A very special ceremony to mark the official naming of the Ann Louise Gilligan Lecture Theatre took place last Monday 3rd Dec at Dublin City University’s St Patrick’s Campus, Drumcondra. Organised as part of a DCU Women in Leadership initiative, the evening saw one of the university’s major lecture theatres in its Institute of Education renamed in honour of Dr Gilligan, who sadly passed away in June 2017.
Speaking at the event, Minister Katherine Zappone, spouse of Dr Gilligan delivered the below speech as part of the ceremony:
What pure joy it is to be with all of you this early eve as we gather to pay tribute to Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan, by naming this lecture theatre in her memory.
President Brian MacCraith demonstrates his largesse yet again towards Ann Louise through this action of sculpting her legacy as an educator, teacher of teachers, and lover of children.
I am full of gratitude this evening for the DCU/St Patrick’s community, including Brian, Dr Anne Looney, Dr Paul Downes and all staff and students who gather. May I welcome too Ann Louise’s family and my family, her sister June and husband Michael, her niece Hilda, nephew Shane and their children. I am so pleased to have our close friends with us tonight too, her beloved academic colleagues, our neighbours, staff from An Cosan and members of my political team. Thank you for being with me. She loved each one of you and often expressed her appreciation for your presence in my life, especially during her last days.
Ann Louise adored to teach. She was at her happiest when she was teaching – children, young people, adults, men, women, and yes dogs too! She would often tell the story of herself as a young girl, walking up and down her road to gather any children interested to join her back at home, where she would set up to teach them whatever might be topical for the day. This was her idea of fun! And child’s play!
She never wanted to do anything else other than teach. And I had the extraordinary privilege and pleasure of listening to her stories of teaching at St Pat’s (and other third level and adult education settings throughout Ireland and the world), over the thirty six years of our life-partnership.
Three types of stories stand out – and of course so many of you know that Ann Louise was an extraordinary story-teller (is there anything that she didn’t do well?!)
First set of stories – lecturing in big halls like this one, in the early years of teaching. She started teaching here in her early thirties, as a petite, gracious and very polite woman. She would enter a big hall and begin her lecture, one that she had prepared with great commitment and creativity. Five minutes into the lecture she would notice some of the lads at the back of the hall – they would be carrying on intense conversations with each other or spreading out the daily newspaper to read. And so, she would stop. Stand her full five feet two inches tall, and stare at them, until they noticed that the lecturer had stopped speaking. Once she had their attention, she would say: ‘It is your choice to be here or not. If you choose to stay, I need your full attention.’
Well, that would settle them. Most anyhow. The other day I was visiting one of the primary schools in my constituency of Dublin South West and as I was leaving the principal proudly told me that her husband had been taught by Ann Louise. That morning he was recalling the day that he had misbehaved in Ann Louise’s class, and she asked him to leave the lecture theatre!
Lesson 1. Ann Louise exercised discipline in her teaching so that her students would excel. It was always about her students.
Second set of stories. Teaching practice – she loved to travel throughout the country, to enter primary schools from the bogs of Kerry to the mountains of Donegal. What she really loved, though, was witnessing her students emerge as teachers themselves. Imagine as a young teacher having her gaze of love, respect and encouragement on you. (Every month since her passing, at least one if not a number of people have stopped me at events or on the streets, throughout the country, to say proudly that they had been taught by Ann Louise; and what a difference she had made to their life and their vocation as a teacher.)
For teaching practice, she diligently reviewed the student teacher’s lesson plans, and witnessed their attempts to implement them. The conversation about grading afterwards was rarely straightforward. If you did not do well, Ann Louise would tell you – but those words were always wrapped by others about what your strengths were and how to draw on them more. She didn’t like laziness though. And was not afraid to communicate that. Above all, she was fair.
Lesson 2. Ann Louise believed in the power of praxis in education – that one learns by doing. And the doing transforms the learning into new insight and greater confidence. It takes a lot of confidence to be a good teacher. She embraced her students with confidence and love.
Third set of stories. Departmental meetings in the staff room. Some of you present this evening may have been with Ann Louise for some of these. Well, I believe that often they went on, and on, and on. And committees would be set up, to look at an issue, write a report, and be brought back to another meeting to be acted upon. Ann Louise was part of several tumultuous years of St Pat’s and DCU’s history. Indeed, she herself suffered personally and professionally due to the lack of separation of church and state, and lost a few colleagues in light of the stances she would take.
Sometimes these played out in the staff room. Ann Louise was fearless. She spoke her truth. There were many days, though when she felt like Sisyphus. But change would and did come.
Lesson 3. Ann Louise believed that institutions of education ought to exemplify and embody the values that they teach their students. To name this theatre after her is, in my view, a testament of how DCU is committed to this vision and ambition.
Underneath all the stories and lived experiences, Ann Louise’s philosophy of education was rooted in love, memory, and imagination. She was a fierce feminist who wrote about ‘reclaiming the secret of love’. As she herself said,
‘Our hope for a new future lies in an imagination rooted in love.’
She wanted nothing more than that her students and the children they taught would become free through love.
It is my hope that all those who spend time in this theatre will be encouraged by her words, her life and her legacy.