Historian Mary Daly and geneticist Dan Bradley awarded RIA gold medals

Awards honour outstanding research in Ireland of global significance

Historian Mary Daly and geneticist Dan Bradley have been awarded Royal Irish Academy (RIA) gold medals – the honour is regarded as the highest academic accolade in Ireland.

Prof Daly, who is emeritus professor of history at UCD, has had a transformative impact as a historian, according to the RIA's citation.

“She has broadened the account of Ireland’s past,” it added, “from a traditional focus on high politics, nationalism, unionism and Anglo-Irish relations to encompass a wide range of socioeconomic topics including industrial development, housing, local government, women’s history, family history and the history of childhood.”

She had also shown the value of history for understanding the past and at the same time informing contemporary policy and public discourse.


She was principal of UCD College of Arts and Celtic Studies for seven years and a founding director of the UCD Humanities Institute.

She made history in 2014 by becoming the first female president of the Royal Irish Academy in its 230-year history. She has served with distinction on State boards, most notably the Higher Education Authority, the Irish Manuscripts Commission and the Decade of Centenaries expert advisory group. Her co-authored 2007 book 1916 in 1966 – Commemorating the Easter Rising was the first major publication on the commemoration of the 1916 Rising, and informed the current Decade of Centenaries. From 2015 to 2021 she was one of the three-person commission of investigation into mother and baby homes which reported in January.

Genetic research

Prof Bradley, who is based at Trinity College Dublin, was awarded the medal for life sciences. His genetic research has transformed understanding of Ireland's and Europe's prehistory. His research group was one of the first to use molecular techniques to study diversity, adaption and biogeography in both human and domestic animal populations.

His expertise in genomics has enabled him to successfully lead the study of ancient DNA in Ireland, the RIA noted. "During the past decade this has matured into paleogenomic analysis, which is revolutionising understanding of prehistory in Europe and across the globe."

Prof Bradley has built an international reputation as a pioneer and thought leader in these fields “but also at translating fundamental population genetics research into practical application”.

He is co-founder of the TCD IdentiGEN spin-out, a world-leading animal genomics company. It was responsible for DNA testing that first revealed the horse-meat scandal in the Europe’s food supply in 2013.

Speaking at a virtual awards ceremony, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris underlined the medals' role in recognising and celebrating Ireland's highest achieving academics and the international impact of their work.

“Over the past year, addressing our social and economic challenges has crystallised the importance of research and expertise to society, globally,” he added. “These awards acknowledge the leading work of the academics in Irish institutions to benefit society, the international impact of their work and their support and inspiration of current and future generations of scholars.”

This was echoed by RIA president Dr Mary Canning, who presented the medals, which are sponsored by the HEA. "There is exceptional research taking place in higher education in Ireland that impacts positively on all our lives and the academy hopes that the gold medals will inspire future generations of aspiring researchers," she noted.

Prof Daly said it was a great honour to receive the medal, which “has special significance because it has been awarded by fellow scholars”.

“I see this medal as recognition of the importance of curiosity-driven research, and the contribution that the humanities can make to the wider society,” she added.

Prof Bradley said: “Science is of its nature a collaborative activity and any achievements I owe an enormous amount to the bright young – and some not so young – scientists I have been lucky to work with over the years.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times