Another big year for both Vision Ireland Gerard Byrne Bursary recipients

Senator Martin Conway is standing to the right of the image and Shane Earley and Amy McNally are sitting down close by him to the left of the image. Senator Conway is speaking to a crowd in attendance at the Gerard Byrne Bursary Award ceremony.

Wednesday 15th November 2023 – Vision Ireland, which is the new name for NCBI, is delighted to continue our yearly Gerard Byrne Bursary (GBB) tradition in 2023 and to announce the two recipients of this year’s awards. Both recipients of this bursary will receive financial support with a scholarship set at €2,000 per year, which has increased from €1,500, for the duration of their studies.

The recipients this year are:

  • Shane Early is aged 18 and is blind since birth. He is from Roscommon town and went to Roscommon Community College. He is a Braille user and is presently pursuing a Level 8 Degree in Computer Science in DCU.
  • Amy McNally is aged 21 and is from Clontarf. She acquired sight loss as a young child and now has significant low vision. She went to Mount Temple in Clontarf and is presently pursuing a BA (Honours) Degree in Marketing Practice in NCI.

This year’s bursaries were presented to the students at a ceremony in Vision Ireland Tallaght, Dublin 24 by Senator Martin Conway, who has been a long-time supporter of Vision Ireland, the GBB and our many children and young persons services.

Senator Conway said: “I was incredibly proud to present Shane and Amy with their Gerard Byrne Bursary certificates at what was a touching and inspiring ceremony hosted by Vision Ireland. To hear directly from Amy and Shane about the challenges they have faced in education and how they are overcoming those challenges each day gave us all food for thought about how we can continue to support young people who are blind or vision impaired. The students’ contribution and sharing of knowledge with the other young people in the room is invaluable to ensure that people who are blind or vision impaired are encouraged to pursue higher education and employment and so they know about the supports that Vision Ireland and their educational institutions can provide for them. The Gerard Byrne Bursary and the wider work of Vision Ireland for children and young people is very dear to my heart and I hope to be involved in supporting the organisation, with Amy and Shane, other GBB recipients for years to come.”

Toni O’Dwyer, National Services Manager for the Children and Young People Team added: “Firstly, I want to wish a huge congratulations to Shane and Amy for their incredibly impressive applications and interviews to secure the 2023 GBB. The standard of application this year was so high, so it really is a credit to them both, and to all other applicants. Shane and Amy spoke so well about the realities faced by children and young people in education and although they face significant challenges, the journey they have been on so far means that they are more than up to the task of flourishing in education. Vision Ireland will support them every step of the way through the GBB and our services, which are also available to any other students who may be struggling and who need some help. Secondly, I want to offer a huge thank you to Senator Conway for his continued support throughout the years. We know about his passion for the work we do, and we appreciate the steps he consistently takes to help us achieve our goals for children and young people who are blind or vision impaired in Ireland.”

AHEAD’S Students with Disabilities Engaged with Support Services in Higher Education in Ireland 2021/22 report noted that students with a sensory disability entering education is growing at a slower rate than students with other disabilities. The percentage of the disabled student population in the “Blind/Visually Impaired cohort” for 2021/22 is just 1.3% (AHEAD 2022).

Last year, Vision Ireland launched its Equitable Education Report which details the challenges faced by children and young people who are blind or vision impaired at all levels of education in Ireland and proposes solutions to better support these students in their educational pursuits.

Now in its 7th year, the Bursary has been awarded to 19 students in total to date. The courses and careers being pursued by people with sight loss are wide and varied and include business, STEM, education and politics. The Gerard Byrne Bursary consists of an annual grant for these undergraduate students who are blind or vision impaired and who are studying on a full-time basis at a recognised educational institution in the Republic of Ireland. The value of each scholarship is set at €2,000 per year and continues for the duration of the undergraduate programme chosen by the Bursary winners.