Donegal community honors pioneering programmer

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The community of Creeslough in Co Donegal is honoring Kay McNulty, a native of the area, who became a pioneer in the field of computer programming.

Born in 1921 in a house built by her father just outside the village, Kay McNulty and her family emigrated to Philadelphia in the USA in 1924.

She only spoke Irish but quickly learned English and went on to earn a degree in mathematics.

Kay McNulty then became one of a team of six women who pioneered coding the world’s first general purpose digital computer known as ENIAC.

ENIAC was a US government-funded project during World War II to build an electronic computer that could be programmed and its specific goal was to compute the values ​​of artillery range tables.

Ms McNulty’s grand-daughter Naomi Most was in Creeslough for the unveiling of a plaque and testimony to her and said her feelings were indescribable, her grandmother was “iontach”.

Kay McNulty’s grand-daughter Naomi Most was in Creeslough for the unveiling

Her job title while working on ENIAC was a “computer”, she said, a human computer and her job was to mathematically compute ballistic tables.

The ENIAC was invented to automate that task, he said.

Ms Most said she does not think it has been fully understood to the degree to which the problem was landed in the laps of women to figure out and how they made their marks on how computers were put together and understood.

She said her grandmother told her that they would work late into the wee hours of the morning on the ENIAC and literally created programming because that word did not even exist back in 1946.

Kay McNulty only spoke Irish when she moved to the US but quickly learned English and went on to earn a degree in mathematics

Eamonn McFadden, whose initial idea was to create a permanent memorial to Ms McNulty in Creeslough, said she regularly returned to the area and had many relations there.

He believed that he had never really been fully recognized during his lifetime for his achievements.

She had married Dr John Mauchly, a physicist who had been a co-inventor of the ENIAC and he said, for many years it was his name who was to the fore.

The community in Creeslough, however, wanted to pay tribute to Kay and show their pride in her with a permanent memorial.

Mr McFadden said that Kay and her colleagues were real pioneers, they set the standards and their achievements have to be recognized in the computerized world that we live in today.

In 1997 Kay McNulty was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and she died in 2006.

Today’s unveiling in Creeslough was organized by the local community council in collaboration with the National Committee for Commemorative Plaques in Science and Technology and the Women in Technology and Science (WITS) group.

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