© By Daragh Carville

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Armagh observatory, in 1999 a sober scientific institution, in 1799 a hotbed of radical, revolutionary thought and action. This is a play about violence and betrayal, and a love story between two scientists, one from the 18th century and one from the 20th.

Armagh Observatory, 1798. The Transit Room. The steady, solemn ticking of a clock, a low wind outside. HOGG is seated at the desk, copying down HAMILTON’s words.

HAMILTON To His Excellency Lord Cornwallis, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Dublin Castle. May it please your Excellency - Impressed as I am with a full confidence of your Excellency’s abilities, talents, and public spirit, I feel no apology necessary for approaching you on a subject of business, intimately connected with your beneficent intentions with regard to this kingdom -

HOGG raises his head enquiringly.

A moment.

With your supposed beneficent intentions with regard to this kingdom -

HOGG resumes writing.

And the duties of your high station.

As one of the executors of that truly wise man and enlightened prelate, the late Primate Robinson, I humbly request to inform you that that great character thought nothing would tend so much to conciliate and soften down the minds of our various sectaries in the north of Ireland, and bind them to the common interests of the empire -

HOGG raises his head. HAMILTON ignores him, continues dictating. HOGG resumes.

- as the foundation of a ‘University in the Province of Ulster’. His own munificent labours at Armagh, the sacred acropolis of Patrick, have pointed out this place for the seat of the University. Already in Armagh we have a great endowed Observatory for the study of Astronomy and Natural Philosophy, at which I have the honour to preside -

HAMILTON turns to HOGG. HOGG appears preoccupied. HAMILTON‘s tone changes.

Mister Hogg, am I keeping you awake?

HOGG No, sir.

HAMILTON Ah. Then you are sleeping.

HOGG No, sir.


HAMILTON Mister Hogg, I have always considered you a profound mathematician.

HOGG Thank you, sir.

HAMILTON Your familiarity with the work of Newton equals, perhaps even surpasses my own

HOGG Surely not, sir.

HAMILTON I refer in particular to Newton’s great work on gravitation

HOGG Of course.

HAMILTON Why is it, then, Mister Hogg, that you so singularly fail to appreciate the gravity of our own situation?

HOGG Oh very good, sir. Very droll.

HAMILTON bangs his fist down on the table.

HAMILTON I am serious, Mister Hogg.


HOGG Yes, sir.

HAMILTON Our benefactor is dead, Hogg. Unless we secure the assistance of the Lord Lieutenant, the work of the Observatory will cease within one year, two years at the most. Do you understand me?

HOGG Yes, of course, sir.

HAMILTON Our glorious work will come to an end.


Believe me when I say that I do share your concern, Hogg, but we cannot allow anything to distract us from our work. The work must continue. We must secure the future of the Observatory.

HOGG Yes, sir.


HOGG Nothing, sir.

HAMILTON Speak your mind, man. Spit it out.

HOGG I am not alone in being distracted by events, sir. It seems to me that the Lord Lieutenant might have other preoccupations at the moment which may seem to him more pressing than the fate of the Observatory.


HAMILTON Mister Hogg, as you pass through the doors of the Observatory, does it ever occur to you to look up at the words Primate Robinson had inscribed there?

HOGG Yes, sir.

HAMILTON What are the words, Hogg?

HOGG From Psalm 19, sir.

HAMILTON ‘The Heavens declare the Glory of God’, Hogg. ‘The Heavens declare the Glory of God.’ We are engaged on God’s work here, Hogg. Nothing is more pressing than that.

HOGG No, sir.


HAMILTON I have taken a great risk in keeping you here. A great risk.

HOGG I am profoundly grateful, sir.

HAMILTON I engaged you because of the quality of your work and because of my affection for your father. If I had not engaged you, what would have become of you, out there? What would the Yeomen have done to you by now, or the Militia? But I cannot continue to offer you the protection of the Observatory if the Observatory ceases to be, now can I?

HOGG No, sir.

HAMILTON No, sir. No sir! Then I require your support.

HOGG Of course.


HAMILTON Very well. Let us continue.

HOGG gets ready to take dictation.

In the present anxious state of the public mind and Your Excellency’s most urgent and important cares, I should not think of pressing this business forward to your notice, but that I believe those statesmen who should more properly approach you on these subjects are too much engaged with the weighty affairs of the day to be at leisure for the concerns of quieter times.


You see, Hogg, I do take your opinions into account.

HOGG Thank you, sir.

HAMILTON (Continuing) I am to tell you, sir, that if the body of this University is not incorporated within a little more than one year, Primate Robinson’s legacy of five thousand pounds will lapse. I therefore throw these hints out to Your Excellency, ready, should you at any time require it, to give full information of all local circumstances that might lead to the completion of this great national object.

I am, etc., etc.

HAMILTON goes over to the table, takes the quill and signs the letter.

James A. Hamilton.

HOGG blots the paper. HAMILTON readies himself to leave.

Have it dispatched immediately. Then attend to your duties.

HOGG Yes, of course, sir.

HAMILTON I shall man the Transit Instrument tonight, Hogg. You can take the Equatorial.

HOGG Thank you, sir.

HAMILTON We have a clear sky, for once. We must take full advantage of it.

HOGG Yes, sir.

HOGG stands up politely as his superior goes to leave.

Sir, has there been any word of my father?

But HAMILTON has gone. HOGG stands for a moment. He moves back to the desk, lifts the letter and looks it over.

(Reads) ‘That enlightened prelate thought nothing would tend so much to conciliate and soften down the minds of our various sectaries in the north of Ireland


- and bind them to the common interests of the empire.’

He casts the letter aside. Lights down in the Transit Room.

Observatory was written as a response to the anniversary of the 1798 Rebellion. Daragh Carville says: “The characters of Robert Hogg and Archibald Hamilton were real-life astronomers in Armagh and were caught up in the events of 1798. From this point of departure I developed what I think must be the first Irish science fiction play. A kind of Gothic time-travel thriller, but a love story too.”

Further Infomation


Peacock Theatre, Dublin






Abbey Theatre, Dublin (1999)
Verse Waar Festival, Breda, The Netherlands (2000)

Observatory has also been translated into Italian, by Monica Randaccio and published under the title L’Osservatorio by the Centro Linguistico d’Ateno, Università degli studi di Trieste, 2005


The Sunday Times “Daragh Carville’s third offering confirms his star is in the ascendant”.