Certain buildings connect us to remarkable individuals who shaped human thought and scientific enquiry. Montaigne’s celebrated tower still stands in the Dordogne in France, while Marie Curie’s laboratory has been preserved in Paris in a street named after herself and her husband. Thomas Jefferson designed his own neoclassical villa, Monticello, in Virginia. In England, Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species at Down House in Kent.
The city of Cork also possesses such a building, linking us to George Boole’s most influential work.
In 1849, when George Boole took up his appointment as Professor of Mathematics at the newly opened Queen’s College Cork, he first lived at a boarding house and then moved later that year to 5 Grenville Place, where he remained until 1855. He shared lodgings there with an old friend from his native Lincoln called Raymond de Vericour, who was Professor of Modern Languages at the college.
Grenville Place is a terrace of large town houses along the Lee, facing the northern channel of the river. The house was halfway between Queen’s College and the centre of the city, being within convenient walking distance of both.
During Boole’s time at Grenville Place he wrote his masterpiece An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, which was published in 1854 and centred around his theory of logic and probabilities. In this first edition he gave 5 Grenville Place as his address.
From the first floor window of this house, Boole used the prospect before him to illustrate in his book the theory of probability, while giving a flavour of his living environment. His word picture is based on his view across the river, with Boole speculating on the probability of flooding:
‘Opposite the window of the room in which I write is a field, liable to be overflowed from two causes, distinct but capable of being combined, viz. floods from the upper sources of The River Lee and the tides from the ocean.’
Grenville Place occupies an important place in the architectural heritage of Cork city. It is a quiet residential street flanking the River Lee, at the heart of Cork’s Georgian quarter. Boole’s former residence is a four-storey terraced house over basement of circa 1770, with a full-height bow projecting on the west elevation.
As part of an ambitious plan to preserve George Boole’s legacy in his adopted city, University College Cork plans to renovate 5 Grenville Place to provide an incubation centre for business start-ups, and a conference facility to support innovation and investment.