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
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
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,
But with a strong ethos, they are
moulded before they leave.
A good sense of morals,
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.