Quinlan, Patrick Michael (1919–2001), mathematical physicist and senator, was born 7 December 1919 at Ballinacrana, Kilfinane, Co. Limerick, one of the two sons and a daughter of Jeremiah Quinlan and his wife, Josephine (née Casey), who lived comfortably on a modest farm in the Golden Vale. His father had an interest in prize cattle. His sister died in her early teens. Patrick was educated at the local national school in Effin and CBS Charleville, Co. Cork, and in his last year at school attended St Munchin's diocesan college in Limerick. He took first place in 1938 in the Honan and college entrance scholarship examinations for UCC, where he studied civil engineering, and in 1941 he was awarded first place with first-class honours in the B.Eng degree, a bursary in engineering, and the Pierce Malone prize. During his time at UCC he was active in student politics, being successively secretary and president (1942–3) of the Student Guild Council, as well as editing the college magazine. A keen rather than a skilled sportsman, he played once or twice for the college hurling team. For the combination of excellent academic achievement and his role in student life Quinlan received the Cork Graduates’ Club gold medal as the most distinguished graduate of 1941 and the Peel memorial prize. Continuing his studies in mathematical science, he graduated B.Sc. (1942) and M.Sc. (1943), and first worked as a demonstrator in mathematics (1942–3) and then acting lecturer (1943–5).
Having held a post for a short time in the Meteorological Office in Dublin, Quinlan won an NUI travelling studentship in mathematical science in 1945 and the following year enrolled at the Californian Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he obtained a teaching fellowship. Led by Nobel laureate Robert Milliken, Caltech was a world leader in physics, biology, and engineering, with the research emphasis based on practical application. Here Quinlan studied elasticity and mathematics as applied to engineering problems and was awarded an M.Sc. in engineering (1947) and a Ph.D. (1949) in engineering and mathematics for his thesis ‘A fourier integral approach to aelotropic medium’. While many of his colleagues in Caltech were anxious for him to remain in the USA, Quinlan returned to UCC in 1949 as lecturer and acting professor of mathematical physics, and in 1951 was appointed professor, a post he held until his retirement in 1987. Recognising the national need for high-quality graduates, then poorly served by the Irish science research environment, he encouraged his students to go abroad for their doctorates, particularly to Caltech, where he kept up his many contacts; he loved the life there and continued to travel to the USA once or twice a year. He was the first UCC academic of his generation to establish significant US contacts. He also initiated a doctoral programme at UCC, and many of his students went on to hold academic positions in Irish and overseas universities.
The sciences of theoretical and applied mechanics and the link between mathematics and civil engineering occupied Quinlan for much of his life. As professor he continued his previous researches and developed numerical techniques in the solutions of problems of elasticity that were not amenable to analytical methods. His pioneering work was recognised by the US air force and, unusually for the time, he received repeated research grants (from 1957) to develop work on torsion and elastic plate problems experienced by aircraft. The advent of computers furthered the potential of his approach to solving complex mathematical problems (he was influential in the setting up of the computer science department in UCC). Before the availability of computers in Ireland he wrote his own code and sent it to Manchester University for implementation.
In the early 1960s Quinlan's major research interest was the development of the Edge Function Method (1968) for solving linear boundary value problems, a method he developed and refined throughout his life and for which he received widespread international recognition. It has been of great practical importance in the engineering and electronics industries. Quinlan also contributed to other areas of research, demonstrated by his winning the Mullins medal of the Institute of Civil Engineers of Ireland for his pioneering work ‘Design of pile groups’ (Transactions of the Institute of Civil Engineers of Ireland, lxxxi (1955), 1–19, 215–31) for the Wexford Bridge, as well as his ‘A dynamic model of the Irish economy’ (Journal of the Statistical and Social Enquiry Society, 1961–2). For his scientific work he received an honorary D.Sc. from NUI (1965) and was elected fellow of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (1971) and MRIA (1978). He was a founding member of the national committee for theoretical and applied mechanics (1983).
Apart from his academic work Quinlan was much involved in college and national politics. An influential member of the governing body of UCC, he was also a member of the senate of the NUI and was very involved in the appointments of UCC presidents John J. McHenry (1964–7) and Michael D. McCarthy (qv) (1967–78). Although his name was mentioned as a possible president, he never mounted a serious challenge, preferring perhaps the role of kingmaker. He was an independent member of Seanad Éireann for the NUI constituency from 1957 to 1977, involving himself in numerous debates and, most notably, campaigning against the Fianna Fáil referendum of 1959 to abolish proportional representation. His political sympathies were with Fine Gael. A conservative catholic, he was suspicious of secularist policies in the United Nations and opposed liberal social legislation at home.
A generous man, Quinlan was remembered for his warmth and humour. Known affectionately in the college as ‘Tubby Quinlan’, he was an eternal optimist in both his work and his personal interests, particularly sport, never losing faith in the ability of the Limerick hurling team. Later in life he took up motor-boating out of Crosshaven on his holidays. Travelling home from Dublin via the Curragh allowed him to indulge his love of horse-racing. He had a lifelong interest in farming and visited the home farm, which his brother ran, every weekend.
Quinlan married on 14 February 1946 a fellow UCC graduate, Jane Healy (BA, MA), just before their departure for the USA. They had one son and four daughters. He died suddenly 8 November 2001 in Cork.