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Dr Peter McPolin RIP


The community of governors, staff and students, as well as the College’s wider circle of alumni and friends, is deeply saddened by the news of the death of our colleague Dr Peter McPolin.

St Mary’s offers its deepest condolences to Peter’s family, friends and colleagues.

Peter had many good friends at St Mary’s. He was considered to be intellectually highly gifted and yet was always available to help and assist colleagues. He displayed a great love for the discipline of Mathematics and considered his work to be vocational in terms of promoting the subject. He also contributed significantly to our international outreach programme. Above all, Peter was considered to be most reliable in all that he did.

Peter’s friend and colleague, Gerry Trainor, has supplied two lovely photographs. The first demonstrates that Peter enjoyed the sea and in recent years he was part of an annual staff fishing trip at Red Bay, Cushendall, with our retired colleague Dr Michael McEntee at the helm.

Gerry commented, “Peter was held in high regard by the many students whom he taught and supervised over the years. He inspired several generations of Mathematics teachers.”

Professor Colm Mulcahy (Professor of Mathematics, Spelman College, Atlanta) who was a good friend of Peter’s added the following “Peter was born and brought up in the townland of Ardbrin (Irish Árd Brain ) in the civil parish of Annaclone and the historic barony of Iveagh Upper, Upper Half. Co. Down (not far from where the famous Iron Age bronze trumpet, known as the ‘Ardbrin Horn’, was found and which is kept in the National Museum of Ireland in  Dublin).

In addition to Mathematics, his other interests included Classical Music and Opera; Russian language, its literature and  culture.”    

Another colleague and friend, Dr Brian Hanratty, has written the following tribute to Peter:

“A central aspect of Peter’s personality and character was his great generosity of spirit and the altruism which enabled him to reach out to all with whom he came in contact. That altruism was certainly manifest in the support extended to many of his colleagues in St Mary’s, when his expertise in computers and statistical analysis helped facilitate his colleagues’ work both in teaching and research. Likewise, over the years, many generations of students at the College, which he loved and in which he loved working, benefited from his expertise and his unrelenting efforts on their behalf. I, personally was the recipient of his generous help, given so willingly and on so many occasions, that it almost became a given. For me, and for so many of his colleagues, that helpfulness – often given at the shortest of notice – was characterized too, by a sense that he indeed relished the opportunity to give so freely both of his time and expertise.  

Peter was also an astute ‘reader’ of the human condition. Steadily observing the passing scene, through the lens of his clear blue eyes, he had the ability, as Seamus Heaney once observed about his own interpersonal interactions, ‘to take all in without being taken in.’ Nonetheless, if Peter was conscious of others’ foibles or weaknesses, he remained absolutely non-judgmental, refusing ever to say anything remotely negative about anyone.  

Another central aspect of Peter’s life and work was his undoubted brilliance of mind and intellect. A true polymath, he carried his learning lightly, whether it was his mastery of Russian, his encyclopaedic knowledge of classical music, or his ability to solve complex and arcane mathematical ‘puzzles’ set by Harvard boffins and circulated globally online. Indeed, he was not content just to be (often) the first to solve those puzzles but, as he once observed, to solve them in the most ‘elegant’ way possible.

That mathematical brilliance, which he was at some pains not to boast about, was celebrated in a recent online publication of the ‘Annals of Irish Mathematics and Mathematicians’. The publication was the 2020 edition of the Irish Mathematicians Calendar. Famous Irish Mathematicians are featured in the calendar and listed, complete with photograph and a short biopic, according to the month in which they were born. Thus, sharing a space with, for example, the Nobel Prize-winning Ernest Walton, is Dr Peter McPolin of St Mary’s University College, one of Ireland’s famous mathematicians, and born on December 7th, 1955.  

Peter died, while he had still so much to give and to live for, on March 1st, 2020. He was a true gentleman in the full sense of that word and he will be deeply mourned, not only by his beloved wife, Miriam and his six grieving children but also by the whole community at St Mary’s and by his many friends and colleagues, both in Ireland and further afield.  

May his noble and generous soul rest in peace.”  



Dr Peter McPolin RIP