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October 2017 Exhibition and Archive of Distinguished Engineering Graduate launched at NUI Galway
Michael M O’Shaughnessy (1864-1934: Engineering the Promised Land
An archive of papers belonging to distinguished engineering graduate, Michael M. O’Shaughnessy (1864-1934), who oversaw some of the world’s most iconic engineering projects as city engineer for San Francisco, has been catalogued and digitised, and is the subject of a new exhibition on display at Natioanl University of Ireland (NUI) Galway entitled Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy (1864-1934): Engineering the Promised Land.
Born in Loughill, Co Limerick, Michael M. O’Shaughnessy, moved to Galway in 1882 to study engineering in what was then called Queen's College Galway. In 1885, he emigrated to America, where he embarked on an illustrious career on railways, mines and irrigation projects in California and Hawaii.
In 1912, O’Shaughnessy was appointed City Engineer for San Francisco, six years after the city’s devastating earthquake.
For over two decades he was involved in many iconic projects in the region. He approved the concept of a bridge crossing the Golden Gate Strait and the subsequent design of the Golden Gate Bridge. He led the development of municipally-owned utilities including the city’s famous streetcar system and hydro-electric power projects.
O’Shaughnessy led the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and power project at Yosemite National Park, which is still the primary water source for residents of San Francisco. One of the dams in the project was named the O'Shaughnessy dam in his honour.
The archive was donated to NUI Galway in 2016 by Bernadette O’Shaughnessy whose late husband was a grand-nephew of Michael O’Shaughnessy. Its contents include material that documents his time in private practice: a large and fascinating volume of photographs from throughout his professional and personal life, engineering drawings, related reports and correspondence that detail survey work in California, and irrigation design and construction projects in Hawaii. The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, also holds a major collection of archival material donated by his youngest daughter, Elizabeth, in 1992.
Speaking at the launch, University Librarian at NUI Galway, John Cox, said: “Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy had a very distinguished career in the United States and his work continues to be recognised in San Francisco today. This was evident to me when I visited UC Berkeley earlier this year and learned of the extensive use being made of the archive there. The material donated to NUI Galway complements the Berkeley archive and adds new insights into his family life in particular.”
Officially launching Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy (1864-1934): Engineering the Promised Land, Dr Gray Brechin, from University of California Berkeley, said: “The new exhibition of the career of Michael O’Shaughnessy will go far to resurrecting the reputation of one of America’s great engineers whose public works largely created the cities of San Diego and San Francisco and had a profound impact not only on California but on the wider Pacific Basin.”
Professor Padraic O’Donoghue, Civil Engineering at NUI Galway, said: “There is no doubt that Michael O’Shaughnessy was one of our most famous engineering graduates. His achievement in bringing a secure supply of drinking water to San Francisco has contributed enormously to the growth of the Bay area and Silicon Valley. The archive provides fascinating insights to this pioneering work while it also provides interesting commentary on large scale infrastructure projects in a 1920’s Ireland, particularly the Shannon Scheme.”
An exhibition based on the archive has been curated in a joint project between the NUI Galway Library and the College of Engineering and Informatics. In addition, a distinct project to explore the archive in O’Shaughnessy’s own words, using his memoir will also be available online.
Dr Jim Browne, President of NUI Galway, said: “The University values archival collections and we are excited to receive a collection of such importance in engineering. Digitisation enables its use globally and we are keen to take all opportunities to collaborate with UC Berkeley on linking the two archives. We are very grateful to Bernadette O’Shaughnessy for this very generous donation.”
The archive has been catalogued and digitised in its entirety, and is available to view at https://exhibitions.library.nuigalway.ie/oshaughnessy/.