‘Global nature’ of Irish World Academy is its biggest strength

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

Prof Micheal O Suilleabhain with then arts minister Jimmy Deenihan and UL president Professor Don Barry at the launch of the MA in Festive Arts in 2013. Picture: Sean Curtin
LIKE many start-ups, the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in UL emerged from a “zero base” in 1994.

LIKE many start-ups, the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in UL emerged from a “zero base” in 1994.

Founding director, renowned composer and now Professor of Music Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, had a clear vision of how it should develop when he was appointed as the first chair of music.

20 years later, the Irish World Academy boasts 300 full time students, close to 3,000 graduates, 19 degree programmes, 23 full time staff and a 5,000 square meter performing arts building, constructed at a cost of €20 million.

It is regarded as a centre of excellence for the study of music and dance at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, with an artist-in-residence scheme that has boasted luminaries such as Martin Hayes, Jean Butler, Colin Dunne and Iarla O Lionaird, among others.

Further, the academy has established a “global community”, Ó Súilleabháin – who has stepped back as director in recent years – argues, one that has increased its international reputation to the point where the number of countries of origin from students that have graduated is now in excess of 50.

This weekend the Academy celebrates its 20th anniversary with a Convocation, welcoming back students for three days of celebration, which began with a visit by the newly appointed US Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, this Thursday.

“It is both a moment of celebration, we have to admit that there is something to celebrate, not just a beautiful building, but what is actually in it, in terms of human resources, international students, a whole global community of artists and scholars,” says Ó Súilleabháin.

“And also there is a feeling too of drawing back the arrow in a particular way so that something can fly all the surer into the future, so what is the next 20 years going to bring, and the 20 after that.”

When he interviewed for the position over 20 years ago, Ó Súilleabháin brought a document that outlined the vision for the future Academy, “90% of which has been achieved”.

“What emerged very quickly, was a very strict, hard edged, five year plan, between 1995-2000 for the development of very focused, specific postgraduate taught programmes and doctoral research programmes,” he says.

“By the time we got to 2000, the kernel of the structure of the idea was in place. After that, it became a kind of a tending and consolidation process - where you have actually planted seeds and now it was time to ensure that they had the correct light and heat, the correct protection to allow for the growth patterns, and that is what has been happening since 2000.

“We have created a global community and that is here on the banks of the Shannon in the city of Limerick,” he says.

“As well as being strong locally, its vision is global, as a university has to be. I am astonished at the continuing round of extraordinary students that are coming in, from the ages of 17 up to 60, from undergraduate, right up to very active and rapidly growing post-doctoral energy.

“For this weekend of Convocation, many of them are coming back. Many have kept in touch with us and of course they are creating all the time a global community which has its umbilical cord back into Limerick.”