Dr Roy H. W. Johnston PhD FinstP CIEI, Part I
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Dr Roy H. W. Johnston PhD FinstP CIEI, Part I


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Roy Johnston graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1951 with Double Moderatorship, Physics and Maths, and was awarded a PhD in 1955, based on development of several innovative approaches to the technologies involved in measuring the properties of short-lived charged particles at high energies. He begins the recording by recalling his father, Joseph J. Johnston (1890-1972) who was from a Tyrone Presbyterian family, tenants of Lord Charlemont, and supporters of All-Ireland Home Rule. After attending Dungannon Royal School, he was educated at Trinity College Dublin, where he graduated in classics and ancient history; he went on to do postgraduate work in Oxford, where he became interested in the development economics aspect of ancient Greek history. In TCD he became an active Home Rule supporter, and when in Oxford he became aware of the conspiratorial interaction between the out-of-office Tories and the Ulster Orange movement, which led ultimately to the Larne gun-running. His book Civil War in Ulster, published in 1913, was a critical analysis and exposure of aspects of the foregoing process; his son recalls being told by him in the 1940s that he regarded it as a British imperial device aimed at deceiving the Germans about British imperial priorities in the context of the coming European war. While lecturing in Applied Economics at Trinity College he was elected to Seanad Éireann as an independent member, and following his defeat in the election of 1943 he was appointed to the post-Emergency Agricultural Committee. The following year he was re-elected to Seanad Éireann, and was re-appointed by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera in 1951. The author of a number of important books, he is described in the Dictionary of Irish Biography as one of the first agricultural economists in Ireland. While lecturing at Trinity College Dublin he made his home initially on a farm in Dundalk and later farmed in Drogheda. He supported Home Rule in 1914, believing that it was an opportunity rather than a threat. His son Roy explains that J.J. (as he was known) felt that the Larne gun-running, which activated the Ulster Volunteers, affected progress in the achievement of Home Rule. He discusses his father’s position and stance as an Ulster Presbyterian. He describes his father’s experiences on the staff of Trinity College during the 1916 Rising. During the Rising he was involved in keeping the college’s interest distant from the military occupation. He describes his father’s working relationship with de Valera’s government, adding that during WWII he attempted to get the government to do a deal with the British government to allow Ireland to become the prime food supplier to Britain. He recalls his father’s travels around Ireland when he advised Co-Operatives to become involved in products other than milk, and he explains why his father was unsuccessful in this endeavour. Roy Johnston was born in 1929, and he attended school at Avoca, where he joined the boy scouts with Erskine Childers who had similar radical ideas. He was also schooled at St. Columba’s College in Dublin where he was recruited into Marxism with Paul O’Higgins, following the ideals of James Connolly rather than those of the USSR. They developed a students’ movement in 1906. He became involved with Sinn Féin/IRA in the area of political movement, and had a hand in establishing the Wolfe Tone Society which was instrumental in setting up the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement. During the Northern Ireland Troubles, Roy saw his role as attempting to politicise the IRA membership. He recalls the articles he wrote for An Phoblacht at that time. He explains that his first wife, Maura Mooney, had similar ideals to his and that they influenced one another, working together in the development of experimental technology in high energy physics in France. He refers to this period as the Pyrenees Experience, explaining that these were pioneering days in the field of technology. He describes his meeting at the World Conference in 1953 with physicist Cormac Ó Ceallaigh who invited him to work with him in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, which he did until 1960. He later worked with Guinness for a period and later still became predecessor to Garret FitzGerald at Aer Lingus at the time when computers were being introduced in the company. He worked at developing an economic model for computer systems, and from 1976 he offered his expertise to other companies. He discusses his weekly Irish Times column from 1970 to 1976, the O’Malley plan to merge Trinity College with University College Dublin and the establishment of links between industry and Trinity College which involved the development of linkages with the TCD postgraduate system in the statistics and operations research context. His half-century working in the development of communications in Ireland is summarised, as he explains that he wished to contribute to a small country trying to find its way on the fringes of an empire. He feels that it may have been of benefit to his career if he had emigrated, but he opted to stay in Ireland to contribute to the development of Irish culture and science.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

Heritage Collection 2016


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

59 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



Science and Politics in 20th century Ireland

Recorded by:

Maurice O'Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore