National University of Ireland, Maynooth

National University of Ireland, Maynooth
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Press Release

President Michael D. Higgins Celebrates 75th Anniversary

of Sociology at Maynooth


Department of Sociology offers to host Presidential Seminar


13 March 2012: NUI Maynooth today welcomed President Michael D. Higgins to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its Department of Sociology. The Department offered to facilitate and host one of the planned Presidential Seminars outlined in President Higgins’ inauguration speech. The Department also announced a series of initiatives designed to place the sociological perspective at the heart of Ireland’s post-crisis transformation, including the establishment of a Network on Power, Politics and Society and a programme of events aimed at advancing models of alternative futures. The visit of President Higgins marked the historic role of sociology as a discipline in Ireland and showcased the ongoing contribution of sociology at NUI Maynooth to social change and civic engagement.

The Department of Sociology is acknowledged as a centre of teaching and research excellence as well as an exemplar of public sociology.  It is particularly recognised for expertise in political economy and work, culture and identity, politics and society and urban/suburban studies.  The Department’s programme of initiatives during its 75th anniversary year and beyond is focused on the transformative possibilities that now confront us in post Celtic Tiger Ireland.  Initiatives will include:

  • The launch of a dedicated Network on Power, Politics and Society committed to high quality research and scholarship and the promotion of public understanding of politics and power in the context of systematic changeThe Network will forge national, regional and local links with other academic and civil society networks in an effort to further creative thinking and intellectual exchange.
  • Over the next twelve months an ambitious programme of events dedicated to mapping alternative futures will be undertaken. These public sociology events will focus, among other themes, on the outlook for small countries in Europe, the future of social solidarity and community, and gender in the crisis.   The programme will culminate in March 2013 in an event on Envisioning Real Utopias with internationally renowned sociologist Erik Olin Wright of University of Wisconsin- Madison.  An ‘alternative futures’ report will be prepared and presented to President Higgins at that time.
  • NUI Maynooth has offered to facilitate and host a Presidential Seminar as proposed in the President’s inauguration speech.

Speaking at the 75th anniversary event, Dr. Jane Gray, Head of the Department of Sociology at NUI Maynooth said: “Sociology as a discipline has much to offer toward understanding social change and re-imagining a more inclusive society. We are very proud that the President has brought a sociological imagination to bear on his vision for Ireland in 2012.  Through our teaching, research and public sociology the Department engages with the President’s vision of a socially inclusive and civically active society. We are delighted he is honouring us with his presence on the day we mark 75 years of our past and highlight the initiatives we will undertake in the future.”

Thanking the President for his visit, Professor Philip Nolan, President of NUI Maynooth said: “It is a great honour to welcome President Michael D. Higgins to NUI Maynooth today. We strive to create a university for life, which not only provides students with a top quality education, but also equips them with the life skills to contribute socially and become active citizens. The project of building a socially inclusive Ireland is reflected in much of the research and practice here at our Department of Sociology and I would like to congratulate all who were involved in the Department’s success and development over the years. NUI Maynooth looks forward to working with the President in a practical way into the future in helping Ireland to become a more inclusive society.”

Throughout the decades, Department of Sociology members have brought their understandings to bear in policy and political work around employment equality, racial and ethnic equality, housing and community development, industrial and economic development, social protection and investment, and culture and memory. The Department has continually investigated Ireland’s model of economic and social development and its sociologists have shown how the institutions of state and society shape working lives and how these institutions can be structured to make those working lives more meaningful and secure.  Other work in the Department has explored the changing character of work, from studies of Irish emigrants working illegally in New York in the 1980s, to studies of Polish and Chinese workers in Dublin in the 2000s.

Through the crisis years of the 1980s, the Department made major contributions to understanding class, family, prejudice and other key issues in contemporary Irish society. As the Department grew in the 1990s, its composition reflected the changing Ireland, with a host of international influences and connections, increasing gender and religious diversity, and an expanding student body. The Department during this time explored many aspects of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years – migration, urban and suburban life, new ways of working and new family forms.

The Department’s distinctive contribution to Irish society continues and can be seen in the breadth of its work on gender and crisis, the future of Europe, active citizenship and critical citizenship, and the games industry.  The Department has also played a critical role in the development and professionalisation of the discipline through its outstanding role in the Sociological Association of Ireland over the last forty years.

The Department of Sociology at NUI Maynooth was founded in 1937 when Fr Peter McKevitt, considered the first modern Irish sociologist, undertook the first Chair of Sociology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The early days of Irish sociology were profoundly influenced by what happened within the national seminary for the formation of catholic priests. Fr McKevitt encouraged the founding of sociology discussion groups, which later became the Christus Rex Society in September 1941, the first sociological organisation in Ireland. In 1953, Fr Jeremiah Newman replaced Fr McKevitt in the Chair of Sociology. Newman later became the President of St Patrick’s College Maynooth and Bishop of Limerick. The School of Catholic Social Teaching became the Department of Social Studies around 1970, and in 1985 it became the Department of Sociology.

The 75th anniversary event at NUI Maynooth featured an audio-visual display showcasing the difference that sociology has made in the lives of NUI Maynooth graduates. A number of sociology students discussed their placements in social movements, social media and institutional politics with President Higgins.


Further information from:

NUI Maynooth

Deirdre Watters                       +353 86 803 5274

Gibney Communications        +353 1 661 0402

Mark Leech                             +353 87 9053679

Sarah Freeman                         +353 87 6637 951

Last edited: Tuesday, 05-Jun-2012 17:15:15 IST