I really do not have much to tell about its history, but the following ramble may include something of interest…
The table. The big table that seems to have always been in the Museum Building.
I do not know the early history of the table, but it spent its life from c.1955 onwards in the Geology Museum. The museum, as we knew it until recently when all the collection was moved, had only just been built as part of the new upper floor of the reconstituted Department. Prior to that the original museum occupied the whole of the present Main Lab, Pet Lab and Paleo Lab extending lengthwise to the front and back of the building, and upwards to the roof. It was a vast hall with a gallery.
I saw this original room as a Freshman in 1954 before the new, top level floor was built. The exhibits had been cleared and there were piles of rocks dotted about the floor awaiting disposal. John Hand, the chief technician in the Department, stood forlornly in the midst of this desolation.
The lecture rooms and staff offices at that time were dotted about in an incredible warren in the SE corner of the Museum Building, access to some rooms being through others rather than passages: all the signs of more ancient re-arrangements within the building. One of the larger rooms was at ground level, where there is now a Geography Department lab. It opened into a smaller room next to the steps down to the small side door, which was the Department library. The bigger room on the corner may have been the original home of the big table.
Anyway, the table, once in position in the new, much smaller museum upstairs, was used for various things, including thesis work, as there were no offices or compartments for Ph.D. students (of whom I believe I was the first in the Department!). Later in life, the table became the meeting place for committee members of the Irish Quaternary Association, some of whom came from as far afield as Belfast and Galway for our meetings, there being no Internet or e-mails then!
There is said to be a connection between the table and the fire that nearly destroyed the newly modified Department. I have only second-hand reports, but the story is roughly as follows. A workman left a cigarette burning, possibly on the table, at the end of the day. This cigarette started a smouldering fire on the new floor, which burnt a hole through to the room underneath — the one that is now occupied by John Graham et al., raining sparks into it. Ken Coe, then a new lecturer in petrography, had his recently completed Ph.D. thesis laid out on the table below, awaiting assembly. By complete chance Prof. Gill and his wife spotted smoke while walking through New Square, alerted the authorities, and the fire was put out. Quite why water did not destroy the thesis instead of fire, is not clear to me!
The table now sits up in the Geology Common Room, still surrounded by Ph.D. students and staff every day for meetings, coffee, and beer. If you’re ever sitting at the table, you should look for burn marks. I’ve never found any!
By Dr. Mike Philcox, TCD undergraduate and postgraduate alumnus.