Dubliner Alexander Mitchell: The Blind Engineer

In 1798, influenced by the American and French revolutions, the Irish people, unable and unwilling to endure oppressive British rule any longer, once again answered the call to arms and rose up in armed defiance. Led by Dublin-born Theobald Wolfe Tone, this event became known as the ‘Rebellion of ’98.’ During this violent period, and for his safety, an 18-year-old youth with rapidly declining eyesight was sent by his family from Belfast, County Antrim, to live with friends in Scotland.

On returning to Belfast in 1801, the young man married Mary Banks, a neighbor’s daughter, and went to live in Ballymacarrett, County Antrim. His mother was not pleased with what she considered his rash action, until the first of five grandchildren arrived. From his father’s will he was to receive £500 on reaching the age of 23, but in the interim he borrowed £100 to start a business making bricks. This was so successful that he was able to provide well for his family and to buy property in Belfast, as well as to build eight new houses. When not working, he invented several machines for use in brick-making and the building trade, as well as musical instruments, wooden clocks and windmills.

Having lived for much of his formative years close to the sea, the inquisitive young man had often pondered on the trials of shipwrecked men. He set his mind to think of some means of warning ships of danger from shallow waters and rocky shores. In 1828, his thinking provided him with the answer. Four years later, he became known as the inventor and patentee of the "Mitchell Screw-Pile and Mooring System," a simple yet effective means of constructing durable lighthouses in deep water, on mud-banks and shifting sands.

Alexander Mitchell, eighth son of William Mitchell and Jane Ferguson, one of 13 children, was born in William Street, Dublin, on April 13, 1780. His father was inspector-general of barracks in Ireland, a duty that took him all over the country.

Note: Alexander Mitchell was indeed a man to honor and admire, a man of enormous courage, hope and human sympathy, as well as a clear and vigorous intellect. His cheerfulness and independence led most people to forget his blindness. He joins that pantheon of the many Irishmen and women whose vision, genius and indomitable spirit have made the world a much better and safer place. JAB

Read more here:


Books for Sale:

Don’t Die with Regrets: Ireland and the Lessons my Father Taught Me.


The Journey: A Nomad Reflects.


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Tags: Maritime, Technology, Ulster

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Comment by That's Just How It Was on October 8, 2015 at 4:11pm

Researching Bulman Hobson for a Wildgeese blog ; I found out that Hobson was an ardent fan of Wolfe Tone , And importantly for me - I grew up on an Estate ; one of the first in the Free State ; that named after Theobald Wolfe Tone  

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on October 8, 2015 at 6:40pm

The Hobson story is a great piece of Irish History. I'm looking forward to your article.


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