When NUI Galway’s Whiden Society Mincéirs won the Best’ 2022 awardCultural, academic and social society’ at the Board of Irish College Societies (BICS) in April, it could not have come at a more fitting date – on the eve of International Travelers and Roma Day.
The student society – the first of its kind at an Irish university – offers Irish traveling students a place where they can go and talk with other Irish travellers.
As a member of the committee, I know firsthand the excellent moral support the society provides.
It also gives us a place where we can all be ourselves.
We don’t have to hide our origins as proud Irish traveling students in higher education; along with this, we constantly connect with other sedentary societies and people.
It is truly amazing what our Society continues to accomplish.
The award in April was the first time that Irish Travelers have won the distinction, and tCompany Secretary Jason Sherlock thanked the Board of Irish University SocietiesSocsbox 2 (NUI Galway Companies Office) and Riona – NUI Galway Companies Officer.
He explained for those who don’t know, that ‘Mincéirs Whiden’ means ‘Irish Travelers Talking’ in our own Cant language.
“We are the first Irish Traveler University Society in Ireland, and we won’t be the last!”
Jason also thanked the committee of the Mincéirs Whiden Society for all their work throughout the year.
Corporate Officer Riona Hughes said ‘it was very emotional’ at the BICS Awards when we won the award for best company.
“It was evident from the resounding applause from the students in attendance, from all colleges, that this was a popular victory,” she said.
“I am very proud of what the company has achieved, being the first such company in Ireland. Their support for students from the Irish Traveler community and other students of Aboriginal background is very important.
“They create a safe space while opening up conversation with their peers about their culture and celebrating their many important traditions.
“As Head of Societies, I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to support this inspiring cohort of students who are challenging stereotypes and making our campus a more open and inviting environment for all.”
I also spoke to the President of NUI Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh and asked him a few questions about our company.
Do you know the Mincéirs Whiden Society?
“I know the Mincéirs Whiden Society, I know Jason Sherlock and Owen Ward, and it’s a company I would like to work with more because it makes a big difference. At the time of its creation it was a way for Irish travelers to get to know each other as they would not have known they were here and to help each other.
“Widen Society Slims are fantastic for this. Another thing that is good about the Mincéirs Whiden Society is that it was started by Irish travelers and allies to support each other because what is important to me is that students are empowered like to start the company; I was delighted when I went to see them in Wexford on the bus.
Do you think it is important that there is an Irish Traveler student society?
“One of the things I’ve said often and want to do more here is to make the University a place where everyone feels comfortable, makes friends and where they know they have support.
“I grew up in Newcastle (Galway City) and used to walk around campus. I want everyone to have the same feeling that they can do it too, and the Mincéirs Whiden Society is vital as Irish travelers are underrepresented in universities.
“I think there needs to be a network of students who have had the same experiences because it shows people that they too can do this or if they had a problem; someone else probably had the same or similar problem, and you can share it with them and not feel alone. It is therefore important to me that the Society has this objective.
What does NUI Galway do specifically for Irish travellers? We are aware that there are grants (Sanctuary University Scholarships). There is a full-time Irish Traveler Education Officer (Owen Ward). We are also aware of the possibility of a conference room being named after an Irish traveller.
“There are some good examples, like the Sanctuary University scholarships.
“We have Owen Ward visible to Irish travelers to show that someone can be mentored by someone who has had similar experiences to them, and we have Jason Sherlock on our academic board. We could perhaps do more.
“There is also the Access program; many Irish travelers did this to prepare for college. We also had “Irish Travelers Ethnicity Day” on the campus. We hosted him with the Irish President Michael D. Higgins in the Quadrilateral, which made it very central and visible.
“We also had the traditional Wagon (Caravan) on campus just before Covid-19. Overall, we try to make the support of the University more visible and to show that everyone can feel at home.
“It’s important to me as president; I go to these events and take the time to point out that it is very important for the University.
What was your reaction when you learned that the Minceirs Whiden Society had won the award for the best society 2022 (cultural, academic and social) on the island of Ireland at the Board of Irish College Societies annual national awards in Wexford ?
“I was thrilled; I was thrilled when they got shortlisted because it’s a company that hasn’t been founded that long.
“It’s been two or three years since it was founded, and it’s almost like an arrival. NUI Galway recognizes the Society, but it is also recognized nationwide for making a huge difference. For me, IIt says the Mincéirs Whiden Society has arrived now.
Do you think there will be similar societies for Irish travel students in higher education? We hope that the Mincéirs Whiden Society has made a change in this regard.
“Yes, we hope the Mincéirs Whiden Society will be part of it again as it is a national opportunity, and for Irish travelers NUI Galway could do better. I think we are at the forefront, but people of Irish travel are at other universities.
“It’s also about having a balance between recognizing that everyone belongs here and cherishing everyone’s ethnicities and backgrounds. It is not a question of saying that we are all the same but of saying that we are all different, which is essential.
“The strength of any university is difference and diversity, which for me is an integral part. The Mincéirs Whiden Society shows that it has a unique opportunity to support students.
At the Mincéirs Whiden Society, we believe that you are an excellent president and that you are often unique in the way you interact with students. It is often said that you are one of a kind and highly respected for what you do. This kindness is something special from our point of view, and I would like to ask you why you behave differently from others?
“I can’t comment on other presidents because I don’t know them. I’ve often thought about why I did this; everyone has different views.
“I can think of a few things, I grew up in Newcastle (Galway City) and we had Irish Travelers in our community. My mother taught literacy to adult female Irish travellers, and I think it’s good that two generations later the same families are involved in education.
“The school I attended at the time was quite diverse and there were Irish Travelers in my class which can be seen in my presidency. I also think it’s because I have was lucky to be able to pass by here. I want everyone to have the same experience; I think it’s possible.
And finally, Ciaran, is there anything else you would like to add?
“Yes, there are several things. You thanked me a lot, but for me, I would like to thank you and the Mincéirs Whiden Society and the Irish Traveler community who made it, who make the difference here, because for me, it is important.
“The University should welcome all talents, and that is better for it. We should, and it’s not just a responsibility that we have, but we’re better because you’re here; I learn from you, and all of our communities learn from each other.
“I learned from everyone I met, and it’s a privilege for me; I shouldn’t be thanked, but I’m so grateful to be able to learn and meet you and learn from you and the Mincéirs Whiden Society.
“It was the students who created the Society, they had the courage and the commitment, the vitality and I’m sure it wasn’t easy most of the time.
“Another thing that is important to me about the Mincéirs Whiden Society is that it is a student society and I think that is good.
“Sometimes it hasn’t been easy, and sometimes the University has to be challenged, and I also like when these students come and say something is wrong and needs to be fixed. It makes us better, which is really important.