My Kildare Life interview with Maynooth University President, Philip Nolan

Conor McHugh talks to the qualified doctor

Conor McHugh


Conor McHugh


My Kildare Life interview with Maynooth University President, Philip Nolan

Philip Nolan

Philip has been the President of Maynooth University for the past eight years and is a qualified doctor and a keen cyclist.

Professor Philip Nolan has been in his position of President of Maynooth University for the past eight years, and although he didn't grow up in Kildare, nor does he live here, his roots in the county are deep.


My earliest memories are of visiting Maynooth with my father, coming back to his childhood home.  He grew up in the back lanes of Maynooth, in a house in Pound Street, in the 1940s and 1950s, and moved to Dublin where he worked in the civil service.  When I was very young, in the 1970s, I remember coming to Maynooth to visit that house, playing in the tiny yard which backed directly onto the Lyreen river, or in what had been my father’s attic bedroom, fascinated by books and notebooks he had left there from his teenage years, on strange and eclectic subjects including amateur radio, chemistry and classical music.

Maynooth was, for my father, a wonderful place to grow up. It was a small community, under 2,000 people, and that community not only gave him a happy childhood, it shaped him as a person.  He shared hobbies and interests with other enterprising young men in Maynooth, and it was from them, and especially the Beans, a family still very much part of the town, that he gained his lifelong love of music and electronics.  There are interests he passed on to me, which were formative for me, and which connect me in a very deep way to Maynooth, and old Maynooth in particular.


The beauty and openness of the country, the way the plains of Kildare open to the western sky it can create moments of peace and splendour in the busiest day. We are so fortunate to have such a beautiful place to live and work,  on the edge of a major European capital, so that you can choose to retreat and be alone in nature one moment, and be connected to the rest of the world the next.  The variety of towns, villages and landscapes create such special possibilities, there is always something new to discover around the bend in the road.


The Avenue in Maynooth is my favourite haunt, great menu, service and atmosphere, though we are really lucky to have a thriving food culture in Maynooth, with a number of really good restaurants, including several newcomers. The Roost is the unofficial common room for the University, so that’s where you are likely to find me when I get the time for a pint.


It has been  great. I have enjoyed it immensely, and I am even more enthusiastic now about the University and its successes and potential than I was when I started 8 years ago.  The University has gone from strength to strength, and is now home to more that 13,000 students and over 1,000 staff.  We are really seeing the positive impact of Maynooth University on the county and the region.  Our graduates are highly sought after, and our research recognised as world-class.  This means we are building connections across the world, but at the same time attracting talent and business to Kildare.  And we have exciting plans for the future, so yes, I’ve enjoyed it greatly, and am enjoying it more and more as the years go by.


I walk past Maynooth Castle every day on the way to the office, and there is nothing that says ‘Kildare’ more than that moment.  The sense of history grounds you; it reminds you that whatever challenges might face you in the working day, people have lived and worked here for centuries, facing their own challenges and problems. It puts the day ahead in perspective.

The ideal day then is one in early summer, coming past the Castle to in morning sunshine, to a productive day in the University, meeting people, generating new ideas, new ways of doing things, taking time for lunch with a colleague in the town. And with luck, at the end of the day with the long summer evening ahead, getting out on my bike for a long spin through the county, finding something new, or some change in the familiar landscape, as I go.