Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 13:43 UK

Eminent scientist set for honour

James MacCullagh
James MacCullagh was admitted to Trinity College at the age of 15

One of Europe's most eminent mathematicians and physicists has been honoured at a remote County Tyrone churchyard 200 years after his birth.

James MacCullagh was born in the townland of Landahussy and went on to teach at Trinity College Dublin.

An Ulster History Circle plaque was unveiled at his family tomb at St Patrick's Church, near Plumbridge.

The plaque is part of a programme of events organised by the Glenelly Historical Society to mark his life.

Rosemary Murphy, from the society, said Professor MacCullagh had made a significant impact in the world of science prior to taking his own life at the age of 38.

"In his short lifetime he influenced a generation of students in Trinity and he made many contributions to the study of maths and physics," she said.

His academic prowess was obvious at an early stage after he was admitted to Trinity College in 1824 at the age of 15.

He went on to become a professor of mathematics at the university just nine years later and was made professor of natural and experimental philosophy in 1843.

He also became a member of the Royal Society in London the same year.

The professor's academic work gained further recognition when the Royal Irish Academy awarded him the Cunningham Medal for his work on the laws of crystalline reflexion.

Ms Murphy said that away from the world of maths and physics, Professor MacCullagh was a keen collector of Irish artefacts.

Ulster History Circle plaque
The plaque is being erected at St Patrick's Church

"He felt there was a need to have somewhere artefacts could be collected and preserved," she added.

Professor MacCullagh played a key role in establishing the Royal Irish Academy's collection of antiquities, which is now housed in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

Perhaps his most significant purchase was the early 12th Century Cross of Cong, which he bought with his life savings.

He later donated the cross, which was made for Turlough O'Connor - King of Connacht and High King of Ireland - to the Royal Irish Academy.

The plaque was unveiled by Professor MacCullagh's great grandnephew, James McNevin who comes from New South Wales in Australia, at a ceremony on Friday.

Mr McNevin said he did not even know he had any Irish relatives until he was contacted by the society a few months ago.

"It has been amazing," he said.

"We knew nothing about our Irish heritage until Rosemary contacted us from nowhere with the information."

"He was a very fantastic man who was interested in the Irish people and their history and preserving Irish artefacts for the Irish."

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