Honorary Conferrings Speeches Archive

    at Aula Maxima, UCC

  • 07 Jun 2013






PROFESSOR IRENE LYNCH FANNON, Faculty of Law, University College Cork on 7 June 2013, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on DONALD WILLIAM MOLLOY


A Sheansailéir agus a mhuintir uilig na hOllscoile,

There are important historical links between Ireland and the State of Montana - the home State of Judge Don Molloy whom we are honouring in UCC today. Following the closure of the Allihies copper mines in the late 19th century, many of the people who worked in the mines emigrated to the United States and found themselves eventually in Butte, Montana, where they continued to engage in work which was familiar to them.  Between 1870 and 1950, this path of emigration continued. At the turn of the last century, one quarter of the population of Butte Montana was Irish, a higher percentage than any other American city, including Boston.  West Cork names such as O’Sullivan, O’Leary and Harrington are still very common right across the state of Montana.

Judge Don Molloy's parents settled in Malta, Montana - his father was a medical doctor and his mother, Mary Rita, a mother of eight children, was described as an intellectual woman and like her children after her, an extremely well read person. All eight of the Molloy children attended university, reflecting a traditionally Irish commitment to education.


As a younger man, he served active duty in the US Navy from 1968 to 1973. He flew F-4 Phantom fighter planes off the deck of the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy. Whilst engaged in this service, Don Molloy was troubled by the Vietnam War and wrote to his Senator - at the time Senator Mike Mansfield - a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War. The Senator took the trouble to reply and this letter, coupled with his experiences clerking under Republican Judge James F.  Battin, have proved to be the foundation of a deep understanding of committed citizenship.

Speaking to his friends and while continuing to read about Judge Molloy, I kept returning to this ideal of a committed citizen.  His willingness to serve for his country but to actively engage in discourse about the validity of that war displays a courageous faith in democratic values. To serve as a judge and to regard as his mentor a judge who would have been his opposite politically reflects an appreciation of the importance of dissent in a democracy. Judge Molloy says his time clerking for Judge Battin was the best educational experience he could ever have had. He described Judge Battin as a true conservative.
“He believed strongly in states’ rights, in federalism, in fiscal conservatism and individual rights,” ...... “It was a wonderful working relationship.”

The U.S. District Court of Montana is part of what has been described as one of the most controversial courts in the United States, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Only the 9th Circuit Court, encompassing nine states, two territories, and 14 million square miles, and the Supreme Court have the power to overrule Judge Molloy’s decisions. During his time on the bench, Judge Molloy has been a leading reformer in judicial practice in Montana and has adjudicated on significant environmental rights cases involving cleanup of polluted sites and hunting practices. Judge Molloy presided over the largest criminal environmental case prosecuted in the United States, United States vs. W.R. Grace (concerning asbestos poisoning of residents in two towns in Montana). Even as recently as 2009, this story continued with the recognition of the need to support the citizens of Libby, Montana in the Health Care Act brought forward by President Obama.

He has also decided several endangered species cases including those of the gray wolf, the grizzly bear, and the lynx, as well as cases involving Montana’s world-class fisheries.

In a piece  in the Missoula Independent written in 2005, Judge Molloy was featured as one of the Federal judges squarely in the sights of activist conservative Republicans such as Senator Tom Delay.  In the article, the same ideas which are fundamental to a flourishing liberal democracy and the concept of active citizenship resonate in Judge Molloy's words. The importance of freedom of expression and the willingness to use this most important right to participate in public discourse, is a central part of Judge Molloy’s work as a lawyer. His role as a judge in a democratic state is also important to him and he emphasises the independence of the judiciary regardless of the nature of the political appointment. Judge Molloy describes how once appointed, the door is closed on the political connection, the same phenomenon has been described to me by judiciary here, sometimes, it must be said, with a certain tone of relief! The sacrifices made by family of those who take up high judicial office are also recognised by him and he particularly acknowledges the role of his wife, Judy as his support.

When I first met Judge Molloy last year, he was on his way to Guantanamo . He went at the behest of Admiral Douglas McAneny, Commandant of the National War College. Judge Molloy gives an annual talk on the rule of law in the United States to an assembled group of high ranking military officers from around the world. Usually there are 45 to 50 Colonels, Generals, Captains and Admirals.  To his knowledge, he is the only, certainly the first, Federal Judge to visit Guantanamo.  Again as a committed citizen of the United States and public servant, when I asked him about it, his response was thoughtful and considered: "I spent the day there and found the experience to be quite different than what I had been exposed to in the popular press and on the news shows.   Since my return I .... continue my efforts to try and understand a complex situation in light of the laws of war as well as the rule of law. ... I have generally held the view that justice delayed is justice denied."

Judge Molloy's interest in his own heritage and identity led him to the Irish Studies program at the University of Montana where he and his wife Judy took some Irish classes.  He has described Irish as a difficult language.  It is. Nevertheless it is part of who we are and in that context it is worth mentioning that a particularly striking and impressive feature of the program at the University of Montana is the revitalisation of the spoken Irish language which has taken place in the region. When I had the pleasure of meeting young third and fourth generation Irish Americans speaking Irish at the University of Montana, it quite simply took my breath away.

Thanks to the efforts of Judge Molloy and his colleagues, in particular the Irish American legal community in Montana, UCC and the University of Montana are engaged in a fruitful and ever deepening relationship. In addition to our connections to the Irish Studies program, University College Cork also offers a joint bachelor’s degree with the University of Montana in International Field Geosciences. Students spend their third academic year in Missoula, where they take a number of field-oriented courses set in the Rocky Mountains and western United States. The Faculty of Law at UCC runs the BCL - Law and Irish program during which some of our law students spend a semester (or term) at the University of Montana where they take some law courses, including Judge Molloy's Philosophy of Law class, teach Irish on the Irish studies program and most significantly, are given the incredible opportunity to clerk in Judge Molloy’s chambers or in the courtrooms of other judges including Magistrate Judge Lynch.  In speaking to him about this encomium, Judge Molloy emphasised the excellence of our students whom he has met and to whom he has offered such opportunity. In the Law Faculty we are proud of our students - the best and brightest Cork and Ireland has to offer - and for Judge Molloy, they are a refreshingly modern rejuvenation of Irish Americanism.

Judge Molloy continues to lend his considerable support to this relationship and we are appreciative that an Irish American of such standing and influence should take such an interest in our affairs and in the professional formation of our students particularly.

As his friend, we honour Judge Molloy's remarkable achievements as a lawyer and public servant.

This time last year, Judge Donal O'Donnell of our Supreme Court brought to my attention a set of correspondence between a great American judge and philosopher, Oliver Wendell Holmes and a famous Corkonian, Cannon Sheehan of Doneraile.  If it was possible, even within the constraints of 19th century communications, for those two men to carry on a conversation and friendship which meant so much to both of them, now with the aid of technology, how deeper and richer the possibilities for our long distance friendships are, whether these are cultural, inter-institutional, personal, educational or intellectual.  With champions and friends like Judge Molloy, the conversation will always be stimulating, reflective and worth celebrating.

Praehonorabilis cancellarie, totaque universitas!


Praesento vobis hunc meum filium, quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in utroque Jure, tam Civili quam Canonico, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo totique Academiae.

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