Trinity College Dublin: Blue plaque unveiled in honour of Prof John Byrne

A blue plaque in honour of the late Professor John G. Byrne was unveiled last week by the Provost, Dr Linda Doyle as part of a national series of commemorative plaques honouring leaders in Science & Technology.

Professor Byrne founded Trinity’s Department of Computer Science in 1969 and was its head for 32 years. He was a distinguished computer scientist, dedicated public servant and Senior Fellow at Trinity. Such was the impact of his career, he is known by many as the ‘Father of Computing in Ireland’.

Commenting on what an honour it was to unveil the plaque, the Provost said that in addition to being a pioneer in computing, Professor Byrne’s great legacy was his kindness towards students.

Speaking at the unveiling, Professor Jane Grimson, Fellow Emeritus and Pro-Chancellor of the University said: “There are two main aspects to John’s role as the Father of Computing which go way beyond simply establishing the Department in Trinity. They include the development of computer science as an academic discipline in Ireland and the development of Ireland as a global hub for ICT. John was always motivated by a deep sense of patriotism – of public service”.

“He felt strongly that universities have an obligation not just to conduct research and to teach, but also to contribute to civil society in the widest possible sense. He gave generously of his time helping other universities and institutes of technology here to establish Computer Science departments, and also advised companies on the purchase of computers. Under his leadership, the Department of Computer Science here introduced many full- and part-time programmes, aimed at building a base of skilled professionals in this new discipline. Many of the graduates subsequently went on to play major roles in the public and private sectors in the country”.

Some of Trinity’s earliest campus companies spun out from the Department of Computer Science. The best-known spin-out was Iona Technologies created by Chris Horn and colleagues in 1991 and at its peak in 2001 employed 1,200 people with 22 offices worldwide. It was acquired by Progress Software for about $162 million in 2008. Another successful company was Havok, a leading provider of computer game technologies, founded by Hugh Reynolds and Steven Collins in 1998. It was bought by Intel in 2007 and then sold to Microsoft for an undisclosed sum in 2015.

Professor Byrne has left behind an invaluable legacy. He was deeply loyal to Trinity and to Ireland. His bequests to College include the John Gabriel Byrne Computer Science Collection – John’s vast and historically significant collection of computing books and documents, slide rules, instruments, and machines which is currently housed in the O’Reilly Institute. He also included a bequest to enable the purchase of additional material for the collection. He loved the Library and bequeathed a generous sum for the purchase of early printed books; the conservation of the Old Library and for the map Library.