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Passionate advocate of women in science

Mary Mulvihill: September 1st, 1959 - June 11th, 2015

Mary Mulvihill, pioneer of science journalism. Photograph: Brian Dolan

Mary Mulvihill, who has died aged 55 following a brief illness, was a pioneer of science journalism and science communication and a passionate advocate for women in science.

Her life’s work was to tell Ireland the stories about itself that it had forgotten, about its rich scientific and industrial heritage and its precious ecological and archaeological treasures.

A vital part of that task was to honour the legacy of the many talented women scientists and engineers who had been written out of history. she also founded WITS (Women in Technology and Science) to create a supportive network for colleagues involved in science in contemporary Ireland.

A Scholar of Trinity College, she graduated in 1981 with a BA in genetics and in 1982 with a master’s in statistics. After a stint as a research geneticist with An Foras Talúntais (now Teagasc), she studied journalism at the National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin, (now Dublin City University) in the late 1980s.

She then embarked on what became a highly original career, notable for her personal and intellectual integrity. She was a long-standing contributor to The Irish Times and was joint editor of Technology Ireland magazine throughout the 1990s.

She contributed to international publications, including Nature and New Scientist, and established a successful sideline as a media trainer and consultant.

Talent for communication

She believed rather in the intrinsic cultural worth of science and in the value of unfettered, curiosity-led research.

She unapologetically followed her own enthusiasms rather than anyone else’s agenda. The quirky nugget, the overlooked connection or the ingenious device sparked her endless curiosity more readily than policy initiatives or funding announcements.

That spirit of independence lent all of her work, in print, broadcast and digital media, the imprint of a distinctive personality.

Mulvihill produced and presented several documentaries and series for RTÉ radio, including The Quantum Leap, The Goldilocks World, The Perfect Pint, and Left Brain, Right Brain.

She edited two collections of biographies of Irish women scientists and pioneers, Stars, Shells and Bluebells (1997), and Lab Coats and Lace (2009), both published by WITS. Drive Like a Woman, Shop Like a Man (2009) was her guide to a greener lifestyle. She regarded the bicycle as the greatest invention ever and cycled everywhere, in all weathers.

Her magnum opus was Ingenious Ireland (2002), in which she mined, county by county, the rich seam of Ireland’s scientific, industrial, ecological and archaeological heritage. She received the Science and Technology Journalist of the Year award in 2003 and the inaugural Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland publication award in 2005.

Fittingly, during Mary’s funeral service in the Victorian chapel at Mount Jerome, in Harold’s Cross in Dublin, her godson and nephew Óran Grehan read from her own account of the cemetery, where many of the great historic figures of Irish science are buried.

Vast trove

Mary Mulvihill had a naturally warm and congenial manner and gathered friends from the many strands of her professional and personal life. She was a joiner and, where necessary, a convenor. She was a member of the Irish Bioethics Council, the National Committee for the History of Science, the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland, a National Union of Journalists activist and a former president of WITS and of the Irish Science and Technology Journalists’ Association.

A Dubliner, a feminist and an excellent Irish speaker, she also loved music and hillwalking. Her untimely death prompted tributes from a wide spectrum of friends, colleagues and readers. “Mary’s own personal legacy to Irish science will endure well beyond her premature passing and will not be forgotten,” said Damien English, Minister of State for Skills and Innovation.

She is survived by her widower, Brian Dolan, and her sisters Anne and Nóirín Mulvihill, nieces Aoife, Cáit and Sadbh, nephews Tadhg and Óran, her brothers-in-law Frank Gleeson and Brendan Grehan, and aunts Phil McGrath, Kitty Kelly and Josephine Funge.

Banlaoch ar lár, go raibh sí in éineacht leis na saoithe is na huaisle.