By Paddy Henry
Founding member of The Mincéirs Whiden society, Owen Patrick Ward has been rewarded with an honorary life membership to the society for his involvement in the society since its inception and for his distinctive contribution to its work.
The society is the first Irish Traveller student society in existence and has contributed to increased Traveller participation in third-level education, while also providing a safe and welcoming space on campus since its inception in 2018.
The society has also built positive relationships with the student and staff body in the University, by winning the NUI Galway Best New Society for 2020.
Mr Ward is a Programme Coordinator in the NUI Galway Access Centre and last year was elected to the University’s Governing Authority, Údarás na hOllscoile.
He holds a Professional Masters in Education from NUI Galway, and was key to the organisation of the hugely successful NUI Galway Irish Traveller Ethnicity Day on campus in February 2020.
Jason Sherlock, chairperson of the Mincéirs Whiden Society, credited Ward for the work he has done for Irish Travellers in NUI Galway and beyond.
“It is a great privilege that we can recognise Owen for the work he has done for Irish Travellers in NUI Galway and the wider community.” he said.
“Owen never shies away from a challenge and he is always there to support any student, not only Irish Travellers but any student who might experience educational disadvantage. He was an early school leaver with no Junior or Leaving Certificate and he has overcome many barriers in his life to be where he is today. He is an inspirational role model.” he continued,
Vice-chairperson of the Mincéirs Whiden Society Anna Keane said that the society were indebted to Owen for his hard work,
“Our members will forever be in Owen’s debt due to his work, endeavours and the support he has given. Owen is a true inspiration to all.”
Owen’s achievements have been acknowledged outside of societal circles too. Dean of students Michelle Millar described Ward as a “brilliant ambassador for both the Travelling community and for our student body “stating,
“Owen has proved himself to be a brilliant ambassador for both the Travelling community and for our student body. He embodies the meaning of inclusion. I am delighted to see him honoured by his peers and look forward to celebrating and supporting him and his work as he helps our University to build on our shared values, including openness and respect.”
NUI Galway’s Societies Officer Ríona Hughes spoke of her pride over the fact that NUI Galway were the first third level in Ireland to have a society like Mincéirs Whiden on campus and described Owen as a joy to work with,
“We are immensely proud to be the first third level institution in Ireland to count Mincéirs Whiden among our list of societies. It has been a joy to work with Owen and all the other talented and inspiring students who have provided a platform and a welcoming space for future students from the Travelling community. Praise is indeed due to Owen for his foresight and vision in making this a reality.” she said.