Traveller activist and playwright conferred with PhD

Trinity graduate Rosaleen McDonagh says she has spent her life ‘playing catch-up’

Rosaleen McDonagh with Newcastle University chancellor Tanni Grey-Thompson following her conferral on Tuesday. Photograph: Derek Spiers

Rosaleen McDonagh with Newcastle University chancellor Tanni Grey-Thompson following her conferral on Tuesday. Photograph: Derek Spiers

 

A Traveller activist and playwright who came late to mainstream education was conferred with a PhD from Newcastle University of Northumbria in England on Tuesday.

Rosaleen McDonagh said she felt she had spent her whole life “playing catch-up” and described herself as “very emotional” at the conferring.

A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Ms McDonagh achieved her PhD, entitled From Shame to Pride, The Politics of Disabled Traveller Identity, from the Department of Health and Life Sciences at Newcastle University.

Ms McDonagh has previously spoken about the difficulties Travellers faced in accessing education and has said the State owed Travellers for the huge deficit in their education.

Speaking at Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre in April, she said formal education “was not always kind and respectful to me, to my ethnicity”.

“However, learning to read and write has been the one achievement that saved me.

“When you can read what they write about you, you can respond in their language with their words, but with your knowledge,” she said.

A 2018 report by the Department of Education showed that just 1 per cent of Traveller children progress to third-level education compared with more than half of the wider community.

In 2017, just 61 students in higher education were “self-declared” Irish Travellers. The number was an increase from 41 in 2016.