Symbolic and historic joint education endeavour as Henshaw duly attains Lions accolade

Hello to all the Advertiser readers.

Well, today as I am compiling this column, I am filled with hope that we are on the road to recovery out of the pandemic. The health figures look good, and the general feeling of the opening up on Monday May 10 was of such optimism that it was quite infectious.

As readers will know, I had a hair appointment on Monday, and everyone I met or talked with was filled with that same bright feeling. No, the sun was not shining, but hope was shining in everyone.

Of course, I worry that my optimism might be misplaced and that we will have a short, sharp awakening later to another pandemic, but somehow no, I don’t think so. I feel, like Micheál Martin, tá an samhradh ag teacht, and with it lifted spirits and a determination by people to still comply with the basics like washing your hands, keeping your distance, wearing masks, etc – all of that is still so important.

By the way, the weather is not at all contributing to this. We have bright mornings and then, as the day goes on, heavy showers and a most definite chill air about. When I was out on Monday going to the hairdressers, there was an enormous clap of thunder – just one, not accompanied by any shower, but the definite roll of thunder. Such odd weather, but hopefully it will begin to look up in tune with our spirit of optimism and hope.

We had the last episode of Iarnród Enda on Monday night, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of the episodes. I hope that by now Enda has got himself to a barber in Castlebar, because on Monday night his hair was really long and so odd looking.

Of course, I am aware that these episodes would have been filmed perhaps in the last few weeks, so he has had time to do himself up since that. The series was a great success, not least due to the sight of Enda pedalling away like mad on his bike and the lively conversations he had, both as Gaeilge and as Béarla, with many of the people he met en route to where he was travelling.

Last week I had my column compiled before the wonderful news broke that Athlone Institute of Technology was to be accorded the title Technological University, in a link with Limerick Institute of Technology. Together, they are to forge one of the new Technological Universities in Ireland.

I think it is symbolic that Limerick, a city on the River Shannon, and Athlone, a proud town on the River Shannon, have decided to link themselves together educationally. I feel the link of both being on the highway of the River Shannon, historically sharing that factor for so many centuries, will lend its own spirit of history and background to the joint endeavour.

The announcement, of course, ensures that the designation of Athlone as a Midlands centre of growth and excellence will now be guaranteed. Great credit is due to Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, the principal and director of Athlone IT. He has made it his main endeavour to bring about this development, and the vistas of learning, research and development which it opens up for Athlone Technological University are enormous. Credit is also due to all who worked in the college from its very beginnings.

I remember so well back in 1974 when I was elected to the Athlone Urban District Council (as it was then known ), one of the announcements was that an elected member of the council would be on the board of the then Regional College in Athlone. The late Seán Fallon was the leader of our group on the UDC and I asked him if he would consider me to be the elected member put forward by the council.

He readily agreed and so I started my odyssey on the board of the Athlone Regional Technical College. It was a great learning experience under the chairmanship of Paddy Cooney, who was an elected member of Westmeath County Council, which is how he found himself also on the board and, by unanimous election, the chair. He later went on to a change of job in Dublin, and I found myself, in 1976, as the chair of that august body.

I was relatively inexperienced, but I remember the excitement I felt at the start of what I thought was a great adventure in education for Athlone. I always followed the onward and upward development of the college with great interest, even when I transferred into being a TD and later Minister for Education. Paddy Cooney had been Minister for Education before I came on the scene and, between the two of us, we were fortunate enough to be able to help in the ongoing growth of the college, particularly in the areas of capital investment.

Now it is over to another generation and, having forged their new identity, I have no doubt that great advancements will be heralded in the future and carried through in the Athlone Technological University. Credit is due also, and must be acknowledged, to the previous principal and director Dr David Fenton, who for many years laboured to bring about much-needed changes in the evolving story of Athlone and education. Good luck to all who now travel on the latest adventure of the college. I have no doubt that the spirit of entrepreneurship and discovery which marked its earlier days will become more and more evident as the university grows and expands.

Good news too, of course, for Robbie Henshaw who has been invited onto the Lions team. One of the surprise nominations was Bundee Aki, and I’m glad to see him so recognised. I note that he was lauded for his physicality and his acumen on the field of rugby, and it is great that both of them will be on the team as they are close allies, both in playing terms and in life.

I note that An Post has now advanced its increase of 10c on the €1 stamp. To be fair to them, they were ready to do that well over 12 months ago when the pandemic broke in all its ferocity, and they decided as one of their measures that they would postpone that increase, in addition, of course, to all the wonderful do-good measures in which they engaged so many people as they went around their beat daily. An Post are to be greatly admired, particularly for how they tried to help in the worst days and weeks of the pandemic.

That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all again next week.

In the meantime, continue to have that spirit of hope and, of course, always be careful and mind yourself.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke

 

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