kilkenny Vocational School who lives in Michael Street, Kilkenny. It should be noted that the sisters Miss Olive Robinson and Mrs. Dorothy Paterson of Groomport Rd., Bangor are not related to Caleb's wife. They once lived in Montgomery Street, Carlow and their father was manager of Leveston Pry. They moved to Tullow Street when he became manager of the Atlantic Tea Packing Co. (No. 142). These ladies have rendered great assistance to the Tyndall research, financial and other. Photograph at top of article was donated by the two sisters. We believe that this is an original and is probably the only one of its kind.


Ref 1 - The Life and Work of John Tyndall - Eve & Creasey. MacMillan & Co., London 1945.

Ref 2 - Letter of J. Tyndall to Mrs. Tyndall, Gorey, September 8, 1863. Part of Mrs. Tyndall's Collected Biographic Papers at the Royal Institution. Code a 16.

Ref 3 — Same papers, a15.

Ref 4 — Letter J. Tyndall] to Heinrich Debus, January 6, 1893.

Part 2

Source: Carloviana Vol. 2. No. 27 1978/79. p.22-27

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