Alumni Spotlight

Orla Egan - Author and Creator of the Cork LGBT Archive

28 Mar
Orla Egan

Orla Egan has been actively involved in the Cork LGBT community since the 1980's. She created the Cork LGBT Archive which aims to preserve and share the history of Cork’s LGBT community and recently won an award from The Heritage Council for her work. Orla is author of the book ‘Queer Republic of Cork’, available now in the Quay Co-op, Waterstones and Liam Russell’s Bookshop and online

Course/subjects studied in UCC

I began my studies in UCC doing Maths Physics, Alternative Maths, Statistics and Computer Science and Sociology (1983). However I found that I spent most of my time engaged in political activity – I went to the Greenham Common Peace Camp in December 1983 and then to the Campo di Donne per la Pace in Comiso in Sicily the following Spring. So, while I passed my exams with flying colours, I decided to change to European Studies, with a focus on politics and history – I felt I should be studying something more related to my life interests. I graduated with a BA in European Studies in 1987. Following time spent living in the Netherlands and London, I returned to UCC, beginning an MA in European Studies. I went on an Erasmus exchange to Groningen University in the Netherlands. On return to UCC I transferred to the newly established MA programme in Women’s Studies, graduating with the first year of that MA in 1992.

Following graduation I started work in UCC with the Equality Committee and as Director of the newly established Higher Education Equality Unit that was hosted by UCC. I also taught part-time in Women’s Studies, developed and co-ordinated the Adult Education Diploma in Women’s Studies and chaired the Adult Education Women’s Studies Board. I left UCC to work in the community development/social inclusion arenas for a number of years.

30 years after I first started in UCC I returned to do an MA in Digital Arts and Humanities (2013/14). I realised that I needed to upskill and learn how to do humanities work in the digital age. It was challenging, as I was certainly out of my comfort zone. I began work on creating the Cork LGBT Archive, work I am continuing as I am doing a PhD in Digital Arts and Humanities. I have developed a digital archive www.corklgbtarchive.com. In December 2016 my book Queer Republic of Cork was published with funding from a Cork City Council Heritage Publication Grant. I have recently been awarded a Hidden Heritage Award from the Heritage Council for the exhibition I organised as part of Heritage Week 2016.

Best memory of UCC

My very first day in UCC was spent occupying the Library! I don’t recall the issue we were protesting but a gang of us spent the night sleeping in the Boole – not much sleep was had but it was great craic.

Most of my best memories of UCC are about time spent with classmates, talking, laughing, debating and challenging each other. It is from my fellow students that I learnt the most.

How has your time at UCC helped you to get to where you are now?

My interdisciplinary studies in UCC gave me a solid foundation that I continue to build upon. I learned how to think, to evaluate, to analyse, to write and always, to question. I learned to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone and to try new things.

I had been politically active from an early age – my first political protest was against the proposed building of a nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point in Co. Wexford when I was 12/13 (I delight in knowing that a field of windmills sit where the nuclear power plant was planned!). I continued my political activism in UCC, developing a greater awareness of the world around me and of how to try to bring about meaningful political and social change.

What is your advice to current UCC students?

Follow your passion! It’s important to love what you are doing, what you are studying or researching. That passion and interest will sustain you but will also make your work more interesting and engaging. And don’t be afraid to change; if you are on the wrong path, try another one.

An education is important, but it doesn’t give you a right to look down on other people. There are many kinds of knowledge and intelligence. The Coal Quay in Cork was traditionally home to street traders. Every day as I went to college my mother would remind me “There’s a different kind of knowledge ‘tween the Coal Quay and the College.” Different, not better!

What person/people at UCC had the most positive influence on you?

My parents, Jim and Maura Egan, instilled in me a belief in the power and importance of education and supported me in my studies. My father combined work and study throughout his life and has recently, at the age of 88, returned to UCC to complete a course in Genealogy – some role model.

Liz Steiner-Scott was my tutor in European Studies and was one of the people who established and ran the MA in Women’s Studies. Liz taught me to write, to think, to be critical and analytical. I remember my essays covered in her comments and feedback and enthusiastic exclamation marks when you got it right! I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Liz and I value our on-going friendship. Liz now volunteers each week with the Cork LGBT Archive, helping me with the arduous task of sorting through the Arthur Leahy Collection.

Professor Máire Mulcahy was Vice-President of UCC and Chairperson of the Equality Committee when I started working in UCC. We worked closely together in both the Equality Committee and the Higher Education Unit. Professor Mulcahy taught me how to work for change within seemingly unwieldy institutions, and how to do so with both grace and determination. Her unstinting commitment to fighting for equality laid the groundwork for UCC to establish a framework for addressing inequality, including President Patrick O’Shea’s recent announcement of the establishment of a UCC Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit. I am grateful to Professor Máire Mulcahy for her leadership and for all she taught me.

Were you involved in any Clubs or Societies?

I was involved in the UCC CND Society – Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. And I was very involved with the Women’s Group (precursor of the current UCC Feminist Society). I also engaged with the UCC Socialist Youth Society. It was in these ‘alternative’ societies that I found my UCC clan, my fellow students who cared about what was happening in the world around us and strove to bring about social and political change.

Favourite UCC legend or superstition

You do not cross through the quad unless you want to fail your exams! Even now I will walk the long way around the quad, avoiding walking through the central pathways, even if I have no exams. Not worth the risk!

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