News 2011

Honorary degree for Ms Lynda McSweeney-Walsh

Thu, 8 Sep 2011

Lynda McSweeney Walsh   

The following is the text of the citation read by Prof. John O'Halloran on the occasion of the awarding of an Honorary degree to Ms. Lynda McSweeney-Walsh for her contribution to Environmental/Ecological Education.

Honorary Degree of Master of Science

Lynda McSweeney Walsh

University College Cork

Thursday, September 8th, 2011


Fota Wildlife Park, Cork is the largest tourist destination in this region and the fifth largest outside Dublin.  Hundreds of thousands of visitors visit annually to explore the parklands, its wildlife and the natural environment.  Education and learning lie at the heart of Fota’s mission and have a major role to play in promoting nature conservation to students of all ages. What is perhaps less well known is that Fota Wildlife Park runs a highly successful, award winning educational programme for primary, secondary and tertiary students in Ireland.  This programme is led by Ms Lynda McSweeney Walsh whom we honour today.

Lynda, a UCC Zoology graduate, has directed the Fota Wildlife programme for 17 years.  Each year between 12,000 and 14,000 students attend education programmes in ecology, wildlife and environmental science at Fota, led by Lynda.  Each of these programmes is about six hours’ duration.  So by any calculation, Lynda has delivered in excess of 1 million students’ hours of environmental teaching at Fota during that period! 

These programmes include summer programmes for children in primary education ranging from ages 4-12 years and are some of the most popular summer camps in the Munster area. The Summer Camps have been developed with the aim of engendering a respect for the natural world in children of all ages; this is achieved by taking a "play" approach to learning with the aim of enthusing and encouraging an interest in nature and its many wonders. Through years of valuable experience and programme revision, the education department has carefully put together a selection of activities which address each participant’s requirements and interests.

In past years, Lynda  has run a series of  Department of Education approved Cúrsaí Samhraidh (Summer courses) module for primary school teachers.  The course entitled  “Nature in the classroom – bringing nature inside”  is designed to facilitate and enthuse teachers to bring nature to the primary school classroom.

The Fota Education Department was one of the five centres chosen nationally by Forfas to become an approved centre for Primary Science. Discover Primary Science (DPS) is the national programme to foster interest in science and engineering among children in primary schools.

At second level, she delivers programmes for junior and Leaving certificate students as well as , transition  year students in Ecology and Environmental Science. At third level, Lynda offers a Biodiversity Conservation module for third level students.  This course focuses its attention upon the importance of biodiversity, the impact associated with anthropogenic activities and the possible solutions which will facilitate a balance being created between the needs of humans and those of biodiversityA large number of third level institutions partake in this course annually including Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, IT Tralee, Mallow College of Further Education and Bray Institute of Further Education - Bray Senior College.

So Lynda has managed to mix working with animals and children at the same time - a very difficult task.  I am sure there are lots of interesting stories from the class room, but Lynda recalled one to me recently whereby she described how she was explaining extinction to six year olds. When she had completed her explanation, a young child said ‘my granny is extinct’.  ‘Well’, said Lynda, ‘I am not sure that extinction is the right word - we usually think of extinction as referring to animals and plants groups, rather than individuals’ - but the six year old continued to protest –‘ but you said extinction is when something is dead and gone forever- my mummy says my granny is dead and gone for ever- so she is extinct!’

In 2008, the Education Department at Fota Wildlife Park received the prestigious  Sandford Award.  The Sandford Awards scheme was established by Lord Sandford and was pioneered to promote an acceptable standard of educational provision that schools should seek while visiting heritage education areas. The Award Scheme currently encompasses 150 historic sites within the historical and cultural environments of Britain and Ireland.  The Heritage Trust seeks to encourage innovation, transferability and sustainability alongside fun and enjoyment in education programmes. The initial judging process is detailed; nominated organisations are subject to intense scrutiny in terms of all aspects of their day-to-day business.  The teaching skills of participating staff are reviewed as well as the applicability of the course content and the manner in which the information is disseminated.  Currently, Fota Wildlife Park’s Education Department is one of five zoological institutions to receive this award in recent years and is the only zoological institution to attain it in the Republic of Ireland - a testament to Lynda’s leadership and skills.

In addition to these activities, Lynda also leads programmes in outreach and has worked with many inmates in the former Spike Island prison where she ran environmental education programmes in 1998 / 1999.  She has led collaboration for Fota with Scouting Ireland in the development of nature-based courses aimed at both Beavers and Scouts throughout Ireland. Since 1996 she has been responsible for collaborating with Scouting Ireland in organising “The National Animal Awareness Day” .  This event is held annually at Fota Wildlife Park. Lynda is  currently working  with Scouting Ireland in developing a sensory garden for children with special needs.  The programme encourages children of all ages to become pro-active in nature conservation by actively participating in in-situ conservation.  In January of this year, Lynda introduced a review and audit of waste, water and energy consumption at Fota Wildlife Park.  The aim of the project is to introduce a means by which Fota can reduce its carbon footprint by initially implementing a series of environmentally sound waste management strategies.  As a conservation-based organisation, it is essential that the park takes the initiative to become environmentally friendly in its day to day operations within the park.

Lynda McSweeney Walsh is a very talented educational leader, married to Andrew and mother of Ava and Clara, a proud UCC graduate who was inspired by her mother in environmental education.  She continues to inspire thousands today. "In the end, we will conserve what we love and respect. We will love and respectonly what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught or allowed to experience." [Attributed to Baba Dioum, an African conservationist]. Lynda, today we as a university recognize your contribution in inspiring our young people, helping them to understand and allowing them experience their ecological and environmental education, by awarding the degree of Master of Science (Honoris Causa).


Degree of Master of Science (Honorary MSc) –
Gradus Magisterii Scientiae (Honoris Causa)

Praehonorabilis ProVice-Cancellarie, totaque Universitas!
Praesento vobis hanc meam filiam, quam scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneam esse quae admittatur ad Gradum Magisterii Scientiae (Honoris Causa); idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo, totique Academiae

McSweeney Walsh, Lynda



John O’Halloran, PhD, DSc

September 2011


Photo: Professor Roger Whatmore CEO Tyndall, Dr Michael Murphy President, JOH, Lynda McSweeney Walsh, Dr Andrew Walsh and Prof Patrick Fitzpatrick, Head of College

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