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Séamus McDermott receives his Honorary Doctorate

UCD's Seamus McDermott was awarded an Honorary Doctorate

Thursday, 9 February, 2023

Seamus Heeney pictured with Orla Feeley

Séamus McDermott is a Chartered Engineer who graduated with a degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering from UCD in 1958. A proud alumnus of UCD, Séamus held senior management positions in semi-state and private industry prior to setting up his own management consultancy business. He also lectured on management and engineering in Ireland and overseas and has developed his own property business. He is a founder member of the Irish Institute of Industrial Engineers and was Honorary Secretary of the Institute for several years. He is a past Chairman of the Institute of Training and Development and a member of the MTM Association.

A native of Galway, Séamus has dedicated much of his life to helping others to thrive for the betterment of society. He is the founder and Director General of the Liffey Trust. The Liffey Trust was the brainchild of Séamus after he decided at 49 years of age to give back to society by establishing this charity to promote job creation and enterprise development; assisting new businesses not supported by state agencies. Through the work of his trust, Séamus helped hundreds of small businesses to establish themselves.

His determination, selflessness, and inspiration were to rub off on all who witnessed them, with many who passed through the trust’s doors subsequently going on to dedicate large portions of their own time to charitable work.

For those of you unfamiliar with the trust, it is thought to be the first enterprise centre in Europe, a hub of innovation and ideas for businesses operating across multiple sectors. To set up such a venture in 1984, at a time of recession, mass-unemployment and emigration was a labour of love. In addition to providing on-site premises to fledgling businesses, Séamus offered tenants low rent, free financial advice, mentorship, tax and legal advice, free help in preparing a business plan, designing premises, gaining the necessary approvals from statutory authorities, building cold rooms, storage facilities, toilets, heating, ventilation, etc.

Within a short period the centre was full of new businesses, all helping each other. Séamus set this up with his own money, no state help and for the benefit of others. He worked tirelessly every day for 35 years and he took no remuneration, nor did he seek an equity stake in the resident firms. He guided and encouraged tenants to see that the sky was the limit. New businesses need an experienced mentor, and Seamus did this brilliantly, encouraging excellence.

In 1986, following a series of interviews with young entrepreneurs in the Enterprise Centre, The Irish Times stated, “The Liffey Trust is wholly, unspeakably, indescribably, quite surpassingly excellent, and if you want advice, contact Séamus McDermott, whose brainchild it was.” 

20 years ago, in November 2002, the Liffey Trust suffered a catastrophic fire that wiped out the premises and all its contents. They had no insurance as nobody would insure buildings in Sheriff Street, so everything was lost. Most people would give up – remember, Séamus was now 67 years of age – but that did not stop him from planning a recovery. As a result of his dedication, the Liffey Trust now owns its own enterprise centre on the same land, assists job creation through reduced rents for business, still mentors businesses, invests significantly in university entrepreneurial scholarships, runs a business hub encouraging Liffey Trust scholars to share stories and network, while also funding DEIS schools in need.

Séamus could have done all of this for himself, but chose to do it for others. He retired from the Liffey Trust three years ago, aged 84, leaving the charity with assets of €20m that could just as easily have been personally owned.

We have to ask ourselves, is this not the work of an extraordinary man who has given most of his working life to charity?

Upon Séamus’s retirement, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said:

"Thank you, Séamus, for your lifetime of extraordinary work and for your vision in setting up the Liffey Trust way back in the 80s, what foresight. Still today the Liffey Trust is as important… …as it was then".

To conclude: The honorary doctorate is awarded to distinguished individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the university and society. Séamus McDermott is a unique individual whose life’s work epitomises the UCD values reflected in the University’s mottos: Ad Astra, in allowing young entrepreneurs to reach for the stars; and Cothrom Na Féinne, the fairness and equality of opening doors for businesses in an historically deprived inner-city community.

UCD is honoured and privileged to recognise Séamus’s outstanding contributions by awarding this Honorary Doctorate.

UCD College of Engineering and Architecture

Room 122 & Room 126, UCD Engineering and Materials Science Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
T: +353 1 716 1868 | E: eng.arch@ucd.ie