News and Views

Irish Guide Dogs co-founder to be awarded Honorary Doctorate from UCC

13 Sep 2018
Jim Dennehy at the Irish Guide Dogs Headquarters Image: Clare Keogh

Upon losing his sight in November 1968 Jim Dennehy set about gaining the skills to allow him to maintain his independence despite the setback.

On a mobility training programme in Torquay in 1969, Jim first came face-to-face with the four-legged wonders who would transform his and so many others’ lives.

“From Torquay we took a trip to a Guide Dogs centre in Exeter. I’d never seen anything like it. Immediately I was amazed by the impact these dogs could have on blind people and their sense of independence. It was inspiring. I signed up for a course straight away and a seed was sown,” explains Jim.

And that seed grew into what is today the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. A charity which has helped thousands of blind people and their families over the years, as well as children with profound autism, and which costs €5million-a-year to run.

Today at University College Cork Jim Dennehy is to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws in recognition of the hugely positive impact the charity he co-founded in Ireland, with Cork woman Mary Dunlop, has had on service users.

“When I was young blind people were hidden out of sight. Irish society didn’t understand that someone with blindness could achieve so much, and often times more, than someone with vision. Now so many young blind people attend University College Cork and contribute so much to life here. I’m just so very proud to be amongst them and this Doctorate means so much to me and my family. Also, I’m delighted to join a prestigious group of people to have attained this honour before me including Dr Tom Cavanagh and Dr Dermot O’Mahony.”

Professor John O’ Halloran, Deputy President and Registrar of University College Cork said: “We, in UCC, are delighted to honour Jim Dennehy in this way.  His story represents a triumph in the face of adversity. It is a great example to our students of the importance of developing resilience in the face of serious life challenges which we will all encounter at some stage in our lives.  It is fitting, also, that UCC should honour Jim in this way as we are proud of the supports that the University gives to blind and visually impaired students which are designed to help them achieve their academic potential.”

Each year the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind train between 30 and 40 dogs and Jim Dennehy hopes that in the future this figure can be doubled.

“It’s so important that we continue to grow. Since day one we’ve kept building. Of course, there have been some very difficult years but the generosity of people has always allowed us to kick on. And the support of our ambassador Roy Keane has been crucial. He’s proud to help us out and we’re so thrilled to have him on board. My hope now would be that we could get to a stage where we are training 80 dogs-a-year so that more people will have access to one,” said Jim.

Over the years he has had four different guide dogs, Vanessa, Ivan, Granby and Bruno.

“They all taught me so much and enabled me to do things that would have been almost impossible otherwise. And in their own way, they helped change the perception of blindness in wider Irish society. That’s something I’m very proud of and something I’m delighted to celebrate today.”

Patrick Burke, Chairman of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind said, "Jim, as our co-founder and president of our charity, has made a profound and lasting contribution to Irish society. His commitment to our clients and his humanity in recognising his achievements is an inspiration to us all and we are delighted for Jim, his wife Pat and his family that this is being formally honoured by UCC today.

University College Cork currently works with 39 visually impaired students, some of whom use guide dogs and long canes. Mobility training is given to these students so they can travel across campus safely and with ease while the University is constantly working to improve accessibility to buildings for all students.

For more on this story contact:

Ruth Mc Donnell, Head of Media and PR, Office of Marketing and Communications, UCC  Mob: 086-0468950

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF