AIT: a story of ambition, vision and determination

The growth and development of AIT over the last 40 years represented proof of what could be achieved with an ambition, vision and determination, according to President Mary McAleese. Speaking at a gala function to mark the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the institute, President McAleese said back in 1971 no-one could have foreseen that the former field would one day host a very exciting campus with 6,000 national and international students. Referring to the days 40 years ago when the institute first opened its doors on what was then Brown's field, President Mary McAleese speculated that the initiative had probably been met with the usual “churlish, jaundiced scepticismâ€. The success over the lifetime of the institute was “stunning proof of what is achievable if you have an ambition, vision and you stick with it with determinationâ€. Recalling her attendance at a function to mark the 30th anniversary of the foundation of AIT, Ms McAleese said: “In the intervening years, this place has gone through an extraordinary set of narratives and chapters.†It was a place now with a reputation that was both national and international, a stellar reputation that had been built painstakingly. She pointed out that the institute's success was based on a vast history of scholarship in the area. “This region was actually very well tilled and was fertile ground for educational excellence long before the first sod was turned on the institute.†In a world without internet or airplanes, blogs or satellites, the fame of the scholars of Clonmacnoise was global. Now a new generation of students were “writing their own chapters in Ireland's story as a place of first rate higher education teaching and researchâ€. Despite the passing of the years Clonmacnoise was still “a resource that we are not disconnected with and we still draw inspiration fromâ€. She pointed out that the development of a network of regional technical colleges helped to create “accessible local conduits†where a generation whose ambition had been unleashed by the introduction of universal free second-level education had that potential shaped, utilised and developed Hailing the impact of AIT in its community and region, President McAleese described the institute as a “leavening agent†and “a game-changing resource†which underpinned the local intellectual harvest. Doubting that there has been any really easy years over the last 40 years, President McAleese remarked: “There has never been a time when the institute could sit back on some complacency plateaux and believe that the work was done.†Citing the role of the institute in supporting key research and start up enterprises, she said, at AIT, the words “smart economy†were brought to life and given meaning. Although the impressive buildings told an important part of the story of the development of AIT over the past 40 years, it was the culture of the institute which was absolutely key to its success. The flexibility of access to eduction and to courses, which it promoted, was radical in its time and helped to open up higher education to those who had been excluded by more elitist systems. “It encouraged a social inclusion which has enriched the lives of individual students, strengthened our civic society and helped us along the roadtowards that egalitarian republic described in the proclamation where the children of the nation are cherished equally.†Stating that the contribution of the institute to the local community was “immeasurableâ€, President McAleese said: “We have to acknowledge that what has been achieved here defies any attempt in this moment to judge it in a finite way.†Addressing the gathering, president of the institute Professor Ciarán †Catháin welcomed President McAleese and Dr McAleese, as well as a number of ambassadors, Ambassador Liu, Ambassador Aldriss, His Royal Highness Prince Turki, Dato' Kamarudin. Expressing sympathy to the McAleese family on the death of Brendan McAleese in the Cork air crash, he said all present “were honoured by your presence at this fortieth anniversary dinner, particularly at this difficult time for your familyâ€. He said: “Tonight provides an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the past forty years, as well as looking forward with hope and confidence to the future. Above all, this is an occasion for expressing appreciation for the commitment and dedication of those who have made AIT such a success story of Irish higher education.†A desire to discover and innovate was at the core of AIT's philosophy,†he argued. It was reflected in the collaborations with companies such as Ericsson, Élan, Freund and Killeshal. “That role of being a resource for entrepreneurs and businesses is vital to our mission, but more than that, it leverages the expertise and skills that are resident here for a greater good,†In conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, there was a huge breadth of research and development and enterpreneurial activity performed at the institute. Looking to the future, Prof. †Catháin said: “We have invested extensively in the development of a postgraduate research hub and have plans to create new translational research space. This multi-million euro project will transform our campus and will bring industry and education partners together in strategic new ways.†He said the campus would represent a significant investment in the institute and it would be looking to a variety of sources to obtain the necessary funding. The establishment of an AIT Foundation would be amongst the measures by which it intended to deliver on these plans. He also referred to the investment in new indoor sport facilities which he said would help position Athlone to the fore as a centre of sporting excellence on the national and international stage. Referring to the work of staff and students in organisations such as the Simon Community, St Hilda's, Willow Park Community Group, South Westmeath Hospice, amongst countless others, he said: “It is that willingness to be bigger than ourselves that most characterises this institute.†“I have no doubt that the excellent work which has been the hallmark of AIT over this time will continue for many years to come. Let us enjoy this special fortieth anniversary year, and be proud of what we have achieved.†At the end of the formal proceedings, President McAleese, who is the only honorary fellow of AIT, unveiled a plaque to mark the 40th anniversary of the institute.