Date Uploaded: 27/08/2016
The north American University of Notre Dame has marked the opening of its new campus in Connemara with a tribute to High Court president Mr Justice Peter Kelly and Mother Abbess Máire Hickey of Kylemore Abbey.
Mr Justice Kelly and Mother Abbess Hickey were awarded honorary degrees at Notre Dame’s education centre in Kylemore Abbey yesterday evening as part of a blessing and dedication ceremony.
University of Notre Dame provost Thomas Burish was among more than 100 academics and management representatives who travelled from the Catholic university in Indiana, close to Chicago, for the event.
Glen Dimplex owner Martin Naughton, and his wife Carmel, American ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley, and Canadian ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers, also attended.
Mr Naughton, who has been on Notre Dame’s board for some years, has been a key supporter of the project.
The 30-year partnership between Kylemore Abbey and the University of Notre Dame was realised last year – five years after the abbey closed its secondary school.
The “significant investment” – the details of which have not been disclosed – is part of the university’s Irish “global gateway”, run from the Keough-Naughton centre on Merrion Square in Dublin.
Work on refurbishing about 8,000 sq ft – almost a fifth of the abbey’s overall floor space – began last year, and five local people are employed at the centre.
A group of 100 visiting Notre Dame students have already participated in painting and decorating community centres in Leenane and Letterfrack, and cleaning a Church of Ireland graveyard, as part of a community engagement programme, according to the university.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was not able to attend the event, but sent a video message paying tribute to the work of both the university and the Benedictine community.
Mr Kenny quoted the late poet Séamus Heaney’s view of life as “a series of ripples widening out from the original centre”, and said that both the University of Notre Dame and Kylemore Abbey were “sending out ripples far and wide, drawing people to a shared centre”, and fostering a “vibrant educational, intellectual and spiritual atmosphere”.
Mr Burish said that the partnership would benefit students and faculty from Notre Dame and Ireland, and would “continue the spiritually rich traditions started by the Benedictine sisters, to whom we are most grateful”.
The university says that the centre “aims to create a wide range of academic programmes – conferences, short undergraduate and inter-disciplinary courses, master classes, artist residencies, retreats and much more”.
It said that “world-renowned scholars” would also be invited to teach Notre Dame and Irish students in “a spirit of collaboration and partnership with other colleges”.
The small community of Benedictine nuns at Kylemore will mark the centenary of their arrival in Ireland from France in four years’ time.
The nuns, known then as the “Irish dames of Ypres”, had been forced out of Ireland by the 18th-century penal laws and had weathered the French revolution’s anticlerical period. Their “high” convent was burned down when the town was bombarded by German forces.
Forced to flee with whatever they could fit in a handcart, they arrived at Oulton Abbey in Staffordshire, before deciding to move back to Ireland.
In 1920 they were given help to buy the 19th century neogothic castle in Connemara,then owned by a bankrupt Duke of Manchester.
The castle had been built by Manchester-Irish surgeon Mitchell Henry for his wife, Margaret, but he spent little time there after her death in 1874. The walled gardens and grounds attract up to 250,000 visitors a year.
Journalist: Lorna Siggins