Death announced of former UL President Roger Downer

Professor Downer was the second president of UL

The death has been announced of former President of the University of Limerick (UL), Professor Roger Downer, who was remembered on Sunday as a “gentle soul” who “fought the good fight” and “always gave 100% to everything he was involved in”.

Prof Downer, (79), who was living in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and was the second president of UL, passed away on Saturday “peacefully and surrounded by his loving family”.

His remains will repose at Keller’s Funeral Home, Nenagh from 5pm-7pm on Monday and his funeral will take place at St Flannan’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Killaloe, at 11am, Tuesday, followed by burial in Castletown Cemetery, Portroe.

Born in Belfast in 1942, Prof Downer was educated at the Methodist College Belfast before going on to Queens University Belfast to study science, and University of Western Ontario, where he studied for a PhD and was awarded a FEJ Fry Gold medal of Canadian Society of Zoologists. The majority of his academic career was spent at University of Waterloo, where he was awarded the university’s distinguished annual Distinguished Teacher Award; he had sabbatical leaves at Hokkaido University in Japan and Oxford University.


From 1998 to 2006, Prof Downer held the positions of President and Vice Chancellor at UL and oversaw the growth of student numbers, research productivity and a physical expansion of the campus footprint, following the departure of founding president Prof Ed Walsh.

“Professor Downer led University of Limerick through an extraordinary period of growth and development in his eight years at the helm of the institution,” said UL President Professor Kerstin Mey. “He elevated the position of research at UL with the establishment of a Vice President Research role and ultimately achieved a five-fold increase in research income during his presidency.  He placed equal importance on teaching and introduced Ireland’s first Dean of Teaching and Learning position at UL.

“It was under Professor Downer’s leadership that University of Limerick expanded its main campus across the River Shannon into Clare and the first bridge linking Limerick and Clare in over 200 years was built.”

UL Chancellor Mary Harney said: “One of Professor Downer’s many legacies is UL’s School of Medicine.  He worked throughout his presidency to establish a new medical school for Ireland at UL against much opposition it must be said. Professor Downer felt strongly that post graduate medical education should be introduced in Ireland as a new pathway to medical education beyond the CAO.   He and his colleagues embarked on an ambitious task of establishing post graduate medical education at UL, competing with existing Irish medical schools leading to the establishment of UL Medical School in 2007 the first medical school since the formation of the Irish State.”

Prof Downer held a number of non-executive director roles including chair of the Irish Peace Institute, Munster Rugby Board, JP McManus All Ireland Scholarships, the Irish Rugby Players Association Player Services Council, Hunt Museum and Foynes Flying Boat Museum.

“On behalf of everyone at Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum we send our sincere sympathy to Jean and all the Downer Family. Roger gave many years of wonderful service to the development of our museum. He always gave 100% to everything he was involved in,” said Margaret O’Shaughnessy, managing director, Foynes Flying Boat Museum.

“He fought the good fight and will be greatly missed by his family but also by the wider community. May his gentle soul now Rest In Peace,” she added.

Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill also passed on his “sincere sympathy to the Downer family”.

The Downer family requested that any donations, in lieu of flowers, would be made to the Irish Cancer Society. Prof Downer is survived by his wife Jean, son Kevin, daughters Katie and Tara.