Death of respected UCD economics professor Brendan Walsh (76)

Dr Walsh explained economics for the layperson via the media and academically

The death has taken place of Prof Brendan Walsh, former head of economics at UCD and one of Ireland’s foremost economists. He was 76.

Dr Walsh, a familiar figure in media discussions, was professor of national economics at UCD from 1980 until his retirement in 2005. He previously held senior posts at the Economic & Social Research Institute.

“From his generation, he was very much the dominant presence in economics. He crossed a lot of areas as well. He would have been well known for commentary on macroeconomcis and big public policy issues, but he also did a lot of work on issues around demography, and migration in particular,” said Prof Alan Barrett, director of the ESRI.

“He would have one of those people who would have had a public profile and who would have participated in radio and television debate but behind it there was actual really good quality academic publication too.”


Born in Dublin in 1940, he was reared in Rathmines. His father was a civil servant and his mother had a clothes shop in Talbot Street for 40 years. He attended St Mary’s College and Gonzaga. He graduated in economics from UCD in 1961 and held a PhD from Boston College. Before joining the ESRI, he lectured at the University of Massachusetts and Tufts University.

Known for the diversity of his academic interests, he published widely in international journals.

“He made economics exciting in 1969 when he came back from the US,” said Donal de Buitléir, the director of Public, an independent research group of which Prof Walsh was a board member.

“He contributed an extraordinary amount to a lot of different policy bodies. He stood out in that sense,” Dr de Buitléir added.

He was economic advisor with the Harvard Institute for International Development in Iran in 1975-76 and in The Gambia in 1989-91. In addition, he was consultant with the World Bank, the OECD and the European Commission.

A member of Royal Irish Academy, he was made professor emeritus at UCD on his retirement. Among the public posts he held was the chairmanship, since 2013, of the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority.

“I understand that throughout his term of office he brought his vast knowledge and wealth of experience to the role,” said Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister for Jobs.

Prof Walsh was quick to recognise unsustainable trends in Ireland as economic crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s developed, said UCD professor of economics David Madden, a former colleague.

“He was pretty prominent in those debates about the need to tighten belts. He would have been one of the first to make that case, just after he arrived [at UCD]. That took about three years to get through.

“If you want ed a single word to summarise his research it would be versatility. These days, increasingly, academia is becoming more and more specialised.”

Prof Walsh is survived by his wife, Patricia Noonan, sons Colm and Ben and daughter Nessa.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times