Grenville A.J. Cole was educated at the Royal School of Mines, London, where he subsequently acted as demonstrator for several years. In 1890 he was appointed professor of geology in the Royal College of Science in Dublin, Ireland. He became a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1893, and in 1905 came to South Africa for the joint meeting of that association and the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. On 29 August he delivered a paper in Johannesburg, "On the marginal phenomena of granite domes". It dealt with the processes underlying the formation of patches of gneiss in granite, in the counties of Donegal and Tyronne in Ireland. Cole hypothesized that the gneiss was formed when previously foliated sedimentary and igneous material had been incorporated in an invading granite, a process which would cause banded gneiss to occur mainly along the margins of granite domes. He argued that similar conclusions could be drawn from the rocks of the Malmesbury beds in the Cape Colony, and noted that the relations of schist and granite at Seapoint, Cape Town, had been clearly described by Charles Darwin* in 1844. He returned to the topic, with reference to the contact between granite and slate at Seapoint, in a paper titled "On a hillside in Donegal: A glimpse into the great earth cauldron", which appeared in Science Progress (1906-7, pp. 343-360).
In addition to his teaching post Cole became director of the Geological Survey of Ireland in 1905. Among his more important publications were Aids in practical geology (1890, 7th ed. 1918), Open-air studies: An introduction to geology out-of-doors (1895), Rocks and their origins (1912), and Outlines of mineralogy for geological students (1913). In addition he wrote many papers on the geology, mineralogy and physical geography of the United Kingdom and Ireland from the early eighteen-eighties onwards. He received the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1909, was president of the Geological Section of the British Association in 1915, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1917, and served as president of the Geographical Association in 1919 and of the Irish Geographical Association from 1919 to 1922. Although handicapped by rheumatoid arthritis he travelled much and did an enormous amount of useful work. He died after a long and painful illness.