Pius d'Alton PhD, BA (1874-1949), distinguished Irish Mathematician, Author, Philosopher, Engineer and Diplomat has enjoyed quite a vogue amongst the members of the Redbrick community. Born just outside Tralee the young d'Alton displayed a strong intellect and a quick mind and won a scholarship to attend University College in Dublin.
Initially, d'Alton intended pursuing a career in medicine, but due to a timetabling error found himself studying mathematics. Having secured his BA, his doctoral thesis on Semi-Finite Alegbras was regarded as being a rather radical work by the British mathematical establishment, but was published widely in Europe. It was as a result of this thesis, that in 1903 he began to correspond with a young Swiss patent clerk called Albert Einstein. They swopped details of their various works in progress leading d'Alton to remark 'Your work is of a most interesting, and potentially influential nature..... I have had the chance to examine your calculations but briefly, but suspect you'll find that E=mc^3 or some such.'
Despite the controversy generated by his thesis and early publications, the authorities in University College recognised his talent and granted him tenure as a lecturer in mathematics. It was about this time also that d'Alton began to occupy a place in literary Dublin. Contrary to the official version propounded by the Joycean establishment, contemporary diaries and letters reveal that Joyce actually spent the original Bloomsday in a drunken stupor on the floor of d'Alton's Dublin apartment.
It is for his series of comic novels based in the fictional 'St. Harleband's College' that d'Alton is chiefly remembered. Although in commercial they were a merely a marginal success, the exploits of such eccentrics as 'The Senior Wrangler' and 'The Autocrat' inspired a loyal following amongst University undergraduates, junior civil servants and the American community in Ireland. The first such book 'Within These Walls' was published in 1907, and d'Alton continued these chronicles right up to his death. Their publication was not without a degree of controversy as d'Alton was inclined to include thinly veiled parodies of his academic and literary contemporaries in these books. This led to him being described, by Patrick Kavanagh in 1940, as a 'thundering guttersnipe.'
d'Alton's name was also well-known amongst the 'steam-men' of Ireland. His patented d'Alton Regulating Valve was a fundemental component of steam train and traction engines since its invention in 1910. Indeed, for a period his name entered the language as the expression 'His d'Alton needs tightening' was used widely as a metaphor for mental instability.
In the 1930's d'Alton found favour with the deValera regime and was, for a brief period, sent to Nazi Germany on the personal instructions of the taoiseach. Whilst there, he met with Adolf Hitler. The meeting is described in the memoirs of a young German Lieutanent who served as part of Hitler's personal staff. 'The Fuhrer received a Herr Daltung [sic] of Ireland in his salon. Daltung amused the company with his witty converation for quite some time. One remark in particular, a suggestion that it might be possible to build a 'people's automobile' which would be affordable to the average industrial worker caused much mirth. I note however that the Fuhrer did not join in the laughter.'
So highly did deValera regard d'Alton that in 1936 he sent him a draft copy of Bunreacht na hÉireann for review. Appalled by its confessional nature, d'Alton sarcastically scrawled 'DoChum Glóire Dé agus Onóra na hÉireann' before returning the typescript to deValera. deValera failed to appreciate the irony and the postscript found its way into the final version.
After the Emergency d'Alton grew increasing dissatisfied with life in Ireland and in 1947 travelled to Cork where, accompanied by a band of followers he declared a 'Republic of Munster' from the steps of City Hall. Due to an unfortunate printing error this proclamation became known as the 'Electricity Declaration.' The printed copies began 'Munstermen and Munsterwomen, in the name of God and her dead generators from which she derives her power...'
The 'insurrection' was quickly quelled and d'Alton was brought before Cork Circuit Court charged with a breach of the peace. His speech from the dock must go down as one of the most impassioned ever made. 'Vangard, hear my roar! I am the Legion of the Rearguard! By my principles I live and for them I shall die. Cower before me, ye heretics and traitors. Barbarians all! Feel my wrath and tremble!' Overwhelmed by the force of d'Alton's oratory the judge bound him to the peace for 4 years.
After this incident, d'Alton retired to a cottage in West Kerry where he passed the last two years of his life in writing and bee-keeping.
Origionally from the Encyclopedia