International Women’s Day
UCD is committed to equality and fostering an environment where everyone is treated fairly regardless of gender.
Explore our growing timeline below of UCD alumni, friends and staff who over the years have embodied the spirit of International Women’s Day through their lives, studies and careers.
This year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity. Equity isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.
Phyllis Clinch (opens in a new window)
Botanist and Academic
Phyllis graduated from UCD in 1923, first in her class with a BSc in Botany and Chemistry. She won a scholarship to continue her studies in UCD and completed her MSc in 1924, before going to Paris to earn a PhD in plant physiology, specialising in the biochemistry of the Coniferales at the Sorbonne.
She was a research assistant for the investigation of Plant Virus Diseases at UCD from 1929, and gained international fame within a few years for discovering complex viruses in the potato. In 1961, she was the first woman to be awarded the Boyle medal by the Royal Dublin Society. She died in 1984 after a long and successful career.
Mary Lavin (opens in a new window)
Short Story Writer
Mary Lavin received a BA in English and French followed by an MA in English in 1936, both from UCD. She wrote her first short story on the back of a typed draft of her Ph.D. dissertation on Virginia Woolf, and went on to become a prolific short story writer as well as a novelist. She was born in the USA in 1912 and returned with her family to Ireland in 1921.
Lavin’s first collection of short stories, Tales from Bective Bridge, published in 1942, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. This would be followed by numerous other awards during her career as well In 1992 the members of Aosdána elected Mary Lavin as Saoi (the highest honour the organisation can bestow) for achieving ‘singular and sustained distinction’ in literature. Lavin passed away in 1996. Lavin bequeathed UCD Library her archive of literary manuscripts, including drafts of short stories and other hand written and typed documents. This collection was supplemented by the purchase of her personal papers and letters by the library in January 2022.
Dervilla Donnelly (opens in a new window)
Organic Chemist and First Woman President of the RDS
Dervilla graduated from UCD in 1952 with a BSc in organic chemistry. She also completed a PhD at UCD in 1955, specialising in wood chemistry - an area which was of interest to the forestry industry in Ireland, and her work was used to help solve complex problems in Irish forestry.
She was a lecturer in Phytochemistry at UCD, and was appointed professor in 1979. Throughout her career she held many positions including membership of the Royal Irish Academy, serving as Vice-President three times. In 1989, Dervilla was elected the first Woman President of the Royal Dublin Society, after 258 years of male presidents.
Lelia Doolan (opens in a new window)
Supporter of the Arts, Activist
Lelia graduated from UCD with a BA French & German in 1954. She started her career in RTE and established the popular soap The Riordans. She left RTE not long afterwards, in protest at their commercial and political policies. She was described at the time by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid as “mad, bad, and dangerous”.
Lelia went on to become the first female Artistic Director at The Abbey, and the Chair of the Irish Film Board. She has been instrumental in developing and promoting the film industry in Ireland, particularly in the west of the country. In 2019, she was awarded the UNESCO Galway City of Film award at the Pálas cinema in Galway, which she was also heavily involved in establishing.
Breege O’Donoghue (opens in a new window)
Former Company Director at Primark
Breege graduated from UCD with a BComm in 1972. Known as the ‘matriarch’ of the Penneys/Primark retail group, she was chosen in 1979 to head up the HR unit. She remained involved in the business at the highest level until her retirement in 2016, responsible for much of the expansion we see today of the Primark brand around the world.
Breege has maintained a strong link with the brand since her retirement. She sits on a number of boards, and is currently working with UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School on developing an MSc Retail Management. She also mentors a group of women in business as part of the Going for Growth initiative with Enterprise Ireland and KPMG.
Yvonne Farrell & Shelley McNamara (opens in a new window)
Co-Founders at Grafton Architects
Yvonne and Shelley both graduated from UCD with a BArch in 1974. Having met in the early stages of their undergrad, the pair became firm friends. Together, they founded Grafton Architects – named for the office space on Grafton St that they still occupy.
The firm has enjoyed many successes, including winning the World Building of the Year Awards in 2008 for the Bocconi University building in Japan, and the inaugural RIBA International Prize in 2016 for the Universidad de Ingeniería y Technología, and the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 2020 among other awards. Both women have taught at the UCD School of Architecture for many years.
Catherine Day (opens in a new window)
Chair of the Citizens Assembly on Gender Equality
Catherine graduated from UCD in 1975 with both a BA in Economics and an MA in International Trade and Economic Integration. She has forged a long and successful career in the EU, culminating in her becoming the first woman to hold the position of Secretary General of the European Commission from 2005 – 2015.
After her retirement from this role, she remained in the EU until 2018 as a special advisor to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Catherine was last year appointed Chair of the latest Citizen’s Assembly on Gender Equality, which will examine gender equality issues in Ireland today and make a series of recommendations to government to improve our society.
Orna Ní Chionna (opens in a new window)
Senior Independent Director at Burberry plc
Orna Ní Chionna spent 18 years at McKinsey & Company's London office, where she was the first woman to be elected Partner. Since leaving McKinsey in 2001 she has served on a wide range of UK boards and is currently Chair of the Remuneration Committee at Burberry plc and the Senior Independent Director at Saga plc. She is also Chair of digital consulting firm Founders Intelligence.
Orna holds degrees in Electronic Engineering from University College Dublin (BE) and University College Cork (MEngSc); and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Mary Horgan (opens in a new window)
First Female President of the RCPI
Professor Mary Horgan graduated from UCD in 1986 with her medical degree. Mary then went to Washington University School of Medicine, where she trained further and became a specialist in infectious diseases. She is passionate about education, and became the Dean of the School of Medicine at University College Cork in 2014.
Mary’s work in the area of infectious diseases has had a huge impact nationally, and she is credited with reversing the downward trend in the uptake of the HPV vaccine from 50% to 71% in one year. Professor Horgan was also the first female elected to the position of President of RCPI since its establishment in 1654.
Síofra O'Leary (opens in a new window)
President of the European Court of Human Rights
Irish judge Síofra O'Leary, an alumna of the UCD Sutherland School of Law, became the first female President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), as well as the first Irish person named to the role.
"Very important for women at all levels in the legal profession in Ireland and internationally” was how Siofra O'Leary's appointment to the role of President of the ECHR was described. A graduate of University College Dublin (BCL 1989) and the European University Institute in Italy, O'Leary spent years lecturing on EU law at a number of universities prior to her appointment as an ECHR judge in 2015. She took up her new role in November 2022, succeeding Robert Spano from Iceland. O'Leary has also previously held roles, including acting as a référendaire and chef de cabinet, at the Court of Justice for the European Union in Luxembourg.
Majella Henchion (opens in a new window)
First Female President of UCD Engineering Graduates Association
Majella graduated from UCD with a BE in Mechanical Engineering in 1990. After graduation, she continued her education in Manchester University, earning an MSc in Engineering – Maintenance Management. Majella has enjoyed a long career in ESB, where she currently holds the role of Network Assets Programme Owner.
In 2023, Majella became the first ever female president of the UCD Engineering Graduates Association, an organisation founded in 1980 to provide a networking forum for UCD engineering alumni.
Gráinne Humphries (opens in a new window)
Festival Director at Dublin International Film Festival
Having graduated from UCD in 1993 with a BA and MA in English, Classical Civilisation and Film Studies, Gráinne went on to work with the IFI and now she is the festival director of the Dublin International Film Festival.
In 2018, she was presented with the Ordre National du Mérite by French ambassador Mr. Stéphane Crouzat in recognition of her continuous work for the promotion of France-Ireland cultural relations. Gráinne regularly appears on both television and radio broadcasts on the arts. She is also paying it forward by supporting UCD students as an active Alumni Mentor and Creative Fellow.
Rhona Mahony (opens in a new window)
Former Master of the National Maternity Hospital
Rhona graduated in 1994 with her Medicine Degree, and went to work in St. Vincent’s Hospital. She knew at an early stage that she wanted to specialise in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She went on to become a specialist in fatal foetal abnormalities and maternal medicine at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles St. In 2011, she became the first woman in the hospital’s 100 year history to hold the position of master.
While she held this role, she became a central voice in the lead up to the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment, campaigning for the removal of the amendment. She continues to be a champion for women’s rights, and a leading advocate for maternity services in Ireland.
Alison Cowzer (opens in a new window)
Co-Founder of East Coast Bakehouse & Chair of Women for Election
Alison graduated with an MBA from UCD in 1997. After graduation, she worked in a senior marketing role in L’Oreal, eventually setting up Jacob Fruitfield with her husband Michael, before selling it to Valeo Foods.
Alison credits her success in business in part to the support around her in her early career, and mentors a number of young people starting out. She also talks to young people in schools and colleges to give them the inside track on starting out in business. Through her position as Chair of Women for Election, Alison uses her business acumen to further the mission of achieving gender parity at all levels of Irish Government.
Teresa Lambe (opens in a new window)
Co-developer of the Oxford vaccine against COVID-19
Associate Professor Teresa Lambe is a Principal Investigator at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford. Prof Lambe has been involved in immunology research for over fifteen years with extensive knowledge in the assessment of naturally acquired and post-vaccination immune responses. Teresa graduated from the Dept of Pharmacology, UCD in 1997 with a joint honours degree in Pharmacology and Molecular Genetics.
She then joined Prof. Finian Martin’s group at the Conway Institute and completed her PhD studies in 2002, moving to the University of Oxford the same year. Professor Lambe’s research programme focuses on developing innovative vaccines against emerging and outbreak pathogens. Outside of her most recent work on the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) vaccine, her group have progressed novel vaccine development against lethal haemorrhagic viral diseases such as Ebolavirus, Lassa fever virus and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus. This experience proved to be a dry-run for her recent work developing a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. As well as her role in the initial design of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine, she is leading a clinical programme testing the responses post-vaccination.
Professor Colin Scott (opens in a new window)
Vice President for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion at UCD
Professor Colin Scott is the Vice President for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion, Dean of Social Sciences, Principal of UCD College of Social Sciences & Law, and Professor of EU Regulation & Governance. The EDI Group at UCD, chaired by Professor Scott, is responsible for promoting an inclusive and diverse work and study environment for all.
Part of the University's EDI programme is to oversee the work by the Gender Equality Action Group, which include supporting schools within the university to apply for and win the Athena SWAN Award. In Oct 2019, eight schools in total won the Athena SWAN bronze award for their commitment to gender equality.
Maeve O’Rourke (opens in a new window)
Barrister, Lecturer, Human Rights Campaigner
Maeve graduated from UCD with a BCL in 2009. She is a barrister and lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway, as well as co-founder of the Clann Project and a member of Justice for Magadalenes campaign. In 2010, Maeve brought a case before the Irish Human Rights Commission and in 2011, before the UN Committee Against Torture and UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the Justice for Magadelenes group.
She continues to work with survivors of institutional abuse in Ireland, particularly survivors of the Magdalene Laundries, by providing pro bono legal support, and advocating for them in the media in Ireland and overseas. Maeve is also an active UCD Alumni Mentor, providing mentorship and advice to students hoping to pursue a career in Human Rights Law.
Andrew Hyland (opens in a new window)
Activist and Policy Manager at Google
Andrew graduated from UCD in 2011 with a BA, an MA in European Studies, and an MSc in Equality Studies. He enjoyed a successful career in PR, founding his own company Platinum PR, a social justice and equality based PR company in 2007.
He was a founding member of the Yes Equality and director of Marriage Equality groups that were instrumental in winning the referendum for equal marriage rights for LGBT people in Ireland in 2015. He has also been a mentor in Women on Air, a community of like-minded women and men who want to see more women on the airwaves. He currently holds the position of policy manager for the EMEA region with Google.
Sinéad Goldrick (opens in a new window)
Sinéad graduated from UCD with a BSocSc in 2011. She is best known as a senior Dublin Ladies footballer, captaining the team in 2014, and was a member of the All-Ireland winning teams of 2017, 2018 and 2019. In 2019, she won her seventh All-Star award.
Following her degree in UCD, she attended CIT and earned an MSc in Marketing. Sinéad currently works in PR, with agency Wilson Hartnell in Sport Sponsorship and Marketing. She has been heavily involved in the promotion of the 20x20 “If she can’t see it, she can’t be it” campaign promoting women in sport. Sinéad plays Australian Rules football in Melbourne.
Katie Mullan (opens in a new window)
Captain of the Irish Ladies Hockey Team
Katie graduated from UCD in 2018 with a BSc in Engineering Science and an ME in Biomedical Engineering. She is the captain of the Irish Women’s Hockey team, and lead them to the first World Cup Final by any Irish team in any sport.
They won a silver medal in that competition, and returned home to a heroes welcome from the Irish public. Katie has captained the national team more than 165 times, and led them to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It’s the first time that an irish women’s hockey team has qualified for the Olympic Games.