The eight annual Exchange House Educational Achievement Awards took place in The Venue, in Dublin City Council on Friday the 14th October. The Exchange House National Educational Achievement Awards are presented to Travellers who have recently completed the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, GCSE, A-Level examinations or Third Level Courses.

The Awards recognise the hard work and commitment shown by the recipients in reaching their academic goals and it is a genuine evening of celebration.

As I approached the venue I was delighted to meet and see the guest of honor at this year’s awards, Paul McGrath. Paul McGrath is well known as one of the greatest footballers to ever play for the Republic of Ireland, and was signed by Manchester United in 1982 from St. Patrick’s Athletic. Paul was known then as the Black Pearl of Inchicore, and he went on to become known as a legendary footballer. His story is documented in the great biography, Back from the Brink, which was published in 2006. In it he reveals what it was like to be a young black boy growing up in a series of orphanages in Ireland.

For all his achievements on the pitch, Paul is an amazingly humble and shy person to meet. He was very kind, generous and patient with all the people who sought to have their photograph taken with him.

Paul was introduced to the crowd by Sé O’Connor, the CEO of Exchange House Ireland. Paul spoke of knowing what it was like to stick with school in the face of obvious challenges. He spoke of being all too aware of what it was like to be different and how this evening was all about the achievement of the award recipients for staying in education and getting their exams. He spoke of how people called him a hero, but all he did was kick a bag of wind around. He knew that this evening was all about the young Travellers who’d achieved their success in education- they, he believed were the real heroes.

There was a traditional raffle for all the young award winners. Prizes consisted of phones, a tablet and a laptop.

Exchange House National Traveller Service has been holding the awards since 2008 and continues to provide this opportunity to recognise young Travellers achievements in education. These awards are important as they recognise the struggle that it can be for both the Traveller student and the families to support their child through the mainstream education system.

Paul McGrath and the recipitients of the Education Awards 2016

Published: 08 November 2016