Catherine Corless, who shed light on a mass grave at Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Irish poet Thomas Kinsella, and American physicist Michal Lipson were awarded honorary degrees by Trinity at a commencements ceremony held this afternoon.
Corless, a local historian from Tuam, requested records of 796 deaths at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home after conducting research into the institution in her spare time. She cross-referenced the records of births, deaths and burials, which ultimately lead to the uncovering of a mass grave of infants. The discovery re-ignited a national conversation around the treatment of women and children by Catholic nuns in similar institutions across the country.
As an email to Trinity staff and students notes, she received the Bar of Ireland Human Rights award in 2017. The awarding of Corless with an honorary degree from Trinity “acknowledges the academic excellence and social importance of Catherine Corless’ work which also stands up for truth and reconciliation in this country”, the email states.
Kinsella, a widely recognised Irish poet, is being awarded for his contribution “to the understanding of the Irish-language tradition”. His poems are “celebrated and loved for their profound personal candour and sensitivity, but he has also been a poet of searing political and public critical insight”, Trinity stated in the email. Kinsella turned 90 this year.
Lipson is known for her pioneering work in silicon photonics for enabling optics on a chip for processing and transmitting information with high capacity. She has authored over 200 technical papers and over 25 patents on novel micron-size photonic structures for light manipulation, and has been named by Thomson Reuters as one of the top 1% most cited physicists. She is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the CRANN Nanoscience Research Institute, and has received numerous awards.
The three honorary degree recipients hosted events on campus this morning to discuss their work with the public. They join Trinity’s long list of honorary degree recipients, which includes Hillary Clinton and former US Vice President Joe Biden. The recipients received their degree in the Examination Hall, as is tradition.
Their degree ceremony was the second last time Mary Robinson, Chancellor of Trinity, will officiate such an event, as she will step down from the position next year. Robinson was first elected to the role in 1998 and was the first-ever female chancellor of the university. The university senate will hold an election for her successor next term. Trinity staff, senators in Seanad Éireann, Fellows Emeritus and Honorary Fellows will be allowed to vote.
The ceremony will be the second last degree ceremony officiated by Mary Robinson, not the last as an earlier version of this article stated. The article was updated to reflect this at 4:50pm, 12 November 2018.