A new memorial is to be unveiled in Creeslough village this week in honour of one of its highest-achieving citizens, Kay McNulty.
Kay McNulty (1921-2006) was one of the world’s first computer programmers. Her work in the US changed the future of technology for all.
On Monday evening, April 3rd, at 6.30pm, the Creeslough community will unveil a bespoke monument to tell locals and visitors more about Kay’s pioneering work. The monument will be placed in The Corner Of The Garden.
The Ticonnaill Tribune reports that members of Kay McNuty’s immediate family and her granddaughter, Naomi Most, will be travelling from the US to Creeslough to unveil the memorial.
There will also be guests from the National Committee for Commemorative Plaques in Science and Technology and the Women in Technology and Science present on the evening.
The project was developed by the Creeslough Community Association and members of the National Committee for Commemorative Plaques in Science and Technology and the Women in Technology and Science.
Artist Terry Carlin has created the ceramic and bronze inscription for the monument and a handmade stone plinth was built by the Community Hands team from the DLDC.
Born at the height of the Irish War of Independence in Creeslough, Kathleen (Kay) McNulty was the daughter of an IRA man, James McNulty.
On the very day she was born, February 12th 1921, Kay’s father was arrested and sent to prison in Derry for his activities in the war. After his release two years later, James, his wife Anne and their six children emigrated to Pennsylvania.
Kay attended the Hallahan Catholic Girls High School in Philadelphia where she showed a natural ability for mathematics. She won a scholarship to Chestnut Hill College and studied spherical trigonometry, differential calculus, projective geometry, partial differential equations, and statistics in addition to many others. She graduated in 1942, one of only 3 female mathematics graduates.
Her first job was as a human ‘computer’ for the US government. By 1945 she was a member of a team programming the Electronic Numerator Integrator and Computer, therefore was one of the world’s first computer programmers. The new computer was able to carry out in seconds calculations that by hand would take 40 hours or more. The machine had no memory however and no manual so Kay and her colleagues had to program every instruction manually.
She worked in software design for the BINAC and UNIVAC1 computers.
After the war the machine was moved to the US Army proving grounds in Aberdeen, Maryland and Kay continued working on the project. In 1948 she married the co-inventor of the ENIAC John Mauchly whose wife had tragically died in an accident. She raised his two children from his previous marriage along with five children of their own. She dedicated the next years of her life to raising a family in Pennsylvania but continued to maintain her interest in computing technology.
John went on to found one of the world’s first commercial computing companies and Kay helped her husband with his designs both for hardware, software and in developing programming languages. In 1980 John died and Kay began to look for recognition for his role in the development of computing, giving several interviews and attending conferences and lectures on the subject.
In 1985 she married the Italian photographer Severo Antonelli and the couple were together for 10 years until he died in 1995. In 1997 she was inducted into the Women In Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame and she also took part in a documentary about the ENIAC project and its influence. She died in 2006 in Pennsylvania following a short battle with cancer at the age of 85.
In her native Donegal, the Letterkenny Institute of Technology established the annual Kay McNulty medal and prize for the best computer science student in her memory and in 2016 Dublin City University re-named their computer science building in her honour.