The Mincéirs Whiden Society at NUI Galway has made its founding member Owen Patrick Ward an honorary life member.
Mr Ward has been honoured for his involvement in the society since its inception and for his distinctive contribution to its work. Mincéirs Whiden, which means Travellers Talking in the Cant language, is the first student society for Irish Travellers.
Jason Sherlock, chairperson of the Mincéirs Whiden Society, said: “It is a great privilege that we can recognise Owen for the work he has done for Irish Travellers in NUI Galway and the wider community.
“Owen never shies away from a challenge and he is always there to support any student, not only Irish Travellers but any student who might experience educational disadvantage. He was an early school leaver with no Junior or Leaving Certificate and he has overcome many barriers in his life to be where he is today. He is an inspirational role model.”
Mr Ward is a programme coordinator in the NUI Galway Access Centre and last year was elected to the university’s governing authority, Údarás na hOllscoile. He completed his Master’s in NUI Galway, he is a fully qualified post-primary school teacher, and he was key to the organisation of the hugely successful NUI Galway Irish Traveller Ethnicity Day on campus in February 2020.
Vice-chairperson of the Mincéirs Whiden Society Anna Keane said: “Our members will forever be in Owen’s debt due to his work, endeavours, and the support he has given. Owen is a true inspiration to all.”
Dean of Students at NUI Galway Professor Michelle Millar added: “Owen has proved himself to be a brilliant ambassador for both the Travelling community and for our student body. He embodies the meaning of inclusion. I am delighted to see him honoured by his peers and look forward to celebrating and supporting him and his work as he helps our university to build on our shared values, including openness and respect.”
Since it was founded in 2018, NUI Galway’s Mincéirs Whiden Society has contributed to increased Traveller participation in third-level education, while providing a safe and welcoming space on campus. The society has also built positive relationships with the student and staff body in the university, by winning the NUI Galway Best New Society for 2020.
When the society was launched in 2018, Mr Ward said: “One of the main objectives of the society is to empower members of the Travelling community to enter third level education while being encouraged and supported by NUI Galway. At present, there are a small number of Traveller students studying at NUI Galway across numerous disciplines. Also, it is of paramount importance to build positive alliances and relationships between Traveller students and the student and staff body at NUI Galway as well as the wider community.”
Ríona Hughes, NUI Galway’s societies officer, said: “We are immensely proud to be the first third level institution in Ireland to count Mincéirs Whiden among our list of societies. It has been a joy to work with Owen and all the other talented and inspiring students who have provided a platform and a welcoming space for future students from the Travelling community. Praise is indeed due to Owen for his foresight and vision in making this a reality.”