‘So proud of what we have achieved’: 21 Traveller women graduate from UCC

“It’s a fantastic achievement and I think it will give a strong message to the Traveller community and to Ireland as well.”
‘So proud of what we have achieved’: 21 Traveller women graduate from UCC

A group of 21 women from the Travelling Community graduated at a conferring ceremony at University College Cork on Thursday.

THREE sisters were among 21 women from the Travelling community who graduated at a conferring ceremony at University College Cork (UCC) yesterday.

The women successfully completed a course designed to empower leadership in their community.

The Level 6 Leadership in the Community programme was co-created by the Southern Traveller Health Network (STHN) and Adult and Continuing Education, and supported by Access UCC and funded by the Soar Project.

The course was designed as a model of innovative practice in creating an inclusive learning environment that enables Traveller participation in higher education.

A group of 21 women from the Travelling Community graduated at a conferring ceremony at University College Cork on Thursday.
A group of 21 women from the Travelling Community graduated at a conferring ceremony at University College Cork on Thursday.

Sisters Ellen Quilligan, Noreen O’Reilly, and Elizabeth McGrath were among the women from Cork and Kerry who graduated. Ms Quilligan told The Echo it was a very happy day for her family.

“Elizabeth lives in Cobh, and Noreen and myself live here in Cork City, so we’re having a great time today...

“We have young babies and they’re all here with us today and we are so, so proud of what we have achieved.”

Anne Burke of the STHN said the course would be life-changing for participants.

“The course covers issues such as education, accommodation, and health — topics that are statistically poor for the Travelling community,” she said. “We need people within the community to show leadership and this empowers them to do that.

“The rate of second-level education among Travellers is atrocious so to have these women avail of third-level education is life-changing — not just for them but for their families and their wider communities.

“I can’t wait to see the day when it’s just normal for our children to come to UCC, and people won’t see it as something unusual or different.”

Course lecturer Sindy Joyce said she was “absolutely so proud” of all of the women who graduated.

“Their achievements and all the success that they have had, even with all the barriers that were put against them and then the pandemic, show not just our community, but the whole of Irish society, that when the barriers are broken down and when Travellers do get into third-level institutions, they put their whole hearts into it and absolutely can succeed as much as anybody else,” Ms Joyce said.

“It’s a fantastic achievement and I think it will give a strong message to the Traveller community and to Ireland as well.”

Caroline McDonagh, from Mitchelstown, said she had completed the course in a year, through the pandemic.

“I’m very happy and very proud of myself and I hope it will help me to push further and do more courses, maybe in mindfulness or something to help people suffering with addictions,” she said.

“It is a big day for Traveller women, hopefully there will be plenty more graduations to come.”

Breda McCarthy, from Charleville, said she was excited to have graduated: “I feel that we can be an inspiration to other Travellers to go forward in further education and to further yourself.”

Access UCC head Olive Byrne noted that the college had a long history of outreach with the Traveller community and she praised the women graduating.

“They have continued their studies through a pandemic, highlighting their commitment to education, they’re leaders, they’re committed, they have the next generation coming up behind them, and we’re hoping that these women will inspire many others, and that we won’t continue to have under-representation of Travellers in higher education,” she said.

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