Oldest Trinity graduate on record obtains PhD at 84 years old

Dr Mary Pyle’s graduated from the School of English earlier this month

An 84-year old has become Trinity’s oldest graduate on record, graduating with a PhD from the School of English earlier this month.

Dr Mary Pyle graduated on November 4, with her PhD focusing on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series.

Her thesis “Harry Potter and the Unconscious Dimension” replied to the question, “What is it that is so important at an unconscious level in Harry Potter, that people respond to it?”

Pyle’s supervisor, Ussher Associate Professor in Children’s Literature Dr Jane Carroll, described the work as “an exciting and important contribution…to the wider critical conversation about children’s literature”.

Qualified as a psychotherapist and a founding member of the Irish Institute for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Pyle’s thesis drew from her professional expertise in psychoanalysis, as well as her passion for literature catered to younger readers.

Carroll added that “this is an interdisciplinary thesis and there is so much in it for both scholars of psychoanalysis and scholars of children’s literature to learn from and benefit from”.

Pyle took inspiration for the theme of her thesis following her purchase of the Harry Potter book series for her grandchildren, when she began reading the books herself.

In a recent interview, Pyle said: “I won’t say that age is just a number because I don’t think it is. I still want to go on learning things. In many ways. I took up playing the cello at 60”.

She added: “I don’t think being older, if you are interested in doing stuff, is a reason not to do things. Learning the cello and doing the PhD brought me into contact with young people who are at the same stage as me”.

Pyle commenced work on her doctorate in 2014. Its completion was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and her active role in the establishment of the MSc in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in Trinity.

In 2016, 97 year old Josef Veselsky became Trinity’s oldest honorary arts graduate when conferred with an honorary Master of Arts degree.

Since 2010, Mr Veselsky had taken extra-mural classes in the School of Histories and Humanities on an annual basis, recommencing his education following its disruption by the second world war in his native former Czechoslovakia.

Addressing the department of History following his reception of the award, he said: “You think that because you gave me a degree you got rid of me?”.

In the post-war years, the Bratislava native pursued table tennis, in which he ranked 7th nationally, before immigrating to Ireland and co-founding the Irish Table Tennis Association.

In 2008, Veselsky was made Commander of the Slovak Order of the White Double Cross, for his achievement in sport and overall contribution to the development and maintenance of diplomatic relations between Slovakia and Ireland.