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Otago Establishes Chair In Irish Studies

Tuesday 23 November 2004

Otago Establishes Chair In Irish Studies

The University of Otago is building on its Celtic roots by establishing a new Professorial Chair dedicated to the study of Irish culture and society and its strong links with New Zealand. More than 600,000 New Zealanders are of Irish descent.

The Eamon Cleary Chair in Irish Studies, which is an initiative under the University’s $50 million Leading Thinkers Advancement Programme, is being made possible through a generous donation by expatriate Irish businessman Eamon Cleary. The Government will match Mr Cleary’s contribution dollar for dollar under its ‘Partnerships for Excellence’ scheme.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg will host a function this evening celebrating the establishment of the new Chair.

“The University is well suited to this initiative given its existing expertise in areas such as Irish literature, Celtic spirituality, economic history and Irish music. Otago also has recognised strengths in studies of cultural diversity, anthropology and national identity,” says Professor Skegg.

Humanities Assistant Vice-Chancellor Professor Alistair Fox says the new Chair will be important in raising the profile of Irish Studies and encouraging research in areas such as the Irish diaspora, Irish literature, and the Irish experience in New Zealand.

“The establishment of the Chair will enable a high-quality academic programme to be developed that will give future generations of New Zealand students an insight into the Irish heritage of this country, and Ireland's place in the contemporary world”.

The University also plans to provide the opportunity for students to study Irish Gaelic through in-country study by initiating an exchange agreement with University College, Dublin, he says.

Otago will be seeking to appoint a distinguished academic to the Chair who can also develop research collaboration and staff exchange with one or more partner universities in Ireland, he says.

“We have existing networks with Ireland, including ongoing collaborative projects and further formal linkages with Irish universities will be stimulated by the Chair,” he says.

Media are invited to attend today’s function, which includes a performance by an Irish band. The event is being held in the Council Chambers of the University’s Clocktower and begins at 5.15pm.

About Eamon Cleary:

Born the eldest of a large family reared on a small holding near the town of Ballybay, Ireland; Eamon Cleary left school at age 11 to work on his father’s small farm. He was apprenticed to a block layer at 15 and at 17 commenced his own building business. At 20, he started his own pre-cast concrete and reinforcing steel company while continuing to run his successful building operation. He married at 24 and went on to develop one of the largest agricultural supply businesses in Ireland, which he sold in 1991.

By 1996, when Mr Cleary was 34, he had moved to New Zealand and established a business career, with substantial investments in agricultural land and commercial property in both the North and South Islands.

Mr Cleary has eight children ranging in ages from 10 to 20 years. He is also the proud owner of Rand, a thoroughbred that represented NZ in the Nakayama Grand Jump (Japan’s Grand National).

With extensive business and property interests in Australia, Eastern Europe, Ireland and New Zealand, Mr Cleary has now begun developing agricultural and telecommunications businesses in Argentina and Chile. While in NZ, his base is Lake Hayes, Otago.

None of this foreign expansion has diminished his love of Ireland. He continues to keep close contact with family and friends, returning to his native shore regularly. His love of Irish music, culture and history continues as strong as ever and was in part, the prompt for his decision to endow a Chair in Irish Studies at the University of Otago, he says.


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