Trinity awards honorary degrees to pioneer of international family law and editor of Samuel Beckett letters

Posted on: 04 May 2021

Trinity recognised editor and author, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and pioneer of international family law and reform, William Duncan for their contribution to society at the university’s first online honorary degree ceremony on 26 April 2021. They were awarded Trinity’s highest honour by the Chancellor of the University, Professor Mary McAleese.

A trusted friend of Samuel Beckett’s, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld was awarded a Doctor in Letters. She was the Founding Editor of the 4 volumes of ‘The Letters of Samuel Beckett’ – a task for which she was personally chosen by Beckett himself and which was successfully completed on the publication of Vol 4 in 2016. To quote the letter to her from Beckett in 1985 “it will be a most difficult job, and I am relieved at the thought of it being in such devoted and capable hands as yours”. These volumes are highly regarded among academics and literary critics, for example a review in The Guardian held that “the editorship of these letters provides a model of scholarship and a masterclass in selection”.

Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Litt.D.

The Public Orator, Professor Anna Chahoud acclaimed Martha’s splendid achievement in her oration:

Martha and her Mentor (Samuel Beckett) recognised each other’s rare ability to listen, to pay attention…. she has devoted over 30 years to find and edit Beckett’s letters, researching archives, but mostly ‘going around to see people’, as he had asked her to do. She travelled the world to retrieve, copy, research the context of each letter. He had given her 50 letters; she edited 16,000…. Beckett trusted this woman to handle the documents of his life in exactly the way that he wanted.

William Duncan was awarded a Doctor in Laws. Prior to a distinguished and highly influential international career, he was Trinity Professor of Law and Jurisprudence, pioneering the development of Family Law in Ireland.  His research and publications provided the basis for the development of the intellectual and structural framework still governing family law matters today, particularly significant because it took place at a time when this area of law rarely featured in Irish courts. Participating in debates on divorce, he was regarded as an authoritative and persuasive contributor.

William Duncan, LL.D.

The Public Orator praised William’s inspiring research, vision and commitment:

Today we bestow our highest recognition on a resolute defender of children’s rights. Among other important roles, he was responsible for the Hague Children’s Convention, providing assistance worldwide on matters of child abduction, inter-country adoption and international child protection, and laying the foundation of fair, swift and effective cross-border procedures. His service to the country continued until recently as Member of the Law Reform Commission in Ireland and as Commissioner of the Irish Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

To read a copy of the orations and find out more about the honorary degree recipients, please click here.