Seán Kyne, TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for the Gaeltacht and Natural Resources, unveiled the corner stone of Connemara West’s ambitious International Residential Education Centre, in the village of Tullycross, County Galway, today.

The Centre will consist of a state-of-art newly built education hub with a 50 seat auditorium; a wifi-enabled library; group study/breakout rooms; video conferencing facilities; meeting rooms; a conference room; community meeting rooms and a coffee dock. The accommodation part of the Centre will be made up of the renovated iconic 9 thatched cottages in Tullycross village, the first of project of local development company Connemara Westin 1973. The Centre will accommodate up to 40 students and faculty.

Welcoming Minister Kyne to Tullycross, Dr Kevin Heanue, Chairman of Connemara West said that “this Centre is needed to accommodate the growing number of US colleges who are bringing students and faculty to the village as part of Connemara West’s education-led development strategy”.

Established in 1971 on foot of a local fundraising drive, Connemara West is a locally-managed community development organisation based in Letterfrack, Co. Galway which employs 29 people. Owned by 500 local shareholders, Connemara West over the past half century has consistently established pioneering projects in their time such as Connemara Community Radio, FORUM Connemara, The Furniture College (an educational partnership with GMIT) and Conservation|Letterfrack, which conserves and restores wooden artefacts.

Dr Steve Barrows, Executive Vice President, Provost, and Dean of Faculty of Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, Michigan who attended the unveiling commented that “our partnership between Aquinas College, Connemara West, and the Tullycross community is a concrete and wonderfully successful example of exposing our students to global opportunities and thereby promoting critical thinking. The Aquinas College Ireland Study Abroad programme reflects the best of a liberal arts education with a global perspective.”

Aquinas College has brought students to Tullycross for a 4 month long study abroad programme each year for the past 44 years. The Residential Education Centre will allow both students and faculty to live, learn, and research in Tullycross. Underlining this longstanding relationship, Dr Barrows stated that “we look forward to many years of collaboration and exchange in the future. In light of our continued exchange and collaboration, I am pleased to announce a newly established scholarship to be applied to our Ireland Study Abroad program, the Gertrude Horgan Ireland Alumni Scholarship. The Scholarship, which is open to residents of Connemara and elsewhere in Ireland, as well as Aquinas College students, means that qualified recipients receive tuition waiver from Aquinas College and an annual award set by the Ireland Alumni Scholarship Committee”.

Also speaking at the ceremony, Dr Mary Ann Gawelek, President of Lourdes University, Sylvania, Ohio said that “Lourdes University is interested in continuing our study abroad programme in Connemara and expanding our educational partnerships. The new education centre will allow for more extensive study for US undergraduate and graduate students in Connemara and also opens the possibility for education and training to be provided for local residents. It could also serve as a home for action oriented research projects which serve the community”.

Emphasising the research project possibilities, Dr Gawelek outlined how students from the joint Lourdes University and St Louis University Masters in Social Work Programme had worked with the Connemara Therapeutic Riding Centre on a research project earlier in the week. She also announced that Lourdes University had made a donation to support the training of an additional therapeutic riding coach at the Riding Centre.