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John Casey

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Dr. John Casey (1820-1891), FRS, mathematician

1891 Obituary [1]

A FORTNIGHT has hardly elapsed since mathematical science lost one of its ardent votaries and successful cultivators in the person of Dr. John Casey.

He was born at Kilkenny, County Cork, in May, 1820, and was sent at first to the unpretentious school of his native village and afterwards to a more ambitious seat of learning at Mitchelstown. Here he gave early evidence of a decided bent for mathematics, and also of more than usual power to deal with problems involving concentrated and original thought. When the time came for him to attack the more substantial question of earning a living, young Casey turned schoolmaster and served in Tipperary under the National Board. Schoolmasters have been spoken of as a ‘genus irritabile’. There is undeniably some truth in the caustic remark, and we can easily fancy a teacher of Casey's fondness for nicety and accuracy occasionally worked up by his surroundings to the breaking strain of his temper.

Fortunately he was soon withdrawn from the drudgery of schoolwork and was placed at the head of a pretentious venture, the Central Model School at Kilkenny. Here he had a beginning of leisure, and his emoluments - though not burdensome - enabled him to gratify in a degree his growing passion for mathematical inquiry. His keen intellect had already completely surveyed the various branches of elementary mathematics and had begun to steal glimpses into the little explored region of what is known to us as "modern geometry." Poncelet's "reciprocal polars" quite fascinated him; and, as he was never particularly fond of analysis, he gave himself no rest until he discovered a geometrical solution to the French mathematician's celebrated theorem.

It was natural that such an achievement should attract the attention of the leading minds in the Irish school of mathematics, viz., Salmon and Townsend. They accordingly invited the brilliant schoolmaster to come up and compete for a non-foundation scholarship at Trinity College, Dublin. This he did in 1861, easily winning the coveted distinction. In the following year he resigned his Kilkenny appointment for the position of science master at Kingstown School. This establishment had previously enjoyed a high reputation for the proficiency and success of its students; but with Casey on the staff, gold medals, exhibitions, and first places became still more frequent.

A more congenial post was offered him in 1873, and he hastened to accept the professorship of higher mathematics and mathematical physics in the Catholic University of Dublin, although more lucrative inducements were held out to him by the authorities of Trinity College. He continued to discharge his lecture duties in this academical institution until 1881, when the newly founded Royal University of Ireland acknowledged his eminent ability by appointing him to one of its munificent Fellowships...[more]

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