Emer Colleran, Irish microbiologist, academic and an environmental advocate, is born in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, on October 12, 1945. She is professor of microbiology at the National University of Ireland, Galway, a member of the Royal Irish Academy, one of Mary Robinson‘s nominees on the Council of State, and chairwoman of An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland.
Colleran, and her twin Noreen, are born to John and Josie Colleran. One of a family of five children, her father is a school principal and her mother, also a primary school teacher, dies when she is just 11 years old. She completes her secondary education at St. Louis secondary school in Kiltimagh. She spends a lot of time outdoors as a child, particularly fishing, which sparks her interest in the environment.
On entering higher education, Colleran has a grant from the Department of Education, which requires that she do her studies through the Irish language. Her first choice, Medicine, is not available in Irish so she chooses Science. She graduates with a first class primary degree in Science at University College Galway (now National University of Ireland, Galway) in 1967.
Colleran specialises in anaerobic digestion as a postgraduate and in 1971 becomes a postdoctoral fellow for two years at the University of Bristol in the UK.
Colleran lectures in biology at Athlone Regional Technical College (now Athlone Institute of Technology) and Galway Regional Technical College (now Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) before her appointment as a lecturer in microbiology at NUI Galway in 1976. She is appointed Associate Professor of Microbiology by the Senate of the National University of Ireland in 1990. She is a member of the university’s governing authority for a number of years, but steps down in May 2000 in connection with the selection procedure for the new university president. In October of that year she is appointed professor of microbiology and chair of the department at NUI Galway.
Colleran is the first director of the Environment Change Institute at NUI Galway set up under the Higher Education Authority‘s Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions in 2000. In 2010, the Environmental Change Institute and the Martin Ryan Marine Research Institute are merged to form the current day Ryan Institute at NUI Galway.
In 1973 Colleran is elected to the committee of the Galway Association of An Taisce, part of a national voluntary organisation the aims of which are to conservation in Ireland through education, publicity and positive action. She serves as membership secretary and then treasurer to the Galway branch before becoming chairman. In 1981, as chairman of the Galway branch, she hits back at claims from Galway County Council that An Taisce are “an anonymous group, wielding power unfairly.” She is involved in the compilation of a controversial planning report, published by An Taisce in 1983, which highlights abuse of planning laws by city and county councillors across Ireland, and in particular in counties Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Kerry and Louth.
Colleran serves as Environmental Officer for An Taisce before being elected National Chairman in 1987, the first time a chairman has come from one of the western county associations. She continues to use her position to campaign against misuse of planning laws, for a clamp down on pollution of rivers and lakes, and against a move to scrap An Foras Forbartha, a body that provides independent monitoring of pollution. During her three years as chairman, until May 1990, she is particularly involved in debates over local environmental and planning issues, in particular over gold mining in the west of Ireland, a proposed airport for Clifden, and the planned sewage treatment plant at Mutton Island, County Galway.
In 1991 plans are announced for a new visitor centre, to be located at Mullaghmore in The Burren. Colleran is among those who are part of an appeal, saying that while the plan for the national park is welcomed by An Taisce, they want the visitor centre to be located three or four miles from Mullaghmore.
President Mary Robinson appoints seven new members to her Council of State in February 1991, including Colleran. Other new members appointed at the time are Monica Barnes, Patricia O’Donovan, Quintan Oliver, Rosemarie Smith, Dónal Toolan and D. Kenneth Whitaker. The new Council of State represents a wide spectrum of Irish life and is widely welcomed, although Fine Gael is disappointed that its leader John Bruton is not included.
In 1991, Colleran is one of 15 people appointed to Taoiseach Charles Haughey‘s Green 2000 Advisory Group, to determine which problems will face the environment in the next century. The group is led by Dr. David Cabot, special advisor on environmental affairs.
Colleran is appointed a member of the National Heritage Council in 1995 by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D. Higgins. In the same year the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Eamon Gilmore, appoints her to the chair of the Sea Trout working group to oversee the implementation of recommendations to tackle a decline in sea trout stocks, particularly in the west of Ireland.
In 2003 Colleran is elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy.
Colleran is recognised at the annual NUI Galway Alumni Awards in 2004 when she receives the award for Natural Science, sponsored by Seavite Bodycare Ltd., which acknowledges a graduate who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of natural science.
Colleran dies on June 30, 2018, at University Hospital Galway.