Thomas Kinsella and Catherine Corless Awarded Honorary Degrees

Today, in Mary Robinson’s last honorary degree ceremony as Chancellor, poet Thomas Kinsella and Tuam historian Catherine Corless were awarded honorary degrees.

American physicist Michal Lipson was also awarded an honorary degree along with Kinsella and Corless.

Kinsella, who today conferred with a Doctor in Letters, is one of the most prominent 20th century Irish poets. His work is included in all of the major anthologies and critical surveys of Irish poetry in English. The poet also has made contributions to the understanding of the Irish language, engaging with early Irish in The Táin and gathering translations for An Duanaire.

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Corless is a local historian, who works on her family farm. She rose to prominence after her investigative work led to the uncovering of a mass grave in a Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam. She received the Bar of Ireland Human Rights award in 2017. She was today conferred with a Doctor in Laws.

Lipson, who was conferred with a Doctor in Science, is an American physicist known for her work in silicon photonics. She is currently the Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering and a professor of applied physics at Columbia University and was formerly the Given Foundation Professor of Engineering at Cornell University, in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. She has authored over 200 academic papers and since 2014, she has been named by Thomson Reuters as one of the top one per cent of most cited phycisists.

Kinsella, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, gave a reading in Trinity earlier this week, where he announced that it would be his last time reading his poetry in public.

Corless today spoke in the Edmund Burke theatre, with Trinity geneticist Prof Aoife McLysaght questioning her on her work in uncovering the grave of 796 children in Tuam.

Speaking about Kinsella at the ceremony, Trinity’s public orator, Prof Anna Chahoud, said he “did not shy from opening the door of his childhood home at 38 Phoenix Street in Inchicore, from taking us for Joycean tours of the Center City, from pointing at ‘the Sea of Disappointment’ with the sharp foresight of a Nightwalker; but he has extended his gaze and tuned his lyre to embrace the expanses of national history”.

Chahoud said: We celebrate a poetic genius, a master of rhythm, a man who firmly believes that ‘to be fully alive is to be creatively engaged’.”

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Chancellor Mary Robinson officiated her last honorary degree ceremony today.

Eleanor O’Mahony for The University Times

Prof Anna Chahoud called Corless “a woman of extraordinary courage and compassion, perseverance and commitment to justice” in her speech at the ceremony.

“In the three and a half decades of its existence, that ironically named ‘home’ had torn a thousand children away from their mothers; nearly as many had been left to die, starved and neglected, surrounded by coldness, cruelty and indifference. To unspeakable collective shame, this fearless woman proved that the remains of 796 nameless children lay in the bleak darkness of a sewage tank”, Chahoud said.

Chahoud, in her oration, called Lipson “a leading light in the world of modern-day physics”.

“Lipson inherited an unbound passion for scientific inquiry, which she soon chose to channel into the marvellous study of light: ‘optics,’ she says, ‘is the perfect combination of physics and the real world.’ With her a new era was born for optical science”, she said.

Today marked the last honorary degree ceremony for the Chancellor of the University, Mary Robinson, whose term will end next year. An election for the new chancellor will take place next term in the university’s senate.