Daily Archives: October 17, 2019

Dr Kieran McCarthy. Conferring Address, Humanities Conferrings, National University of Ireland, Cork, 17 October 2019

President of UCC, distinguished members of the academic platform, ladies and gentlemen, and most significantly graduates here this afternoon. It is an immense honour to be able to address you.

Those who have collected their degrees this afternoon you should be very proud of your achievement. Have no doubt that the top platform is very proud of you and your family and friends present are beaming with pride. Days like today are ones to be treasured.

In our busy lives, we often don’t take the time out to celebrate our achievements. And I hope that for many it won’t be your last parchment or your last efforts in learning something new, and that today is just one chapter in an interesting and engaging journey of your life that you are trekking across.  Whether you are a young student or pursuing education from an older adult’s perspective, lifelong learning is very important.

 Do take the moment to reflect on the scroll within your hand, and please don’t consign it to a drawer but do frame it and put it up. And most importantly use what you have learned – whether that be new skillsets or the beginning of a lifelong love with sub-topics within your chosen subject fields.

It’s twenty years since I graduated with my BA degree in archaeology and geography – and one of the first aspects I learned is that the afterlife of a BA degree is up to yourself. From the perspectives of a humanities degree, you have all learned new skills sets, new ways of looking at the world, at society, at community life – to mind it, to engage with it, to push forward narratives, and add to knowledge itself.

I took what I learned from UCC and applied it to a hobby which has also become my career – that of a local historian plus have applied it to my several other hats – in my community work, my local government work and my European work. I am for all intents and purposes one of many local historians which Ireland possesses – guardians of stories and story-telling and who are very passionate about their home place.

I spend large tracts of my time collecting histories and memories of Cork’s past gone by. I criss-cross the landscapes of Cork City and regions looking to find what makes it tick and looking to see how this “tick” can be harnessed to make my home city, region and its communities a better place.

The heritage of Cork survives in various conditions from complete disappearance to physical and metaphorical ruins to surviving because it is being used in everyday lives in a personal way.

Shortly after my BA degree, I embarked on a post degree personal project – an exploration of the River Lee Valley from source to city; I estimated at the start of my personal project that it would six months- in truth it took six years to reach the weir at the Lee Fields.

One aspect for certain is that the more I researched the places within the valley or the more doors I knocked on, the more information came to the fore. What is also apparent is that everybody’s view of the world is different. It could be an insider’s view or an outsider’s view, such as my own. For most people I have met, heritage was a personal and collective experience focusing on their own roots. In fact, the historical data played ‘second fiddle’ to their personal stories. It has been interesting to see how stories and values have been handed down, and how each successive generation has taken it in turn to hold a torch for some element of the past in the present.

One recurring aspect is how much the region’s cultural heritage runs metaphorically in ‘people’s blood’. There were a large number of people who noted, ‘my father used to say’ or ‘my mother used to say’. That sense of inheritance is important and it is more than just honouring people. It conjures up debates about achievement and loss, and it is more than just recalling the memory of a few. For each person I interviewed many more are represented through their life experiences. One is allowed to ponder on the power of the individual and their contribution to society, whether at a local or international level. The evolution of ideas can be mapped.

So one of the most abiding aspects I have learned over the years and one I have become a very firm believer that everyone has a story to tell – and everyone engages with the world in their own personal way. Hence respect for each personal perspective is paramount. But not just the personal perspective but how stories interact with each other in community life.

All of you will bring what you’ve learned back to a community you’ve come from or you will carve out a career in a new communities.

With the humanities degree you receive today you are the next generation of a community of story collectors and story tellers. There is a power in the scroll you hold. You now have the responsibility to be guardians of what you have learned.

From my own journey, I regularly see the power of a community outreaching and working together. Of course, the nature, depth and value of participation in creating inclusion or bringing people together are significant factors. As an exercise, in preparing for this address I broke up the respective letters of community, I came up with the following thoughts, which I wish to share, and which I hope connect to some of where you find yourself this afternoon:

  • The C is for citizen; active citizenship develops a sense of belonging. One is also taking ownership of one’s life direction. So please Use your degree.

  • O is for onus and responsibility. I think that any community in particular has a responsibility to its people and must move forward with a plan as best as possible. So please move forward with your plan.

  • The first M of community is for motivating. A group of people together can be inspiring, encouraging, empowering and enabling. You are an enabler of your own future.

  • The second M is for moving forward. The future is a worrying element for many people. But as we grow older we all grow wiser. You can’t buy wisdom, go and earn it.

  • U is for understanding. From my own travels and attending community meetings, every attender has something to bring to a community. As a result, community has various meanings to people. Listen and engage with people to carve your future.

  • N is for the next generation in the community. New people bring vibrancy and energy to any work they engage with. Most are also looking for opportunities to develop their talents and to fit in. Community adds to help people develop in personal ways. Stay fresh and dynamic and stay focussed.

  • The I is for ideas. Brain storming and a plan on paper is important. People need direction, something to work toward. Otherwise, the heart of the community will become stale and disillusioned. Flesh out your ideas.

  • T is for tolerance of the ‘other’. Working together as a team, getting everyone involved is important. People working together can stop the decline of local living places and bring them to renewed states of stability and viability. Everyone’s story is important to the mosaic, which is life.

  • The Y of community is about the yearning to be part of something- to do something purposeful, to hone our personal talents, to create and sustain strong bonds. Yearn and go do.

These are just ideas. If you are a story-teller, then building community capacity must be a core element of your future plan in passing on knowledge and developing a sense of identity and a sense of pride.

If you are the story tellers of the future, then today closes a page in one chapter but as you walk out in a few minutes into the Atlantic light of Ireland’s southern capital, a new page will appear. It is up to you what you wish to write on it.

Enjoy the celebrations and thank you for listening to me on your special day.



Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 17 October 2019

1019a. Crawford College of Art, 1919, from Cork Its Trade & Commerce



Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 17 October 2019

Tales from 1919: A Tour of the Cork School of Art


    On the week of the 24 October 1919 under the auspices of the Cork Literary and Scientific Society, a successful conversazione or public conversation event was held at the Cork School of Art within the Crawford Art Gallery on Emmet Place. In their dispatches of their activities to the press that evening the Society refer to the work by the pupils of the craft and trade classes and give an insight into life within the school one hundred years ago.

   The Society praised the efforts of Corkman and Head Master Mr Hugh Charde, who was in the job since February 1919. In the preface of the School of Art’s 1919 prospectus the objects of the institution were given – “to give a practical knowledge of drawing, design, modeling, painting, etc and to furnish useful training to those whose vocation depends in any way on the application of art to the trades, crafts, or professions; so that the workman can become more skilled in his trade or craft and the designer possesses more knowledge in the application to the various processes of manufacture and handicraft”. On the evening of the conversazione, the work being pursued by the pupils of the trade and craft classes were shown to the members of the Cork Literary and Scientific Society. Explanation was given by the teachers to the visitors of the history and ethos of the school. Established originally in 1850 in the old Custom House, the School of Art was re-established in 1877 and subsequently inspired the funding and building of the Crawford Art Gallery within a few short years.

    In October 1919, passing through the sculpture galleries, the visitors of the Cork Literary and Scientific Society came first to the modelling class, under the direction of Mr Michael McNamara. Here the pupils were engaged in modelling in all its stages, from the work of the seniors, copying a head from the antique, to those who were engaged on copying “ornament of various kinds at every stage of elaboration”. The “sureness and skill” of even the most junior pupils were much commented upon by the visitors. Another department, the wood carving class, also under Mr McNamara, evoked the same positive comments, and the many finished specimens of the work of this class shown around the building were much admired.

   Passing from the modelling room, the next class was that in artistic lithography. There throughout the evening there was always a crowd of visitors listening with interest to the full and painstaking explanation of the master, Mr R Baker, and admiring the work of his pupils, and the practical skill they showcased. In the room devoted to enamelling and art metal work, under the direction of a Mr Archer, every stage of the work was to be viewed. Here stories were relayed about Cork silver work and the ongoing efforts to keep the interest in silver-smithing alive in the City. The painting and decorating class, under Mr D Fitzgibbon, also highlighted evidence of sound practical teaching and an artistic sense of the possibilities of the craft.

     The classes on the upper floors were of special interest where the beautiful art needlework and embroidering of Miss O’Shea’s class, the lace work of Mrs Allen’s pupils, and the artistic leather work of the class conducted by Miss Reynolds and Miss O’Neill were displayed to interested visitors.

   In the library of the school the visitors had an opportunity to see some of the art school’s collection – supplemented by many curious books and papers from the Cork Carnegie Library selected by James Wilkinson, the librarian of that establishment.

    A display of microscopes, showing many interesting slides, the circulation of the blood, also made a most interesting exhibit, arranged by the kindness of Prof D T Barry, and under the charge of Dr J M O’Donovan and some of the students of University College.

    The principal of the School of Art Mr Hugh Charde was proud of the evening’s work. A native of Cobh, Hugh Charde (1858-1946) was Principal of the Crawford School of Art from 1919 to 1937. He was a teacher in the School since as far back as 1889 and received his early tuition in the Drawing School of the North Monastery. He later studied at the School of Art under Mr James Brennan, RHA. He then undertook an extended Continental studentship. He studied abroad at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts at Antwerp under M. Verlat, and at Paris under celebrated artists of their day. In 1889, Hugh was appointed as an assistant teacher in the School of Art in Cork. He was made second Art Master in 1907 and Principal in 1919 following the death of the principal William Mulligan.

    Apart from instructing and encouraging young art students, during his forty-eight years connection with the School of Art, Hugh Charde was a painter of great ability himself. Of latter years he specialised in water colours. He was imbued with a deep love of the Irish countryside and the coastline, and his works bore testimony to this love, with many of them appearing at the Royal Hibernian Academy. Hugh Charde was also the founder of the Munster Fine Art Club, of which he was President for very many years.

Kieran’s book The Little Book of Cork Harbour (2019) is published by The History Press and is available in Waterstones, Vibes and Scribes and Easons.



1019a. Crawford College of Art, 1919, from Cork: Its Trade & Commerce (source: Cork City Library).

1019b. Canova Casts within the Sculpture Gallery of the Crawford Art Gallery, 1925 (picture: Crawford Art Gallery Archive).

1019b. Canova Casts within the Sculpture Gallery of the Crawford Art Gallery, 1925