Opening of the 'Trevor West Sports Hall'

Midleton College, Cork

14 September 2018

Good afternoon,

Thank you for inviting me here today. It’s a great pleasure to be in Midleton, my first time here, and it’s a particular pleasure to visit on this wonderful occasion of the opening of the Trevor West Sports Hall.

I believe that while there may be a few lecture halls or debating theatres named for Trinity graduates in other Irish schools, this is the first sports hall to achieve this honour. It is wonderfully fitting. Your new sports hall links this school and this part of Cork to Trinity College and to Dublin. The link is provided by a Midleton past student who was also a Trinity graduate, a professor and a senator, and a unique person.

I don’t use the word ‘unique’ lightly. As pupils in Midleton College, you will I’m sure have heard plenty about Trevor West. Let me take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about the Trevor West we knew in Trinity.

What was remarkable about Trevor is how many people’s lives he touched in Trinity. It’s not just that he devoted his career to the college – he was a student there, and then a lecturer and professor. He was the Junior Dean and he was a Trinity senator, which means he was elected by graduates to sit in the Oireachtas. He studied and worked in College for fifty years – from the 1950s to the 2000s. That’s quite something.

But others have also had long Trinity careers without making the impact that Trevor did. What made him remarkable was his breadth of interests and warmth of personality. He was instrumental in academia, sport, politics, student life.

I have a warm recall of Trevor myself. When I was in my third year in Trinity, a Junior Sophister Engineer, he taught us Pure Mathematics.  I remember him filling the blackboard with very long equations, Besel functions and the like… and scaring the hell out of us.

That was in the mid-1980s and he already had an international reputation as a mathematician which both impressed and intimidated – he even gave his name to an equation, the elegantly named ‘West Decomposition’. In 2006, forty years after Trevor first described that equation, it was the subject of a peer-reviewed paper(1) by two Chinese mathematicians.

As if that wasn’t enough, Trevor published a book the year he was teaching us maths – it was an historical biography of the politician and agriculturalist, Horace Plunkett. Believe me, it is not usual for mathematicians to write historical biographies! Trevor was what we call “a Renaissance man”, which means he broad intellectual strengths, and read widely.

He was a natural politician and diplomat - he knew how to get things done without setting people’s backs up. He used these skills in the College where he served on the Board and was extremely valued by Provost Mitchell. And he used these skills outside campus. He served as Mary Robinson’s election agent when she ran, successfully for the Seanad in 1969 – she recalls his ‘business-like’ and ‘methodical’ energy. A few years later he ran for the Seanad himself, and as a senator for 13 years through the 1970s and early 1980s, he put significant effort into building good relations with Northern Unionists at a critical period; this was most important for cross-border relations.

Of course, one cannot mention Trevor without mentioning sport – even if we weren’t here to open a sports hall in his name! As a Trinity student he was an outstanding player on the first-eleven cricket team and he also played rugby and soccer. His interest in sport was life-long and he was as instrumental as anyone in safeguarding Trinity’s great sporting traditions.

He wrote a history of sport in Trinity called The Bold Collegians and he
served as treasurer, then chairman, to the Dublin University Central Athletics Committee, which is the college’s governing body for sports clubs. In this capacity he achieved a huge amount. Just to mention three of his principle achievements:

  • he fought for the planning and funding of the Sports Hall, which is a showcase building;
  • he kickstarted the Pavilion Bar, for which generations of students enjoying cold beers, watching cricket or rugby, must thank him; and
  • he prevented building on the pitches in College Park. I don’t know if such a terrible thing would ever have come to pass. I like to think others would have moved to stop it. But Trevor took the initiative and led the campaign to save College Park with characteristic energy and brio. Part of his legacy is that no-one now will ever suggest building on the pitches. They are preserved for eternity.

 

All of these interests and responsibilities – in maths, history, politics, sport, student life – meant that for decades he was among the best-known people around campus. Everybody knew him and he had such a warm and engaging personality that everyone wanted to be around him.

I know how much he gave to Trinity. To my amazement, I now learn how much he also gave to Cork and Midleton, and to the Church of Ireland. How did he have time? For most people, just one of the roles he took on himself would be enough.

Happily, his light was not hidden under a bushel. Throughout his life, Trevor was hugely appreciated by colleagues, students, friends, family, associates, in Cork, Dublin and in Cambridge where he did his PhD. This means that while we miss him, there are no regrets. This man of huge potential and myriad talents, achieved his potential and nurtured his talents, and continued to grow and develop through his life and career.

In life he was rewarded by high office and the devotion of those who knew him. And within just a few years of his death, a sports scholarship was named for him in Trinity, as was the Irish Universities Cricket men’s intervarsity cup. His portrait hangs in the sports boardroom in Trinity where I’m told by the current head of sport in Trinity, Michelle Tanner that:

 “it’s a constant reminder to all, of the one the best advocates for sport the University has seen. We like to think that he still looking after us!”

And now we open this Sports Hall in Midleton College. All these are tangible commemorations. Generations of students in Midleton and Trinity will know the name and achievements of Trevor West.

As I said at the beginning, this Sports Hall represents for me the on-going link between Trinity and Midleton College. Trevor always gave huge support to Midleton College students coming to Trinity and took great pride in their achievements.

In Trinity we are very attached to our college traditions and no-one was more attached to them than Trevor. He was proud of the tradition of Midleton College sending students to Trinity and we are also proud and protective of this link.

In the last chapter of his wonderful book on sport in Trinity, Trevor wrote shrewdly that (I quote)

“for most students and graduates the concept of a university is an amorphous one. Their loyalty develops rather to a club, or a society, to an eccentric professor, or to a coterie of friends.”

He might have been thinking of himself – he was club, society, professor and friend rolled into one! Through his way of being he inspired loyalty to Midleton and to Trinity. I know how happy he would be that his name and memory now inspire this link between his school and university.

Thank you.

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(1) W. G. Su and H. J. Zhong, ‘The generalized West decomposition of operators and other compact perturbation problems’, Acta Math. Sin. (Engl. Ser.) 22 (2006) 515–522.