Prof Roddy Cowie's Student Reflections
The highs of Roddy's years with us (1975-2013)
I am not an alumnus – I was appointed to a lectureship in 1975, after stints as a student in Stirling, UCLA and Sussex. On that basis, I have no business talking about myself in this forum. But I have known rather a lot of alumni. From 1975 until I retired at the end of 2013, about 250 students came in per year. On that basis, I must have taught around 10,000 people. That is a fair proportion of the population of Belfast. What strikes me, looking back, is how well so many of them turned out. At least some of us must have been doing something right.
There is a galaxy of academic stars. During the pandemic, two of the clearest psychological voices have been Rory O’Connor, professor at Glasgow; and Orla Muldoon, professor at Limerick. To me, their photos in the press still stir up my memory of them as students (Rory thoughtful, Orla dynamic). The same goes for Claire White, who has just published ‘An Introduction to the Cognitive Science of Religion’: I remember her sitting in my Religion option with hair dyed several colours and a dauntingly intelligent look. Sinead McGilloway was in my tutorials: she became founding Director of the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research at Maynooth. John D’Arcy as a student had ideas about using the new-fangled micro computers in education: he became director of the Open University in Ireland. It was impossible to think of him without his fellow-student Jackie then, and it still is.
Those moved away in various ways, but many made teaching careers in Queen’s. Tony Gallagher was one of the first students I remember (though I don’t claim to have taught him anything): he became a long serving Pro Vice Chancellor at Queen’s. Chris McCusker made me drink Carlsberg Special for his PhD thesis (on substance abuse), and went on to be director of the Clinical Psychology course at Queen’s. As a student, Debbie Wells had a particular interest in the work that was being done with animals: and she has become an international expert on the behaviour of domestic animals. Donncha Hanna had a fascination for statistics, and he has turned it to modelling psychiatric disorders. Judith Wylie works on the delicate interactions between cognition and the symbolic systems it uses, mathematics and linguistic. My own PhD student, Dominic McSherry, moved towards social work, and has become an expert on difficult childhoods, involving care or emotionally harmful parenting. I remember Lisa Graham-Wisener presenting her student project around the time that I retired: it seems amazing that now she is a lecturer, doing research on palliative care.
In the days when staff-student functions tended to become riotous, I wrote a song for one of them. It began:
“There’s plenty of hard men in Belfast,
And sane folks get out of their way:
But even the hardest of hard men
avoid Young Lennoxvale Psychos, OK.”
It warned that they might do things like stick sigmoid curves through your deltas, or cathect your id. It was written with a notably lively group in mind. Amazingly, several became highly respected civil servants. Few would have guessed then that Jim Livingstone would become Director of Safety Quality & Standards at the Department of Education. It was less surprising that action man Doros Michail became Director at Northern Ireland Fire Service. Kevin Sweeney became a senior figure in NISRA and Gerry Mulligan became Head of the NI Executive in Brussels (as well as a very competent piper). I remember writing references for Fiona Williamson when she graduated, and she also rose to the heights of the Civil Service. Quite recently I had a jolt of recognition watching the news: the eminent Permanent Secretary being interviewed was our own Denis McMahon, quite recognisable, although his red hair had faded.
Others again have contributed to less established causes. Lorraine Gailey did her PhD with me, and went on to head the UK national organisations that support people with acquired hearing loss. Patricia Kerr did influential research in the same area, but died tragically young. During the peace process, some of our students were deeply involved in projects that studied and supported it. Both Katrin Dudgeon and Francis Teeney are co-authors of books in that area. Social media followers may know that Kellie Turtle, once a notably idealistic student, has carried her idealism into feminist actions here. She also follows perhaps our most famous graduate, Patrick Kielty, as a comedy performer. I do remember Patrick in Lennoxvale, but not very often. By his own admission, perhaps he was not there more than he needed to be. At a less elevated level of performance, the old Staff Common Room once rang to traditional music provided sometimes by Gerry Mulligan, sometimes by Francis Teeney and myself. Jim Livingstone played further afield.
Some graduates even made money. Having suffered through second year lab, Austin Donnelly went on to run a car business; and we have always been grateful to him for selling us two that suited us perfectly.
Of course, those are only a few of the memories. Please don’t assume that if I haven’t mentioned you, I have forgotten you. There are stories that probably should not be told, and images that stay clear although the names have faded. But perhaps the selection is enough to make the point that somehow, students who survived the courses turned out remarkably well. At least some of us must have been doing something right.
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