A master of (attempted) invention
An Irishman’s Diary: Monaghan’s musical glass player
‘Richard Pockrich had an incredibly inventive mind, although many of his ideas seemed mad at the time .’ Image: iStockphotos
One of the most inventive geniuses ever to emerge in this country was one Richard Pockrich, who lived in the 18th century, and who came from a wealthy family in Co Monaghan. He was lucky, because his father left him enough money for him to spend his entire adult life indulging his voracious appetite for invention. The vast family estate was at Derrylusk, Co Monaghan; the Pockrich family had settled in the country from Surrey during the 17th century.
Pockrich had an incredibly inventive mind, although many of his ideas seemed mad at the time. These days, in hindsight, some seem remarkably prescient. His first move came when he was just 20 and decided to settle in Dublin. He set up a brewery and distillery at Islandbridge, which promptly failed, leaving him with substantial debts. After he lost all his money and the bailiffs came in pursuit, he played them a prelude on a set of wine glasses. These glasses were filled with the correct amount of water, so that tunes could be played. The rather implausible story goes that the bailiffs were so mesmerised by Pockrich’ s playing that they forgave him his debts!
In any event, when he was 25, he inherited his father’s fortune, estimated to have been worth anything from £1, 000 to £4,000 a year. The musical glasses weren’t a new idea, as making music by tapping glasses had been practised in Persia in the 11th century, so whether Pockrich invented or re- invented the idea is a moot point. In any event, this method of making music became very popular in the 18th century and Pockrich profited from his performances. This was the only one of his ideas that worked well in his lifetime. He had another musical idea, of forming an orchestra from 20 drums, but unsurprisingly, this one didn’ t work.
He wanted the drums to be placed in a circle, with one person standing in the middle who would play them all. His other ideas were extraordinarily wide-ranging. At one stage, he spent much money cultivating geese on vast areas of mountainous land in Co Wicklow and reckoned that he could rear enough geese to supply the entire market for geese in Ireland, England and France. The venture failed. He wanted to build an observatory on one of the Wicklow hills and to use the midland bogs for cultivating vines (but neither of these projects came to fruition). In addition, he wanted to link the Liffey and the Shannon, a very sensible idea that didn’ t come about until long after his demise.
He also wanted to build naval ships from metal that would be unsinkable, equipping each with 500 small boats made from tin that would float away in case of shipwreck or collision. In the event, metal didn’ t start replacing wood for ships’ hulls until the 1870s and the idea of lifeboats didn’ t materialise until long after his time.
Richard Pockrich had ideas for aviation too. He wanted everyone to have a pair of wings that they could use for flying around, believing that people would then give up walking. This particular idea is not impossible these days, but is still far from a practical proposition. Medical ideas infused his brain, too. He wanted sick or old people to get blood transfusions by tube from healthy young people, and he also devised a plan for using brown paper and vinegar to revitalise wrinkled skin. Social problems concerned him and he devised a scheme that would help Dublin’ s many beggars find paid work, but like so much of what he devised, nothing came of it. He wanted to become an MP so that he could put his social policies into practice, but his two attempts to get elected, once in Monaghan and once in Dublin, failed.
He was so busy inventing that he didn’ t get married until he was 50. Pockrich’s wife believed he was wealthy, whereas most of his fortune had been dissipated. He considered his wife to be wealthy, also an entirely erroneous view. She eventually ran away with an actor called Theophilus Cibber; the two of them sailed off to Scotland, but en route, the ship sank and everyone on board was lost. As for the inventive Mr Pockrich, in 1758, when he was 63, he was in England on a tour with his musical glasses. He was staying in lodgings at a coffee house in central London and it’s thought that while he was doing experiments in his room, he set fire to the place. Several houses were destroyed, as well as Pockrich himself.
Was he merely a fantasist, as many of his contemporaries thought, or a genius who was too far ahead of his time? These days, the latter view tends to prevail, but what’s clear is that he was one of Co Monaghan’ s most creative sons.