Provost's welcome address to UAE Ambassador to Ireland and to Al Maktoum scholars

Dining Hall
Monday 1st July 2019

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s my great pleasure to welcome you all to Trinity College Dublin.

Welcome, His Excellency Dr Saeed Mohamed Ali Al Shamsi, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Ireland.

Welcome Dr Abi Abubaker, Head of the Al Maktoum College of Further Education in Dundee, and to your colleagues.

And welcome to the students, all seventy of you. We’re delighted to have you with us. I hope you’ve had an enjoyable day and are getting familiar with our campus.

This is an important event for us. It’s the first time we’ve welcomed Al Maktoum foundation students to Trinity. We hope this will become an annual event.

As announced this weekend, Trinity is establishing an Al Maktoum Centre for Middle Eastern Studies in our School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, following generous funding, from the Al Maktoum Foundation, for four posts in Middle Eastern Studies.

This inaugural group of students is representative of Trinity’s ever-increasing engagement with Middle Eastern Studies.

Let me talk a little bit about this engagement:

The students have enjoyed, I know, a full day of tours, talks and introductions to Trinity and Ireland. I hope you’ve got a sense of our university as a multidisciplinary place where we conduct education, research and innovation across arts & humanities, science and engineering, and health sciences.

Languages and Cultural Studies is one of the largest and most important schools in our Faculty of arts, humanities, and social sciences. We research and teach in 17 languages in Trinity, including many of the major European languages and Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, and Turkish.

Trinity’s engagement with Middle Eastern languages and cultures goes back centuries. A professorship of oriental studies was instituted in 17621 and, in 1855, a professorship of Arabic studies was established2 : one of the early professors was Mir Aulad Ali, a professor of Indian descent, who has the distinction of having been referred to in the poet, W.B. Yeats’ Reveries Over Childhood and Youth. 3

But it’s in recent years that we have really strengthened our engagement - with the creation in 2017 of a new degree course in Middle Eastern and European Languages and Cultures. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Anne Fitzpatrick for her brilliant work in developing Near and Middle Eastern Studies in Trinity.

This degree course is one of four courses chosen for the dual BA programme between Trinity and Columbia University New York. Students on this dual programme spend two years in Trinity and two years in Columbia University. The first Director of the programme is Professor Zuleika Rodgers, from the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies.

In addition, all students specialising in the Arabic language in Trinity spend a year at a university in the Middle East. Students who acquire that level of linguistic and cultural experience really do become world citizens.

And Trinity’s engagement with the Middle East goes beyond the degree programme. This academic year we have 167 students from the near and middle East enrolled on our undergraduate and graduate programmes, up from 145 in 16/17. These students bring cultural richness to our campus, reflected in the student societies and associations they have helped set up like the Arabesque Society and the Muslim Students’ Association.

Right through the 20th century Trinity welcomed students from the Middle East – particularly to our School of Medicine. But in recent years these figures have increased dramatically – and we hope will continue to grow.

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It’s natural that this university, which began back in 1592 when theology was part of every student’s curriculum, should have a history of engagement with the Middle East. The Middle East is the cradle of three of the great world religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And today it’s, increasingly, an area where our graduates like to study and work.

We’re delighted to be in a position to offer our graduates a degree which will set them up so well for living and working in the Middle East.

The funding of four new professorial posts, by the Al Maktoum Foundation, is truly transformative. It will enable us to educate many more students in Middle Eastern Studies and to do more research. Our ambition is for the Al Maktoum Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Trinity College Dublin to be recognised as world leading in the field.

We’re delighted to have this connection with the Al Maktoum College of Further Education in Dundee. We look forward to many fruitful engagements.

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Trinity’s long-standing commitment to world languages, literatures and religions, and our determination to welcome students from all over the world, comes from our being an open, globally-oriented university, going right back to our foundation 427 years ago.

We believe that knowledge has no boundaries and that the most exciting scholarship comes from communication, collaboration and connection –between disciplines, between languages, and between countries and cultures.

When it comes to communication, collaboration and connection there is no substitute for face-to-face encounters – by which I mean coming face-to-face with people and with places. I say that as a user and celebrant of online communication. Online is great. It has transformed everything. But it can’t replace traveling, meeting and talking to people and places, establishing the human and emotional bonds that bring us together.

This is why we’re so delighted to welcome these seventy students to our college. It’s wonderful for us to meet you, and I hope it’s as interesting for you to be here.

It isn’t teaching term, but I hope nonetheless that you will get to meet some of our students. Such connection is so important for them and for you.

I hope that, for some of you, at least, this visit stirs up an interest in Ireland and that you will return. Or that you might be interested in keeping a connection with Irish people and Irish culture, wherever you might find yourselves.

In our turn, we look forward to building on our connection with the Middle East. The Al Maktoum Foundation is recognised, internationally, for its contribution to the promotion of understanding and peace across cultures and for its humanitarian work, notably in education. 

Trinity is proud to be supported by the Al Maktoum Foundation. Understanding and peace across cultures is the basis of research and education.

Just behind me here is a brand-new portrait that you may be interested in, particularly as women undergraduates. It’s the first portrait of a woman ever to be hung in this Dining Hall.

These portraits have remained in place unchanged for 160 years. We like tradition in Trinity, but in recent years, we realised that it was time that a woman graduate joined them on these walls. We chose Mary Robinson, the former Chancellor of this University and the former president of Ireland and UN High commissioner of Human Rights. She is perhaps our most eminent living graduate and like the other figures in these paintings, she has hugely advanced social justice in Ireland and globally.

Promoting understanding and peace across cultures is something that Mary Robinson has dedicated her life to. I’m happy that this evening, as we celebrate Trinity joining the Al Maktoum family of centres, that she beams down on us.

I wish you all a few wonderful days in Trinity and Dublin.

Thank you

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1   Webb, D.A., Bartlett, J.R. “Trinity College Dublin Record Volume 1991”, Trinity College Dublin Press, 1992, page 107

2   Ibid, page 126

3   Ibrahim, V. “The Mir of India in Ireland: Nationalism and Identity of an Early ’Muslim’ Migrant”, Temenos - Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion, 46(2), 2010