You could inscribe on single leaf of a shamrock the positive contributions of the Irish to the Industrial Revolution. With the possible exception of John Dunlap of Belfast and his pneumatic tire, there are not too many Gaelic giants in the Mechanical Inventions Hall of Fame. That’s is not because of lack of effort, but simply due to a lack of mechanical aptitude. Granted, thru the ages there been competent Irish carpenters, carriage repair lads and other assorted talented tradesmen, they are, however, in the minority.
For eons after eons, Irishmen have introduced a variety of mechanical monstrosities, all doomed from outset to do little more than to gather dust and rust. With consistency and saintly conviction, the sons of Eire have paraded forth their mechanical misfits, claiming with certainty the only flaw in their creations is that they are a wee bit ahead of their time.
In language as glorious and grand as the shimmering green of the Emerald Isle itself, Patrick McCaferty hailed his automatic potato harvester as the greatest invention of the 19th century. In theory, Patrick’s mechanical marvel did appear to merit some of his boastful claims, The size of machine alone demanded attention.
The contraption was several feet wide and taller than a tinker on stilts .Powered
by burning peat, a fuel in ample supply throughout Ireland’s bogs, Patrick’s creation was a smoke belching giant. Supposedly, it was capable of not only extracting the potatoes from the ground, but also shearing the skins from the potatoes with surgeon like accuracy and precision.
From a source, still unknown to this day, he easily and quickly acquired sufficient funds to construct several machines. Marketing the machine proved a major obstacle.
The majority of people in Ireland were poor. Some could not afford a pair of shoes let alone the high cost of a machine to pick potatoes. Undaunted, Patrick persevered. He devised a plan that would make his machines available to the Irish community, prove the value of his invention and hopefully generate an interest in the American market place for his device.
It was a simple promotional scheme he titled “The Great Potato Harvest.” He would donate all his machines to anyone who would use it. He was sure this act of magnanimous charity would result in worldwide fame and ultimately a financial fortune. Unfortunately, Patrick’s faith proved to be more of misguided pride of authorship than mechanical and promotional know how.
The Great Potato Harvest was a catastrophic failure. As a great many of the poor farmers could not read, they could not even begin to understand the ten volumes of elegantly written instruction and operation manuals that came with each machine. The potato harvesting machines ran amok all over Ireland. The result was total destruction of the Irish potato crop and marked the beginning of the Great Irish Potato Famine.
Shamed and disgraced, Patrick snuck out of Ireland, managing to secure passage on a tramp steamer to America. Instead of realizing his dream of traveling to America first class, he had to settle for accommodations, two levels below steerage.
Patrick ultimately settled in Chicago. To hide his past, he changed his name to O’Leary and married. He gave up inventing for over twenty years, but in 1871, he returned to the work bench. Aggravated by his wife’s constant nagging and complaints about milking the family cow, Sean invented a candle powered , automatic milking machine.
A serious situation arose when the family cow, singed by the candle flame, angrily kicked the milking machine into a nearby haystack and set off a raging fire. After the Great Chicago Fire, Patrick gave up inventing and permanently took up what he knew best which was writing books in his native Gaelic tongue, books of which not a single copy was ever sold.
The misfortunes that that shrouded Patrick’s career were minor, however, compared to a contemporary, one Michael Doyle. Michael invented and actually tried to patent the double barreled army rifle. Not side by side barrels like today’s modern military rifle, but one barrel that fired forward and another barrel that fired backwards.
Besieged by a volley of product liability suits by generals and army widows alike, Michael was forced into bankruptcy. He vanished from the inventing community.
With the Irish, “necessity is quite often the mother of the unconventional”