THERE were sons and daughters of gardai, electricians, solicitors and home-makers clustered into the University Concert Hall to receive a different type of parchment than is typically handed out here.
On the precious piece of paper was confirmation of a bursary worth nearly €7,000 a year per year of undergraduate study in an All Ireland scholarship scheme backed by JP McManus to the tune of €32m.
The scheme, set up six years ago in a mirror of a similar one the Martinstown man operates for students of his alma mater of CBS, intends to support “students emanating from less advantaged backgrounds” with the intention that they “should help to make a real difference for the winners”.
These were the words of Gerry Boland, trustee of the scheme which has helped more than 880 students from north and south to attend college when they might otherwise have been financially unable to do so.
Participation in the scheme is aimed at the best and brightest, but helps those who might also be the most disadvantaged access to education, with Mr McManus stating he hoped that they would “embrace the opportunity now presented to them”.
Some 125 students from all over Ireland gathered in the UCH on Saturday, and the cross-border spirit of the event was exemplified by the presence of both Minister Michael Noonan and Dr Stephen Farry, minister for employment and learning in Northern Ireland.
Richard Burke, from Adare, an Ardscoil Ris student now attending UCC where he is taking medicine, said it was a “great honour” that “relieves the pressure off my parents financially”.
“They have no worries throughout the year now and I can study away,” he said. “I was absolutely delighted when I got the letter. I couldn’t believe it, it was amazing.”
The 19-year-old was full of praise for JP.
“He is a great philanthropist, hundreds of students over the years have got this scholarship and it has made a massive difference to them, being able to go to college without any worries.”
Fellow Ardscoil man Brendan Moran, studying medicine at NUI Galway who hopes to be a Thoracic surgeon, was lucky enough to meet JP and guest speaker Michael O’Leary.
“They were saying it is a great achievement and how it makes all the good work pay off and that it will help us along in our studies,” he explained.
“I suppose I was shocked really, but at the same time relieved because it takes a lot of pressure off,” added Brendan, speaking about his emotions on receiving the confirmation letter for the award.
Standing nearby was Cian Murphy, from Caherdavin, now studying pharmaceutical science at UL.
The 18-year-old Gaelcholaiste Luimnigh graduate said it was “a huge privilege, a very prestigious honour to be getting”.
“I’m obviously delighted because it is a big help, times are tough and this is really going to help,” he explained.
“It is going to really help to my four years in college and beyond that as well. Money is hard to come by in the current climate and it is going to be a huge help.”