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UL Honours Outstanding Alumni


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Pictured are Sean McGowan, Helen Ryan, Eimear Cregan and Mary Earley, who received the award on behalf of her late husband Lt. Gen. Dermot Earley

At a glittering black-tie evening held on Saturday, 16 October, the University of Limerick Alumni Association hosted the 5th Annual Bank of Ireland UL Alumni Awards. These Awards are the Alumni Association's highest honour and are awarded to recognise outstanding achievements of individual UL alumni.

Honoured this year at the Awards evening held at the Clarion Hotel at Steamboat Quay in Limerick city are four University of Limerick graduates, Eimear Cregan, Sean McGowan, Helen Ryan and the late Lieutenant General Dermot Earley who have each made outstanding contributions to their particular fields.

In congratulating the 2010 Award Recipients, Mr Fintan Breen, Chairperson, UL Alumni Association (ULAA) said "Through graduates' involvement in ULAA activities - particularly Class Reunions which bring graduates back to the campus every September and also through our UL Graduate Online Community 'UniversaL' - we have become increasingly aware of the quality and diversity of achievement of UL alumni. A few years ago, this awareness led to the idea that we should honour those among us who have made outstanding contributions across various fields, not just to celebrate individual success but also to inspire other alumni and current students at UL. On behalf of everyone at ULAA, I warmly congratulate Eimear, Sean, Helen and family of the late Dermot Earley."

The 2010 Outstanding Achievement Award for Contribution to Sport was made to Limerick-born Eimear Cregan, the widely-respected Captain of the Irish Senior Ladies Hockey Team. In 2010, she became the most capped Irish hockey player of all time in either the men's or women's code. Niece of legendary former Limerick Hurling legend, Eamon Cregan, she has amassed 171 caps to her name, has scored 26 international goals and has played in four European Championships and one World Cup. Eimear is described as a player with superb 3D, rare mid-air skills and never-ending determination. She graduated with Honours from UL in 2005 with a BSc in Sport & Exercise Science and  in 2008 with a GDip in Physical Education. Today, she is a Secondary School Teacher in the Ursuline Convent in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

The 2010 Outstanding Achievement Award for Contribution to Society was made to the late Lieutenant General Dermot Earley. Described widely as a born leader, legendary sportsman, hugely popular and charismatic Irishman as well as great family man, he joined the Irish Defence Forces as a Cadet in 1965 and after extensive service both at some and overseas, was appointed Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces in 2007. Dermot Earley was also an outstanding sportsman. He played Gaelic football for his native Roscommon for twenty years and was the holder of five Connaught Senior medals, 2 Railway Cup Medals and 2 All Star Awards. General Earley graduated with Honours from the University of Limerick in 1999 with a Masters in Peace and Development Studies. He died prematurely in June this year, just a short time after being selected as a truly deserving Alumni Award Recipient.

The 2010 Outstanding Personal Achievement Award was made to Sean McGowan. In early 2010, Sean spent 118 days alone at sea, crossing the treacherous Atlantic. In doing so, his became the first Irish person to row solo across an ocean unsupported while raising much needed funds for an Irish Charity which supports African communities devastated by AIDS. Words such as determination and achievement don't even come close to describing the mammoth task for which this proud Limerick man prepared for seven years and which he has since described as a life changing experience. Unsurprisingly, Sean is an now a Motivational Speaker while within the corporate world, his recent work has involved taking departments that were struggling and turning them around in a short period to not only survive but strive with a solid structure and future. Sean is a also qualified Engineer who graduated with Honours with a Corporate MBA from UL in 2009.

The 2010 Outstanding Achievement Award for Contribution to Business is Helen Ryan, the Chief Executive of Ireland's largest indigenous company in the medical device sector, a company ranked among the global top 10 outsourcing providers to the medical device industry. In the five years since her appointment to the top job, she has steered the company through continued year-on-year growth and overseen an increase in the workforce from 100 to 1,000. Under Helen's leadership, the company has received numerous industry awards and is consistently recognized for product quality, reliability and customer service. She is a Galway woman with strong Limerick connections. Her Grandfather, a life-long 'soda cake', was a fitter in the Ardnacrusha power station and her Limerick relatives have a long association with business, politics and education in the city. After completing a Master's Degree in Project Management at the University of Limerick where Helen graduated with Honours in 2000, Helen has since remained involved with the Centre for Project Management at UL as a member of the Course Advisory Board.

Commending the Award winners, Professor Don Barry, President, University of Limerick said: "Through their individual endeavours, all our honourees have made significant contributions to their chosen field and in the process proved themselves to be outstanding ambassadors for this University. We are indeed very proud of Eimear Cregan, Sean McGowan, Helen Ryan and the late Lieutenant General Dermot Earley."

Representing the event's exclusive sponsor, Mr Gerry Reeves, Bank of Ireland's Regional Manager (West Munster) said "Bank of Ireland has a long association with honouring excellence and we are therefore delighted to join with ULAA in recognising the outstanding achievements made by UL alumni in different walks of life. Bank of Ireland is proud to continue our association with this great celebration and I particularly congratulate our four Award Recipients this year on their very impressive accomplishments".

Launched in 2006, this annual Alumni Awards celebration has become one of the most prestigious and significant events in the life of UL, Limerick and the alumni community which itself is a growing one. Just 2 months ago, during Autumn Conferring ceremonies, over 2,300 of our students graduated bringing the number of UL Alumni close to 55,000. 

Launched in 2006 by the UL Alumni Association, graduates of the University who have made an outstanding contribution in any of the following spheres can be nominated for awards:

*    Science & Technology
*    Cultural/Arts
*    Business
*    Academic
*    Societal/Humanitarian/Community
*    Sport

Each year, a maximum of four Graduates are honoured through this Awards programme.

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In 2010, Eimear Cregan - the widely-respected Captain of the Irish Senior Ladies Hockey team since 2008 - became the most capped Irish hockey player of all time in either the men's or women's code. To-date, she has amassed 171 caps to her name, has scored 26 international goals and has played in four European Championships and one World Cup.

Like all accidental sporting heroes, this Limerick woman could have chosen a very different path. Typically prodigious in almost every sport she tried, Eimear had looked set to be a Gaelic games star. Growing up in a family steeped in GAA - she is a niece of legendary former Limerick player and coach Eamonn Cregan - camogie seemed set to be her calling (she'd first picked up a hurley at age three). Then, fate played its part. Eimear recalls "A friend of mine asked me to come along to play hockey with Lansdowne. I didn't want to do it because I'd been doing gymnastics on a Saturday and just wanted Sunday to chill out but I went along anyway. I didn't have a clue about hockey, no idea of the rules but I had hand-eye coordination. My friend gave me a stick and shin-guards and the minute I picked up the stick, I absolutely loved it. A lot of it would transfer over from the ground hurling. I loved the smaller skills, the dodging and so on, from the very start." Camogie and hockey continued side-by-side during Eimear's teens as call-ups to Limerick and Munster's underage sides came along. At this stage, she says there was "no real pressure" to make a decision to focus either way but as she stepped into the adult arena, something finally had to give and so came the tough decision to give hockey precedence in her first year as a student in UL. She adds "In college, I tried to play both but there was a lot on. I picked up a small injury in a camogie match and was only out for a couple of weeks but it made me think. The honour of possibly playing for my country dragged me along. Its brilliant playing for your county but I really wanted to play for my country." After a stint with the Irish U-18 team, she recalls "Riet (Kuper) called me into the senior squad. It was pretty unbelievable."

Eimear made her international senior debut in 2001 at the age of 19 while at the same time continuing with her studies at UL where she also helped her college team win an Ashbourne Cup in Camogie in 2005. In the same year, she left Ireland briefly for a stint as a semi-professional in Holland with a hockey club called Push playing in the Dutch Hoofdklasse 2005/06.

Like all great forwards, Eimear has the knack of scoring crucial goals at important times. She was an integral part of Cork Harlequins' long-running dominance in Munster before moving back home to join Catholic Institute in 2009 where she has helped the Limerick club finish 3rd in the Munster Division 1 League and qualify for the All Ireland Hockey League this coming season 2010/2011.
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It is on the national stage however where Eimear has risen to greatest prominence. Reflecting now on her career to-date, she cites the 2002 World Cup, along with the 2005 European championships held in Belfield as highlights while a hat-trick in Korea against the host nation was a personal boon. She adds "To play in the World Cup in any sport is brilliant. I remember having a massive crowd when we played Australia, the whole stadium was full and I've never played in anything like that."

In recognition of her consistently strong performances at international and club level, Eimear has been named 'Irish Examiner Junior Sports Star of the Year 1999', ESB Women's Player of the Year 2007' and the Irish Hockey Association's 'Irish Senior Ladies Player of the Year 2007'. The following year, she was elevated to the role of Irish Captain.
Despite her unmistakable talent and formidable record, typically-humble Eimear reveals "I do still take one game at a time, I take every game as a bonus and never take being selected for granted."

Eimear -  whose family live in Castletroy - graduated with Honours from UL in 2005 with a BSc in Sport & Exercise Science and  in 2008 with a GDip in Physical Education.  Today, she is a Secondary School Teacher in the Ursuline Convent in Thurles, Co Tipperary. A past member of the Limerick Camogie team at all levels until hockey took over when she turned 20 years of age, Eimear remains a Member of Castletroy Golf  Club since 1996. Playing off a handicap of 17, she is a past winner of the Smurfit Girls Munster Inter Club Golf Competition (1998, 2000) as well as winner of the All-Ireland Inter-Club golf Competition in 2000. She is also a current member of Monaleen Ladies Football Team.

Looking to the future, the 28-year old believes there is more to come from the current set of players with the 2012 Olympics the big marker on the horizon. Eimear reveals "We're constantly improving. I don't think I've played with a squad which has been so tactically aware and technically aware due to the teaching of Gene [Muller] and Dennis [Pritchard]. As long as we stay together and keep improving, we really will be a serious force to reckon with."

As a player with superb 3D, mid-air skills - that are all-too-rare in the women's game - as well as never-ending determination, Eimear Cregan truly stands out at all levels.

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A born leader, legendary sportsman, hugely popular and charismatic Irishman as well as great family man, the late Lt Gen Dermot Earley first joined the Defence Forces as a Cadet in 1965. Commissioned into the Infantry Corps in 1967 and appointed a Platoon Commander in the Recruit Training Depot at the Curragh, Dermot specialised in Physical Training and Education and was appointed an Instructor at the Army School of Physical Culture (ASPC) in 1969. He also completed a specialist Diploma in physical education at St. Mary's College Twickenham in 1971.

Dermot's army career led to a variety of operational and administrative appointments in the Curragh Command where he completed the First Ranger Course in the Defence Forces, which led to the establishment of Special Operations Training and the formation of the Army Ranger Wing (ARW). Following a period as Assistant Command Adjutant at Curragh Command Headquarters (HQ), Dermot was appointed School Commandant of the ASPC. From 1983 to 1987, he worked as a Staff Officer for overseas operations and later current operations in the Chief of Staff's Branch at Defence Forces Headquarters (DFHQ). On return from an overseas posting in 1991, Dermot was appointed an instructor at the Command & Staff School of the Military College and in 1994/95, he helped establish the United Nations Training School Ireland (UNTSI) in the Military College. He was promoted to Colonel in 2001 and held the appointments of Director of Administration and Director of Personnel before being selected for promotion to Brigadier General in December 2003. Promoted to Major General in Feb 2004, Dermot was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff (Support). He was appointed Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces by the Government on 28 June 2007.

Dermot also had extensive overseas service. He served with the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation (UNTSO) in the Middle East from 1975 to 1977 and was Adjutant of the 52 Infantry Battalion with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in 1982/83. From 1987 to 1991, he served as the Deputy Military Advisor to the Secretary General of the UN at UN Headquarters in New York. Dermot also commanded the 81st Infantry Battalion with UNIFIL in 1997. He graduated with Honours from the University of Limerick in 1999 with a Masters in Peace and Development Studies

As Chief of Staff, Dermot oversaw the deployment of the significant Defence Forces contribution to the Chad Mission. This deployment demonstrated increased force projection and logistics capability by the Defence Forces and advanced the Defence Forces ability to operate in adverse environments. He also directed key initiatives in equipment purchases, personnel practices and education, positioning the Defence Forces as an organisation where best practice and modern technologies are accepted as the norm and where personnel are key enablers to all Defence Force capabilities.

In April 2010, Lt Gen Dermot Earley was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) with Honour by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. The citation with the medal read: "For outstanding qualities of leadership, resource and devotion to duty as Chief of Staff in successfully commanding the Defence Forces for his period as Chief of Staff and for his distinguished service with the United Nations."

Separate to his army career, Dermot was an outstanding sportsman. Born in Roscommon in 1948, he played Gaelic football for his home county for twenty years (1965 - 1985) and was the holder of five Connaught Senior medals, 2 All Star Awards, 1 National League medal (1979), 1 U21 All Ireland Medal (1966) An All Ireland runners up Medal (1980) and 2 Railway Cup Medals. In 1985, Dermot played his final game for Roscommon, on a losing Connacht final day. The significance of the occasion was not lost on his opponents, many of whom were almost 20 years his junior. It is reported that the Mayo players set aside their own celebrations to carry Dermot off the field on their shoulders in a powerful recognition of a wonderful man.

Retiring from the Defence Forces on 13 June, 2010 , Dermot died ten days later at the age of 62, having been ill for a number of months. He is survived by his mother Kitty, his wife Mary, his sons David, Dermot and Conor, his daughters Paula, Ann-Marie and Noelle, his daughter-in-law Sinead, his grandson Oisin and by his brothers Paul and Peter, and his sisters Margaret and Denise.

Described as "the hero you were glad you met... a man so elegant he shouldn't be durable, so durable he shouldn't be elegant, a man as close to perfection as a man can be... All who came into contact with the charismatic Dermot Earley were enhanced by the experience. He had a meaningful word for everyone and genuinely believed in helping others... Dermot Earley's entire life could be characterised as incontrovertible proof that the concepts of manliness and fairness need not be mutually exclusive."

Reference: Liam Horan, Irish Examiner, June 2010
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Ocean Rower, Sean McGowan spent over one hundred days at sea, crossing the Atlantic alone. In doing so, this Limerick man raised much needed funds to support an African charity. Words such as determination, pride and achievement don't even come close to describing the mammoth task for which Sean prepared for seven years and which he has since described  as a life changing experience.

Leaving Ireland and his young family behind on 19 November 2009, 42-year old Sean first flew to England where he underwent training in navigation and life survival skills. Just a fortnight later, feeling physically and mentally well prepared, he headed off to LeGomera in the Canary Islands to the start line for the Woodvale Ocean Race. After waiting out many a storm, Sean and his boat 'Tess' left on 4 January, 2010 at 1pm. Exactly 118 days, 1 hour, 14 minutes and 59 seconds later and after rowing alone across 5000 km, Sean finally reached his goal and stepped onto Antigua. In doing so, Sean became the first Irish person to row solo across an ocean unsupported. He now recalls of his epic voyage "90% was horrific, 8% not too bad and 2% of incredible beauty and wonderment... What made it worth while was that it was so difficult."

On just his third day at sea, Sean ran into the first storm where he met 40ft waves. On day five, he was taken out of the boat by a monster rogue wave which snapped two oars, broke his gate and left him struggling for the remainder of the race. He recalls "From the fifth day, I wanted to give up. I was scared, alone and in seas that I could never imagine existed. I was actually at sea during the worst weather to hit an ocean rowing event since records began and what made matter worse was the realisation that my estimate of completing the race in seventy days was now impossible. I just needed to finish whatever the time." From that moment on, Sean put his head down and just thought about getting through the next hour. He now says "I didn't row for 118 days, I did one hour at a time." On day ten, Sean was again taken out of the boat and ran into a storm on day thirteen which pounded him for over seven days. "My worst day was day twenty-one where I struggled through the night and day to keep Tess afloat and myself alive. Having to phone my wife and say what I was sure was my farewell was the toughest call I've had to make. Luckily, I made it through the day and made a break for it on day twenty two where I got reasonable weather for another month. I suffered physically with the expected discomfort of blistering compounded by frequent water shortages, my hands were damaged to an extent where I had to strap them to the oars in order to keep going. I ran out of food on day eighty and for the remaining thirty eight days, I ate raw fish resulting in my weight going from 97Kg to 59Kg. I had two close calls with ships missing me by twenty four feet at 4am one morning. I ended up with scurvy and tendon damage to both hands and a leg which will never heal fully."

A proud Limerickman, Sean reveals "I had an Irish flag on the boat, my Shannon oars to row, but Limerick was in my heart." At a Mayoral Reception held in Sean's honour after his return to Limerick, the Mayor of Limerick city, Kevin Kiely, a fellow Farranshone man noted that more people have stepped on the moon than rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Sean was also bestowed with Honorary Life Membership at Shannon Rowing Club, named Limerick Person of the Month in May 2010 and also the 'Get Out There - Adventurer of the Year'.

In his drafting of a book to recount his epic journey, Sean now writes "I had a dream to row an Ocean, that's what I wanted to do." The other aim of his adventure was to support The Soweto Connection - a Limerick based charity set up to assist development in South Africa. Sean says ""We have raised over €20,000 from schools, a lot of individuals and one or two businesses and I think that is fantastic in the kind of climate that we are in. That money is going to go to build at least one compound in the township and allow the mums to come in and do a bit of work, earn a bit of money and their kids will get fed. They are the mums that can't work as they have AIDS. It's going to bring a huge benefit to those people and more importantly, it goes in once and no more money will be required after that."

After being reunited with his wife Lorraine and four children aged from 10 to 15, Sean says that he has treasured and enjoyed every moment with his family saying "My journey didn't end until I got to Cork Airport and I could finally get home to see my family". Sean also recalls that reading the text messages of support that Lorraine would type out and send to the satellite phone were a source of huge encouragement to him while at sea.

Off the water, Sean is a qualified Engineer who graduated with Honours with a Corporate MBA from UL in 2009. He has worked in multinationals in various senior management roles, latterly running a $2B operation covering Europe Middle East and Africa. He is also a qualified engineer whose recent work involved taking departments that were struggling and turning them around in a short period to not only survive but strive with a solid structure and future. Sean has now set up his own company and continues to tell his story to help encourage groups at all levels to not only continue to perform but to excel.

As for the next adventure, Sean adds that he will return to the water at some point but for now, "I'll stick to running or maybe a bit on the bike."

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Helen Ryan is Chief Executive of Creganna Tactx Medical, Ireland's largest indigenous company in the medical device sector and ranked among the global top 10 outsourcing providers to the medical device industry.

Like many new graduates in the mid-1980's, Helen worked abroad on large civil engineering projects in both London and Massachusetts before returning to Ireland and joining DeBeers in Shannon in 1989 in a facilities management role. Her career in medical devices started with C R Bard, Galway in 1991 at a time when little was known of the industry in Ireland. Helen spent eight years designing and commercialising medical products with Bard, and later Medtronic, for markets in US, Europe and Asia before taking up a position with Tyco-Mallincrot that introduced her to the sales and marketing aspect of the industry and allowed her developed a valuable understanding of a very broad range of medical products and clinical procedures.

In 2003, Helen joined Creganna, a locally-owned company in Galway. Established in 1980, initially to provide a range of engineering solutions to the electronics industry, Creganna had diversified over the years and began to provide products and services into other industries including the fast-growing medical device industry. By the time Helen joined the company and its 100 employees, it had divested its operations in all other industries to focus solely on the medical device industry and Helen's first task was to establish a new Contract Design Services division. In a relatively short time, Helen was appointed CEO of Creganna in 2005 and has since steered the company through continued year-on-year growth. Creganna is recognized by its customers for product quality, reliability and customer service and under Helen's leadership, has received numerous industry awards including being named in Europe's Top 500 in 2006 (for significant job creation), IMDA Excellence Award 2007 (for outstanding achievement in productivity, cost reduction and education through Lean Manufacturing), Frost & Sullivan Innovation Award 2007 (in recognition of Technology Innovation in the Minimally Invasive Surgeries Market), Stevie International Business Award 2008 (for Best Product Development Team), Lifescience Exporter of the Year Award 2008 (in recognition of growth and development of export markets) and Deloitte Fast 50 Award in 2007, 2008 and again in 2009 (in recognition of the impressive growth in staff and revenue).

At the very heart of Creganna's success is innovation. In 2010, Creganna announced the acquisition of Tactx Medical Inc. to become Creganna-Tactx Medical. Combined sales of the two merged firms in 2009 amounted to $110m. Of the acquisition, Helen says "This was a lesson learned. The strategy from the outset was to go global". Today, the company is an established expert in minimally invasive delivery systems, employs close to 1,000 people globally (including over 550 in Galway) and is a leading supplier of products, technologies and services to medical device and lifescience companies. It creates, designs and builds innovative products and technologies and has specialist expertise in solutions for advanced catheter and specialty needle applications. It has its head quarters in Galway with facilities in California, Minnesota Massachusetts and Singapore. Establishing strong relationships with its customer base has enabled Creganna-Tactx Medical to develop innovative technologies closely aligned to our customers needs.

A qualified Civil Engineer, she is a fellow of the Institute of Engineers of Ireland and a past Chairperson of the Irish Medical Devices Association. Helen is currently a member of the governing body of NUIG, a director of Molecular Medicine Ireland and a member of the Advisory Board of Innovation Fund Ireland.

Helen has a long and close association with Limerick. Her Grandfather, a life-long 'soda cake', was a fitter in the Ardnacrusha power station and her Limerick relatives have a long association with business, politics and education in the city. After completing a Master's Degree in Project Management at the University of Limerick where Helen graduated with Honours in 2000, Helen has since remained involved with the Centre for Project Management at UL as a member of the Course Advisory Board.

Married to George Delaney, Helen has three children and lives in Clarinbridge, Co Galway. She describes herself as "an enthusiastic dingy sailor but I prefer to fly when overseeing the growth of Creganna globally!"


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