Ex-senator and distinguished UCC professor

The former senator and professor emeritus of mathematical physics at University College Cork, Dr Patrick Michael Quinlan, died…

The former senator and professor emeritus of mathematical physics at University College Cork, Dr Patrick Michael Quinlan, died on November 8th aged 81.

He was born into a modest, but comfortable, farming family in Ballincrana, Kilfinane, Co Limerick on December 7th, 1919, a son of Jeremiah and Josephine (nΘe Casey). He obtained first place in the UCC entrance scholarship examination, and was awarded the highly prestigious Honan Scholarship. He studied civil engineering and gained a first-class honours degree. He also won the NUI bursary in engineering. He then studied mathematical science, obtaining first-class honours in B.Sc., and M.Sc., degrees. He won a NUI travelling studentship in 1945.

At college, Paddy Quinlan was at different times secretary and chairman of the Students' Guild Council, and edited the college magazine. He was an enthusiastic, if not highly skilled, member of the college hurling team, and later, in his professorial days, a very helpful honorary treasurer.

For the combination of excellent academic achievement and his role in student life, he was awarded the Cork Graduates' Club Gold Medal as the most distinguished graduate of 1941, and a Peel Memorial Prize.


Prior to his departure in 1946 to study for his doctorate at the renowned California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Paddy Quinlan married fellow graduate Jane Healy, who has been his lifelong companion, support and guide.

Caltech, led by Nobel Laureate Robert Milliken, had established itself as a world leader in physics, biology and engineering. Paddy Quinlan studied elasticity and mathematics as applied to engineering problems, and was awarded his Ph.D., in 1949. His mathematical techniques, using Fourier integrals, were at the forefront of engineering knowledge, and anticipated much subsequent work in areas of elasticity.

He returned to UCC in 1949 as a lecturer and was appointed professor of mathematical physics in 1951, a post he held until his retirement in 1987. At about the same time, Tadhg ╙ Ciardha was appointed to a newly-created chair in statistics after there had been some internal political consternation about how best to avail of the services of the two bright young mathematical Turks of the day.

Once installed in UCC, Paddy Quinlan now devoted himself, with enormous energy, to teaching and research, and to his political activities both within UCC and nationally.

Ever before the advent of the knowledge revolution, he anticipated the national necessity for a cadre of highly-trained graduates, and prepared a steady stream of students from engineering and mathematical physics to go to Caltech and elsewhere for their doctorates. He also initiated a doctoral programme in UCC. Many of his former students now hold professorships and lectureships in various Irish universities, as well as overseas. Two attained presidency of UCC.

Paddy Quinlan realised at an early stage the importance of numerical techniques in the solution of problems in elasticity that were not amenable to analytical techniques. He was awarded a significant grant from the US Air Force to develop work on torsion and elastic plate (used in the construction of aircraft) problems.

A contract research grant was unheard of in Ireland in the 1950s. This grant was renewed many times due to the value of his results (and possibly also to his own inimitable hospitality when being reviewed). In the late 1950s he anticipated the potential of the electronic computer combined with numerical techniques to solve complex mathematical problems. There was no computer in Ireland, so he wrote his own code and sent it to Manchester University for implementation. He was influential in setting up a chair of computer science in UCC.

In the early 1960s he developed his major research theme: the Edge Function Method for solving linear boundary value problems, and spent the rest of his research efforts, right up to his death, in developing and refining his method. The great advantage of this technique was the ease with which singularities, which arise from corners, cracks, inhomogeneities and re-entrant angles, could be incorporated into his scheme. The status of his research is attested to by the many invitations he received to speak at international conferences. Today his technique is used in the electronics industry as a final check on aspects of design.

Paddy Quinlan was awarded a D.Sc., for published work by the NUI in 1963, and was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1978.

He was elected to Seanad ╔ireann by the graduates of the NUI in 1957 and served with distinction until his retirement in 1977.

He was a long-time member of the governing body of UCC and of the Senate of the NUI. He was very involved, on the winning side, in the internal politics of the appointments of presidents of UCC John J. McHenry (1964-'67) and Michael D. McCarthy (1967-'78). He was expected by many to put his own hat in the ring, but never did so.

He was a frequent contributor to Seanad debates. On the occasion in 1958 when Eamon de Valera was first elected President, the Fianna Fβil government held a referendum to abolish the system of proportional representation (with the single transferable vote) in favour of the "first past the post system". Paddy Quinlan campaigned tirelessly against the proposal, which was rejected.

On the personal side, he was generous to a fault, loyal and supportive of his friends. He had a wonderful Limerick farmer's habit of putting his hand in his pocket to give a child something to buy sweets - which, of course, endeared "Professor Quinlan" to them. He had a sunny disposition and was an eternal optimist - even to the extent of expecting his beloved Limerick hurling team to win the All-Ireland regularly.

He is survived by his wife Jane, son Michael and daughters, Rosarii, Gail, Josephine and Jeanie.

Patrick Michael Quinlan: born 1919; died, November 2001