From the study of Irishness in theatre to water pollution devices: the contribution of Munster researchers

What do the Irish criminal process, water pollution devices and Irishness in theatre have in common? They’re all the focus of research currently being conducted by researchers from the province of Munster.

This month, our #LoveIrishResearch theme is ‘Research Heroes’ so, throughout June, we’ll be showcasing people – both past and present – who have made significant contributions to Irish research.  And next up, following on from our look at Connaught researchers, we’re honing in on research achievements by Munster natives.

Heroes of the Past

Born in Kilkee in 1874, Sir Edwin John Butler was a plant pathologist whose research on pathology in tropical plants, such as Indian wheat rusts, shed new light on many economically important aspects of botany and mycology. He conducted much of his work in India, writing authoritative accounts of water mould and other diseases in wheat, sugar cane and rice. He died in 1943.

The decade before Sir Edwin John Butler was born, Alicia Boole Stott was born in Cork, in the year 1860.  She became an internationally-renowned mathematician who made a significant contribution to the field of dimensional mathematics and coined the word ‘polytope’ to describe four-dimensional geometrical figures. She passed away in 1940.

In neighbouring Kerry, T.F. O'Rahilly was born in Listowel in 1882 and became the foremost scholar of Modern Irish in his era. He had a distinguished career at Trinity College, Dublin and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and published a long list of texts on early modern Irish poetry and the historical and cultural origins of Irish before his death in 1953

Another Munster man who contributed significantly to Irish research is William Henry Harvey (1811-1866) from Limerick. He devoted his career to the collection of international plant specimens, adding 100,000 specimens to the Trinity College Dublin herbarium during his tenure as keeper.  

Moving across to Tipperary, we have John Desmond Bernal. Born in Nenagh in 1901, and educated in England, he was a pioneer in X-ray crystallography in molecular biology, and designed an instrument for recording X-ray diffraction which was marketed commercially. He died in 1971.

Finally, representing Waterford, we have two researchers.  Natural philosopher Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was born in Lismore Castle, and is widely regarded as the first modern chemist and a trailblazer of the new, experimental philosophy and scientific method in late 17th-century England. He is best known for establishing "Boyle's Law", which described the inverse proportional relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant.

Boyle’s fellow Waterford native Ernest Walton (1903-1995) was born in Dungarvan, and was a scientist and educator who won a Nobel Prize for physics jointly with John Cockcroft "for their pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles". 

All in all, a pretty impressive Munster list of historical high achievers in research.

Heroes of the Present

Lots of Munster natives are now following in the footsteps of these great past researchers, including:

  • Alan Cusack and Tara Whelan from Cork. Alan is based in UCC and is researching the manner in which the Irish criminal process addresses the specific needs of victims of crime with disabilities. Tara, a Carrigaline native, is a postgraduate scholar at UL, focusing on makerspaces, where new and experienced makers connect to work on tangible and meaningful projects. In particular, she investigates how teaching and social practice within makerspaces can support the participation of women and girls.
  • Aoife O’Brien and Robin Healy are flying the flag for Limerick. Aoife's research documents how Irish schools provide support for students experiencing bereavement and grief, with a view to informing policy and practice in this area. Robin's project investigates how we can develop best practice in strength training for athletes, especially elite sprinters.
  • From Tramore, Co. Waterford, Eoin Murray is based in Dublin City University. His research focuses on the development of a deloyable ion chromatography (IC) system capable of in-situ analysis of nutrients within various water systems. This IC system will be used as an early warning device for water pollution.
  • David Clare from Fanore is our Clare representative on this list. David, who is based in NUI Galway, is researching how, since the opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, Irish theatre-makers have imposed Irishness on the “English” plays written by Anglo-Irish playwrights such as Oliver Goldsmith and Oscar Wilde.
  • The final researcher highlighted on our list is Tipperary woman Deirdre Kilbane. Deirdre's research looks at state-of-the-art applications of magnetisation, especially giant-magneto-resistance devices used to read data in hard disks. Her project also extends into the use of single molecular magnets (SSM) in, for example, quantum computing, high-density information storage and magnetic refrigeration as a less expensive alternative to superconductive cooling.

These are just a selection of the Munster natives – past and present – who have made waves in Irish research.  Let us know what you think on Facebook and Twitter, and check back soon for the next provincial round-up of research heroes.