Ó hEocha, Colm (1926–97), biochemist and president of UCG, was born 19 September 1926 in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, eldest of two sons and one daughter of Séamus Ó hEocha of Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, and Greta Ó hEocha (née Drohan), schoolteacher, from Ballynevin, Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary. His father, famous as ‘An Fear Mór’, used to travel around Ireland giving Irish lessons for the Gaelic League, before co-founding and becoming principal of Scoil na Leanbh, an Irish-language boarding school in Ring, Co. Waterford, where Colm was brought up. He was also a member of Seanad Éireann, the governing body of UCC, and the Irish Tourist Board, and was president of the Vocational Educational Council. An honorary LLD was awarded to him (1955) by NUI. He wrote several children's books in Irish. With businessmen from Dungarven he founded Dickens Leather Co. and Dungarvan Glue and Gelatine Co. to give employment in the local community.
After secondary school Colm won a scholarship to the De La Salle teachers preparatory college in Baile Bhuirne, Co. Cork. In 1945 he went to UCG to study chemistry, where he received a B.Sc. (1949) and M.Sc. (1950). He won another scholarship to the USA, where he undertook a Ph.D. in oceanography at the University of California, Los Angeles (1954), and at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla. On his return to UCG in 1955 he was appointed lecturer in chemistry, later becoming first professor of biochemistry (1963). He became successful in attracting money to support research at a time when such funding was not easily available, and was appointed first chairman of the National Science Foundation (1967–77), the first of many chairmanships of public bodies. His own publications ranged from photosynthetic pigments in algae to science, education, and research policy, with some written in Irish.
In 1975 he was elected president of UCG, and during his tenure the college expanded rapidly. The promotion of links between industry and the college, and the integration of the life of the college with the city, were important to him. In April 1983 he was appointed chairman of the New Ireland Forum, which brought together Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, and the SDLP to work out a joint and agreed constitutional nationalist approach to a settlement in Northern Ireland. His qualities of courtesy, discretion, and reasonableness are credited with bringing the diverse interests to a relatively constructive conclusion on 2 April 1984. He also chaired the interim local radio commission (1985–7), and the Arts Council (1989–93), and was a member of the Higher Education Authority (1968–75), the Committee on Research and Development of the European Union, the international services committee of the Industrial Development Authority, and the RIA.
During his lifetime he received many honours: the decoration of Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (France) (1992), Commendatore dell’ Ordine al Merito della Republica Italiana (1986), and Commander of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (1992). He was conferred with several honorary degrees from Irish, UK, and USA universities. In recognition of his work in linking the university with local and regional development, he was made an honorary life member of Galway Chamber of Commerce and Industry; in 1995 he was made a freeman of Galway. He was involved in Irish-language and cultural activities and was one of the first directors of the Irish American Cultural Institute.
After fifteen years as president of UCG he retired in 1996, the longest-serving university president in Ireland. He married (28 December 1957) Madeleine (‘Daiden’), daughter of Francis Joseph Fahy, businessman and coachbuilder, and Arabella Fahy (neé Lee), of Eyre Square, Galway. They lived at Chestnut Lane, Dangan Lr., Galway, and had four daughters and two sons. His personal interests were music, reading, walking, and (to quote him) ‘drinking in good company’. Close friends included Proinsias Mac Giollarnáth, professor of romance languagues, UCG; Gearóid Mac Eoin, professor of old and middle Irish, UCG; and Seán Mac Réamoinn (qv), broadcaster. He was also a member of Galway County Club, An Taisce, the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, and the Music for Galway Society. He died at home in Galway, 19 May 1997, after a short illness.