Pádraig Ó Céidigh was appointed to the department of botany in UCG, in the autumn of 1956. He arrived for his first lecture in his typically distinctive style, that would continue to the point of eccentricity, yet he would play a vital role in developing a small department in a prefab laboratory, into one of the leading world class marine science institutions in NUIG today.
The young lecturer arrived on his bicycle with his dog, a large, black Alsatian, running by his side. Throughout his life he was always accompanied by a dog. On more than one occasion he would registrar the dog as a member of various clubs and societies, so admission could never be refused. It never was.
Arriving for his first lecture that morning he was surprised to see a young student with a small dog sitting at her feet. ‘You can’t bring a dog in here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll tell you why: I’ve an Alsatian here and he’ll ate it!’
‘So that got me over the my first introduction to them. They were a nice class I must say, I enjoyed teaching them. The whole thing was practical; looking first of all at the whole animal, and then dissecting the insides of it, and dissecting it logically so as to leave things like blood vessels and all intact. I always used to love looking at the insides of a frog. It was very colourful.’
At the time the botany department was struggling into existence. Located on the west coast of Ireland, on the doorstep of the Atlantic - a clean, and vast resource of plant and animal life, only one lecturer Máirín de Valera* held the fort. She and Pádraig got along famously. Previously Pádraig was a student in Dublin, but was courting a young teacher, who returned to her native Cill Chiaráin for the summer, Pádraig in close pursuit.**
While there he became fascinated by the beauty of red algae, and began identifying each species. Back in Dublin, he discussed his findings with his lecturers, and they told him he must show them to Máirín Dev who was a frequent visitor. When she saw his enthusiasm, she invited him to apply for a lectureship at Galway, for which he was successful.
Pádraig and Máirín Dev (as she was known ), continued their joint interest in collecting seaweed along the beaches in Connemara, which was often looked on with bemusement by the locals. Pádraig recalled meeting some of the locals collecting their own seaweed. One of them came up and asked: ‘An tusa iníon Rí na hEireann (Are you the daughter of the king of Ireland? ).
‘Is mé (I am ).
‘Well, you’d imagine that your father would have gotten something better for you to do than collecting seaweed!’
Another time they were waiting for the ferry to Inishbofin, but a storm kept them in Cleggan. By chance a reporter from the Connacht Tribune was there too, and he asked them what they were going to do on the island. They told him about the potential of seaweeds and other sea life, and were highly amused to read the headline the following week: ’Two UCG biologists seek new life on the ocean bed.’
New Year: I am taking the above Diary from An Oral History of University College Galway 1930 - 1980, by Jackie Ui Chionna, recently published by Four Courts Press, on sale at €25. More characters from NUIG early in New Year.
Next week, on the earlier date December 24, Christmas Eve, the annual Christmas Miscellany.
NOTES: Máirín de Valera, born April 12 1912, the eldest daughter of seven children of Éamon de Valera and Sinead (nee Flanagan ). A brilliant student she attended universities at Leeds, Aberystwyth, and Stockholm. She was appointed to the department of natural history UCG in 1939, where she taught all the botanical courses in both English and Irish. She published extensively on the potential value and identity of seaweeds along the west coast. She was appointed the first professor of botany 1962, a post she held until her retirement in 1977.
** Pádraig later married Máirín Ní Chonaire from Cill Chiaráin, and was appointed Professor of Zoology at UCG, at the young age of twenty eight years. He spearheaded the shellfish and aquacultural industry along the west coast of Ireland, established a research station at Carna, and was a very popular teacher, and character before his death in 2008.