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Centenary Dinner Speech - Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern's Dinner Speech


Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern T.D. at the Catholic University School union Centenary Dinner in the Conrad Hotel, Dublin at 8pm on Friday 22nd February, 2002


I would like to begin by thanking your President, Mr. Ronnie Delany who, on your behalf, invited me to this very important event in the centenary calendar of the union of the Catholic University School.


The centenary of a past-pupils union is a very significant event. It is an event to be marked, an event well-worth recording, and, above all, an event to be celebrated. I have no doubt that all of you here tonight will do just that.


A vibrant past-pupils union speaks volumes for a school. 100 years ago when such unions were rare, a group of former students of CUS felt strongly enough about the school and their time there to set up this organisation. They clearly were inspired about their school to put such enthusiasm and hard work into laying the foundations of what has continued to be a strong and committed group of people.


Of course, the Catholic University School is an unusual, indeed, unique school in a number of ways, by virtue of its origins in the 1860s. It was Cardinal Newman, who stayed in the school in 1863, suggested the name for an institution that was to act as a preparatory school for entry into the Catholic University of Ireland, later University College Dublin. This ‘bond’ between CUS and the University has remained strong down through the years. Many of the members of this Union are graduates of UCD.


The school is unusual in its location in the heart of Dublin and in the role it has played in the education of the citizens of this city. In a natural continuum, many alumni of the school have contributed to the development of the city. The school boasts many distinguished past pupils who have made their names in different walks of life.


People have often wondered where the late Alfie Byrne acquired his amazing memory for people and his ability to greet all by name in the streets of Dublin. It could be said that attending school in the centre of Dublin started him out on that road. Past pupils of CUS have played key roles in the Church, in academia, in business and in the legal profession.


Of course they have also distinguished themselves in the world of sport, Mr. President. CUS is unique in that it boasts three Olympic gold medalists amongst its former pupils. The first of these, John Pius Boland, won two gold medals in tennis at the Olympics in Athens in 1896. Boland was in many ways Cardinal Newman’s ideal man – barrister, author, orator and even politician!


Ronnie Delany was, of course, the next Olympian. I know that after a dazzling career in athletics, crowned by a gold medal in Melbourne in 1956, Ronnie retired from athletics in 1962 at the age of 26. The extraordinary aspect of this is that his influence on sport in this country and of our own self-perception as possible ‘contenders’ on the international stage, was only then beginning. The fact that in the millennium year he was chosen as the ‘People’s Choice’ as Champion of Champions for the past 50 years gives an indication of his contribution to sport in Ireland.


And now, almost incredibly, the school has another Olympian. David Malone, a recent past student, won a gold medal for the 100 metres backstroke at the Paralympics in Sydney. Again, this is an achievement which serves as an inspiration to the whole country.


Of course, these extraordinary achievements do not happen in a vacuum. The list of sports offered by the school and the school’s success in tennis, rugby, cricket and many other sports, points to a brave spirit and a philosophy of inclusiveness.


The link between the Union and the school is based on the fundamental ethos of both. The school embraces the Marist ethos which views education as the ‘formation of heart, mind, character and virtue’, in other words, the formation of the whole person. The Union for its part aims to support the school in the realisation of this ethos. In offering material support to the school, the Union sponsors a scholarship fund, facilitates career talks, advises on the Young Entrepreneur programme, and contributes to the work of the Hamper Fund.


The Union also helps to foster the long tradition of Debating in the school and a co-operative system between the school and the Union provides students with the opportunity for work experience during summer holidays.


The Union’s commitment to the school obviously springs from a real gratitude and fondness for the Alma Mater. In one of the Union’s Newsletters, I came across a poem written by one of the most recent graduates of the school.


If Mark O’Neill is here tonight, I hope he will forgive me if I quote him. In a poem call ‘Looking Back’, referring to his time in the school, Mark wrote:


Despite all the rules, all the work, the expected strife,

I learned more than just written words; I learned lessons in life.

At the start boys enter, impressionable, naive,

But with a strong ethos, they are moulded before they leave.

A good sense of morals, priorities, integrity

Have resulted in who I am, who I aspire to be.


Looking back on 100 years of this Union is, as I said at the outset, an occasion for celebration. I would like to commend the officers of the Union for the fine programme of events for the year, of which tonight’s dinner is but one. I congratulate all past members, officers and presidents of this Union for contributing to its outstanding success over the years. And I wish you all the very best for another 100 years of valuable work.


Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.

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