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Address of Bishop Denis at the Conferring of Awards 2021, Carlow College St Patricks

Carlow College St. Patricks, Conferring of Awards 2021:                   27.04.22

Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow @ 2pm

The cherry blossom is in full bloom in the College grounds. John Spillane sings ‘The Dance of the Cherry Trees’:

Let me tell you ’bout the cherry trees

Every April in our town

They put on the most outrageous clothes

And they sing and they dance around …[1]

Carlow College grounds are a riot of colour and bloom these April days. One visitor yesterday met me on my walk and spoke of the absolute beauty of the cherry blossoms and apple blossoms. He even commented on the smell of cut grass. In a time and an era where we need to be more conscious than ever of our space, Carlow College, St. Patricks is a jewel in the footprint of our town.

I often wonder what went through the minds of Bishop James Keeffe, who was over eighty years of age and his coadjutor Daniel Delany, against the advice of everyone, without any funding in the early 1780’s began to build a most impressive and imposing college on what was then the outskirts of Carlow town. Today it is the centre of the town. They were building it on a field they could hardly afford to lease, not to mention buy. On that field today those cherry trees dance.

Today is a huge day for you graduates, all 142 of you. This day has been a long time coming, not only was it an endurance of academic study, reflection and tuition but also it was over the past two years in the context of a pandemic, a pandemic that has changed forever the way we educate, the way we relate, the way we interact with one another. But today has finally arrived and let’s savour every moment.

All of you will be familiar with the pristine condition of the college, where a quick stroll around the corridors is akin to a lesson in Irish history. As we walk, we rub shoulders with James Fintan Lalor, John England, John Therry, Patrick Moriarty and JKL. Our College has a deep sense of history and a profound sense of place in the heart of Carlow. We are a small niche college with a proud tradition that stretches back 239 years.

Graduates today will receive awards in Applied Social Studies; in Arts and Humanities; in English and History; in Social, Political and Community Studies and in Therapeutic Foster Care. As I reflected on this afternoon’s address, I feel every award at whatever level is an invitation to every single graduate to be a leader wherever you find yourself.

There was a lively debate the other evening on the topic of ‘What’s the best question a leader can ask?’ Answers were very varied: ‘What do you expect of me?’ ‘What can I do to make you the most successful you can be?’ ‘Where do you think we should be in three years?’ ‘What would you like to tell me?’  ‘How can I make your job a little easier?’ ‘Who looks after the kitty for the coffee?’ Yesterday we learned that Elon Musk had paid $44 billion for Twitter. That $44 billion could have easily been used to provide food and clean water for the poor, housing for the homeless, shelter for refugees, medical care for the sick and funds to eradicate serious illness. By doing this Elon Musk would have been a leader, not just another capitalist.

What might Pope Francis say to graduates? He says: “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid[2]. Go through your life with a generous spirit and a care for those in need. Be conscious of one another and particularly those facing challenges of their own. Your full final academic year was online due to the pandemic. You demonstrated huge resilience. Many of you graduating in the Social Care field also served on the frontline in the battle against the virus. Huge credit and thanks to all of you.

You graduate on day 32 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. How delighted we are to welcome our Ukrainian guests living now in Lennon House. It is lovely to see the Ukrainian colours so prominent on today’s Graduation Booklet. None of us can stand idly by when we see injustice – we must name it and call it out. Flying the flag, opening our doors – literally and figuratively – to those seeking refuge from conflict is us seeing God in others and not being found wanting: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you something to eat, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you …[3]. Moments like these allow us to live our faith.

The Writer in Residence project in conjunction with Carlow County Council continues to go from strength to strength. Fr. Michael McCarthy was the very first Writer in Residence. It was great to see the launch of the book ‘Like a Tree Cut Back’ celebrating Michael’s life, sadly like the tree pruned too quickly, but in its pruning Michael posthumously continues to give great life to the College. I also note the recent world premiere in Cobden Hall of ‘Metanoia’ by Leighlinbridge composer Grainne Mulvey, based on Michael’s poem of the same name. And here we are this afternoon in the Cathedral also designed by Thomas Cobden. In the Cathedral I think of the late and much loved John Cummins, Administrator here for eleven years; I am honoured later to present the first ever Dr. John Cummins Interdisciplinary Prize for the best Final Year Dissertation in the Arts and Humanities in the disciplines of Theology, English and Philosophy.   

Very recently Larry O’Toole, gardener in the College for 35 years, planted a magnolia, to be precise it was a ‘Magnolia acuminata’, also known as a Cucumber Tree! I not a big fan of cucumbers but I love the magnolia! It’s at the very corner of the College grounds, adjacent to our Cathedral. Planting a tree is always an investment in the future. Carlow College, St. Patricks has seen great change in the years since its foundation by Bishop James Keeffe. The years to come will witness further change. On behalf of the College Trustees and the Governing Body I acknowledge publicly the work of Fr. Conn Ó Maoldhomnaigh and the entire team in the College for the work they do on all our behalf ensuring the future of the College. The newly planted magnolia will always stand as a reminder of all we lost during the pandemic. One of the things we lost was this annual event of conferring of awards which should have happened in 2021 but was deferred until today.

To every graduate I say a heartiest congratulations, comhgháirdeas go léir. The chorus of ‘The Dance of the Cherry Trees’ puts it beautiful:

You know it’s taken us one whole year

Well Done Everyone, Well Done!”

On behalf of me and the Cherry Trees, Well Done

Well Done Everyone, Well Done


To the entire staff, to you the graduates, every blessing and thanks this day.

[1] Released as a single in 2002 on the EMI label

[2] Pope Francis, ‘Ten Secrets to Happiness’, Argentine Weekly ‘Viva’, July 29, 2014

[3] Mt.25:37-38