Michael O'Donnell (1930 - 2006)

In recognition of his distinguished contribution to education and to engineering, the Governing Body, President and Colleagues at Dublin Institute of Technology wish to honour the memory of Michael O'Donnell.

Former Principal of Bolton Street College of Technology, first Acting President of DIT and Honorary Fellow of DIT, Michael O'Donnell commenced his career in teaching in Bolton Street in 1955. During the next forty years he was an inspiration to generations of colleagues and students until his retirement in 1995. In 2004 he was conferred with an Honorary Fellowship of Dublin Institute of Technology. The oration read on that occasion can be accessed here.

Michael will be greatly missed by all who knew him in DIT and we extend heartfelt sympathy to his family and friends.

Ar dheis Dé go rabh a anam.

Ordination read to Michael O'Donnell at the Conferring of the Honourary Fellowship - 2nd December 2004


December 2004

Michael Dominick O'Donnell is a distinguished educationalist who has spent his whole career in the service of DIT. A native of Kerry, Michael came to Dublin to study at University College, Dublin where he obtained bachelor degrees in both engineering and commerce, followed by a master's degree in economic science. It was, however, his love for engineering which was to dominate his subsequent career. After a year teaching in UCD, Michael joined the CDVEC as a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering in Bolton Street.

With the exception of a short, but important, period near the end of his career, Michael was to remain in Bolton Street for the next 35 years. He occupied positions as assistant head, then head of the Department of Engineering Technology before becoming Principal in 1980. During his period as Principal he oversaw the building of a major extension to the College.  Such was the importance of his leadership in Bolton Street that he became to many, the public face of that college.

While it is undoubtedly true that Michael was most at home in the student -influenced atmosphere of Bolton Street, one would completely miss the significance of his contributions to the whole of higher education by focusing attention in that direction only. Michael had many great skills which often went unnoticed to the casual outside observer: Michael had exceptional skills at pulling together, particularly in influencial committees, many seemingly disparate threads of developments and welding them into a cohesive whole. Thus it was no surprise when Michael succeeded Hugh de Lacy as Director of DIT in 1982. In this position Michael became a strong and effective advocate for the whole of DIT and was often willing to use his larger resource base in Bolton Street to support DIT-wide initiatives. Many of the central facilities that we now take for granted in DIT were pioneered by Michael, not least of which was the central computing facility. In this connection it is interesting to note that Michael returned to education himself in 1974, when we studied on the part-time Computers in Education programme in TCD.

Despite his huge workload in DIT 'recall that in the 80's, the position of Director of DIT was additional to his post as Principal of Bolton Street ' Michael had the energy to contribute significantly to organisations outside of DIT. He was a member of the first Council of the NCEA in 1972 and remained an active member for the next twenty years or so. In addition Michael served on the Governing Body of the then National Institute of Higher Education, Dublin as well as maintaining significant involvement with the Institute of Engineers of Ireland; his work for this latter group continued long after his formal retirement.

The run-up to the enactment of legislation to establish DIT on a statutory basis was to see Michael come to the fore once again. He, and his fellow college principals, spent a great deal of time ensuring that the new legislation would give DIT the special recognition it deserved and this they duly achieved with the inclusion of what is now Section 5 of the Act. This section gave the Institute the power to award its own certificates and diplomas and laid the foundations for DIT to become a degree-awarding body.

The first six months of 1993 were difficult ones for CDVEC and DIT as both groups tried to adjust to the new legislation. It was a measure of Michael's commitment to DIT that he undertook the thankless task of Acting President, a position which meant that he was placed right in the centre of all disputes but didn't have the powers to resolve them. This commitment to DIT was further highlighted when, despite his wish to return to Bolton Street, Michael acceded to the newly appointed President's request to remain in a central position to help with the many developments needed to advance DIT.  Thus he became the Institute's first, and to date only, Deputy President. It is a measure of the esteem in which Michael was held by the Department of Education, that sanction for this personal position was immediately granted when requested by Dr. Goldsmith.

In the period from 1993 to his retirement in 1995, Michael worked tirelessly for DIT, helping the fledgling central institution deliver quality services. During this period Michael helped advance two highly significant developments: the introduction of a formalised quality assurance procedure for DIT and the notion of a central campus. Even after his retirement in 1995, Michael continued to be involved with the former project which, as you know, ultimately resulted in DIT obtaining degree-awarding powers.

On a personal level Michael is often perceived as somewhat shy but eminently approachable. In conversation, his deep concern for education, and particularly for the welfare of students, is revealed very quickly.

In summary, the contributions of Michael Dominick O'Donnell to Irish education, and to DIT in particular, are of the highest order. The Dublin Institute of Technology honours his distinguished contributions with the award of an Honorary Fellowship.

President, Members of the Institute, I present to you Michael O'Donnell.

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