Thursday, 26 September, 2019: NUI Galway’s School of Chemistry and CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Medical Devices, will host a celebration of the centenary of Professor Thomas Dillon on Wednesday, 2October with attendees from all over Ireland, and beyond.
Professor Thomas P. Dillon, a former revolutionary, was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the then University College Galway (UCG) in 1919. A century later, and the scientific topics he started exploring, such as the study of carbohydrates and sugars, as well as research into Ireland’s seaweeds, are still relevant in today’s cutting-edge research that will be discussed throughout the day at the Thomas Dillon Centenary Symposium. The programme will also include a lecture from Dillon’s grandson, Professor Niall Dillon of Imperial College London. Niall is a renowned molecular biologist who is carrying out research on stem cells and early mammalian development and its relevance to cancer.
The public event will begin at 5pm, featuring stories, science and dance. To begin the evening, there will be a “Threesis” challenge, where research students will present their thesis succinctly and engagingly in only three minutes aimed especially for a lay public audience, and a ballet piece performed by Youth Ballet West inspired by Dillon’s description of the “benzene ring” and choreographed by Ester O Brolchain. A historical lecture by Professor Dillon’s granddaughter, the author Honor O Brolchain at 6 pm will tell the story of “The ‘remarkable’ Thomas P. Dillon: chemist, revolutionary and professor”. A reception will follow, with a chance to share stories and memories.
Thomas P. Dillon, born in Co. Sligo, was working as assistant to Professor Hugh Ryan at UCD in 1912 when he met his future-wife Geraldine Plunkett, and through her Dillon met her brother Joseph Mary Plunkett and many others involved in revolutionary activities at this turbulent time in Ireland’s history. He was a member of the Irish Volunteers and acted as Chemical Advisor in the 1916 Rising. He and Geraldine were married on Easter Sunday 1916, and watched the Rising start from their window in the Imperial Hotel, O’Connell Street, where they were honeymooning. For his role working for republican candidates in the 1918 elections, Dillon was jailed in Gloucester for more than a year.
Upon his release from jail, Dillon went straight to Galway for a job interview, keen to continue his scientific career and he was appointed Professor of Chemistry in 1919, a post he held for 35 years. He was an enthusiastic teacher and wrote the first chemistry textbook in Irish. He believed Ireland should be exploiting its natural resources, and his pioneering research in the fields of alginates (polysaccharides from seaweed) gained him an international reputation. Under his stewardship, the School of Chemistry became a magnet for students, including two of the first women professors of chemistry in Ireland. When he retired in 1954, he was succeeded by his former student Proinsias S. O’Colla, establishing a tradition of research in carbohydrate and glyco-sciences, which continues at NUI Galway to this day.
As well as in the Schools of Chemistry and School of Natural Sciences, research into the role of sugars in biological processes and health is also a key component of various investigations taking place in CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Medical Devices. This includes development of medical devices based on polysaccharides, very much in the spirit envisaged by Dillon himself. The med-tech industry is a major employer in the Galway region, and R&D in medical devices as well as carbohydrates as renewable natural resources has and will have a large part to play in the regional economy.
Paul Murphy, Established Professor of Chemistry of NUI Galway’s School of Chemistry says: “Dillon’s foresight in trying to develop useful products from carbohydrates is just as relevant, if not even more relevant today. Aside from the relevance to health, carbohydrates are highly renewable carbon stores and will certainly have roles to play in generating chemical feedstocks for making drugs or for the production of smart materials in future years. This is potentially very important for the future of the West of Ireland given our proximity to the sea and importance of agriculture to the region.”
Honor O Brolchain, author and family historian said of her grandfather: “Referred to as ‘remarkable’ by diverse people, he was the kind of man you could, and would, ask to do anything, and he did – running an organisation, setting up a canteen, starting an Aid Fund and, in the case of Galway, enhancing and expanding a Chemistry Department, while fending off the violent extremes of the Black-and-Tans, and representing the University in 1935 in a debate on the uniting of Ireland. He was an interesting, complex and generous man.”
The event is open to the public and will take place from 5pm on Wednesday, 2 October in the ILAS Building, North Campus, NUI Galway.
The event is supported by CÚRAM, NUI Galway and The Royal Society of Chemistry Republic of Ireland Local Section.
Further information for editors:
Registration for the public event can be done through Eventbrite: or
For more information about the event, contact
Prof Paul Murphy
School of Chemistry, NUI Galway, Chair of Organising Committee
Dr Joseph Byrne
School of Chemistry, Organising CommitteeJoseph.firstname.lastname@example.org
For historical information about Prof. Thomas Dillon (print or radio):
Honor O Brolchain
087 974 6162
Prof Thomas P Dillon
About NUI Galway
NUI Galway was established in the heart of Galway City, on the west coast of Ireland, in 1845. Since then it has advanced knowledge teaching and learning, through research and innovation, and community engagement. Over 18,000 students study at NUI Galway, where 2,600 staff provide the very best in research-led education.
NUI Galway’s teaching and research is recognized through its performance in international rankings. The University is one of the few Irish Universities to have risen in the rankings in four of the last five years including the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings.
With an extensive network of industry, community and academic collaborators around the world, NUI Galway researchers are tackling some of the most pressing issues of our times. Internationally renowned Research Institutes and Centres based here include CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices, Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Whitaker Institute for Innovation and Societal Change, Moore Institute, Institute for Life course and Society and The Ryan Institute for Environment, Marine and Energy.
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*The University’s official title is National University of Ireland Galway. Please note that the only official abbreviation is NUI Galway.
CÚRAM is a national centre funded through Science Foundation Ireland. While led by National University of Ireland Galway, CÚRAM’s partner institutes include University College Dublin, University College Cork, Trinity College Dublin, University of Limerick, Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, Dublin City University, Athlone Institute of Technology, Clinical Research Development Ireland and National Institute Bioprocessing Research and Training. CÚRAM aims to create a sustainable future for the medtech sector in Ireland and train the next generation of world class medtech scientists and entrepreneurs.Clinical targets include cardiovascular illnesses, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, musculoskeletal and respiratory illnesses as well as soft tissue and wound healing. CÚRAM brings together clinical, industry and research teams with expertise in biomaterials, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, glycoscience and device design. Read more at www.curamdevices.ie or follow on Twitter @curamdevices.