Alumni Spotlight

Donal Cahalane - Chair of Construction Industry Federation, Cork Branch

5 Jun
Donal Cahalane

Donal Cahalane is a qualified Chartered Civil and Environmental Engineer. His career has taken him from the family business, Cahalane Brothers Ltd., to high profile construction projects in London, Finland, Montreal and Hong Kong. In 2015 he returned home to take an active role in running the family company alongside his father, Conor, and he has recently been elected Chair of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) for the Cork Region. Donal looks back on his time at UCC and gives his advice to current students.

Course/subjects studied in UCC and year of graduation
Civil and Environmental Engineering BSc (Hons) - graduated Sept 2007

Best memory of University College Cork
There are plenty of great memories, from Intervarsity trips with the Volleyball Club to an Engineering Charity Fundraiser I took part in. It sounds cheesy when people say their college years are the best time in your life; but the social opportunities and experiences that open up to you in college are hard to beat.

How has your time at UCC helped you to get to where you are now?
My degree in Civil Engineering was a great stepping stone; it gave me a passport to work and travel. I worked in London and Finland and had opportunities to work in Montreal, St Petersburg and Hong Kong. I got to work on and influence world class construction projects and in recent years I have been able to bring the knowledge and experience gained in UCC and abroad back home to my family business. The degree is a challenging one, as is the industry – so I felt it prepared me for the road ahead.

UCC is a great reflection of the diversity in our region. My experience in college opened my eyes to a lot of what is available to us here in Cork. We have great natural resources, educational institutions, industry and commerce and above all a great pool of talent.

In my Role as CIF Chair we meet with various bodies are determining how the built Environment in Cork City and County will look in the future – this long term planning is core to what was taught to us in our degree.


What is your advice to current UCC students?
For those who are currently in Engineering or Construction related studies you have chosen well – you will be entering the market at a time when the economy and National Development Plan 2040 will create significant demands for your skillsets.

Whatever area your studies are in, your career doesn’t start the day you graduate – it has already started! Go out and get work experience or volunteer in your area of interest.

Get involved in college life; join a club or society. There is no harm in giving it a go. Even if you only have a year or two left - try something out - you will be rewarded.

Be proud of where you are from, where you got your education and where you are going – regardless of where you walk in life and at what level you are operating I feel it is important to be an ambassador for Cork, Ireland and the industry you work in. That pride will feed into your own confidence in turn.

What person/people at UCC had the most positive influence on you?
In our final year in Civ. Eng we had a module called the Engineer in Society by the head of the Department, Professor Philip O'Kane. We joked that its purpose was to re-programme us before we were released into world outside, but ultimately he widened our world view, helped us understand the Civil Engineer’s role in it and developed a strong sense of ethics.

As a group of students we formed a tight knit group and I made many enduring friendships. It is invaluable to be able to pick up the phone and bounce ideas off friends outside of your immediate workplace.

Were you involved in any Clubs or Societies?
I joined the Volleyball Club in first year. I think the four years in the club was as essential to my development as my degree. I made fantastic friends from all over the world. My roles as Secretary and Club Captain didn't do my CV any harm either. The management and soft skills I learnt through organising competitions, training and applying for funding in the Volleyball Club have stood to me in work, and particularly in my role in the CIF as we work towards changing the perception of the industry and getting the sector in shape for all the exciting projects to be delivered in the coming years.

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