From Brennan’s torpedo to jet lag in horses: the contribution of Connacht researchers

By Irish Research Council

Posted: 3 June, 2016

What do Shakespeare’s plays, horse jet-lag and sustainable food systems have in common?

They’re all the focus of research currently being conducted by researchers from the province of Connacht!

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, first up, we’re honing in on research achievements by Connacht natives…

Heroes of the Past

  • Born in 1749, Leitrim-man James Whitelaw was a clergyman, statistician and philanthropist.  He was also a pioneering social researcher, who compiled a census of Dublin in 1798 to encourage improvements in living conditions.  He died in 1813.
  • Six years later, Sir George Stokes (1819-1903) was born in Skreen, Co. Sligo.  A physicist and mathematician, he made many important contributions to fluid dynamics, optics and mathematical physics.
  • Historical researchers of note from neighbouring Mayo, meanwhile, include Louis Brennan (1852-1932) and Eva Philbin (1914-2005).  Brennan was born in Castlebar and is best-known for his contributions to military engineering (he invented the Brennan Torpedo, which became integral to British coastal defence), while Ballina native Philbin was one of the first women science professors at UCD and the first woman president of the Institute of Chemistry.
  • Another Connacht woman who contributed significantly to Irish research is Mary Donovan-O’Sullivan (1887-1966).  Born in Fairhill, Galway, she was a pioneer of economic and social history and was prominent in suffrage politics, advocating equal pay for women and equality in the workplace.
  • Rounding out our list of Connacht’s historical research heroes is Roscommon native Brigid Lyons Thornton (1896-1987).  Born in Scramogue she became a public health doctor and leading figure in the fight against TB, pioneering the BCG vaccination scheme.  She was also an ardent nationalist and member of Cumann na mBan (read more about her political activities in our blog on the researchers of 1916).

Heroes of the Present

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

  • Gerard Madden and Martina Curran from Galway.  Gerard is researching the rise of Irish Catholic anti-Communism during John Charles McQuaid’s term as Archbishop of Dublin (1940 to 1971), while Corosin native Martina is aiming to discover ways to prevent and minimise infectious diseases.
  • Both hailing from Mohill in Leitrim and now undertaking postgraduate research at UCD, Michael Reilly and Shaileen McGovern are working on topics that will resonate with rural audiences.  Michael is investigating the archives of Teagasc, Ireland’s national agricultural agency, while Shaileen is researching jet lag in horses and testing a new solution that could help horses adapt to different time zones more easily.
  • Mary Mullaghy from Hollymount in Mayo is a postgraduate researcher at Trinity College Dublin, whose work aims to identify ways to promote and increase the uptake of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) at second and third level.  Her fellow Mayo native, Gary Goggins from Westport, is a postgraduate researcher at NUI Galway, exploring the role of public organisations and institutions in the emergence and development of sustainable food systems.
  • Ballaghaderreen man Kevin Mulligan and Bernadette O’Connell from Athlone are the Roscommon representatives on this list.  Kevin is based in UL, researching how science and innovation policy instruments can be used to evaluate economic and scientific growth.  Bernadette, meanwhile, is a postgraduate researcher at NUI Galway, examining the role played by voluntary organisations in Dublin and Toronto during the 1918-1919 global influenza pandemic.
  • The final two researchers we’re highlighting (for now!) are Sligo natives Emer McHugh and Darren O’Hara.  Emer’s thesis explores how factors such as the Troubles, Europeanisation, and globalisation have impacted on Shakespearean theatre in Ireland.  She is originally from Ballintrillick and is a postgraduate researcher at NUI Galway.  Calory-man Darren is a Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholar, based at Trinity College Dublin, who is researching a protein, ACAD9, which he hopes to identify as a much-needed therapeutic target for Alzheimer’s disease.

These are just a selection of the Connacht 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!

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