Clonmel man Noel O’Connell awarded PhD for research into education for deaf people

Dr Ann O'Byrne,Department of Learning, Society and Religious Education,Mary Immaculate College,Dr. Noel O'Connell & Professor Jim Deegan as the first Head of Graduate School, MIC
A Clonmelman has become only the second deaf person in Ireland to be awarded a PhD Doctorate.

A Clonmelman has become only the second deaf person in Ireland to be awarded a PhD Doctorate.

Dr. Noel O’Connell, who now lives in Limerick, graduated from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

He chose deaf education as a research topic for his PhD, as he felt many deaf people faced barriers to education because educators used a language that was inaccessible to them.

“My interest in doing a PhD research and thesis in this field stemmed from my experience of residential schools I attended in Dublin”, he says. “I lived in an environment where I was exposed to Irish Sign Language, a language that always was and still is part of my identity. In that time the school had a policy banning the use of Irish Sign Language. Despite restrictions imposed on us as children I learned to sign from other students.

The removal of Irish Sign Language from the curriculum contributed detrimentally to the lives of deaf people”.

50 year-old Noel O’Connell was born in Clonmel and lived in Ard na Greine, the son of Teresa (nee McGrath) and the late Jim O’Connell. His deafness was diagnosed when he was a pupil at Ss Peter and Paul’s School.“I have no memory of losing my hearing or of realising that this might be permanent”, he says.

He attended a pre-school at the Western House Lodge on Western Road before he began as a resident-student at the Mary Immaculate School for Deaf Boys in Beech Park, Stillorgan, Dublin, which catered for boys between the ages of 3 and 10. He was transferred to St. Joseph’s Christian Brothers School for Deaf Boys in Cabra, Dublin and remained there until he completed his Leaving Certificate.

He graduated from University of Ulster with a BA in English Literature and a Masters degree in Literature and Cultural Politics at the University of Edinburgh. He also holds a Master of Philosophy in Deaf Studies from the University of Bristol.

“Literature and research in deaf education in Ireland has been written by non-deaf people and does not feature the opinions or stories of deaf people”, he says. “Traditionally deaf people have not been adequately included as participants in research. They have been excluded from studies about deaf education and where they are included they tend to be under-represented.

My motivation for doing the PhD was to fill this void, to create a space for deaf people’s inclusion as participants”.