Northern Ireland news

Sirocco Works founder honoured with blue plaque

Sir Samuel Cleland Davidson founded Sirocco Engineering Works in east Belfast

AN inventor who set up Sirocco Engineering Works in Belfast has been honoured with a blue plaque.

Born in Ballymechan, Co Down, in 1846, Sir Samuel Cleland Davidson became one of Ireland's best-known engineers whose Sirocco fans were used across industry, including to dry tea leaves and help ventilate mines.

A blue plaque was unveiled at First Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church in Belfast yesterday.

Educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, Sir Samuel left school at the age of 15 to join the engineering firm of William Hastings.

Just three years later, he was sent to help manage his father James's tea plantation in Cachar in India.

When his father died in 1869, Sir Samuel bought out his father's co-partner and became the proprietor of the estate.

During his time in India, he invented a way of drying tea leaves mechanically rather than rolling them by hand.

In 1874 he sold the tea plantation and returned to Belfast to perfect his tea dryer. He patented the dryer in 1877.

During one of his early experiments with the dryer, one of his friends was surprised by the volume of hot air produced, saying "Why, it's just like the sirocco wind that blows off the desert".

Sirocco would become one of Sir Samuel's trademarks. He set up Sirocco Engineering Works in east Belfast in 1881, growing the business from a dozen workers to more than 1,000.

A noted runner and polo player, he and his brother introduced polo to Ireland.

Sir Samuel was knighted in June 1921 but died two months later at his home, Seacourt, Bangor

Chris Spurr, chairman of the Ulster History Circle, said: "Sir Samuel Davidson was an inventor whose hot wind of ingenuity fanned the foundation of the Sirocco Works in Belfast".

"His innovations brought benefits across the world to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems," he said.

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