The tricycle pictured here – patented the ‘Dublin Tricycle’ (1876) and regarded by cycling historians as ‘the first practical tricycle’ – was invented by William Bindon Blood, professor of engineering at Queen’s College Galway (1850-1860). The woman shown riding it is Miss Persse of Castleboy, Blood’s sister-in-law and Lady Gregory’s first cousin, who, it was reported, once rode it from Galway to Spiddal and back in a single afternoon.
From a landed background in Rockforest in north Clare, Blood worked as an engineer on several major railway projects before his appointment to the Galway professorship. A leading engineer of his day, he designed the Boyne Viaduct, which had a longer span than any other in the world at the time of its construction. His significant contribution to cycling however has been overlooked.
According to the Irish Cyclist and Athlete (19 March 1890), Professor Blood ‘may fairly be described as the first Irish cyclist,’ having begun cycling to work in Galway in 1852 on a contraption he built of wood, with iron rimmed wheels. Slow and noisy, it must have attracted a lot of ridicule, but he continued to use it throughout his tenure in Galway, and evidently to ponder how it might be improved upon. The following is from an advertisement for its successor of 1876, the ‘Dublin Tricycle’:
After a little practice, this tricycle can be driven with ease at a speed of from five to ten miles an hour, according to the nature of the road and the skill of the rider. There is no difficulty in getting into or out of the seat; and the carriage is perfectly safe, there being no tendency to upset… [It] can be used with ease, not only by gentlemen but also by ladies, as it can be adapted to the requirements of the fair sex by the addition of a lightly-framed apron.
A great engineer and a pioneering cyclist, Blood however was also an unsympathetic and unpopular landlord in his native Clare. The Irish Cyclist reported as follows in 1890: ‘latterly he has been compelled to give up cycling, as he is under police protection, having been fired at by two men with Snider rifles in August last, and again a week or ten days ago.’ Blood would survive a third assassination attempt in 1892, before succumbing to ‘acute bronchitis’ in 1897, in his 80th year.
Paul Duffy, ‘Engineering’, in T. Foley, ed., From Queen’s College to National University; essays on the academic history of QCG/UCG/NUI Galway, Dublin: Four Courts, 1999.
Brian Griffin, Cycling in Victorian Ireland, Dublin: Nonsuch, 2006
The Irish Cyclist and Athlete, March, April 1890
– John Cunningham
[Images: ‘Miss Persse on her Dublin tricycle, c.1876′; and ‘William Bindon Blood, 1817-1897’.]