Date posted: 3 December 2019, 10:34am
Captain Killiney Golf Club 1923
CONAN, Walter (1860-1936) was one of four sons and six daughters of Joseph Conan, a wealthy merchant tailor, of Dawson Street, Dublin. (Conan is a family name of Breton origin, in more modern times spelled ‘Coonan’ in Ireland. The writer Arthur Conan Doyle was cousin of Joseph Conan).
Walter was born at the family house Roseneath, in Dublin’s Sandymount Avenue. His mother was Agnes Crighton, daughter of a Scottish clockmaker, David Crighton, who had settled in Ringsend in Dublin. After education in the French School (now Blackrock College), Walter trained as a tailor and took over his father’s business in partnership with his older brother Alexander. Sometime in the 1890’s the brothers split the business into two, Walter setting up his own firm under his own name in Kildare Street. This firm became ‘Robemakers to The University’, the university in question being firstly the Royal University of Ireland and subsequently the National University of Ireland. The firm specialised in hiring out academic gowns and regalia to students for conferrings and similar functions.
Walter Conan married, in 1889, Florence Banks, an Englishwoman of some means, and they were to have three sons.
An inveterate amateur inventor, Conan invented and patented many devices, including ‘the keyless lock’, (a type of combination lock), devices for preserving meat, for preventing airlocks in pipes, and a system of ‘incandescent gas lamps’.
In addition to his tailoring concerns, he had become involved as a director with many businesses, one such being the De Selby Quarry Company, which operated large quarries in the Tallaght area of County Dublin. He was chairman of this company and appears thus to have become interested in methods of setting off explosives, and particularly underwater explosives. In 1913, he invented and patented the device known as the ‘Conan Fuse’. (The engineer who manufactured the prototype Conan Fuse was the artist John Bedell Macilwaine RHA). The device, also known as the Conan Submarine Fuse, can be set to explode at any pre-selected depth of water, relying on the variation in water pressure at different depths. After testing by the British Admiralty at Woolwich and Lydd in 1913, this fuse later became central to the Depth Charge used by the British Navy in anti-submarine warfare. (It was credited with ‘saving the British Empire’!)
Later, during the First World War, Conan was involved in the manufacture of ‘Ferro-Tungsten’ in England, this used in the armaments industry. He returned to Ireland in the 1920’s, became President of Killiney Golf Club1, and died in Dublin in1936. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery.
While living in Dalkey in County Dublin, Walter Conan had tested his explosive devices at the Vico swimming hole known as ‘The Men’s Bathing Place’, a location developed by his family who were property owners nearby. Stories of these goings-on, allied to the name of his DeSelby quarry company, led him to be fictionalized in a later generation. He thus became the inspiration for ‘De Selby’, the eccentric Dalkey inventor and sage of the books of Flann O’Brien.
Lincoln Eyre, Article in New York Herald; Records of Patent Office, Gwent,UK, Patents Nos. 5499, 7809, 22321, 8457, 21256, (1913-1914), Report of HM Inspectorate of Mines, (1914); Sir John Ross, The Years of My Pilgrimage, (1924); Walter Conan, Blackrock College Annual (1930 & 1934); Who Was Who 1941-1950); Conan Kennedy, Looking for De Selby, (1998); Conan Kennedy.
Research: Peadar Nolan.
1. Walter Conan was Captain of Killiney Golf Club in 1923. He was never president of the club.