He completed his Leaving Certificate examination in Cardonagh Technical School in 1972. Things were difficult in rural Donegal in those days so he went to Dublin to seek work. His first job for seven months was as a bus conductor with C.I.E. where he usually worked seventeen hour days. He had been ambitious from an early age and seeing an advertisement for the post of Trainee Technician in the Department of Geology at Trinity College, he decided to investigate this.
He applied for the position, was interviewed, and was the successful candidate from a field of over three hundred applicants. He continued his education and since then he has progressed through the various levels of promotion from Technician to Senior Technician, Specialist Technician, Chief Technician, Chief Technical Officer and finally to Chief Technical Officer 1. In 2005 the Senate of the University of Dublin approved the proposal of the Board of Trinity College that to award him a Master in Arts (jure officii)
The Department of Geology, through its Chief Technical Officer and those who work with him, requires the provision, operation, and maintenance of precision equipment for the preparation of thin sections of rocks, such as can be examined through the polarising microscope, and for high precision lapping and polishing of rocks. There are chemical procedures for the analysis of material such as limestones, which may yield micropalaeontological specimens valuable in their dating. Large collection of rocks, minerals, and fossils from many parts of the world must be stored and curated.
There must be careful attention to detail in the provision of suitable materials for the undergraduate teaching and examinations. High quality microscopes used in practical classes must be maintained.
Neil Kearney has gradually achieved complete refurbishment of the technical area of the department, and has succeeded in very difficult economical climates to mastermind shrewd investment in state of the art geological equipment. His attention to detail was exemplary during busy examination periods thus providing an ideal environment for students in a particularly difficult period of their studies.
Over the last decade, Geology’s transition from a descriptive to a quantitative science has greatly accelerated. This has both posed new demands on the quality of preparation of geological specimens and provided a new lease of life for rock sectioning laboratories, such as the one maintained at Trinity College Dublin. Neil Kearney has embraced this new opportunity and challenge and his laboratory is now preparing samples for analysis that previously would have been considered unrelated to Geology. One of his great legacies is to have trained a fine team of experts who will continue working to his standards after his retirement. The Department will be keen to uphold the standards of rock preparation to diversify as much as possible in this the new area and era of materials characterisation.
His open cheerful manner, evident energy, and efficiency have made him a well-liked and respected member of staff, not only in the Department but elsewhere in Trinity College. He has been ready to give help and advice to students, and this has been greatly appreciated by many hundreds of undergraduate and postgraduates. Nothing is ever a problem to Neil, and regardless of the challenge and complexity of the issue, he will find a solution rapidly. The development of the Department since the 1970s owes much to his considerable ability to maintain and adapt, where necessary, the research and teaching facilities of the beautiful Museum Building in which it is housed.
He sat on the Technical Staff committee for four years and was a member of the executive of the School of Natural Science for three years. He has been chairman of Smithfield Village Management Company for the past six years.
He has always been a keen sports enthusiast and follows all types of sport. He has won junior and intermediate championship medals with his local Urris GAA club. In soccer he played League of Ireland football for both Shelbourne and St Patricks Athletic and was assistant manager to Brian Kerr the former Irish International manager during many foreign crusades with the Irish Technical colleges. In Athletics too he was heavily involved in the University running club, a club, which recruits and organises runners for B.H.A.A. events. The club known as the “The Pheidippidians” was set up in the early 1980s. It is named after a Greek soldier Pheidippides who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce a great Greek victory over the Persians in 890B.C. The club, for men and women members of College staff, has had success from the beginning but the Glory Years were in the mid-1990s when under Neil’s captaincy Trinity College completely dominated.
Although living most of his life in the City he never forgot his roots and regularly visits his beloved Donegal where he plans to spend much time with his wife during his retirement. Trinity College, in particular the Geology Department and its members, will miss his ‘can do’ attitude, his great network of contacts (many of whom will owe Neil a favour) and last but not least his Donegal accent and countryman’s wit.