Have you ever questioned what you’re doing here in UCC? Asked yourself if this is the best place to begin your career? Glenn Dunlea examines several past alumni who have gone on to forge careers for themselves, and not always in a path that their chosen degree would indicate.
Throughout the 170 years that University College Cork has been providing third level education to the people of the world, many past graduates have gone on to receive immense recognition and fame in their chosen field.
Fiona Shaw, Actress
Born and raised in Cork, Shaw completed her Leaving Certificate in Scoil Mhuire, a local private secondary school in Cork city. After completing her first degree in UCC, Shaw went on to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. From there Shaw went on to star in several hugely successful productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company, including a turn as the titular character in Medea, which earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Play. Shaw has also had an illustrious film career, and is perhaps best known to younger audiences through starring as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter film series. Shaw will portray Countess Markievicz, the famed Irish nationalist and first woman to be elected to the British Parliament (although she never took her seat), in the centennial commemoration biopic, The Rising, written and produced by Kevin McCann, due for release in 2016.
Des Bishop, Comedian
Irish-American comedian Des Bishop was brought up in New York. At the age of 16, he began attending school in Ireland. He has a degree in English and History from UCC. Bishop’s comedy was originally heavily based on his observation of Irish society, supported by his talent for impersonating the regional variations of the Irish accent. His website says, “Des has developed a unique style of observational comedy, most critical of his adopted home in Ireland and the America he left behind.” He is perhaps best known for his well-documented attempt to learn the Irish language, shown via the television series In The Name of The Fada.
Seán Ó Riada, Composer
Seán Ó Riada was a composer and perhaps the single most influential figure in the revival of Irish traditional music during the 1960s. He became a household figure in Ireland through his participation in Ceoltóirí Chualann, compositions, writings and broadcasts on the topic. He played the violin, piano and organ and studied the Greek and Latin classics at UCC, studying with Aloys Fleishmann and graduating in 1952. While at College, Ó Riada was the auditor of UCC’s Philosoph. His compositions are still highly regarded today, and are frequently performed.
Julie Feeney, Composer/Musician
Even though Feeney is a proud Galwegian, she chose to complete her degree in UCC. Her self-produced debut album 13 songs won the Choice Music Prize for Irish Album of the Year in 2006 and garnered glowing four and five stars in all major UK and Irish press outlets. On this album Feeney not only composed each piece, but also played every instrument heard on the finished album, as well as providing the vocals for each track, an amazing feat in every respect. Her following albums, Pages and Clocks, both garnered similar praise. Feeney is currently working on her highly anticipated fourth album, while also developing her debut opera, Bird, a modern retelling of the classic Oscar Wilde fairytale, The Happy Prince.
Brendan O’Connor, Journalist and Broadcaster
Brendan O’Connor is an Irish media personality, columnist, comedian, and retired pop star. Presenter of The Saturday Night Show on RTÉ from 2010 to 2015, he is also known as for his columns in the Sunday Independent newspaper. He is also editor of the newspaper’s Life Magazine. During his time at UCC, O’Connor was the Recording Secretary of UCC’s Philosoph. He famously lost the Minutes Book of the “Golden Age” at a party. O’Connor remains a popular figure among Irish broadcasters.
Jack Lynch, Politician and Taoiseach
John Mary “Jack” Lynch was the Taoiseach of Ireland, serving two terms in office; from 1966 to 1973 and 1977 to 1979. Born in Cork city, Lynch sat his Leaving Certificate in 1936. Lynch began working at the Cork Circuit Court as a clerk while still only nineteen years old. His work in the court ignited his interest in law and in 1941 he began a night course at UCC studying law. Jack Lynch has been described as “the most popular Irish politician since Daniel O’Connell”. As a sportsman Lynch earned a reputation for decency and fair play, characteristics he brought to political life. It was for this that the man known as “the Real Taoiseach” or “the Reluctant Taoiseach”, with his ever-present pipe and the soft Cork lilt in his voice will be remembered.
Declan Kidney, Former Irish Rugby Coach
Since completing his studies in UCC, Kidney has remained a familiar figure within the college. He initially studied to become a teacher of mathematics, and after his career began eventually became a career guidance counselor too. During his time in UCC Kidney was a member of UCC’s rugby team. After holding several positions as a rugby coach to various teams, including Munster, Kidney served for five years as the Irish National Rugby Coach. In August 2013, Kidney was appointed as the Director of Sport and Physical Activity at UCC.
As is often the case, not everybody that passes through the lofty halls of UCC comes to finish their studies. For a variety of different reasons people choose not to complete their degree, and among the UCC alumni who have made this decision are a few instantly recognisable figures.
Graham Norton, Broadcaster
Norton spent two years during the 1980’s studying English and French at UCC. His career since leaving has been critically acclaimed. Early roles as a comedic actor include that of Father Noel in the Father Ted television series. Norton has chaired several hugely popular chat shows on British television, including the immensely popular Graham Norton Show on the BBC. In June 2013 he received an honorary doctorate from UCC.
Cillian Murphy, Actor
Cork native Murphy began studying law at UCC in 1996, but he failed his first year exams. He has said that he knew within days after starting at UCC that law was not what he wanted to do. His first major role was in the UCC Drama Society’s amateur production of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, also starring the aforementioned Des Bishop. Murphy also played the lead in a UCC Dramat production of Little Shop of Horrors. He has since gone on to star in several roles that have garnered huge critical acclaim, and is widely recognised as one of the most talented actors of his generation.