Eric Mervyn Lindsay
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Eric Mervyn Lindsay (1907-1974)

Noted Irish Astronomer

Eric Mervyn Lindsay was born January 26, 1907 in County Armagh, Portadown, Northern Ireland.  He was the seventh son of Richard and Susan Best Lindsay.

Richard Lindsay was a school teacher at The Grange near Portadown, Northern Ireland.  Susan Best Lindsay, also a school teacher,  was a sister of Judge Richard Best, Lord Justice of Appeal from 1925 until 1939 and the first Attorney General in what was then the new Northern Ireland Parliament.  Richard and Susan Best Lindsay were the parents of thirteen children with Eric Mervyn Lindsay being the youngest. 

Eric Lindsay received his early education at King's Hospital School, Dublin, Ireland.  He received his undergraduate degree (BSc) in 1928 and his MSc in 1929 from the Queen's University, Belfast, Ireland.  Eric Lindsay studied astrophysics under Dr. Harlow Shapley (1885–1972) at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts and received his PhD in 1934 from Harvard. 

Upon graduation from Harvard, Eric Lindsay took his first post-college astronomy assignment at the Boyden Station in South Africa as an Assistant Observer. 

Although Eric Mervyn Lindsay first met his future wife at Harvard University, he married Sylvia Mussells, in Cape Town, South Africa on May 20, 1935.  Sylvia was the daughter of George and Stella Mussells and was born in 1907 in Danvers, Massachusetts.  Eric & Sylvia were the parents of one son, Derek Michael Lindsay, who was born in 1944.  Derek Michael Lindsay was Professor of Chemistry at the City College of the City University of New York and died six months before the death of his mother, Sylvia, in 1999.

In 1937, after nearly three years in South Africa, Eric moved back to his native County Armagh to take up the position as the seventh Director of Armagh Observatory at a time when Irish Astronomy was in the doldrums.  Eric Lindsay realized that small observatories, in unsuitable climates such as Armagh, could only survive by joining other institutions in more favorable locations.  In a very energetic fashion Eric revitalized the Armagh Observatory, whose main instrument had been a modest 10-inch refractor, by installing an 18-inch Schmidt telescope, which was able to photograph wide areas of the sky.  He was also successful in pressing to reopen the Dunsink Observatory as a part of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. 

Armagh Observatory, located about thirty miles inland from Belfast, was founded in 1790 by Archbishop Richard Robinson.  The Armagh Observatory today is a modern astronomical research institute and is one of the UK and Ireland's leading scientific research establishments.  Around 25 astronomers are currently actively studying Stellar Astrophysics, the Sun, Solar System astronomy, and the Earth's climate. 

Eric Lindsay’s Boyden Station work in South Africa, with the Magellanic Clouds, had shown him the importance of southern stations, and that Boyden was an ideal site for a new telescope of the kind needed for this sort of work.   Eric Lindsay persuaded the two Irish governments to jointly fund, with Harvard University, a new telescope to be erected at the Boyden Station in South Africa to chart the southern skies.  In 1954, when Harvard threatened to withdraw from the Boyden project, Eric Lindsay, together with several others, persuaded Sweden, Belgium, Germany and the USA, to join Ireland in the first international observatory at Boyden.  This became a forerunner of the European Southern Observatory. 

Dr. Eric Lindsay also recognized the need to bring astronomy to a wider audience and so set about the enormous task of raising the capital to construct a Planetarium in Armagh. After many fruitless attempts, on May 1, 1968, Dr. Lindsay’s vision was finally realized when the Planetarium opened its doors to the public.  The Armagh Planetarium was the first in Ireland and one of only two in the UK at that time. 

In 1974 the main building of the Armagh Planetarium was extended to incorporate the Lindsay Hall of Astronomy,  a large exhibition hall.  In this building many exciting exhibitions have been staged, including displays of meteorites, moon-rock and various pieces of equipment from the Apollo missions. It is probably the most comprehensive facility for education in astronomy in the British Isles. 

Although Eric Mervyn Lindsay made no great astronomical discoveries during his lifetime, his influence on the politicians of his day and their adoption of his imaginative schemes were crucial to the renaissance of Irish astronomy in the second half of the 20th century. 

Dr. Eric Mervyn Lindsay was Director of the Armagh Observatory from 1937 until his death, July 27, 1974 at Armagh, Northern Ireland.            

Soon after his death, the Executive Committee of the International Astronomical Union, in August 1977, approved the renaming of the DOLLAND C crater on the Earth’s moon after Eric Mervyn Lindsay.  Lindsay crater is located on the near side of the moon, midway between Mare Tranquillitatis and Mare Nubium, and is about 33km in diameter. The position is latitude 07.0° S, longitude 13.3° E, in a heavily cratered highland area.  The late Dr E.J.Öpik, stated that the Lindsay crater was possibly created by the impact of an asteroid 1.6km or 1 mile in diameter. The landing site of the APOLLO 16 spacecraft was about 100km SW of Lindsay crater. 

Other honours bestowed upon Eric Mervyn Lindsay during his lifetime included his elevation as Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) in 1939.  In 1963, Eric Mervyn Lindsay was also awarded the “Officer, The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition of his distinguished service to science.

In honor of the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Eric Mervyn Lindsay, Armagh Observatory hosted the Lindsay Centennial Symposium on 26 January 2007.  Full details, including the book of Abstracts for the one-day meeting, photographs, and a video-record of the conference are all available on the Observatory's web-site (see ).   See Reference source [4]

Reference Sources: 

[1]  The support of John C McConnell  of Northern Ireland and second cousin to Eric Mervyn Lindsay, has been invaluable in developing the content of this narrative on the life of Eric Lindsay.  Of special interest is the photo, taken by John, of Eric Mervyn Lindsay in the Director's Study at Armagh Observatory, shortly before his death in 1974.  Also of interest is the fact that the desk chair used by Eric Lindsay once belonged to the Archbishop of Armagh.   John is also the current Chairman of the East Antrim Astronomical Society  in Northern Ireland.  Our many thanks to John for his willingness to share the photo and other historical facts with us regarding the life of his cousin.

[2] Armagh Observatory, Northern Ireland web site

[3] Armagh Planetarium, Northern Ireland web site

[4] The details regarding the 2007 Lindsay Centennial Symposium were provided to Lindsay International by Professor Mark E. Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh.


If there are those who have more in-depth information on the life and genealogy of Eric Mervyn Lindsay and would care to share this knowledge, send an e-mail to Joe Lindsey 

Page Initially Posted: November 15, 2003;  Updated: August 31, 2008