Key figure in the evolution of meteorology in Ireland


Donal Linehan: Donal Linehan was a talented aviation meteorologist and director of what was then the Irish Meteorological Service, now Met Éireann, from 1981 to 1988. Donal Liam Linehan was born in St Lukes, Cork, in November 1923.

He was educated at Christian Brothers' College where his father Dan taught physics and mathematics, and subsequently at University College Cork, from which he graduated with first class honours in civil engineering and mathematical science in 1944.

He was an outstanding athlete during his college years and he also excelled academically, being awarded both the Pierce Malone scholarship and the Peel Memorial Prize as the outstanding undergraduate of his year.

In March 1946 he joined the Meteorological Service, and after a short period in training at Valentia Observatory, Co Kerry, he served for almost 20 years as an aviation weather forecaster at the Meteorological Office, Shannon airport. In that pre-jet era, charts showing weather conditions en route were prepared individually for every transatlantic flight, and in the immediate aftermath of the second World War the information on which these forecasts might be based was meagre. There were no satellites, few upper-air observing stations and few weather ships, and communications were much less efficient and reliable than they are today. All of this was in an environment where the accuracy of a forecast could be a matter, quite literally, of life or death. He became an acknowledged expert in his field.

In 1966 Donal was transferred to Cork, where he inaugurated a new aviation forecasting office at Cork airport. A few years later, with forecasting in Cork now fully operational, he returned to Shannon to take over as head of the aviation flagship, and during this period of his career he played an increasingly active role in the international aspects of aviation meteorology, representing Ireland at meetings of relevant bodies of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, based in Montreal, Canada.

In 1975 he moved to Dublin to take charge of the Central Analysis and Forecast Office, then in O'Connell Street, and three years later was appointed assistant director to Killian Rohan. In this capacity he was much involved in the design and implementation of the Meteorological Service's new headquarters building in Glasnevin, a role for which his training in civil engineering made him well suited. In 1981 he succeeded Rohan as director.

In many ways it was an unhappy time to be director. It was an era of cuts, a result of the serious state of the nation's finances. Donal resisted these as best he could, and not without success, but the inevitable result was a significant reduction in the service's observing programme, which Donal felt at the time to be seriously ill-advised. As it happened, future technological developments in the form of satellites and automatic weather stations were to reduce meteorology's dependence on manned observing facilities, but Donal was more prescient in his reservations about the commercialisation of national weather services. After a relatively brief period during the 1990s when enthusiastic participation in the market place by State meteorological agencies became popular, the emphasis in recent years has returned to where Donal always felt it ought to be: the provision of an efficient and cost-effective public service.

His period as director was also a time when the development of numerical weather prediction made possible great improvements in the accuracy of weather forecasting, a trend Donal enthusiastically encouraged.

With his assumption of the directorship, Donal Linehan became Permanent Representative of Ireland with the World Meteorological Organization. He was a strong supporter of the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting in Reading, England, and played an active role in the establishment of the European Meteorological Satellite Organisation, EUMETSAT, now based in Darmstadt, Germany. He retired as director of the Meteorological Service in November 1988.

He retained his interest in sport throughout his life, becoming a single-figure golfer in his middle years. He was also a keen badminton player, and it was through his participation in that sport that he met Lauri Kenny, whom he married in January 1959. In his later years the emphasis was on bridge, and he was a long-time and dedicated member of Howth Bridge Club, serving for a term as president.

Donal Linehan, on a personal level, was a reserved and kindly man, universally liked and respected by those who knew him well. He died after a short illness on August 29th, and is survived by his wife, his son Paul, and daughter Kate.

Donal Liam Linehan: born November 16th, 1923; died August 29th, 2006