Philbin, Eva Maria (1914–2005), chemist and university professor, was born 3 January 1914 in Ballina, Co. Mayo, the elder of two daughters of George Ryder , a postman and later a publican, and his wife Kate (née Donegan). Eva attended the Convent of Mercy in Ballina, and then went to UCG to study science. Graduating with a first-class honours B.Sc. (1936) and an M.Sc. (1937), she took up a post in the chemistry department as an assistant to Professor Thomas Patrick Dillon (qv), a pioneer in the study of the chemistry of carbohydrates of seaweeds. Two years later she became chief chemist in two Galway companies, Cold Chon and Hygeia. During the war years, raw materials for industry and daily life were difficult to come by, and Ryder's research into possible uses of natural materials such as seaweed was regarded as potentially important.
Eva Ryder married John 'Jack' Madden Philbin (d. 1998) on 28 April 1943 in St Andrew's church, Westland Row, Dublin; he was an accountant and later a company secretary. The ceremony was performed by Jack's relative, Fr William Joseph Philbin (qv), later a bishop. Most married women at the time did not work outside the home (until 1973 women civil servants were obliged to resign if they married), but Philbin took a job in 1945 as demonstrator in the department of chemistry in UCD, working with Professor Thomas Sherlock Wheeler (qv) on the chemistry of natural substances. Philbin's work and her many papers published with Wheeler and others undoubtedly enhanced the international reputation of chemistry in UCD, although the generally low level of funding for basic science in the 1950s and 1960s hindered the establishment of research programmes. She was promoted to assistant lecturer (1949) and college lecturer (1955), and was awarded a Ph.D. degree in 1954 for work on the Wesley–Moser rearrangement reaction in certain flavonoids and on the Baker–Venkataraman transformation, used in the synthesis of flavones. Philbin held a research fellowship in 1955 at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zürich, Switzerland, where she developed a research interest in the stereochemistry of flavonoids.
In acknowledgment of her research and publication record, she was awarded the degree of D.Sc. in 1957 and became one of the first women science professors in UCD when appointed professor in organic chemistry in 1961. After Wheeler's death in 1962, she became head of the department of chemistry in the following year. She often sought well-qualified graduates from elsewhere to come to work in UCD and bring with them new ideas and enthusiasm. Even more important than her own research was her encouragement and training of generations of chemistry students, supporting the development of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. Her contribution to chemistry as a profession was considerable: a foundation member and later a fellow of the Institute of Chemistry of Ireland, she was elected vice-president (1964) and president (1966–8), the first woman in the role. Philbin served on the councils of the Chemical Society and of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, having been elected a fellow of the latter in 1954. She was elected MRIA in 1957, one of the first women scientists in the RIA, and served for a number of years on its council and as senior vice-president. In the Academy's bicentenary history, Philbin provided the article on 'Chemistry'. In 1964 she narrowly missed being elected to the senate of the National University of Ireland. She was a member of the first National Science Council (from 1967) and of the Nuclear Energy Board in 1973. Philbin was an important pioneer and role model for young women who wanted to work in science; ambitious and able, she had nonetheless managed to be polite to newspaper interviewers in the 1950s who archly talked of 'girl chemists' and their marriage prospects.
She retired in 1979 from her professorship, though she continued to take an interest in research and in the department of chemistry. To mark her seventy-fifth birthday in 1989, former colleagues and friends produced a Festschrift of 115 papers, mainly on the chemistry of flavonoids and related topics. Her academic work was only part of Philbin's life; as well as looking after her own family, one of whom had special needs, she also made a lasting contribution to the provision of education and care for children with mental and physical disabilities. She worked for years with various charities and support bodies, was honorary treasurer of the National Association for the Mentally Handicapped of Ireland, and was chairman of the influential Consultative Council on Mental Handicap (1970–75).
Eva and John Philbin had two daughters and a son. She died in the Ailesbury Nursing Home, Dublin, on 24 June 2005. The Institute of Chemistry of Ireland established the Eva Philbin Award and annual lecture series in her honour.