A Poignant Tribute to a “Gentle Scholar”

Very quietly and without many of our campus community even yet realising it – a new installation has arrived on the UL campus with the beautifully simple message ‘Pause here gentle scholar and think your good thoughts’.

The piece is a seat, hewn out of a large rock, and it is positioned between Plassey House and the PESS Building overlooking a grass valley surrounded by trees with the Shannon River in view. At the moment, it is arguably one of the nicest views on campus, as the low winter sun and the carpet of spectacular autumn colours bring more than a little magic.

The rock comes from the family land of Dr Roibeárd Thornton, an important young member of the UL scientific community, who was tragically killed in an accident in January 2016. It was carved into a seat by sculptor Jethro Sheen from Gort, commissioned by his UL science family and brought to campus as a permanent reminder of his gentle soul and to provide a place for positive reflection on the goodness of people.

Dr Thornton graduated from the Industrial Biochemistry degree programme at UL in 2004.  He then pursued graduate studies under the guidance of Dr Jakki Cooney and was awarded a PhD from the Department of Life Sciences in 2009.  Together with Dr Cooney he co-wrote a research project that was awarded SFI funding in 2008 for further studies on bacterial proteases, a project which he drove with boundless enthusiasm.  His research resulted in publications with international and national collaborators in his chosen field and in interdisciplinary studies on novel materials.  

In September 2015 Dr Thornton had returned to Limerick to take up a position at Regeneron and was within days of rejoining his scientific community at UL when he was tragically killed in an accident.

Roibeárd’s rock is a lovely place for members of our community to sit for a minute and find a bit of peace.  The rock, beautifully and subtly, bears the handprints of Roibeárd’s wife Niamh and young daughter Sadhbh and hopefully it will be place they will find some peace also, and a place that will connect them with our community.

Dr Thornton is survived by his wife Niamh Thornton and their one year old daughter Sadhbh, his parents and siblings, family and friends.  He is sadly missed by all who knew him.