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Tributes to the Late Prof Máire Mulcahy, First Chair of the Marine Institute

18th December 2023
Professor Máire Mulcahy, a leading zoologist and ecologist who paved the way for women in academia
Professor Máire Mulcahy, a leading zoologist and ecologist who paved the way for women in academia

Tributes have been paid to Prof Máire Mulcahy, the first chair of the Marine Institute and a leading zoologist and ecologist, who has died aged 86.

As the Sunday Independent reports, she was the first female vice-president in higher education in Ireland.

From Cork city, she was professor of zoology and head of zoology and animal ecology at University College, Cork (UCC), and she paved the way for so many women in science and academia.

She studied science at UCC and then took a doctorate in biochemistry in Manchester, moving there with her husband, Noel Mulcahy. She was six months pregnant when Mulcahy, a lecturer in chemistry and former Irish Chess Champion aged just 38, died in the 1968 Tuskar air crash.

She returned to work after her daughter Marianne was born and took a post as lecturer in zoology at UCC. After she was appointed chair of zoology, new courses were developed under her leadership, including a degree in ecology, and two new MSc degrees in aquaculture and fisheries respectively.

She was a renowned expert in fish and shellfish health and disease. Her daughter remembers that her mother would often get calls from anglers at the weekend who had caught pike with tumours. Her research was into lymphoma and she was glad of the information.

Former colleague Prof Tony Lewis said that she “always encouraged younger members of staff when I arrived nearly 50 years ago”, and her commitment to research centres led to establishment of the SFI MaREI Centre and the Beaufort building in Ringaskiddy.

She was also first chair of the Marine Institute which she helped to establish in 1991, and her commitment to secure supporting funding for research into what was regarded as a neglected area led to construction of a new headquarters at Rinville in Galway, and a fleet of research vessels.

Dr Susan Steele, director of the European Fisheries Control Agency, said that she was an excellent supervisor, and other postgraduates were inspired by her, including Dr Pam Byrne, first female chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and Dr Julie Maguire, research director of the Bantry Marine Research Station.

Mulcahy was an active board member of the Heritage Council when it was first established, and also served on boards of the National Cancer Registry, Cork Savings Bank (now PTSB) and the Salmon Research Agency. She was president of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association from 1973 to 1974.

O’Halloran says that she “wore all those achievements and distinctions lightly”. She maintained a strong interest in ecology, equality, environment and climate justice, and was retired when she took a masters in theology and ecology.

She was a keen tennis player, a talented painter, loved the sea, sea swimming and walking, and recently attended a UCC event where she presented the Mulcahy medal to the best final year zoology student.

Read The Sunday Independent here

Published in Marine Science Team

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.


At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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