Relaxing at Mace Head, Carna, 1958





Relaxing at Mace Head, Carna, 1958




Two men seated on a rock in a very rocky landscape, with a thatched cottage and stone walls behind them, and the sea in the background.


At the time this photo was taken, Frank Gaffney (left) and Tom O'Connor (right), of the Physics Department, were engaged in measuring atmosphere composition on the edge of the North Atlantic.
Frank Imbusch records that:
'Tom O’Connor joined the staff of the UCG Physics Department in 1956 with a MSc degree from UCD and having spent a period in Atmospheric Physics research at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. With the assistance of Frank Gaffney, the Department’s technician, Tom set up a research facility to continue this research in UCG. In addition, a small weather station collecting daily weather reports was set up on campus, and Frank Gaffney collected and recorded the data.
As Tom recalled in a 1999 article in 'From Queen’s College to National University' :
“In the summer of 1957 I cycled around the coast of Connemra looking for a site for a research station which would receive air from the Atlantic Ocean which had not crossed over local sources of contamination such as roads or houses. An excellent site was located at Mace Head on the Ard peninsula west of Carna looking oit at the uninhabited Mac Dara’s Island and across the mouth of Bertraghboy Bay towards Roundstone to the northwest. Winds from the sector180 degrees N to 300 degrees N reach the site without passing over local sources of man-made pollution. A disused World War 11 coastal lookout post was leased and renovated, electricity was installed, and measurements of ionization equilibrium in maritime air began there in 1958. This work was strengthened and expanded when I was awarded the first research contract between University College Galway and an Office of the US Forces in Europe on the origin of very small particles or condensation nuclei in the atmosphere as a result of photochemical reactions of trace gases from natural sources” (T. OConnor, p. 208).
Much work had to be done on the “excellent site” mentioned by Tom. He and Frank Gaffney cleared the site, which involved moving stones and boulders to improve accessibility to the station. Electricity had to be installed and windows repaired before equipment could be brought in. Eventually, in 1958, research activity began at the Mace Head Atmospheric Research Station.
The present complex is a far cry from the small coastal look-out station that was its first home. In 2008 the Mace Head Atmospheric Research Station celebrated the 50th anniversary of its establishment, and Tom O'Connor and Frank Gaffney were both present. Indeed retirement did not stop him recording the daily weather data in NUIG. He only stopped recording weather readings in 2012.' (Frank Imbusch)

The remarkable growth of the facility, which began as 'a small coastal lookout post adjacent to the present Mace Head station', took place in a series of steps. In 1975, the original site pictured here was augmented by 'the purchase of a larger (3 hectare) site at Mace Head [...] for use as a background baseline research station. The ruins of a cottage on the site were refurbished for use as a laboratory in 1985 and a standard meteorological recording system was installed there. From the beginning it has housed the most sophisticated of sensitive gaseous and aerosol particulate instrumentation.' In 1989-90 the cottage was extended and another laboratory was added on the shoreline. The facility, managed by the Ryan Institute, University of Galway, 'is the globally acknowledged clean background western European station, providing key baseline input for intercomparison with levels elsewhere in Europe.' ('History of Mace Head', 2008)


Personal communication:
Frank Imbusch, interview and written account, 2022, 2024.

'History of Mace Head' (2008),, accessed 4 March 2023.

Tom O'Connor,  'Natural Philosophy/Physics', in Tadhg Foley (ed.), From Queen’s College to National University (Dublin, 1999), pp 184–217.

University of Galway Digital Collections, record cards, (part of p120_0001_0002_0028), accessed 4 March 2023.


Bibliographic Citation

F. Imbusch, J. Conroy, ‘Relaxing at Halfmace, Carna, 1958’, Visual History Retired Staff Collection, University of Galway Digital Collections, Asset Id 13591, Archival Record Id VHRS

Temporal Coverage






dry-stone walls




Frank Imbusch


University of Galway Library


This image may be used for non-commercial purposes under CC BY-NC-SA see


2023.07.23 by Jane Conroy
2023.11.10 ibid
2023.11.18 ibid

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