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Honouring Galway’s Changemakers  

Honouring Galway’s Changemakers  

15 December 22
 | 23 MINS

University of Galway recently announced the recipients of Honorary Degrees at the 2022 Winter Conferring ceremonies – Margaretta D’Arcy, Lelia Doolan, Dr Jerry Cowley and Ronan Scully.  


 On behalf of University of Galway, I am delighted to be in a position to recognise this group of extraordinary individuals. Each one has made an excellent and distinctive contribution to public life, the betterment of society and the interests of humanity, leaving the world in a better place than we found it, which is the responsibility of us all.

Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh  
Honouring Galway’s Changemakers  

Margaretta D’Arcy

Playwright, film maker, actor, theatre activist and mother of five sons (two deceased).

Margaretta has been a member of Aosdána since its inauguration in 1981. She had over 50 years of partnership with the late John Arden, an eminent British playwright and novelist, and collaborated on many stage and radio plays including Non Stop Connolly Show and Whose is the Kingdom, a radio drama series.

Margaretta was an original member of Bertrand Russell’s Committee of 100, which was set up in the 1960s and was committed to civil disobedience against nuclear weapons. In 1967 Margaretta and John were invited by Conor Cruise O’Brien to be theatre practitioners at NYU, where they put on a 12-hour theatre spectacle entitled The Vietnam War Games. In 1969, by the invitation of the Gandhi movement, Margaretta and her family travelled overland to India to study traditional theatre.

She hosted Radio Pirate Women from her house, a community pirate radio station which campaigned against state censorship and was affiliated to AMARC International World Association of Community Broadcasters, the umbrella organisation for community radio worldwide. Margaretta received a Katherine Davenport Award from Women’s International News Service.

She was a founder member of Women in Media and Entertainment, affiliated to National Women’s Council of Ireland and a member of ESCOC, UN. Margaretta was involved in Raging Grannies Galway street performances, with the late Ann O’Dea and campaigned with The Global Women’s Strike for recognition of Women’s Unwaged Work.

Margaretta is the author of several books including Ireland’s Guantanamo Granny, Galway’s Pirate Women, Loose Theatre, Tell Them Everything and Awkward Corners with John Arden. Her films include A Maverick Islander, winner of the Spirit of the Festival Award at the Indie Cork Festival, Achill Unhinged, Welcome To our World, Yellow Gate Women and Big Plane Small Axe, which received the Audience Award at the Galway Film Fleadh.

Honouring Galway’s Changemakers  

Lelia Doolan 

Film director, producer and writer 

Born in Cork in 1934, she was the fifth of six children to Lelia (Lil) and Paddy Doolan. She studied at University College Dublin, Queen’s University, Belfast and University of Galway. 

Throughout her career Lelia worked as actor, director and producer in various places, including the Globe Theatre, RTÉ, the Abbey Theatre and Bord Scannán na hÉireann. She was a student of social mores and of anthropology in Belfast in the 1970s. She worked for Combat Poverty in Erris, Mayo and also co-founded and attempted to run and teach the first course in film and video in the College of Commerce, Rathmines in the early 1980s, and later in Galway in the then GMIT (now ATU Galway).  

Lelia did film production work with Joe Comerfored and Bernadette McAliskey among others and worked with disabled women in Zimbabwe, and with graduates in Irish Studies in Cluj University, Romania. Since moving to live in South Galway in the early 1980’s, she has been involved with various cultural productions, activisms, studies, film festival and Cinemobile activities, cinema building and lives cheerfully in a friendly neighbourhood by the sea. 

Lelia co-authored Sit Down and Be Counted- The Cultural Evolution of a Television Station with Jack Dowling and Bob Quinn about RTE’s early years in 1969. 

Honouring Galway’s Changemakers  

Dr Jerry Cowley  

Medical doctor, Irish barrister, and public representative.  

Born in Salthill, and one of nine, he is the eldest son of Bride (nee Clancy) from Glann, Oughterard, and the late Kevin Cowley from Ballina, Dr Cowley practiced as a  single-handed rural family doctor in Mulranny, Co Mayo for 41 years 

A former Rehab Person of the Year, and Mayo Person of the Year, he is an honours law graduate and qualified barrister, and co-founder and former chairman of the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and former Vice-President of the Irish Council for Social Housing. 

An Independent TD for Mayo from 2002 to 2007, Jerry founded and led the successful campaign for a Mayo Orthopaedic Unit, as well as spearheading the campaign for a national Irish helicopter emergency medical service, and for better cancer services including the extension of the Breast Check program to the West and South West, and the HSE Mulranny Ambulance Base.  

He has been a strong advocate of providing local rural services to retain local populations, and is the founder, former chairman, and life president of the not-for-profit registered charity Safe Home Ireland which has (with the support of the Irish Government Emigrant Support Programme DFA&T) assisted 2,400 long- term Irish emigrants to repatriate permanently by securing them housing throughout the 26 counties. 

Dr Cowley is the founder and chairman of Mulranny Industrial Trust, and the St. Brendan’s Village charity which supports older and disabled people to stay locally. He is founder and chairman of the Rural Island & Dispensing Doctors of Ireland which this year with its partners brought the WONCA World Rural Health Conference to Ireland. He is married to Teresa (nee Staunton) and they have five children.  


Honouring Galway’s Changemakers  

Ronan Scully  

Humanitarian, volunteer and charity fund-raiser. 

A deeply compassionate man, with extensive experience of working as a volunteer and programme co-ordinator in developing countries, Ronan was a GOALie in Calcutta (now Kolkata) India, Nepal, Ethiopia and Angola from 1992 until 1999. He was GOAL’s representative in the West since 2000 and has been working for GOAL for over 18 years. He is currently Irish Humanitarian Charity Self Help Africa’s Regional Representative for the Midlands and the West of Ireland. 

He has also worked for the National Youth organisation, Foróige, in Ballybane for a number of years, and has been the representative in the West and midlands for Self Help Africa for the past 10 years. He also travels frequently to Africa and has this year spent months in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Kenya and many parts of Africa working with his colleagues in Self Help Africa. Within his region, Ronan is responsible for, amongst many other things, recruitment, fundraising, education and managing all aspects of the Self Help Africa office in Galway and the West of Ireland and Midlands.  

In his role as Self Help Africa’s Regional Representative, he is called upon to liaise constantly with Self Help Africa’s voluntary personnel throughout his area of operation, and with local, regional and national media outlets. He travels extensively throughout the West and the Midlands of Ireland and various countries in Africa meeting individuals and official bodies on behalf of Self Help Africa. He also visits schools and colleges, and youth, sporting and community groups, to raise awareness of developing world issues. In this regard, Ronan is particularly enthusiastic about developing and delivering educational programmes for young people. He is actively engaged in organising sporting and other events that encourage youngsters from diverse religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds to mix freely with one another, to build relationships and remove potential barriers between them.    

In recognition of his long history of selfless dedication to humanitarianism, Ronan has received many awards, including: the Irish Young Person of the Year Award (1997) for his contribution to children, world peace and human rights; the Offaly Sports Star of the Year Award in 1988, in recognition of his achievements in Gaelic Football; the Galway Person of The Year Award Recipient in 2004; the Offaly Person of The Year Award Nomination 2005, 2007, 2009; and the Galway Mayor Award in 2004.  

He was honoured in 2011 as the Offaly Person of the Year in Dublin and as Offaly person of the year in London in 2012 for his work for charity and children’s and human rights around the world and in 2016 received a Civic reception from the Mayor of Galway City for his work with young people and his humanitarian work in the Developing world. Ronan is to receive the ‘Oireachtas Human Rights and Dignity Award” for his work in December 2022. 

Honouring Galway’s Changemakers  
Máirtín O’Connor and Mary O'Malley

The university also celebrated two of the Honorary Degree recipients from 2021, who were unable to be previously conferred due to the challenges arising from the pandemic;  Máirtín O’Connor and Mary O’Malley

Máirtín O’Connor 


Synonymous with the accordion for decades both as a player and as a composer/arranger, Máirtín was spurred on by his grandparents, who both played the instrument. 

In 1976 he was invited by the great singer/songwriter Thom Moore to join his band Midnight Well, and since then he’s worked as a professional musician and toured and recorded with many bands including Reel Union, De Danann, Skylark, as well as playing as a soloist in the first Riverdance orchestra. 

His first solo album, The Connachtman’s Rambles was received to great critical acclaim and had a long run in the British folk charts. His second solo album Perpetual Motion explored music outside the Irish tradition and was nominated for a Bank of Ireland Arts award. This was followed by three albums of his own compositions, Chatterbox, The Road West and Rain of Light. This last recording features Rain of Light Fireworks Suite, a piece commissioned by St Patrick’s festival in Dublin 2003. 

He has composed music for TV and theatrical productions. In 2013 he was commissioned to compose a suite of music for the European Conference on Dolphins and Whales held in Galway. This resulted in The Mighty Ocean, a musical dialogue between mankind and the sea and his extended version was scheduled for a performance as part of Galway 2020. 

He has received many accolades and awards, including the AIB Musician of the Year award in 1993 and the Co Galway Premier Arts Award in 1994. In 2009 he was presented with the Fiddlers Green Hall of Fame award in Rostrevor, Co Down. In 2015 he received the TG4 Gradam Ceol Musician of the Year award and has recently been profiled in a Sé Mo Laoch documentary on TG4. 

As a studio session musician he’s contributed to many recordings for both national and international artists including The Chieftains, The Dubliners, Liam Clancy, Christy Moore, Luka Bloom, The Stunning, Moya Brennan, Mark Knopfler, Elvis Costelloe, Rod Stewart, Tim and Neil Finn, Tanita Tikaram, and many more. 

He was also invited to play on the Paris Musette record series (Vol2 and Vol3) which chronicled the history of the French musette. His playing also contributed to some film scores including Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night (with Ben Kingsley), Some Mother’s Son (with Helen Mirren), and Dancing at Lughnasa (with Meryl Streep).

Mary O’Malley  

Born in Connemara and educated at University of Galway (then UCG). She lived in Lisbon for eight years and taught at the Universidade Nova there. She served several years on the council of Poetry Ireland and was on the Committee of the Cuirt International Poetry Festival for eight years, and was the author of its educational programme. 

Mary taught on the MA programmes for Writing and Education in the Arts at University of Galway for 10 years, held the Chair of Irish Studies at Villanova University in 2013, and has held Residencies in Paris, Tarragona, New York, University of Galway, as well as in Derry, Belfast and Mayo. 

She has been active in Environmental education for twenty years with a specific interest in the Sea and Bogland, working with a team of marine scientists and musicians. In the early 1990’s, she co-organised a Province wide schools programme, arising out of her work on the organising committee of an international Conference on demilitarisation of the Ocean, held in the University.  

She has published nine books of poetry, including Valparaiso arising out of her Residency on the national marine research ship, Playing The Octopus, and her latest book of poems, Gaudent Angeli. 

She has also worked on poetry translation from Irish, Spanish and Catalan. 

She is a member of Aosdána and has won a number of awards for her poetry. She writes for RTÉ Radio and broadcasts her work regularly. She has been Writer-in-Residence at University of Galway and the University of Limerick, and has held the Chair of Irish Studies in Villanova University in Philadelphia.   

She lectures and teaches widely, in the US and Europe, particularly in Paris and Spain. She has been Writer in Association with the RHA Gallery in Dublin, and was the 2019 Writer Fellow in Trinity College Dublin.

She is working on a memoir of childhood, as well as essays on place, and has been invited to  guest edit an issue of the magazine ‘Reading Ireland The Little Magazine’ dedicated to the work of the poet Derek Mahon.


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