The Irish Times – Thursday, June 17, 2010
THERE WASN’T a straw boater or urine-scented kidney in sight but yesterday’s summer conferrings of honorary degrees at UCD bore a distinctly Joycean air.
The day that was in it saw the Ulysses medal, the college’s highest honour, bestowed on Jürgen Habermas, described in his citation as “probably the single most influential philosopher and social theorist in the world today”.
Habermas is also a lifelong James Joyce enthusiast and recently described Ulysses as a “declaration of love to the streets and pubs of Dublin”.
One of 10 honorary degrees was conferred on feminist theorist and novelist Hélène Cixous, arguably France’s leading Joyce scholar. Back in the 1960s, when she began work on Joyce, fellow academics thought it “weird” that a woman should be reading so unsuitable a book as Ulysses , she recalled.
The great man got a nod too as broadcaster John Bowman was honoured with a doctorate of literature. Prof Mary Daly recalled Joyce’s boast that if Dublin were ever destroyed, it could be reconstructed from his book. “If all records of 20th century Ireland vanished, but John Bowman’s radio and television programmes survived, future scholars would be in a position to recapture much of the flavour and complexity of 20th century Ireland,” she remarked.
Novelist Colm Tóibín also received an honorary doctorate for the “immense” scale of his writing.
Two leading US-based Irish scientists also donned gowns for the ceremony. Medical research scientist Martin Carey, a professor at Harvard, was honoured for his work in uncovering the role of folic acid in preventing neurological birth defects.
Also honoured were Concern chief executive, Tom Arnold and Matt Dempsey, editor of the Irish Farmers Journal.