‘What have the Irish done for us?’

Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

What have the Irish ever done for us? Well, the story of one fascinating Lurgan woman will go some way to explaining just that!

For her story and many other surprising stories are covered in a fascinating new book by author and journalist David Forsythe titled ‘What have the Irish ever done for us?’

“The idea for the book came about during The Gathering Ireland in 2013,” said David, “I was covering a lot of the events associated with the diaspora and it struck me that virtually every village, town and townland in Ireland has some kind of intriguing story about one of their own who has done something amazing, or at least impressive! So I decided to put some of these stories together in a book,” he said.

Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell, born in 1943 in Lurgan, is best known for being the first person to observe radio pulsars but was not recognised for doing so at the time.

Her father, an architect, worked on the construction of the Armagh Planetarium near to where she lived and this gave her an early interest in science and astronomy. Attending the conservative local Lurgan College however she was not permitted to study science as she was a girl.

Her parents and parents of other girls in the same position complained and the school’s policy was changed to allow girls take science classes.

She failed her eleven-plus exam in Lurgan so her parents decided to send her to a Quaker girls’ boarding school in England. While there she had an inspiring physics teacher who changed her whole outlook on science and physics. After school she attended the University of Glasgow and then the University of Cambridge.

While at Cambridge and working with thesis supervisor Antony Hewish, she was using a radio telescope when she became the first person to observe radio pulsars that had recently been discovered. She advised Hewish of the discovery but he later shared the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics with the astronomer Martin Ryle, while Bell Burnell was not included despite having been the first person to observe and analyse the pulsars.

The case has been used to highlight sexism within science and has been controversial ever since.

To buy visit Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/152069922