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Centenary Lecture to Mark Birth of Leading Irish Agricultural Scientist - Dr Tom Walsh

Today, 18th July, marks the centenary of the birth of the late Dr Tom Walsh, an internationally renowned Irish scientist and leader, who over a career of more than 40 years, made fundamental contributions to the development of Irish agriculture, the economy and society. Dr Tom Walsh was the first Director of An Foras Taluntais (AFT), and later of ACOT (AFT and ACOT merged to form Teagasc in 1988). He worked untiringly for the development of Ireland’s natural resources in general, and for the agricultural and food industries in particular.

To mark the centenary of Dr Walsh’s birth, Teagasc will hold a special centenary lecture in Johnstown Castle, Wexford on 5th December - World Soils Day. The lecture will be delivered by Professor John Ryan on the ‘Evolution and Achievements of Irish Soil Science’. Professor Ryan is himself an internationally distinguished soil scientist and was the recipient of the prestigious International Service in Agronomy Award for 2004 from the American Society of Agronomy. Professor Ryan is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, recipient of the International Soil Science Award, and Distinguished Citizen of the University of Arizona.

This lecture will highlight the contribution made by Dr Walsh, both as a practising soil scientist and through his role in establishing Johnstown Castle and An Foras Taluntais as a leading research centre in soil science.

Born on the 18 July, 1914, in Piercetown, County Wexford, Dr Tom Walsh was educated at Piercetown National School and Wexford CBS. He studied agricultural science in UCD, receiving an honours BAgrSc in 1937, a MAgrSc in the following year, and a PhD in 1941. He was awarded a DSc for published work on soil science and crop nutrition in 1947 and was subsequently awarded honorary doctorates by the National University of Ireland (LlD) in 1972 and by Trinity College (ScD) in 1980.

On graduation, Dr Walsh worked with Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd., and later as an Agricultural Instructor. He joined the staff of University College Dublin where he lectured in soil science from 1938 to 1945, and from 1945 to 1952 he worked as Soil Advisory Officer in the Department of Agriculture. In 1952 he was appointed Senior Inspector in that Department, with responsibility for soils and grassland research. When An Foras Taluntais (now Teagasc) was established in 1958, he was appointed by the Government as its first Director. Dr Walsh participated actively in a large number of national and international scientific, educational and voluntary organisations.

He was the founder member and President of the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) and of the Fertiliser Association of Ireland. He was also Senior Vice-President of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) and served as Secretary of the RIA for seven years. Among his many awards were Fellowship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Honorary Membership of the Institute of Engineers of Ireland, the first Honorary Fellowship of the Food Science and Technology Society of Ireland, the medal for the French Society of Soil Science, the Francis New Memorial for the Fertiliser Association and nomination as Soil Scientist of the year by the Soil Science Society of America. Two further honours which came from Dr Walsh’s own county, and of which he was very proud, were the freedom of Wexford town in 1979 and dedication to him by An Foras Taluntais of the Soil Laboratory at the Johnstown Castle Research Centre in 1987 “in recognition of his contribution to agricultural science and to the nation”.

Dr Walsh was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) in 1956, where he served on the Council, as Senior Vice-President, as Science Secretary and as Secretary. He was a member of the Science Committee of the Royal Dublin Society and was awarded the Society's Boyle Medal, for outstanding contribution to science in Ireland, in 1969.

He served on the Commission for Higher Education and was Chairman of the National Council for Educational Awards (NCEA) during the 1970s. He was appointed Director of An Comhairle Oiliúna Talmhaiochta (ACOT, The National Farm Advisory Body) in 1980 and retired from public life in 1983. He died in 1988.

The Centenary Lecture will take place in Teagasc, Johnstown Castle, Wexford on 5th December - World Soils Day.