A world of creative flair saluted at UCC

Fashion designer Don O’Neill; Cork-based Irish furniture designer Joseph Walsh; and art historian and author Nicholas Fox Weber were conferred with honorary doctorates at a ceremony in the Aula Maxima at UCC yesterday.

A world of creative flair saluted at UCC

Mr O’Neill and Mr Walsh received degrees of doctor of arts, while Mr Weber received a degree of doctor of literature at the ceremony, which was presided over by the chancellor of the National Universities of Ireland (NUI), Maurice Manning, and the president of UCC, Michael Murphy.

Don O’Neill’s fashion label, Theia, is best known for its eveningwear collections and has had many celebrity advocates, such as singer Taylor Swift, TV personality Oprah Winfrey, and actress Natalie Portman, as well as former Irish president Mary MacAleese.

Director of development at UCC Jean Van Sinderen Law brought an appropriate touch of glamour to the occasion by wearing a Don O’Neill creation as she presented the designer, who was born and raised in Ballyheigue, Co Kerry, with his degree.

WATCH: UCC awards honorary doctorates 2015

In her adderss, Dr Van Sinderen Law described Mr O’Neill as a “great ambassador for Ireland” and a “role model for aspiring designers”.

As he accepted the degree, an emotional Mr O’Neill paid tribute to his mother, Mim O’Neill, who passed away three years ago. He told the story of the day he received the letter from UCC offering the degree, and of sharing the news with his fiance and partner of 22 years, Pascal Guillermie.

“It felt like my birthday and Christmas rolled into one,” he said.

Furniture designer Joseph Walsh was just 19 when he opened his own studio close to Riverstick, Co Cork.

Working mostly in native Irish ash, and entirely self-taught, Mr Walsh now employs 14 master makers, design technicians, and assistants at his workshop. He regularly exhibits at major art and design fairs, as well as galleries and museums such as the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and the National Museum of Ireland.

Professor of civil engineering Philip O’Kane praised Mr Walsh for his “extraordinary technical skill and wondrous freeform design” as he presented him with the honorary degree. He made reference to Mr Walsh’s lack of formal tertiary education in his address. “The self-taught, when they succeed, are remarkable people,” Prof O’Kane said.

Mr Weber holds an MA in Art History from Yale University and has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Vogue among others.

He shares a home in Glandore, Co Cork, with his wife, novelist Katharine Weber. He is the executive director of the Joseph and Anni Albers foundation, a not-for-profit organisation which promotes the arts, and he is involved in philanthropic works in Senegal. He described the honorary degree as “a very moving moment” and said it gave him “fabulous encouragement”.

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