Galway NUI Travelling Studentship Awards in Mathematical Science (May 2019)

Since 1910, National University of Ireland Travelling Studentship awards have provided over 1000 high performing Irish people the opportunity to pursue advanced postgraduate training overseas. Over 180 of those were maths (or maths physics) graduates.



A Century of Scholarship: Travelling Students of the National University of Ireland, is a wonderful 272-page volume published by the NUI in 2008.  It has much information about many of the people who benefitted from Travelling Scholarships, Prizes, and Bursaries since NUI’s founding in 1908 (and the handful of earlier Royal University of Ireland ones).  We have used it extensively in gathering data for this blog.  There are, however, numerous awardees for whom little detail can be found in that tome. 

Our focus here is on the 37 graduates of University College Galway (UCG, which since 1997 has been known as NUIG, the National University of Ireland at Galway) who were awarded Travelling Studentships or the "runner up" Travelling Studentship Prizes in maths science. The breakdown of these awards by decade is: 4 (1920s-1930s), 1 (1950s), 7 (1960s), 6 (1970s), 6 (1980s), 10 (1990s) and 3 (2000s).  We also highlight 3 people from Galway county or city who got such awards via university study at Maynooth or Dublin, as well as 5 TS or TSPs winners who were graduates of UCC or UCD and later ended up working at UCG/NUIG. Every awardee was researched carefully, in an attempt to account for later degrees and career details.  In a few cases very little is known.

NUI TS & TSP winners from UCD, UCG and Maynooth will be highlighted in several future blogs.  (Updated 30 January 2020.)

From the first half century of the story are familiar names such as two Martin Newells (father and son), Michael Hayes, Tom Laffey and Ted Hurley, and more recent graduates include Jim Cruickshank, Conor Houghton, Maria Meehan, Nial Friel and Francis Dolan.  UCG/NUIG has a fine record of providing a first class mathematical education to award-winning students in the west of Ireland.

The 37 UCG/NUIG graduates highlighted below mostly hailed from Galway, Mayo or Sligo–with a few strays from Donegal, Westmeath, Limerick, Tipperary, and even Kerry and Cork thrown in.  Of those, 32 of headed overseas, to Cambridge, Brown*, Royal Holloway, Frankfurt*, Oxford, Nottingham, Sussex*, Queen Mary, Westfield*, Notre Dame, Freiburg*, Graz, Leeds, Berkeley, Yale, Rice, Bath, Alberta, British Columbia, Glasgow, Pittsburgh, and NYU. (* denotes first Irish maths science doctorate from there.)

Of the 37 Galway grads, 28 of them completed doctorates.  Alas, 2 of those died relatively young.  Also, 20 of the other 35 launched lifelong careers in academia.  Some built research programmes outside Ireland, in the UK, Europe and USA.  Others returned home and helped to train later generations of mathematicians and maths physicists at Galway, UCC, UCD, TCD, DCU, GMIT, IT Sligo, Dundalk IT, etc.  Some had successful careers in statistics, industry, government, the met service, data science, actuarial science, finance, IT or software.

It should be noted that our survey is not a representative cross-section of Galway graduates or the impressive range and depth of maths related research done by them (or by others at Galway).

Furthermore, a thorough study of the impact of the NUI Travelling Studentship programme would take the data presented here---along with corresponding Dublin, Cork and Maynooth data---as a starting point.

One Travelling Studentship per year (on average) was awarded nationally to the best performing “masters level” NUI student in various areas of study.  In the early days, they were awarded in maths science about once every 3 years; in the period 1960-2000 there was at least 1 per year.

There were none awarded nationally in maths science in 1911-1913, 1915, 1917, 1919, 1921-1923, 1925-1928, 1932, 1934, 1937-1938, 1940-1941, 1943-1944, 1946-1947, 1949-1950, 1952-1953, 1955-1956, 1961, 1999, 2003, 2008-2015, and 2017-?.  Very few such NUI awards have been given since 2007.  As a result, some exceptional mathematical scholars never had the chance to compete for one. 

The NUI TS & TSP awards were originally based on performance on common exams administered in Dublin by the NUI.  Graduates typically competed after a year of postgraduate lectures for the MSc or MA at their home instution.  For many years, the UCC students who took the common exam spent 2 years (not 1) preparing for it. 

The exams were set by external examiners, often Oxbridge men in the early decades, using questions submitted by staff at the constituent colleges. The external examiners marked the scripts, and decided which candidates were worthy of Studentships, and whether any "runner up" Prizes were deserved.  All awardees also got a “masters by examination.” 

The TS was intended to provide support for 3 (later 4) years of study overseas. There were periods when international wars prevented Irish people from taking up the awards, or caused them to defer their travel.  The students with TS Prizes got with 1 year of support. Over time, the value of both awards declined, in relative terms.

In the 1970s, the common exam given in Dublin was discontinued, and the awards started to be based on  performance on individual masters level exams given at UCD, UCG/NUIG, UCC and Maynooth.  Minor theses were also gradually introduced, first in maths physics and then in maths too, which for a while became necessary to qualify for state subvention.  For years, John Lewis at DIAS played a key role in overseeing all student answers to these individual exams, and deciding who was worthy of TS or TSP.

The biographical sketches that follow are necessarily short, but we try to cover known resulting postgraduate study and degrees, main jobs, PhD student counts, and book counts.   Aspects not documented here include: master's supervised, postdocs done or supervised, papers, book chapters, journal reviewing or editing, promotions, medals, prizes, titles, memberships or elected positions in general, invited plenaries, honorary degrees, Dictionary of Irish Biography entries, and MathSciNet, JSTOR, zbMATH or ResearchGate listings.

Unless otherwise indicated, it may be assumed that a TS or TSP (and consequent master's) was awarded a year after the bachelor's degree (BA or BSc) at the same institution.

Following the table, there are further comments. 

This blog is essentially an expanded version of a talk given at NUIG on 30 May 2019.  Additions and corrections are, as always, welcome.  (As are more photographs.)  Last updated 23 Jun 2019.

Special thanks to Olivia Bree (SPD) for many hours of dedicated help tracking down information in several particularly tricky cases.  Lisa Nic an Bhreithimh (Senior Executive Assistant of NUI) and other staff at the Merrion Sq office also provided invaluable assistance over the past few years.  Attracta Halpin (registrar of NUI) has also been most helpful.

Big thanks too to Ted Hurley, Tom Laffey, Des MacHale, James Ward, Michael Tuite, Seán Tobin, Martin Newell, John McDermott, Seán McDonagh, Michel Fitzgerald, Pat O'Leary, Aidan Kelly (Met service), Carl Murray (Queen Mary), and many others, who helped to gather, evaluate and refine the information on which this is based.


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Michael Power (aka Mícheál de Paor, born Piltown, Kilkenny, 1885-1974), UCD TSP 1909 & TS 1910.  After 2 years teaching at UCD he was appointed prof of maths at UCG, where he served until 1955.  He co-authored the calculus book Nótaí ar mhion-áireamh with Martin J. Newell.  His daugher Sheila Power is listed below.

 1. Kevin Killeen (1908-1995) was born 26 April in Carrowmore, near Claremorris, Mayo, and grew up close by in Hollymount.  He was educated at UCG (BComm 1927, BA 1928, MA 1929), winning the first NUI Travelling Studentship Prize there (TSP 1929). After a few years on the staff at QUB (1929-1933), and a year as a school inspector (1934-1935), his career was spent in vocational education, first in Wicklow and Wexford, and then for over 30 years in Waterford (1941-1973).

1911 Census / 1941 / Hon degree

 2. Martin J. Newell (aka Máirtín Ó Tnúthail, born 30 July in Galway city, 1910-1985), UCG TS 1930, studied quantum mechanics at St John's, Cambridge, 1930-1933 under Ralph Fowler.  After 2 years teaching at St Michael's in Listowel, he spent the rest of his career at UCG.  He was appointed prof of maths in 1955, and later served as college president (1960-1975).  He authored the book Algébar Iolscoile and co-authored the calculus book Nótaí ar mhion-áireamh with Michael Power above.

Wikipedia / IMS  / 1960

 3. Michael Lawless (born Fermoy, Cork, 1909-1984?), UCG TSP 1931, studied Cambridge 1931-1932.  His career was spent in the civil service, in the Department of Local Government, where he eventually served as secretary.  In 1974 NUI awarded him an LLD.

Career / LLD

David Franklin (born Tuam, 1915-1987), UCD TS 1935, studied Edinburgh 1935-1937.  He was then appointed first lecturer in statistics at UCD where he spent the rest of his career.

 4. Richard Walsh (born Dingle, Kerry, grew up in Laois & Dublin, 1913-1994), UCG TS 1936.  His 1943 Laurea in physics was done at La Sapienza in Rome, by which time he was known as Reverend Pius Walsh.  He was at DIAS 1944-1946, and the rest of his career was spent at Multyfarnham and Gormanston Colleges.

1945 / Death

Sheila Power (later Tinney, Galway, 1918-2010, daughter of Michael Power above), attended UCG one year.  UCD TSP 1939, her 1941 PhD on "Stability in Crystals" was done at Edinburgh under Max Born, making her the first Irish women to get a doctorate in maths science.  She was of the 3 inaugural scholars at DIAS, and spent the rest of her career at UCD, where she introduced many generations of Irish students to quantum mechanics.

Wikipedia / MacTutor / Obit

 5. Michael Hayes (born Kilifane, Limerick, 1935-2017), BSc 1956, MSc 1957, TSP 1957.  His 1962 PhD on was done at Brown under Ron Rivlin.  After some years at the University of East Anglia, he became head of mathematical physics at UCD, where he worked for a quarter of a century.  His research was in elasticity theory and the kinematics of deformation. He co-authored the book Bivectors and Waves in Mechanics and Optics (Chapman & Hall, 1993).  He supervised 4 PhD students, and NUIG recently established a prize in continuum mechanics in his memory.

Obit / IUTUM

Jim Flavin (born Cork city, 1936-2012), UCC BSc 1957, TS 1959.  His 1962 PhD on "Thermoelastic Wave Propagation in Prestressed Media" was done at Durham under Albert Green.  He was then appointed professor of maths physics at UCG, at the age of 25, later serving as head of department.  His interests spanned elasticity and calculus of variations.  He supervised 2 PhD students, and co-authored Qualtitative Estimates for Partial Differential Equations: An Introduction (CRC 1996).


 6. Seán McDonagh (born Westport, Mayo), grew up there and in Galway city.  UCG TSP 1960.  His 1965 PhD "On Some Problems in the Theory of Numbers" was awarded by TCD after working under Heini Halberstam mostly at Royal Holloway in London.  Following some years on the staff at UCG, he moved to the Regional College (later the Institute of Technology) in Dundalk, where he worked for 30 years, serving as principal.  Then he was Director of the National Skills Initiative Unit (2000-2014) and Director of the Task Force the Supply of Technicians (since 1997).


 7. Martin L. Newell (born Galway city, son of Martin J. Newell above), UCG TSP 1962. His 1966 PhD 1966 on "Poly-e-Gruppen" was done in Frankfurt under Reinhold Baer.  He first taught at Queen Mary in London before returning to UCG for 35 years.  He has edited 2 conference proceedings on group theory.  His son John is also a mathematician.



Matt McCarthy (born Cork city, 1938-2017), UCC TSP 1962.  His 1965 PhD on "Wave Propagation in Deformable Dielectrics" was done at Nottingham under John Adkins then Tony Green.  His 4 decade career was spent at UCG/NUIG, where he also served as dean, registrar and deputy president.  His daughter Maeve is listed below.


 8. John P. McDermott (born Salthill, Galway), UCG TS 1963.  His 1968 DPhil "On the Representation Theory of the General Linear Group" was done at Oxford under Graham Higman.  After a few years on the staff at Newcastle, he returned to UCG where he taught for over 3 decades.

 9. Tom McDonough (born Castlebar, Mayo), UCG TS 1964, his 1972 DPhil on "Some Problems in the Theory of Groups" was done under [Graham Higman.  His career has been spent at  Aberystwyth.  He co-authored the conference proceedings Combinatorics (Cambridge 1974).


10. Seán Mulhern (born Ballyhaunis, Mayo, 1942-1977), UCG TS 1964.  His 1967 PhD on "A Continuum Model for Fiber-Reinforced Plastic Materials" was done at Nottingham under T.G. Rogers & Tony Spencer.  His short career was spent at UCG.

11. Tom Laffey (born Cross, Mayo), UCG TSP 1965.  His 1968 DPhil on "Structure Theorems for Linear Groups" was done at the University of Sussex under Walter Ledermann.  For over 40 years he lectured at UCD, twice serving as head of school of maths, and pursuing research in group theory and linear algebra.  He has supervised 5 PhD students.  He also played a major role in the successful establishment of the Irish Mathematical Olympiad.

Wikepedia / UCD / IMS

12. Ted Hurley (born Tuam, Galway), UCG TSP 1966.  His 1970 PhD on "Representations of Some Relatively Free Groups in Power Series Rings" was done under Karl Gruenberg (1928-2007) at Queen Mary College in London.  After stints in Sheffield and  UCD, he taught for 30 years at UCG/NUIG, supervising 4 PhD students and co-editing several conference proceedingss.  His interests include group theory and coding and cryptography.  He is passionate about mathematics education, and has written about it for the Irish Times.

13. Des Fanning (born Galway), UCG TSP 1972.  His 1981 PhD on "Partially Regular Biplanes" was done at Westfield College, London, under Dan Hughes.  His career included stints at UCC, Maynooth and UCG before moving into industry.

14. Olivia Fagan (later Bree, born Mullingar, Westmeath), UCG TSP 1974.   Her 4 decade career was spent at St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra, where she also served as registrar. 

15. Michel Fitzgerald (born Salthill, Galway), UCG BE 1974, MSc & TS 1975.  He then studied statistics at Notre Dame & Oxford, followed by a long career at GMIT.  He is an inventor, and has a patent on a ladder stabiliser.

16. James Ward (born Galway city), TSP 1978, his 1982 PhD on " On CP-Subgroups and CP-Subrings" was done at Frieburg under Otto Kegel.  He worked at UCG/NUIG for over 3 decades, and co-edited one conference proceedings.

NUIG / Retirement

17. Gerard Scallan (born Limerick), UCG TS 1978, studied at Graz & Stanford.  His career has been spent in finance.


18. Ray Johnstone (Limerick), UCG TSP 1979, studied Leeds.  His career has been spent in software.

Michael P. Tuite (born Dublin), UCD TSP 1979, studied Caltech.  His 1984 PhD on "Topics in Quantum Chronodynamics" was done at Cambridge under David Scott.  After a few years each at TCD and DIAS, he settled at UCG/NUIG.  He has had 4 PhD students, and co-authored the book Moonshine: The First Quarter Century and Beyond (Cambridge, 2010).


19. Aidan Bent (born Nenagh, Tipperary), TSP 1980.  His career has been spent at the Met service in Shannon.

20. Frank Rooney (born Guilford, Surrey, grew up Galway city), UCG TS 1980, his 1988 PhD on "" was done at Berkeley under Mike Carroll (from Tipperary).  After a few years as a postdoc there in civil engineering with Mauro Ferrari, he taught maths & physics at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland for many years.  Since 2011, he has been on the staff at the University of Wisconsin (Madison).


21. Ann MacDonough (born somewhere in Galway?), UCG TSP 1982.  Nothing further is currently known.
22. Denis Ryan (born somewhere in Galway?), UCG TSP 1984.  Career start at IT Sligo (where he published a paper with UCD's Michael Hayes).  Nothing else is known.
23. Paul MacManus (born Galway city), UCG TSP 1987, his 1992 PhD 1992 on "Quasiconformal Mappings and Ahlfors-David Curves" was done at Yale under Peter Jones.  His career included stints with the NSF, UT Austin, Edinburgh and Maynooth, before he switched to finance.
24. Seán O Catháin (born Barna, Galway), UCG TSP 1989, studied at Yale.  His career has been spent at an actuary in Australia and Germany.

Seamus Bellew (born Galway), Maynooth TSP 1990, studied at the University Maryland College Park 1990-1992.  He taught at NWRC (Londonderry) 1993-1999, and since then has been at Dundalk IT.  He also has a 2003 MSc from DCU done under Eugene O’Riordan.


25. Patrick Gillen (born Galway city), UCG TSP 1991, his 1996 PhD on " Markov Transition Models: Applications to Health Care Research" was done at Brown under Walter Freiberger.  His career has been spent in finance.  He also has a 2001 MPhil in financial engineering from Cambridge.


26. Maeve McCarthy (Galway, daughter of UCG professor Mattie McCarthy), UCG TSP 1992, her 1997 PhD on "An Investigation Of The Optimal Design Of The Tallest Unloaded Column" was done at Rice under Steve Cox.  Her career has been spent at Murray State University.  She has served as executive director of the the AWM.

Wikipedia / Murray State

27. John J. McDermott (born Galway, son of John P. McDermott above), UCG TSP 1992, his 1999 PhD on "Subgroup Growth and the Plane Crystallographic Groups" was done at Bath under Geoff Smith.  His career has seen him teach at UCC and work as scientific officer in computing St Andrews.  He now teaches at Dundee.


28. Jim Cruickshank (born Tuam, Galway), UCG TSP 1993, his 1999 PhD on "Twisted Cobordism and its Relationship to Equivariant Homotopy Theory" was done at Alberta under George Peschke.  After a few years teaching at UCC, he settled at NUIG. He has had 2 PhD students.


29. Conor Houghton (born Galway city), TSP 1993, his 1997 PhD on "Multimonopoles" was done at Cambridge under Nick Manton.  His career so far has been spent at TCD and then Bristol, working in computational neuroscience.  He has supervised 8 PhD students.


30. Maria Meehan (born Donegal town), UCG TSP 1993, her 1997 PhD on Linear Integral and Integrodifferential Equations" was done at UCG under Donal O’Regan.  After a few years at DCU, she settled at UCD.  She has co-authored 3 books on DE, and now researches how students learn advanced mathematics at university level.


31. Anne O'Halloran (born Moycullen?, Galway), UCG TS 1993,  her 2000 PhD "On the Cohomology of Stable Map Spaces" was done at British Columbia under Kai Behrend.  Her career has been spent as a geophysicist at Shell.




32. Nial Friel (born Ballymote, Sligo), UCG TSP 1996, his 1999 PhD on "Application of Random Sets to Image Analysis" was done at Glasgow under Ilya Molchanov.  After a stint at Glasgow, he moved to UCD where he now prof of stats.  He has supervised 10 PhD students.


33. Daragh McInerney (born Galway), UCG TSP 1996, his 2001 DPhil on "Spatio-Temporal Patterning in Biological Systems: Numerical Techniques and Mathematical Modelling" was done at Oxford under Philip Maini (from Magherafelt) & David Gavaghan.  His career has been spent in finance in the UK and in Poland.  He co-authored the book Stochastic Interest Rates (Cambridge, 2015).


34. Francis Dolan (born Sligo, grew up Kilcadden, near Killygordon, Donegal, 1977-2011), UCG TS 1998, his 2003 PhD on "Aspects of Superconformal Quantum Field Theory" was done at Cambridge under Hugh Osborn.  He did numerous postdocs (at Cambridge / DIAS / Southampton / Amsterdam / Crete) before his untimely death.  His interests included superconformal characters and partition functions.

Conf / Memorial / Dedication

35. Andrew Marsh (born Kilrush, Clare), NUIG TS 2000, got his 2004 PhD 2004 on "Topology of Function Spaces" at Pittsburgh under Paul Gartside.  After a podtdoc at NUIG he switched to intellectual property rights, and now works for DIT's Hothouse.  He recently completed an MBA.


John Ferguson (born Dublin), UCD TS 2001.  His 2009 PhD on "Loss Functions and Approximations in Selecting and Ranking Populations" was done at Yale under Joseph Chang.  His career so far has been spent at Yale, UL and NUIG (in clinical biostats).


36. Brenda Ryan (born where?), UCG TS 2005, got her 2009 PhD on "Some extensions of Birkhoff's Theorem" under Yuri Safarov at King’s College, London.  Her career so far has been spent as an actuary in London.

37. Jennifer Cruise (born where?), NUIG TS 2006.  She then studied at NYU.  Her career has been spent as a data scientist.





















































































































































































































Subjects Examined in the period 1958-1978

To prepare students for the NUI exams in Dublin, up to the 1970s, each year the Maths Dept at UCG offered one course (perhaps Group Theory, Group Representation Theory, Algebra, sometimes Complex, later Prob and/or Statistics).  The Maths Physics offered one too (often Elasticity, sometimes Fluid Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism, Hydrodynamics, etc.).  For some years leading up to about 1963, three subject choices were required: one major and two minors (not all Maths and not all Maths Physics).  Students had a full year of lectures (or two years in the case of most UCC students) in those subjects only.  The people who competed for the TS recall these subjects being taken by the scholars indicated.

McDonagh: Complex plus Algebra and E&M.

McDermott: Complex plus Algebra and either E&M or Hydrodynamics.

McDonough: Algebra plus 2 others.

Mulhern: Elasticity (?) plus 2 others.

Laffey: Algebra and Fluid Mechanics

Hurley: Algebra and Elasticity

Fagan:   Algebra and Statistics

Fitzgerald:  Algebra and Statistics

Ward:  Algebra and Statistics


Reality Check: A Changing Landscape

In recent decades, 3-year NUI maths science degree have given way to 4-year degrees.  Master's degrees in maths science---especially taught master's---have more or less died out.  Funded doctoral programmes in maths and related fields are now common in Ireland.

One veteran Irish academic commented: "The TS in Maths Science played a major role in getting Irish people qualified for lectureships in Ireland, at a time when it was difficult to get funding from outside.''

A 2003 UCC School of Maths Report said:  "The studentship is awarded on the basis of a high level performance on a written examination of a taught master's programme, often delivered to a very small group of students. Alas, in recent years, such programmes have had to be discontinued.  Instead, the MA/ MSc degree is awarded for research, and staff are discouraged from teaching taught programmes to very small groups of full-time students, thereby lessening the opportunities for postgraduates in the School to study for a PhD outside the country, especially elsewhere in Europe."