Don O’Leary honoured with Lord Mayor’s award for ‘immeasurable’ contribution to education

Mr O'Leary, the Director of the Cork Life Centre, made history by becoming the first recipient of a Lord Mayor’s Civic Award to be presented with the accolade in a location other than City Hall.
Don O’Leary honoured with Lord Mayor’s award for ‘immeasurable’ contribution to education

Lord Mayor Cllr Colm Kelleher and Ann Doherty, Chief Executive of Cork City Council present a civic award to Don O’Leary, Director of Cork Life Centre, for his outstanding contribution to education in Cork city. Photo: Darragh Kane

The Director of the Cork Life Centre, Don O’Leary, made history today by becoming the first recipient of a Lord Mayor’s Civic Award to be presented with the accolade in a location other than City Hall.

He was honoured for his outstanding contribution to education.

In a deviation from tradition, the official ceremony took place in front of the iconic red doors of the Cork Life Centre, with Mr O’Leary’s family and guests, elected members and Cork City Council mace bearers in attendance.

Lord Mayor Cllr Colm Kelleher, Ann Doherty, Chief Executive of Cork City Council, Pat Russel and John Keneally, City Council present a civic award to Don O’Leary, Director of Cork Life Centre, for his outstanding contribution to education in Cork city. Photo Darragh Kane
Lord Mayor Cllr Colm Kelleher, Ann Doherty, Chief Executive of Cork City Council, Pat Russel and John Keneally, City Council present a civic award to Don O’Leary, Director of Cork Life Centre, for his outstanding contribution to education in Cork city. Photo Darragh Kane

The ceremony was MC’d by sixth-year student, Caoimhe Cotter, who spoke of the profound impact Mr O’Leary has had on the students of the Life Centre.

“He has changed the life of every student who has walked through that door. 

“He has saved more lives than anyone will ever understand.

“He has shown us that we are deserving of a second chance, love and respect - that nobody here is a lost cause.

“I don’t know anyone who could be more deserving of this award than him,” she said.

The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Colm Kelleher, had announced earlier this month that Mr O'Leary would be presented with the award ahead of the usual ceremony held in May.

It follows Mr O’Leary’s decision just after Christmas to speak publicly about his terminal cancer diagnosis.

In his speech this afternoon, the Lord Mayor said it was his privilege to bestow the award upon Mr O’Leary to honour the “immense contribution” he has made to the fabric of Cork city and to so many people’s lives.

The Lord Mayor described the Cork Life Centre as “a beacon to all who are committed to equality of opportunity”.

Don O'Leary was presented with a Lord Mayor's Civic Award this afternoon. Photo: Darragh Kane
Don O'Leary was presented with a Lord Mayor's Civic Award this afternoon. Photo: Darragh Kane

“It is fitting to honour and recognise the outstanding and unique contribution that Don has made to the inclusion and empowerment of young people to engage in education and learning in ways that respect each individual; that promotes equality and diversity; responds to the needs of each learner; and that create connections between formal, non-formal and informal learning opportunities throughout life.

“The seeds that have been planted by Don O’Leary and the Life Centre team over the years have made an outstanding contribution to the present and future of the city and its people.

“Don, the impact you have had on the lives of your students, their families and thereby on the life of our city is immeasurable, exceptional, and it is with great pride that we celebrate you today,” he continued.

In a characteristically modest address to the assembled crowd, Mr O’Leary sought to recognise and thank others who have helped him achieve what he has in his role as director of the centre.

“Many of you will know how I feel about personal awards, but I’m deeply proud to receive, and more importantly to share, the Lord Mayor’s Civic Award with the whole of the Cork Life Centre community.

“My belief about an award or accomplishment is that no one achieves anything on their own,” he said.

He paid particular homage to the “steadfast” commitment of the staff and volunteers of the centre and to its students who he said are “the magic ingredient that makes the centre work”.

“Every day, even the tough days, it is a privilege to get to work with these amazing young people,” he continued.

Following the award ceremony, the Lord Mayor unveiled murals created by Cork Community Art Link in collaboration with students of the Cork Life Centre.

The work commemorates the tragic death of children during the struggles of the early 1920s and is an initiative of Cork City Council’s Commemoration Programme in collaboration with Cork City Council’s Arts Office and Community Art Link.

Details of the other five recipients of the 2022 Lord Mayor’s Civic Awards are expected later this year.

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