UL pays tribute to former chancellor Dr Miriam Hederman O’Brien

Barrister, academic and first female chancellor of an Irish university dies at 89

Dr Miriam Hederman O’Brien, a barrister, academic and the first female chancellor of an Irish university, has died. She was 89.

University of Limerick, where she served as chancellor from 1998 to 2002, said staff were deeply saddened by her death and paid tribute to her contribution to Irish and European society over several decades.

UL chancellor Mary Harney said: "Dr Hederman O'Brien was an inspirational role model who I was privileged to know and learn so much from. Irish society was enriched by her leadership and scholarship. I express my sympathies to her family at this sad time."

She said her experience of seeing the gap between rich and poor in Italy meant she was more politicised than many others

President of UL, Prof Kerstin Mey, said the university had benefited hugely from her leadership, enthusiastic engagement and "vast experience and wise counsel over the term of her time in office".

"Throughout her life she contributed in great measure to Irish and European society through her participation and leadership of a diverse range of councils, commissions and research bodies in Ireland and abroad," she said.

Dr Hederman O'Brien died in the care of AnovoCare nursing home in Co Dublin. Her funeral Mass is due to take place at St Sylvester's Church, Malahide, at 10am on Saturday.

Originally from Naas, Co Kildare, Ms Hederman O'Brien only commenced formal schooling at the age of nine.

“It was a culture shock,” she told The Irish Times, in an interview in 1998. “I found the regime difficult since I hadn’t developed that protective layer that children who start school aged four or five have.”


After boarding at Mount Anville in Dublin, she went to Rome to study music, before opting to return to Ireland where she simultaneously studied law in King’s Inns as well as French and English at UCD.

She said her experience of seeing the gap between rich and poor in Italy meant she was more politicised than many others who had come straight from secondary school and became heavily involved in student affairs.

After college, she practiced at the Bar, moved into radio and writing and completed a doctorate in political science from Trinity College Dublin.

During a varied career, Dr Hederman O'Brien was chairwoman of the Irish Council of the European Movement (1977-80) and chairwoman of the Commission on Taxation (1980-85).

In addition, she chaired the Foundation for Fiscal Studies and the Irish Committee of the European Cultural Movement.

She was also a member of the board of directors of AIB, the Irish Centre for European Law, the National Economic and Social Council, the Council of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland and a trustee of the Irish Centre for International Affairs in Brussels.

In 1984 she received the European Order of Merit for her contribution towards European understanding and integration.

In 1992 she was awarded the Order of Merit by the president of Poland and she was awarded an honorary doctorate of philosophy from the Pontifical University of Maynooth in 1996.

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