10 Irish inventions and discoveries that changed the world

For such a small island, Ireland certainly punches well above its weight in many fields.

And one of those fields just so happens to be innovative, world-changing inventions. Here are just ten.


Sudocrem is a remarkably popular product around the world, with almost 35 million pots sold each year. Part of its popularity is its incredible versatility – it can be used to treat nappy rash, bed sores, eczema, minor burns, wounds, sunburn, chilblains, and more.

What some don’t know, however, is that it was developed in 1931 by a Dublin pharmacist named Thomas Smith. In fact, it was originally named “Soothing Cream,” but the name was changed to “Sudocrem” in the 1950s because of the Dublin accent’s pronunciation of the product.

Hypodermic Syringe

Modern medicine is almost unimaginable without the advent of the hypodermic syringe. From vaccinations, to blood tests and more, it is a fundamental tool in any doctor’s kit.

It just so happens that this product was invented by a Dublin doctor by the name of Francis Rynd in the 1840s, when he managed to create a hollow needle for the first time in history. He immediately used this to heal an older woman who had a pain in her face by injecting medicine into the affected area, ending the pain immediately.

“We conclude she continues well, for we have not heard from her since,” he wrote.

The Modern Submarine

The submarine is indispensable to most modern navies. And believe it or not the first submarine commissioned in the US navy was actually invented in the late 1800s by an engineer from County Clare by the name of John Philip Holland.

This “Holland-class” sub was of such an innovative design, it was immediately adopted by other nations, including the British Royal Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy. It set the standard for military submersibles going forward.

Describing the Electron Particle

Today, our knowledge of the electron particle is absolutely fundamental to our understanding of physics, chemistry, electromagnetism, engineering, and so much more.

But did you know that the term “electron” was coined by physicist George Johnstone Stoney from near Birr, County Offaly?

Stoney described it as “the fundamental unit quantity of electricity” which contributed to our understanding of particle physics today.

The Modern Stethoscope

Another medical innovation, thousands of doctors all over the world use stethoscopes every day to examine their patients’ hearts, lungs, blood pressure and more. And the most common kind of stethoscope today is the binaural variety – one that directs the sound into both of the doctor’s ears.

This was invented by Arthur Leared who was born in 1822 in Wexford. It allowed doctors to hear much more subtle sounds happening in the patient’s body and detect problems with greater ease. The modern stethoscope has changed very little since Leared’s initial innovation.

Colour Photography

Many people today can’t even imagine what it was like to live in a world without colour photography. You have physicist and Co. Offaly native John Joly to thank for that.

Joly created endless inventions, but one in particular was the Joly Colour Screen, which was the first successful process for producing colour images from a single photographic plate. His innovations revolutionised imaging in the 20th century.

Portable Defibrillator

It’s hard to calculate how many lives Dr. Frank Pantridge from Belfast may have saved with his invention of the portable defibrillator in the 1960s.

While defibrillators did exist in hospitals at that time, in the time it would take to bring a patient to the hospital, there was a reasonable chance that they would die on the journey. Pantridge and his inventioned allowed ambulances to treat patients then and there, vastly increasing the chance of survival. The first prototype of the device weighed a crushing 70kg, but within three years he got this down to only 3kg. Today, almost every ambulance in the world uses this Irish man’s invention.

Cream Crackers

Many are unaware of just how old the cream cracker is, or the fact that it originated in Dublin.

The staple snack was invented by Joseph Haughton in his Dublin home in 1885, and today is popular even in regions as far away as Argentina, Taiwan and South Africa.

Radiotherapy Standards

Radiotherapy is a method by which ionising radiation is used to control or kill cancer cells. It is an incredible cancer treatment that saves millions of people every year.

Irish doctor John Joly managed to create the “Dublin Method” for delivering radium into deep tumours, which went on to become standard around the world.

 Induction Coil

The induction coil is a vital component in the modern transformer, and was a huge step in the advancement of electrical science.

Notably, it was invented in 1836 by Irish priest Nicholas Callan from County Louth. Without this vital invention, modern electricity would not be what it is today.

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