New Academy head reaches to academics and public


The new president of the Royal Irish Academy, Prof Luke Drury, says it has a role to play in Ireland by fostering public debate about the future

THE NEW president of the Royal Irish Academy believes that the 226-year-old institution has an increasingly important role to play in Irish society: it can help foster public debate in these increasingly difficult times.

Prof Luke Drury of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies was elected the Academy’s 54th president yesterday at a general meeting of the Academy’s full membership. He assumed office immediately on that vote and will be president for the next three years, succeeding Prof Nicholas Canny of NUI Galway.

“It is a great honour, it is humbling really,” said Prof Drury who is director of the Institute’s School of Cosmic Physics.

The Academy was formed more than two centuries ago but Prof Drury believes that its contribution to wider Irish society is just as vital and important as ever.

It is an all-Ireland, independent, academic body that promotes study and excellence in academic research.

It seeks to “vigorously promote excellence in scholarship, recognise achievements in learning, direct research programmes and undertake its own research projects, particularly in areas relating to Ireland and its heritage”, it says in its mission statement.

Its ongoing relevance is also highlighted when it states the academy “will reflect upon, advise on and contribute to public debate and public policy formation on issues of major interest in science, technology and culture”.

During his presidency Prof Drury wants to accentuate the Academy’s important links to the wider public. “We are heading into interesting times,” he says.

“There is going to have to be a great deal of public debate in Irish society on issues such as third level education, health care and also how we get out of the [financial] mess we are in,” he says.

He wants to expand the Academy’s range of public events and also produce more engaging publications such as Judging Dev: A Reassessment of the Life and Legacy of Eamon de Valeraby Diarmaid Ferriter.

Then there are projects such as the Dictionary of Irish Biographyedited by James McGuire and James Quinn.

It was published by Cambridge University Press in nine volumes but was devised, researched, written and edited under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography project.

It has details on 9,700 lives in 9,014 articles from 700 contributors who penned eight million words covering more than 2,000 years of Irish history.

“These are the sorts of things an academy should be doing and the need is greater than it ever was,” Prof Drury suggests.

He attended St Andrew’s in Lucan and Wesley College in Dublin and during his school years he won the 1969 Young Scientist of the Year exhibition at the RDS and he also won a gold medal for the best results in the Leaving Cert chemistry examinations.

He studied experimental physics and pure mathematics at Trinity College Dublin where he won the gold medal for maths and also the Fitzgerald Medal for physics before he graduated in 1975.

He did a PhD at Cambridge University and then worked at the Max-Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, before returning to Dublin and joining the Institute in 1986.

He has received many awards and distinctions over the past decades and has also been deeply involved in major projects here relating to advanced high-end computing.

He will now chair meetings of the Academy’s 21-member governing council and also meetings of the executive committee which oversees the day-to-day business of the Academy on behalf of the council.