University College Cork’s civil engineering building is to be named after the first female engineering graduate of the university, Iris Ashley Cummins. 

On the eve of International Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (February 24, 2022), University College Cork (UCC) revealed that its civil engineering building is to be named the Iris Ashley Cummins building, in honour of the university's first female engineering graduate. 

Iris Ashley Cummins, centre, with the UCC Ladies' Hockey club after winning the Munster Cup in 1914 

First female land surveyor for the Irish Land Commission

Iris Ashley Cummins, born in Glanmire, Co Cork, in 1894, graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering from UCC in 1915 and would become the first female land surveyor for the Irish Land Commission and the first female associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland. Cummins was also a talented hockey player, representing both UCC and Ireland at senior level.

The naming of UCC’c civil engineering building took place on Thursday, February 24, 2022, to highlight Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.

This is the first UCC building to be named after an individual UCC female pioneer and the initiative forms part of the university’s ambition to place equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of its activities. It is expected that this will be the first of many UCC campus buildings to be named after inspirational female pioneers. 

The Cummins family of Cork, L-R: Mary (Hearn), Jane (Miller), Geraldine, Phyllis (Hayes) and Iris

Equality, diversity and inclusion are core to UCC's values. The university holds ten Athena SWAN awards in recognition of its commitment to gender equality.

Through Athena SWAN, the university seeks to further amplify and celebrate the achievements of UCC's female trailblazers. This includes the naming and dedication of central assets.

In recent years, the legacy of three UCC female pioneers – Professor Mary Ryan, Dr Dora Allman and Dr Lucy Smith – has been recognised through the naming of spaces on the main campus.

UCC also holds the archives of Elizabeth Friedlander, Nancy McCarthy, and the Irish Feminist Archive, while many significant female authors are published at Cork University Press, not least BG McCarthy, author of the ground-breaking ‘The Female Pen’.

Rose Campbell and David James, relatives of Iris Ashley Cummins outside the Iris Ashley Cummins building in UCC 

Professor John O’Halloran, president, UCC said: “We are delighted to mark the naming of UCC's Civil Engineering Building in honour of Iris Ashley Cummins – UCC's first female engineering graduate. Iris is an exemplar for women in STEM. 

'Pioneering actions challenged the gender norms of her day'

"She was an independent and creative thinker whose pioneering actions challenged the gender norms of her day. We are proud of her achievements, and we hope that everyone who passes through the doors of the Iris Ashley Cummins building will find inspiration in her legacy.  You cannot be, what you cannot see and this is another  important  step in providing role models for our community.”

Dan Hearn, grandnephew of Iris Ashley Cummins who attended the ceremony at UCC said: “We are honoured that University College Cork has decided to name this building after our relative Iris Ashley Cummins.

"Iris and her family had strong links to the university, and it makes us very proud to see her memory being kept alive in this way. I think she would be especially pleased to know that this is the first of UCC’s building to be named after a female pioneer.”

Professor Sarah Culloty, head, College of Science, Engineering and Food Science, UCC said: “This is a very special day for STEM at UCC. By elevating the legacy of women like Iris Ashley Cummins we hope we can encourage our female students to pursue exciting and rewarding careers in STEM. Generations of UCC students can now find inspiration in Iris’ remarkable story and be motivated to follow in her ambitious footsteps”.

About Iris Ashley Cummins 

Iris Ashley Cummins (1894-1968) is UCC’s first female engineering graduate – BE 1915. A native of Glanmire near Cork city, Iris was born into a family of medical doctors including her sisters Dr Mary ET Hearn and Dr Jane G.E. Miller (both UCC graduates).

During the First World War, Cummins worked at the Royal Naval Dockyard Rosyth in Scotland as well as at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, London, and the Admiralty Department, Haulbowline, Cobh, Co Cork.

In 1918 she was conferred with BSc honoris causa (war degree) at UCC. Following the war, she ran the family farm before beginning her own land surveying business. Then, in 1927 Iris was appointed the first female land surveyor (outdoor staff) at the Irish Land Commission, a role from which she retired in 1954. Cummins died in 1968 and is buried at Little Island, Co Cork. 

Class photo from 1913: Iris Ashley Cummins was UCC's first female engineering graduate and a trailblazer for women in STEM. Her pioneering actions challenged the gender norms of the day

Conscious of her role as a female engineer, Iris was a member of the Women’s Engineering Society (founded 1919) and wrote an article for the first issue of The Woman Engineer about the training of civil engineers.

She also gave a lecture to its fifth annual conference about the Shannon Scheme, which was also published. In 1928, she was elected an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland – the first woman associate member. 

Cummins was a serious hockey player, being a senior in 1910 with Cork Ladies and gaining her first cap in 1911 when she was 15. She continued playing international hockey, captaining the team on several occasions, until 1939 when she retired. Iris was captain of the 1925 Irish team that went on tour in the USA and visited the White House at the invitation of President Calvin Coolidge.

As an undergraduate, she also played on the UCC Ladies' Hockey team and in 1914 she was captain when they won the Munster Cup. She was president of the Irish Ladies Hockey Union during 1922-23 and 1924-25.