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Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience Thanksgiving Service 2024

19 Apr 2024
Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience Thanksgiving Service 2024

The Department of Anatomy & Neuroscience held its fifth Thanksgiving Service on Tuesday 12th March 2024. Now an established event in the calendar of the College of Medicine & Health at UCC, the biannual multidenominational Thanksgiving Service hosted in UCC’s Honan Chapel brings together families of donors, staff and students of anatomy in a musical and reading celebration.

The event gives the University and anatomy students an opportunity to meet with the donor families to thank, acknowledge and reflect on the extraordinary gift that they have received from the donors.

Professor Aideen Sullivan, Head of Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, Professor John Cryan, Chair of Anatomy and Vice President for Research & Innovation, Professor Paula O’Leary, Dean, School of Medicine - Professor of Medicine and Consultant Immunologist, and Dr Aonghus Lavelle, Lecturer in Anatomy and Gastroenterologist, along with staff and students, represented the School of Medicine UCC.

This was the first thanksgiving service since 2018 as this event was paused in 2020 and 2022due to the pandemic. The 2024 event celebrated and thanked all donors to the programme and especially the donors from the past six years.

Mr Wayne Sheehan, Technical Officer in the FLAME laboratory, directed the event as orator, welcoming all and introducing the speakers and musicians. Wayne opened the event by introducing the UCC Choir, conducted by Dr Eva McMullan, who is currently completing an MSc in Neuroscience in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience. The mixed voice UCC choir performed Amazing Grace by John Newton.

Photo: Professor Aideen Sullivan, Head of Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience.

In her welcome address, Professor Aideen Sullivan, Head of Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience extended a ‘very warm welcome to the families and friends of our donors who we gather together today to remember and to thank, and to celebrate the amazing selfless gift that these donors have made’. Adding that ‘this gift has enabled the training and dedication of doctors, dentists, scientists, and clinical therapists who have come to UCC to study from all over the world and who will go out and practice all over the world in their future careers’. ‘The generosity of our donors will have a lasting, far reaching and powerful impact on the lives of countless individuals worldwide.’

Photo: Thanksgiving Service attendees Honan Chapel.

Professor Sullivan emphasised the importance of the Anatomical Donation programme in ‘this age of artificial intelligence, and as advancements in technology continue to revolutionise the way that we learn and teach, it is really important to emphasise the essential and irreplaceable contribution of our donors to the study of the human body by our students.’ ‘Technology cannot replace the experiences that are attained in the anatomy laboratory experiences which are fundamentally based on human connections.’ ‘The department of Anatomy and Neuroscience deeply appreciates the enormity and selflessness of the sacrifice that the donors have made in the past, and are continuing to make, to our donor programme.’ 

Photo: Fr Gerard Dunne, Chaplain UCC.

Professor Sullivan spoke of the Flame sculpture by the artist Alexandra Wejchert, which is located in the Western Gateway Building and was ‘commissioned in recognition of the altruism of those who donate their bodies for medical research and education, and it represents the flame of knowledge’. ‘The influence of our donors lives on in perpetuity as the flame of knowledge which leads to the light of understanding in our students, which they will put into daily practice throughout their careers.’

She continued ‘today’s ceremony is an important marker on our calendar to give thanks joyously graciously and humbly for this public-spirited, selfless act of our donors. We give thanks for the lives that we live, and we remember and reflect on the lives of those that are here with us this evening in spirit and how they have, and continue to, contribute to the lives of others.

Photo: (l-r) Anatomical Donation Programme staff; Ms. Carrie O’Flynn, Dr Sue Grenham, Ms Shelley O’Shea, Mr Michael Cronin, Mr Wayne Sheehan and Ms Ashley Benge.

In addition to giving thanks to the donors and families of the donors, Professor Sullivan added ‘our donor programme is only of success because of the hard work of the departmental staff who are responsible for administering this programme.On behalf of my colleagues, I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for all of their work and dedication especially to our Departmental Administrator Shelley O’Shea and our FLAME lab team Sue Grenham, Carrie O’Flynn, Wayne Sheehan, Michael Cronin, Patricia Flynn, Max Shanahan, Ashley Benge and Kenda Samman. These are the people who assist the donor families in all aspects of the donation programme’, ‘and Bereniece Riedewald, who has contributed hugely in the organisation of this ceremony along with the FLAME team’, ‘and thank you to the entire staff of the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience and of the School of Medicine for their support at today’s service.’

Photo: Passing the flame of knowledge; (l-r) Ms Kathleen Williamson, Ms Megan Teague, Ms Trisha Jain and Mr Wayne Sheehan.

Professor Sullivan also remembered ‘the late Deirdre Kelleher who sadly passed away just over a year ago and was a valued member of the FLAME team and who we remember fondly in our service today.’ She thanked Fr Dunne, Rev Marley and the staff at the chaplaincy ‘for providing us with access to the magnificent Honan Chapel and for their support in this service’ and extended ‘a warm thank you to all of our students for their enthusiasm and collaboration, to our performers and readers who represent our very talented student body of UCC so well’ and a special thanks to our UCC Choir under the direction of Dr Eva McMullan.

Professor Sullivan concluded that she trusted that the ‘words and the music of each of our talented performers today will provide solace and comfort to the families and friends of our donors gathered here today, as we reflect on and give thanks for their selfless gift.’ 


Photo:  UCC Choir performing, conducted by Eva McMullan.

After an opening message by Fr Gerard Dunne, Chaplain UCC, the symbolic passing of the 'flame of knowledge' from donor family to students followed.

Ms Kathleen Williamson, a UCC staff member whose both parents are anatomical donors, passed a flame from a lighting candle to first year Direct Entry Medical Students Trisha Jain and Megan Teague, representing the flame of knowledge leading to the light of understanding. Mr Michael Cronin, Senior Technical Officer then lit a candle to remember the recent passing of colleague Ms Deirdre KelleherMr Wayne Sheehan spoke about the loss of their colleague Deirdre Kelleher and her contribution to the donation programme for many years and remembered retired staff members Mr Donal Harris and Ms Angela Marsh who also died recently. Candles representing each donor since the last service in 2018 were lighting on a table in front of the altar throughout the service, and family members were invited to take a candle home with them after the service.



Photo:  Dr Aonghus Lavelle, Gastroenterologist and lecturer in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience.

A Clinical Reflection was delivered by Dr Aonghus Lavelle.  Dr Lavelle a Gastroenterologist and lecturer in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience shared insights into his personal medical career journey and the benefit of anatomical donation. He spoke of his very early medical student days in UCD when he and his class mates entered the dissection room for the first time having been very respectfully invited by the Professor of Anatomy to meet their first patients, and how it was such a profound and memorable occasion.  Dr Lavelle explained that the study of anatomy is the foundation of medicine and emphasised how donor-based learning is essential for the study of human anatomy. Dr Lavelle described how books, computers and technology do not compare to donor-based learning and how the learning received from the human donor is very special and remains with the student.

Dr Lavelle highlighted how it is patients that benefit from the donor programme. He spoke of medics who train in intervention specialities requiring complex procedures such as surgery and cardiology also benefit from studying donor bodies in facilities such as UCC’s ASSERT facility.

Dr Lavelle commented how his colleagues from that first anatomy lesson in UCD are now working in many varied specialities, and how the legacy of the donors that he and his classmates met on that first day still live on in their work daily.

The Thanksgiving service continued with a selection of readings and music performances interspersed throughout the evening read and performed by current UCC students;


Photo: Student readers and musicans (l-r)

  • Ms Ríona Barry-Smith, Direct Entry Medicine 1, Treble Recorder. Sonata in C Major Op. 1 No. 7 Mov. I: Larghetto by G. F. Handel.
  • Ms Katie Daly, MSc Human Anatomy. Poem to an Anatomy Student By Clare Small, Anatomical donor.
  • Ms Ciara Moriarty, Direct Entry Medicine 1. Darling By Jackie Kay.
  • Ms Victoria Burcovschi, Direct Entry Medicine 1, Violin. Ms Orla Beechinor, Direct Entry Medicine 1, Violin, & Lovers’ Waltz by Jay Ungar.
  • Mr Culann Stevens, Direct Entry Medicine 1. Human Family By Maya Angelou.
  • Ms Simone O’Donoghue, BSc Medical & Health Sciences 1, Violin, Chanson Trieste OP.40 No.2 by P.I Tchaikovsky Violin.
  • Ms Irina Riedewald, Direct Entry Medicine 3, Viola, & Mr Ben O’Connor, Direct Entry Medicine 3, Bassoon. Ständchen (Serenade) D.889 by Frans Schubert.
  • Ms Ali McCarthy, BSc Medical & Health Sciences 1. Life After Death IV By Laura Gilpin.
  • Mr Chulainn O’Mahony, Direct Entry Medicine 1. Solas By Seán Ó Ríordáin.
  • Ms Eleena Ekhtiari, Direct Entry Medicine 1, Piano. A Time for Us by Nino Rota.
  • Ms Clíona O’Carroll, Direct Entry Medicine 1. An Open Letter to an Anatomical Donor, author unknown.
  • Ms Grace Mulcahy O’Sullivan, BSc Medical & Health Sciences 1, Flute. Sonata in E Minor, BWV 1304, 1st Mov. by J.S. Bach.


Photo: Rev Alan Marley, Chaplain UCC.

A closing message by Rev Alan Marley, Chaplain UCC was followed by UCC Choir conducted by Dr Eva McMullan, performing A Blessing by Jay Althouse, with accompanist Susan O’Brien.

After the service family, friends, students and staff retired to a reception in the Staff Common Room, where family members chatted about their loved ones with staff and students, and all acknowledged the huge impact of the anatomical donor’s gift and the success of the 2024 Thanksgiving Service.


Links to video recording and photographs:



Further details:


If you are interested in the UCC Body Donation Programme please contact: 

Ms Shelley O’Shea,
Senior Executive Assistant,
Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience
(021) 420 5497
or email 


Photo Gallery: Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience Thanksgiving Service 2024

For more on this story contact:

News item and photographs Bereniece Riedewald.

Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience

Anatamaíocht agus Néareolaíocht

Room 2.33, 2nd Floor, Western Gateway Building, University College, Cork, Ireland