Honorary Conferrings Speeches Archive

    at UCC Autumn Conferrings 2021

  • 19 Nov 2021

Louise O'Neill was born in 1985 and hails from the West cork town of Clonakilty. Louise grew up in Clon with her older sister Michelle and her Mum and Dad. Her Dad Michael is the third generation of his family to run the family business, the renowned butcher shop on Main Street. Her Mum Marie worked as an English teacher and on Louise's arrival focused her time and attention on raising her family.  Growing up, Louise attended St Joseph’s National School and thereafter the Sacred Heart secondary school in Clonality before leaving her beloved West Cork to study English and History in Trinity College Dublin, ultimately transferring to single honours English, graduating in 2008. In the course of her studies Louise was hospitalized for treatment to help her deal with her eating disorder and the associated mental well-being challenges. Louise's early life experiences have undoubtedly shaped and informed her work. Louise is open and honest in sharing her experiences and uses them as a platform to start difficult conversations, to highlight the challenges faced by so many in modern Irish society, to empathize with others and to serve as a visible and vocal example of courage, determination and strength.   

Louise O'Neill is the voice of her generation. Through her writing and play adaptations, Louise's work has made a significant and challenging contribution to the contemporary narrative surrounding key societal issues. Louise’s advocacy highlights the scourge and devastating impact of sexual harassment and violence, the dangers of silencing the prevalence of domestic and intimate partner abuse, as well as generously shining a light through her own experiences, on the range of physical and psychological challenges faced by young people in modern Irish society. Through her work, Louise provides an accessible and relatable platform for youth and adult engagement with often stigmatized and challenging social policy issues, inspiring a generation to challenge perceived prevailing norms, to speak out against the unacceptable and to find their voice for the changes they wish to effect.   

With her exceptional literary skills, Louise has captured vividly the dangers arising from the normalization of unwanted advances and sexual abuse amongst young people in Ireland. In particular through the medium of her award-winning book ‘Asking For It’, Louise has articulated the terrifying and life changing impact of rape, not only on the survivor of the crime, but on their family, their friends and the broader community. This publication and its celebrated production as a screenplay touring nationally, provided a pathway to conversations amongst young people, enabling them to better recognise problematic behaviour, to challenge the false consensus that can exist amongst those who abuse, the consequences of silent bystanders and the devastating impact of rape myths on the capacity for justice to be secured. Louise's work has awakened an awareness of the importance of calling out such unacceptable behaviour, it has inspired a demand for cultural change across Irish society, providing an impetus for the robust exploration and reimagination of the role of educators to develop training, awareness and capacity to better support and empower voices for change. 

At University College Cork the development and success of the UCC Bystander Intervention programme educates staff and students about the dangers of normalizing sexual harassment and violence, the importance of identifying and calling out all forms of unacceptable behaviour and empowers participants to develop the skills to make safe and effective interventions. As an educational institution we are uniquely positioned to develop and deliver this targeted initiative which addresses the very challenges highlighted by Louise in her remarkable book and then screenplay, giving our staff and students a voice, cultivating both an individual and collective sense of personal responsibility for the well-being of others, and ultimately recognizing that as a campus community we can demand and effect a zero tolerance approach to all forms of sexual harassment and violence.  

‘Asking For It’ was named the Irish Times Book of the Month in September 2015, the Book of the Year at the 2015 Irish Book Awards, The Honour Prize for Fiction at the 2016 CBI Awards and the American Library Association’s Michael L Printz Honor for Excellence in Literature written for Young Adults. It was heralded by the New York Times as “ravishing and essential” and the Guardian regarded it as “a genuinely heartbreaking sickening and truthful examination of society's penchant for victim blaming, its treatment of women, and the concept of rape culture”.  

In using her voice to inspire public debate, heighten awareness and challenge unacceptable behaviour, Louise provides a visible and accessible national platform to highlight both the need and the potential for change and has demonstrated an unwavering appetite for encouraging others, for stimulating difficult conversations and for effecting change.  

Louise’s weekly column in the Irish Examiner is both challenging and inspiring. Speaking about the challenges of transitions, and the need for self-kindness Louise has wished (and I quote)  

”…that I had actually given myself enough time and space to find my feet rather than assuming I was inherently broken. That’s the thing, I suppose. When you’re going through it, you think you’re the only person who feels this way, that everyone else is finding the transition effortless.”  

As regards the battles we face in life, referencing her own personal challenges, Louise has written eloquently, but still so very much from the heart: 

“We are not particularly interested in each other’s fragility, we do not want to hear about the recovery that has been characterised with countless falls, dragging ourselves back up to standing, swaying, with our bleeding knees and scraped knuckles, ready to trudge on slowly. All people want to hear is about the quick fix, the easy answer. But there isn’t one, because life isn’t easy.…. 

Life is far from perfect now, but it feels real. And it’s mine. I worked hard for it. Today, I don’t want to be anyone’s hero, or to presume that I could ever be the voice of all people who have addictions, nor would I want to. But I do want to stretch my hand out to those in pain and say: You can do this. No matter how often you fall, no matter how many times you have to try, I know that you can do this.” 

Louise’s success has been recognised nationally and internationally including: 

  • Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year Award 2014 at the Irish Book Awards  
  • Eilis Dillon Award for first children's book  
  • The 2015 Booksellers inaugural Young Adult book prize  
  • Literature Award at the Irish Tatler Women of the Year awards 2015  
  • The Best Author at the Stellar Shine awards 2015  
  • The Praeses Elite awarded by Trinity College Dublin  
  • The 2019 Audience Choice Award for ‘Asking For It’  
  • And the Crime Novel of the Year award at the 2020 Irish Book Awards for her most recent publication ‘After the Silence’.  

At University College Cork our core values guide and underpin our actions and our processes. We value creativity, responsiveness, transparency, scholarship, freedom of expression, integrity, equality, diversity and respect. It seems to me that in awarding Louise O’Neill an honorary doctorate today, we have recognised in her and through her work, a personal representation of the principles, ideas and actions of this great university.  

I am delighted that Louise’s family and partner Richard are here with us today.  It is truly an honour and a privilege for me to present Louise Neill for the award of a Doctorate in ….. 

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