Dr. Eric Lindsay


Born: Portadown, Co Armagh, 26 January 1907
Died: Armagh, 27 July 1974

Family: Seventh son of Richard and Susan Lindsay
Married: Sylvia Mussells, Cape Town, 20 May 1935
Children: Derek Michael, b1944

Address: Armagh Observatory, 1937-1974

Distinctions: MRIA (1939), O.B.E. (1963)

Biography: Eric Lindsay was educated at King's Hospital School, Dublin, the Queen's University, Belfast (BSc 1928, MSc 1929) and Harvard University (PhD 1934).

In 1937, after 3 years in S. Africa, he moved back to his native county to take up the position of Director of Armagh Observatory. Irish Astronomy at that time was in the doldrums, with Dunsink, Birr and the other private observatories closed. When Lindsay arrived in Armagh, the only professional astronomer on the whole island, he was determined to reverse the fortunes of his subject.

He realised that small observatories, in unsuitable climates such as Armagh, could only survive by joining other institutions in more favourable locations. He pressed Eamon de Valera, then Taoiseach, to reopen Dunsink as part of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and persuaded the two Irish governments to jointly fund, with Harvard, a new telescope to be erected at the Boyden Station, S. Africa to chart the southern skies (the Armagh/Dunsink/Harvard Telescope). In addition, both Irish observatories were re-equipped with modern facilities.

In 1954, after Harvard threatened to withdraw from Boyden, Lindsay, together with Herman Brück, persuaded Sweden, Belgium, Germany and the USA, to join Ireland in the first international observatory at Boyden - a forerunner of the European Southern Observatory.

In 1948, Lindsay brought to Armagh from a refugee camp in Europe a former colleague at Harvard, the renowned Estonian astrophysicist, Ernst Julius Öpik. Öpik's fundamental work in astronomy brought world-wide recognition to the small institution which Lindsay had, through his diplomatic skill, rescued from oblivion. Another achievement was the foundation of the Planetarium in Armagh, the first in Ireland and one of only two in the UK at that time.

Though Lindsay made no great astronomical discoveries, his influence on the politicians of his day and their adoption of his imaginative schemes were crucial to the renaissance of Irish Astronomy in the second half of the 20th century.

Crater Lindsay on the Moon is named after him.

Lindsay photo
Bart Bok, DeValera, Lindsay
Lindsay photo
Lindsay and Harlow Shapley
Lindsay photo
Grew, Armstrong, Lindsay and Öpik
Lindsay photo
Armstrong, Grew, Lindsay and Öpik
Lindsay photo
Lindsay with Lord and Lady Brookeborough
Lindsay photo
Lindsay with Eamon de Valera

See also:
A modern vision: Eric Lindsay at Armagh (PDF Format)
A Short History of Armagh Observatory
Lindsay and Observatory Staff
Video of interview by Terence Murtagh
Publications by Lindsay from the ADS
Short biography from Clan Lindsay

Further reading:
J.A. Bennett: Church, State and Astronomy in Ireland, Armagh Observatory, 1990.
Irish Astronomical Journal 12, Nos 3/4, 1975.

Author details: John Butler, Armagh Observatory, N. Ireland

Last Revised: 2010 July 16th