Monday, May 2, 2011

The Irish Submarine Pioneer: John Philip Holland

Holland at the hatch of the USS Holland

John Philip Holland was a Christian Brother and taught at the North Monastery in Cork where he is reputed to have started developing the early prototypes of his invention.

Holland is believed to have been born in Liscannor, Co. Clare in 1841. He was educated at the Christian Brothers secondary school in Ennistymon and subsequently Sexton Street School in Limerick City. In Limerick he was greatly influenced by the scientist and mechanical engineer Br. Bernard O'Brien who was accomplished in building telescopes with intricate clockwork mechanisms.

He joined the Christian Brothers in 1858 and began teaching alongside Br. James Dominic Burke at the North Monastery. Br. James Burke was a noted science teacher and is considered the father of vocational and scientific education in Ireland.

Never an exceptional teacher of the classics, he apparently found it almost 'intolerably boring' to teach reading , writing and arithmetic, but he was known to be an excellent teacher of drawing, science and music. Without taking full vows in the order, he taught at schools in Armagh (1860-61), Port Laoise (1861), Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford (1862-65), Drogheda (1865-69)and Dundalk (1869-1872).

While in Enniscorthy, Holland developed an interest in flying and began to design flying machines.In Drogheda he constructed a mechanical duck which could walk around the garden and swim, dive and resurface when put in water.

Seemingly, through a combination of ill-health, lack of teaching ability and his brother and mother emigrating to the United States, Holland declined to take his perpetual vows in the Order and emigrated to America.
Fenian Ran at Paterson Museum, NJ

Fenian Ram c. 1920's

In New Jersey, Holland resumed teaching for a time and became involved with the Irish Fenian Brotherhood who financed the building of his first three submarines. In 1878, Holland dove to 12 feet in his first submarine - Holland I. The hull of this vessel was recovered from the bottom of the Upper Passaid River in 1927 and is currently on display in the Paterson Museum, Paterson, New Jersey.

The Holland II (The Fenian Ram) was launched in 1881  and was a three-man boat.The vessel carried Holland and others to depths in excess of 45 feet and successfully fired projectiles. Following a dispute, the Fenian Brotherhood stole the Fenian Ram in 1883, but shortly realised that nobody but Holland knew how to work it. The Fenian Ram was eventually brought to the Paterson Museum where it is still on display.

The Holland VI was eventually to become the first submarine in the US Navy. Purchased by the US Government on 11 April 1900, the USS Holland was commissioned on 12 October 1900 and served for 10 years. By 1905, Holland withdrew from the company he had helped found to design and build his vessels (Electric Boat Company), but not before the submarines were being used by American, British, Japanese, Dutch and Russian Naval forces.

John Philip Holland, 1912
Holland died of pneumonia on 12 August 1914 aged 74 in Newark, New Jersey and is buried at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey.

Regarded as the father of the modern submarine, Holland is remembered as the North Monastery, Cork celebrates 200 years in existence. The NMCI has dedicated its library at Ringaskiddy in Holland's memory. The library has a unique collection of John P. Holland papers in its collection.

Much more information on Holland and his submarines can be found here.

USS Holland launch 1897

USS Holland in dry dock, 1899

USS Holland. Note the Holland nameplate below the flagstaff 

Nameplate from the USS Holland at the Smithsonian Museum. The rest of the vessel was sold for scrap in 1913
The above USS Holland images are from the US Naval Historical Center.


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